18. The Death of Pandu

Dhritarashtra was acting as the representative of the king in the palace of Hastinapur with his hundred sons and blind-folded wife beside him while Pandu was residing in forest with his two wives and five sons.

The childhood of the hundred princes in the palace was, however, very different from that of the five princes in the forest.

Duryodhan was growing up under the care of Shakuni, who constantly nurtured hatred in his mind against the Pandavas stating that they were the sons of the man because of whom Duryodhan’s father couldn’t become the king. Yudhishthir was growing up under the care of his father, Pandu, who taught him only about righteousness, serving the nation and how to be the ideal king. The eldest sons of both fathers definitely received more attention than the rest of the sons as in the eyes of the elders they would be the king.

When the princes would ask: Who’s a great king?

Shakuni to Duryodhan: A great king is the one who has his set of loyalists, who is aware of his enemies and wipes them whenever there’s an opportunity. A great king does anything in his capacity to safeguard his right to the throne.

Pandu to Yudhishthir: A great king is the one who lives for his subjects, who works for their improvement and uplift, who helps them in droughts and natural catastrophes and safeguards them in the boundary of his nation.

When the princes would ask: What is the duty of a kshatriya?

Shakuni to Duryodhan: To become a powerful warrior, the one whom everybody should be afraid of. No one should dare to raise an eyebrow against him and the one who does should not be left with an eye!

Pandu to Yudhishthir: To become a powerful warrior, so that he can save his people and their fundamental rights. A true Kshatriya acquires martial skills not to dominate but prevent domination of the weak.

Both the princes were growing to become kings but of opposite kinds. But only the wiser Bheeshm and Vidur could sense the problem ahead. A kingdom could not have two kings.

One thing that was common to both the princes, however, was the ultimate loyalty of their younger brothers towards them. While the ninety-nine sons of Dhritarashtra would do whatever Duryodhan would demand, the younger Pandavas would also never refute an order of Yudhishthir.

One day, in the forest, Kunti had gone to pluck flowers for her morning prayers. Yudhishthir was busy in one of the Yoga forms, Bheem had found a tree laden with fruits and was determined to unladen it, Arjun was trying to tie the two ends of a curved wooden shaft with a rope, Nakul was busy with a facial and Sahadev was busy meditating.  Pandu found a moment alone with his wife Madri and years of his separation from either of his wives culminated into one strong desire in him to with the beautiful Madri.

He approached her with a will he had never thought he will approach her with and took her in his arms. Madri was excited at the thought but the curse of Rishi Kindam was still on top of her mind. She tried to push Pandu away but he found her too irresistible for the moment to let her go. The next instant, the curse took effect and Pandu suffered a severe heart-attack. Madri was in the arms of her husband a while before and in the arms of a corpse a while later.

When Kunti returned she saw a wailing Madri in the cottage with an exposed shoulder and in an instant she realized what had happened. rush of mixed emotions filled her heart and she wasn’t sure if she should cry over her husband’s death or get furious on Madri for letting Pandu approach her.

(Kunti’s life was ironical in many ways. When she had not intended any relation, she was given a son by Sun. When she was willing for a relation, her husband married another woman. When the husband wasn’t able to produce sons, she gave him heirs and even two sons to Madri. But at the end, her husband died of getting attracted to not her but Madri.)

The news spread to Hastinapur that their former king died in the forest.  Bheeshm and Vidhur reached the spot and saw a young Yudhishthir completing the funeral rites of his father. He did not need anybody’s guidance and he appeared to know everything more than the pandits around.

Kunti decided to die on her husband’s pyre being a Sati but Madri insisted that she will not be able to live in the world alone with the guilt that her husband died because of her. She chose to become Sati instead and leaped on Pandu’s pyre leaving her two sons with Kunti. Kunti was now a mother of five sons with no husband and no palace.  Life was harsh to this princess of Kuntibhoj.

17. The Generation of Supernatural Warriors

Hastinapur now had its worthy king in the forest, repenting for his mistake, and his blind representative on the throne. Except for time (and me….huhahaha) no one knew what was to come.

