Can Gods really be fathers of mortals? No hope! So, who are the fathers of the Pandavas? Why were they called God-sons? In this article we will venture into those queries. But before that we must keep in mind some points about Vyasa.
- He plays a dual role – a historic role which includes his role as a historic figure and also a myth-maker, and above all the role of a ‘Kavi’ – ‘Kavayo Viduh!’
- Not a single character mentioned in the epic is without a purpose, or without any link to the central characters.
- The ‘text’ is a network of characters and events, each reflecting others and each existing being reflected by others, like ‘Indra’s Net’.
The Pandavas are never for once curious about their fathers! They never for once claim themselves as sons of God. Even Kunti, while turning down Pandu’s request for more sons, counts her previous encounters as those with ‘men’. The Pandavas knew who their actual fathers were! They also knew the purpose why the story of their mythical origin was circulated by certain Rishis! The Kauravas too were no buyer of ‘God-father’ story. Duryodhana was clearly cynical - (Section LXI of Udyoga Parva) – “if Agni, or Vayu, or Dharma, or Indra, or the Aswins had ever engaged themselves in works from worldly desire, then the sons of Pritha could never have fallen into distress.”
How did the story come to be circulated in Hastinapura?
In Mahabharata it is the ‘godlike’ Rishis – ‘resolved to go to Hastinapura with Pandu's children ahead, and desiring to place them in the hands of Bhishma and Dhritarashtra.’ (Section CXXVI of Adi Parva) In Devi Bhagabata Purana, it is Kunti who introduced her sons as God begotten, and even invoked the Devas who came in the celestial space above and said – ‘Yes, these are the sons born of our seeds.’-(The Second Book, Chapter VI, 64 – 71). Blending the two, we may conclude that certain sects of Rishis with Kunti’s consent were keen on spreading the myth of the ‘God-father’ origin of the Pandavas, and with a definite purpose!
The Pandavas came to Hastinapur along with their mother Kunti, after Pandu’s death. Pandu won Kunti in a swamvara. Later, Bhisma brought (and bought) Madri from Shalya and married her to Pandu. After Madri was wedded to him, Pandu ‘gave himself up to enjoyment in the company of his two wives as best he liked and to the limit of his desires (Section CXIII of Adi Parva).’ No way saying that Pandu was impotent!
Just after thirty days from his second marriage, Pandu started for Digvijaya – ‘the conquest of the world’. After his return, (Section CXIV) Pandu, ‘accompanied by his two wives, Kunti and Madri, retired into the woods. Leaving his excellent palace with its luxurious beds, he became a permanent inhabitant of the woods, devoting himself to the chase of the deer.’ It is indeed strange that Pandu won’t enjoy the fruits of his conquest, nor he showed any inclination to ‘rule the world.’ He seemed to dislike the palace!
Pandu fixed ‘his abode in a delightful and hilly region overgrown with huge sala trees,’ and there ‘he roamed about in perfect freedom.’ Pandu’s love of nature, and joy in natural surroundings is evident. Perhaps, this is Vyasa’s true blood running through his veins. But he did not completely eschew royal pleasure - "and at the command of Dhritarashtra, people were busy in supplying Pandu in his retirement with every object of pleasure and enjoyment.’ He was well in touch with Hastinapur. The palace must have been a confinement for him. The palace walls, perhaps, became the embodiment of his psychological blockade! That is why he tasted ‘perfect freedom’ in the mountains and forests!
Did Pandu go to the forest just to kill deer? I think Pandu went to the forest in search of some herbal medicine (we find him later going to the Gandhamadana), to cure his infertility. It is for that reason that Bhisma and Satyabati gave their approval, and Kunti and Madri did not make any protest but accompanied him. He undoubtedly had some problems. But it does not seem like ‘performance anxiety,’ though ‘self-consciousness about body appearance (we know Pandu’s body complexion!) can all lead to’ such a problem. He probably had some stress-related problem, which affected his power to fertilize! Dr. Kedem-Friedrich’s research on the possible link between stress, coping and male immunological fertility problems reveals that the way men cope with stress can actually affect their biological symptoms.’ ‘Nearly any major physical or mental stress can temporarily reduce sperm count. Emotional Stress may interfere with the hormone GnRH and reduce sperm counts. Psychological or relationship problems contribute to male infertility.’
Pandu’s stress-related infertility might have several contributing factors. Pandu was a religious person at heart, and his dual identity was pulling him apart. On one hand he was the legal son of Bichitrabirya, a father infamous for his lust. On the other, he was sage Vyasa’s biological son! Palace rumours about his father’s lust, about his mother’s unwilling sex with Vyasa, (Shri Satya Chaitanya in his article ‘The Puzzle of Pandu’ has made a very fine analysis of certain factors and war-stress (Pandu had just been on a Digvijaya) - these could have been some factors! But his natural inclination to quit ‘samsara’ after his biological father, severely opposed by his ‘Kshatriya-duties’ keeping him fettered to Hastinapura(A pre-shadow of Yudhisthira!), might have been the most potential factors. This is evident from his own words uttered after he had accidentally killed Kindama. (Section CXIX of Adi Parva). He makes a clear contrast between his two fathers – one is ‘that lustful king’, and the other is ‘of truthful speech’!
As the story would have us believe, Pandu met with a tragedy now!
Section CXVI elaborates the story. One day Pandu, while roaming about in the woods shot at a deer ‘with five of his sharp and swift arrows’. But alas! That was ‘a Rishi's son of great ascetic merit who was enjoying his mate in the form of a deer’. How can a man (or Rishi!) take the form of a deer? Why would a superb archer like Pandu need to shoot ‘five’ arrows to kill a single or even two deer? Why was the Rishi not dead even after being shot by ‘five arrows’?
This Rishi was certainly doing an act of bestiality. We find his ‘mate’ silent; though it’s possible she (?) had been killed! The Rishi blamed Pandu for being ‘overpowered by passion and wrath’ and therefore losing reason. Pandu replied, 'O deer, kings behave in the matter of slaying animals of thy species exactly as they do in the matter of slaying foes’. He also cites a strange precedence of Rishi Agastya, who engaged in the performance of a grand sacrifice killed deer. ‘Thou hast been slain, pursuant to the usage sanctioned by such precedent.’ The deer then said, 'O king, men do not let fly their arrows at their enemies when the latter are unprepared.' What would have happened if he were ‘prepared’?
The dialogues are indeed strange! Why did both of them use words like ‘foes’, ‘enemies’ etc? Why did Pandu specify ‘thy species’? Was there any sort of enemity between Pandu and this Rishi? Pandu’s reference to Rishi Agastya’s ‘grand sacrifice’, his shooting of ‘five’ arrows in ‘passion and wrath’ and his frequent reference of Kindama as an enemy drives home the point that an angry Pandu deliberately killed Kindama, who was engaged in an act of bestiality, and that Pandu considered the killing of such a ‘species’ to be religious!
This is confirmed in the brief narrative in Section XCV of Adi Parva, where we know that Pandu shot ‘Seeing the deer in that attitude … before its desire was gratified.’ So, it is not that that Pandu killed Kindama accidentally! He wanted to kill him before his desires were gratified. Kindama’s sexual act outraged him! The question is why?
In course of talk Kindama told him ‘Thou art acquainted with the pleasures of sexual intercourse.’ That further confirms us that Pandu was not impotent after all! Since Kindama knew so much about Pandu, he must have been living nearby! And he cursed Pandu he too would die in an act of intercourse – ‘death shall certainly overtake thee as soon as thou feelest the influence of sexual desire’. He gives an explanation for his conduct – ‘I was engaged in sexual intercourse with this deer, because my feelings of modesty did not permit me to indulge in such an act in human society.’ This is indeed a clear confession of bestiality. We have no doubt that Kindama was sexually perverted!
That Kindama lived in close proximity with Pandu is also evident in Section CXIX in which we know that ‘After the death of that deer, king Pandu with his wives was deeply afflicted and wept bitterly.’ Did Pandu bring back the dead body? Did the incident happen nearby? Why didn’t other Rishis tell Pandu anything about the matter?
We cannot give any true importance to Kindama’s curse, because if such a Rishi, who for gratification of his carnal desires performed bestiality, could have so much power over Pandu’s fate, then certainly the Rishis who could go to heaven in human body would have greater powers! We find these Rishis blessing Pandu – ‘there is progeny in store for thee…Therefore, O tiger among men, accomplish by your own acts that which destiny pointeth at.'