One day (or maybe night), Dhritarashtra felt that the only way he could ensure his bloodline continued to rule the kingdom was that he had a son before Pandu. He expressed his desire to Gandhari who, being the most obedient wife ever, agreed.

Soon, the news spread in the kingdom that Gandhari was expecting. There was a wave of exhilaration in the kingdom as a pregnant queen promised a bright future ahead. But could a queen, who had willingly embraced darkness for life, bring brightness to the future of a kingdom? Time revealed it in the most evil of forms.

The news of Gandhari’s pregnancy also reached Pandu, who was residing in the forest with his wives. While he was happy for his brother and his wife, the news also dejected him as it made him aware of what he wasn’t capable of doing (or maybe not allowed to do, courtesy Rishi Kashyap’s curse). He shared his concern with his wives Kunti and Madri. On hearing her husband’s concern, Kunti revealed about a special privilege that she had in the form of a boon.

Long ago, even before she got married, Kunti had served Rishi Durvasa (who was a guest to her palace) so well that even the short-tempered rishi was impressed with her extra-ordinary hospitality and offered her a boon. Now Kunti was a teenager and had no idea what to ask for. She requested him to give her a boon that would help her in future. Rishi Durvasa foresaw here future with his yogic powers and gave her a boon in form of a mantra to be able to invite a devta and bear a son from him. (It was the accidental use of this boon before her wedding that Kunti ended up with a son of the Sun, Karna, whom she abandoned into the river to save her reputation). 

She told Pandu that she could use these boons to invite devas and have sons from them to ensure that Pandu had sons too. Pandu found the idea of letting his wife bear sons through another men (sorry deva) awkward. This is when she reminded him that she wasn’t doing something new. Pandu himself was a son of niyog performed by Vyas and it had almost been the legacy of Kuru clan to have sons through niyog since the kings had often been sterile / impotent / cursed / uninterested / under-oath and as a result, could not give birth to sons. What’s more? Those niyog operations were through men or rishis but here it was the intervention of a god. Also, these sons would be born almost instantaneously, without Kunti having to lose her virginity or get pregnant.

Pandu agreed to it and told Kunti to invite none other than Dharma deva (the god of righteousness). He believed that the future generation could not ensure the security of Hastinapur unless there was establishment of dharma in the kingdom. And therefore, first and foremost quality that he desired in his son was his adherence to dharma. So Kunti summoned Dharma deva and received a son from him. Dharma deva stated that this son would always be patient, empathetic, brave and stable in war (yudh mein sthir) and he was named Yudhishthir.

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

Had it been completely up to the natural processes, Gandhari’s son would have been the eldest. But Kunti’s sudden use of the trump card resulted in an instant son without a pregnancy ended up breaking the dreams of both Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra felt that like he was not allowed to become the king because of his blindness, now his son would not be able to become the king because of his age. But more importantly, Gandhari’s pregnancy had prolonged and she did not deliver a child even after nine months.

Months passed but there was no sign of Gandhari giving birth to a child. Gandhari’s patience exceeded all limits and she ordered her maids to hit her belly with an iron rod and get her rid of what was inside her womb. What came out stunned everyone! It was a life-less ball of flesh. She wailed and her wailing brought tears in the eyes of every woman of Hastinapur. She questioned Rishi Vyas that why was her fate playing this game when she had been blessed for a hundred sons.

Rishi Vyas promised her to keep the dignity of that blessing. He divided that ball of flesh into hundred pieces and put them in hundred pots of ghee. He promised Gandhari that those hundred pieces would grow up to become her hundred sons. Gandhari, even at this moment of tension, expressed that she also always wanted a daughter. You can guess what Mr. Vyas did next.

Gandhari's sons in pots of ghee

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

Meanwhile in the forest, on learning that his elder brother was about to get hundred sons, Pandu did feel – Kaurav 100 aur Pandav 1, bahut na insaafi hai! So once again on Pandu’s will Kunti summoned Vayu Devta (god of wind) who gave her a son as strong as storms and tornados put together. When the child cried, he was so loud that out of fear Kunti dropped it on a rock. Poor rock…it was found cracked! This child was named Bheem.