The story goes that Pandu gave up sex with his wife in fear of the Kindama Rishi’s curse! His superstitious beliefs in the effectiveness of a Rishi’s curse (and that too a perverted one!!), was weighing too heavily on him! He decided to ‘adopt the Brahmacharya mode of life’, which means he was NOT leading a life of Brahmacharya till then! He identified ‘the desire to beget children’ as the great impediments to salvation. It is only after the curse that he felt he was ‘destitute …. of the power of Procreation.’ That means, so long he hadn’t lost confidence in his ‘power of procreation’.
It is for this reason that I infer, Pandu was cursed after the birth of Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna, not before their birth, as the myth goes! And unless he had procreated at least once, how could he say he was now ‘destitute …. of the power of Procreation’!! I think the prophecy of the heaven-going Rishis actually took place when Pandu was suffering from intense frustration for his infertility. By then, Kunti had already given birth to Yudhishthira and Bhima by niyoga. And Kindama’s curse occurred only after Pandu had actually procreated, encouraged by the Rishis’ prophecy and Kunti’s counseling!
My thesis hence, both Yudhishthira and Bhima were born of others’ semen, but Arjuna was Pandu’s only biological son! Again Nakul and Sahadeva were born of others’ semen!
Now, onto an explanation of this strange hypothesis! Pandu having gone to the forest for ‘herbal medicine’ was in a hurry to have offspring! News reached him and Kunti that Gandhari had given birth to a dead child. (It’s not believable that Gandhari had a two years long pregnancy, and then Duryodhana took another two years to be born of a mass of flesh!). In Section CXXIII Vaisampayana told Janamejaya, ‘when Gandhari's conception had been a full year old, it was then that Kunti summoned the eternal god of justice to obtain offspring from him.’ After hearing of Gandhari’s accidental abortion Pandu was no longer ready to wait. He spared no means to convince Kunti.
The story that, Pandu (post-curse) wanted progenies to have the door to heaven opened for him is untenable. Once when he wanted to go to heaven, the Rishis discouraged him on ground that Kunti and Madri being princesses would not be able to ‘ascend those heights of the king of mountains’. Heaven, as revealed here, is a territory requiring an arduous trek to reach! But Pandu interpreted it otherwise –‘ye fortunate ones, it is said that for the sonless there is no admittance into heaven. I am sonless!’ The Rishis never suggested that ‘sonlessness’ is an impediment to Heavens. It is after this that Pandu approached Kunti for offspring by niyoga! Access to Heaven was certainly not the cause!
Kunti was at first not ready to embrace another man. Later, seeing Pandu’s earnestness, she relented! Nevertheless she argued. Her reasoning with Pandu gives us valuable clue as to how she did counsel him!
Kunti’s Counseling –
When Pandu implored Kunti for niyoga, she chided him and said – ‘thyself shalt, in righteousness, beget upon me children endued with great energy. Then I shall ascend to heaven with thee; O prince of Kuru's race, receive me in thy embrace for begetting children I shall not certainly, even in imagination, accept any other man except thee in my embraces.” What’s important here is Kunti’s conviction in Pandu’s capability. She also pointed out Pandu’s self-centered desire for heaven by asserting that she too had the right to ascend to heaven by bearing her own husband’s offspring. What’s more important is that Kunti could not have said ‘receive me in thy embrace’, if Kindama had already cursed by then! That would be inviting sure death for Pandu, at least from Pandu’s viewpoint! Though the Mahabharata-poet would have us believe so, Kindama’s curse had not yet occurred, at the time of this Pandu-Kunti dialogue!
Kunti cited the example of Puru-king, Vyushitaswa, whose ‘corpse’ could beget upon his wife seven children. If a ‘corpse-husband’ could beget a child, why not a ‘living-dead’ like Pandu? She said– ‘do thou also beget offspring upon me, like the illustrious Vyushitaswa.' Kunti encouraged Pandu to break his psychological blockade by will-power. We find here excellent motivational counseling from Kunti.
Whatever arguments Pandu made in favour of ‘niyoga’, were ironically akin to the ‘Sun-God’s’ arguments! Sun/Durvasa/Brahmana’s logic was almost dipped in same spirit! Now Kunti’s own loving husband was using them! The former had desire of sex, the latter, desire of heaven! Pandu had no hesitation to implore his wife to play the role of a ‘production-machine’ of a progeny to enable him gain entry into a fictitious heaven!
Kunti was treated as a ‘treasure’ by her own father in her childhood, as a ‘carrot’ by her foster father, as a ‘sexual toy’ by Durvasa, as an unwanted entity by Bhisma, as a ‘progeny-producing’ and road paving machine to heavens by her own loving husband! Was Kunti ever been recognized as a human being? Had she been anything other than an entity for exploitable ‘purpose’?
In the Cherusseri Bharatham (Bharatagatha) there is a twist to the tale. Here, Kunti herself wants sons by 'niyoga.' 'Kunti tells Pandu the story of the brahmin, Bramharata. He has no son. At his instruction, his wife sleeps with another Brahmin (who was a guest to Bramharata's house and desired his wife) and gets a child' (Summary by A.Purushothaman).
Despite her hesitation, Kunti too wanted a child, her eyes being on the Hastinapur throne.
Birth of Yudhishthira –
Yudhishthira’s birth by Vidura has been much discussed, starting from Iravati Kanve’s work. It has indeed become a much hackneyed topic. So, I will only hover over certain points that I find particularly interesting.
Pandu suggested – ‘In times of distress, men solicit offspring from accomplished younger brothers’. Seeing Pandu’s earnestness Kunti relented and told him the story of Durvasa’a mantra. Pandu showed no curiosity to this peculiar story! However, Pandu’s lack of curiosity makes us curious! Kunti told him ‘tell me who of the celestials I shall summon…I await your commands.' Pandu told her to summon ‘the god of justice’. On Kunti’s invocation ‘the god, overpowered by her incantations, arrived at the spot where Kunti was seated, in his car…. Smiling, he asked, 'O Kunti, what am I to give thee?' And Kunti too, smiling in her turn, replied, 'Thou must even give me offspring.'’
Indeed, Dharma’s pretension of ignorance was in humour. He knew he had been summoned to ‘give’ a progeny! The way the two characters were smiling at each other clearly indicates they were comfortable and relaxed in each others company, and also hints at their longstanding relationship! He, indeed, was Vidura!
Leaving aside prominent evidences like Vidura’s lifelong benevolence for the Pandavas, we get significant clues of Vidura’s fathering Yudhishthira in Section XXVIII of Asramavasika Parva. Vyasa, who was about to dispel doubts in the mind of all, told all after Vidura’s death – ‘From that deity of Righteousness, through Yoga-puissance, the Kuru king Yudhishthira also took his birth. …….He that is Dharma is Vidura; and he that is Vidura is the (eldest) son of Pandu.’
But the most significant clue is to be found in Section XXVI, when we find Yudhishthira standing before Vidura! ‘Standing before him, Yudhishthira addressed him, saying, 'I am Yudhishthira!' Indeed, worshipping Vidura properly, Yudhishthira said these words in the hearing of Vidura. Meanwhile Vidura eyed the king with a steadfast gaze. Casting his gaze thus on the king, he stood motionless in Yoga. Possessed of great intelligence, he then (by his Yoga-power) entered the body of Yudhishthira, limb by limb. He united his life-breaths with the king's life-breaths, and his senses with the king's senses. "
Vidura eyeing Yudhishthira ‘with a steadfast gaze’, is perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the entire Mahabharata! It is as if Vidura, before bidding adieu to the world, wanted to give all his blessings to his great son, whom he could never acknowledge as such in society!
‘The king soon saw that life had fled out of it (Vidura). At the same time, he felt that he himself had become stronger than before and that he had acquired many additional virtues and accomplishments. Possessed of great learning and energy …king Yudhishthira the just, then recollected his own state before his birth among men’. This ‘recollection’ may be mystical, but Vyasa might also be suggesting as well, Yudhishthira’s own inferences about his birth!