Then on her own will, Kunti summoned Indra who gave her a son who was to grow up into an extremely skilled man and achieve great adulation from history, none other than Arjun. Now Pandu had started believing that Kunti was no less than a hen who laid golden eggs and he wanted to populate the poultry farm of his lineage with golden eggs from Kunti. This was also because he had got the news that his brother was about to become a father of hundred sons. But Kunti said that she could not bear any more sons as shastras didn’t allow a woman to be with more than four men (Ahem Ahem….really? Sun god, Pandu, Dharma god, Wind god, Indra – What’s the total?). So she shared the mantras with Madri who shot two targets with one arrow and invited Ashwini twins who gave her two sons – Nakul, the most handsome man and Sahadev, the most knowledgeable man.

And meanwhile, hundred sons and one daughter were born from the pots in Hastinapur. When the first pot broke, a child came out amidst the wailing of owls, jackals and crows on the streets. Kripacharya and Vidur suggested that since it was a bad omen, the child would bring misfortune to the kingdom and thus Dhritarashtra should get rid of the new born. While on one hand it was an inhumane task to kill a new-born based on the signals, Vidur argued that it was required for the larger good of the kingdom and also because Dhritarashtra would still be left with ninety-nine sons and one daughter anyway. Bheeshm did not speak.

Image Courtesy: Star Plus India

But for the blind king, emotions overpowered logic and he clung to that son. This son was named Duryodhan, one who would be difficult to overpower. The remaining ninety-nine sons were also given names, and probably later, even ID badges so that they could be recognized. The one daughter born was named Dushala.

Gandhari’s 100 sons

Thus was born the generation of supernatural warriors, sons of Pandu and sons of Dhritarashtra, who actually were the two opposing sides in the Kurukshetra war. But there is a long way to go, so let’s leave Hastinapur with its own moment of jubilation.

16. Dhritarashtra Becomes the King

When Pandu came back to Hastinapur and revealed that he committed the serious crime of killing a Brahmin, there was at least one happy soul in the Kuru household. This was none other than Shakuni. He was convinced that for the likes of Bheeshm and Pandu, moral standards always overpowered the lust for the throne. He was convinced that the community of Hastinapur will not celebrate a Brahmin-killer on its throne. His sister, who was first married to a blind prince and then deprived the right to become the queen, now finally had a chance to become the queen with Dhritarashtra replacing Pandu.

Pandu expressed that he wasn’t worthy of the throne anymore and that he be allowed to leave for the forest and live a life without luxuries. He felt that penance was the only way of peace for him. Bheeshm and Vidur suggested that for the good of Hastinapur, and since it was more of an accident, Pandu could compensate the burden of guilt by giving charity to brahmins and through other noble deeds, something that was prescribed by the shastras. However, Pandu was too righteous to mould shastras to his convenience. If his heart didn’t allow, he wouldn’t sit on the throne. He decided that he would leave for the forest with his wives.

The throne of Hastinapur, that had seen a capable king after so many years was suddenly deprived of a worthy king again. The question then was: who will be the king? The eldest son, Dhritarashtra was not allowed to be the king in the first place because of his blindness. But even Vidur could not be selected as the king as he was the son of a maid. When nothing made sense, Satyavati finally decided to set Dhritarashtra as the king as royal blood mattered more to her than capabilities. This time Bheeshm was quiet as he had now realized that his oath was to follow the orders of the throne, not to decide who sat on it.

Pandu left for the forest with his wives, Kunti and Madri, never to come back to the palace. He insisted that his wives stayed in the palace as the crime was committed by him and not them. But the wives were too impressed by Sita’s loyalty to her husband and wanted to show to the kingdom that they were no less and followed their husband to the forest.

Dhritarashtra was finally crowned the king. Years of yearning for royal power, recognition and status finally paid off. It was now time for him to make for his blindness through the power of throne. Now the people would listen to him, would be servile towards him, and would consider him to be the representative of God. Now he could enforce his ideas on others and others had no option but to agree. Now his inner fears, that were hidden for years, would take shape in the kingdom of Hastinapur. Now. Now that Hastinapur had a blind king on the throne.