When Yudhishthira ran after Vidura in the forest, none of his brothers or the Rishis tried to stop him! This is apparently improbable as his life could have been in danger there. Certainly, Yudhishthira could not go without anybody taking notice, because just now he had been sitting among the Rishis and his relatives. The Pandava brothers would have run on their elder brother’s heels! No doubt, the Rishis prevented the brothers from running after Yudhishthira, as they wanted that the final meeting between him and Vidura should take place in solitude!
Birth of Bhima –
Pandu now asked from her ‘an offspring of superior strength’. Thus commanded by Pandu, Kunti invoked Vayu, ‘And the mighty god of wind, thus invoked, came unto her, riding upon a deer.’ When Vayu came, unlike Dharma he had no smile on his face. He asked rather prosaically, 'What, O Kunti, am I to give thee? Tell me what is in thy heart". At this Kunti smiled ‘in modesty.’ Why was Kunti so shy? She was already the mother of two sons; she knew what it was to have intercourse with different men, so it is not probable that she smiled in coyness! On the contrary, I believe, Kunti was shy because she was about to give a proposal to Vayu, unexpected though, but perhaps, secretly cherished by that man! Kunti might have known that intuitively!
Why should Vayu come, riding on a deer? Is it only a metaphor of Vayu’s speed, or his traditional ‘vahana’, or does it have any other significance? Now, Dharma came on chariot. That makes sense, because Vidura had to come from Hastinapur. Vayu coming on deer leads inevitably to the conclusion that he was someone who lived in that very forest or nearby! Who could he be? Let’s see what associations we find of deer! Rishi Kindama had connections with deer!
What other associations of a Rishi do we find with deer? Rishi Rishwashringa was the son of a deer, we know! He was one of Kashyapa gotra. Rishi Kashyapa, through rigorous penance, built Kashmir. Just as Nimata Purana links Kashyapa with the naga sect, Kasyapa-Naga connection is evident in the Malayalam variation - 'Cerusseri Bharatam' by Cherusseri Namboodiri (Fifteenth century), where, it was Kashyapa who performed the Yajna of Pariksit at the request of Janamejaya. When the Yajna was ended (unfinished), Kashyapa revived all the serpents. In this same variation there is another Bhima-Naga connection. Once Vasuki, being defeated by Bhima ‘gave away the jewel of maiden, (Nagakanya) to the hero, the son of wind (Bhima) as wife. Vasuki also presented a lot of jewels (to Bhima). Bhima had a son, Babhrubahu with the beautiful serpent woman’.
The point I am trying to make is that Bhima was fathered by a Naga! This makes sense given Bhima’s Naga connections in the Mahabharata. Many a times he was saved by Nagas! Bhima shows great resemblance with Dhristyadumna, who was also fathered by a Kashyapa Rishi named Upayaja. Besides, he has been compared to Naga many a times!
In Keralian folk Mahabharata, Once Piman (Bhima) was bitten by a snake and killed. His body was bathed, kept inside a boat and left adrift in the sea. A Naga maiden (nagakanni) of the Naga city (Naga puram), brought the boat ashore by reciting mantras and discovered the body inside. She removed the poison from Piman’s body and married him and they had a son. (Mahabharata Variations in Malayalam by A. Harindranath and A. Purushothaman)
In this 'Mavaratam Pattu' , Bhima or Peeman is actually described as the son of a Naga. On the way, (to his burning palace) he found a five headed serpent blocking his path. Unable to overcome the serpent, Peeman asked the serpent who he was but the serpent started questioning him. Peeman informed the serpent that he was the youngest Pandava. ‘The serpent informs Peeman that he is Peeman's father. Peeman asks for a boon. The serpent gives him the strength of seven elephants'. (English Summary by A. Purushothaman)
My conclusion is Kindama was a Kashyapa-nagavamshi, and it was he who fathered Bhima! Kunti’s carelessness about Bhima (once, she fell him off her lap!) might indicate Kunti’s disgust of the way Bhima was born! It is probable this Vayu, transgressed the prescriptions of Shashtrik ‘niyoga-dharma’ in his intercourse with Kunti! And that is the reason why Pandu killed Kindama with five arrows in a fit of great anger! This experience made Kunti firm to deny any more association with any other person. Perhaps, Pandu too was repentant by now! Kunti, having made Pandu repentant now wanted to have an offspring by him. That leads us onto an inevitable conclusion!
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