16. Dhritarashtra Becomes the King.

That dark night, in the solitude of his room, Bheeshm, the son of Ganga and Shantanu, the student of Parashuram, the last of Kuru blood, the caretaker of Hastinapur and the pillar of the Mahabharata, cried.

15. The Two Wives of Pandu

The new king of Hastinapur, Pandey ji (read Pandu) proved to be efficient within a very short time. After more than a quarter of a century, there was finally a king in the court of Hastinapur and he was, for a change, pretty good. And being an old reader of this blog you would know the first thing the kings of Hastinapur did when they achieved something. They got married. Pandu was no different. But the question was to find a deserving queen for Hastinapur.

Far somewhere, in the kingdom of Kuntibhoja was a princess who was probably destined for that. Her name was Kunti (orginally Pritha, but was renamed Kunti since she was adopted by Kuntibhoja. Was it tough to guess anyway?) Kunti’s little known secret to all was that she had given birth to a son (Karna) of the Sun when she was just teenager (read here in detail, only if you want to). Since this secret was a secret that remained secret for long, Kunti’s reputation was in tact and so Bheeshm and other elders of the family deemed her worthy of becoming Pandu’s wife and Hastinapur’s new queen.

A grand wedding took place and Kunti became a part of the royal family of Hastinapur. However, Pandu never got the opportunity to sing the evergreen words that Amitabh Bachchan once did, “Suhaagraat hai, ghoonghat utha raha hoon main…” as there was a military urgency that expected him to leave for a battle immediately after his wedding. He promised Kunti that he will return, and he kept his promise much better than Bhairo Singh. I say “much better” because after winning the battle, he did not return alone, but with a second wife. This second wife was Madri, the sister of Shalya, the king of Madra. Pandu had taken a military procession to subdue Madra but Shalya insisted that they avoided war and rather formed an alliance. Thus Pandu and Madri were married. Kunti certainly did not take this very positively, but there was not much she could do. She had already done something before that she was guilty about, and she could not gather confidence to stand for something that was considered normal by the society standards.

Pandu then decided to go on an extended honeymoon with both his wives at once. Bali was not that hot a destination in those days so he settled with going to nearby forests and enjoyed what he and his ancestors had always enjoyed. Hunting. Pandu’s archery skills were profound and it was the impact of these skills that he formed great alliances across the sub-continent. He forgot that there were better things to do on a honeymoon. His needless desire to try those skills on the helpless animals of the forests proved disastrous – for all the animals you see in the forest are not actually animals. They can be human beings in various forms, sometimes having uniquely weird desires. First, the desires are unique; second, they implement them in weird manners.

I am talking about Rishi Kindam and his wife. The couple lived in the same forest that was Pandu’s honeymoon destination. One day an idea occurred to the couple that they should make love in the open. Imagine, Pandu who was on a honeymoon, that too with two wives at once, hadn’t thought of it but these guys had! If this was not enough, they planned to have it in cervine form so that normal human beings would not be able to make out that this is the great sage Rishi Kindam and his wife doing the act. While they were engaged, Pandu shot an arrow in the direction of the sound the couple was making thinking that it was a deer out in the forest. This was a form of archery known to very few. The arrow struck the couple. They cried in agony, suddenly transformed to their original form and lied wounded on the forest floor.

15. Pandu

Pandu was shocked to see what unfolded before him. Rishi Kindam was dying, but his anger for not being able to do what he had been waiting to do for years burst out on Pandu. He said, “Oh King of Hastinapur, Pandu! You killed a couple while they were making love. It was after my years of tapasya that I was finally uniting with my wife and you interrupted it so violently. Therefore, I curse you that you will die moment you try to make love to any woman.

And so, the future of Hastinapur was again in problem with the kingdom having a king who could not have sons. Pandu was engulfed with the guilt of killing a brahmin and being cursed at the same time (Imagine which affected him more!) He planned to go back to Hastinapur and reveal the matter in the court to seek the advice of the elders.