Vidura’s Nephews, Pandu’s Biological Sons
In two earlier articles (Karna's Father Found, and The Mystery of The Pandava ‘God-Fathers’), I theorized on the basis of my findings in Mahabharata, that the actual fathers of Karna and Pandavas are –
Karna – Durvasa
Yudhishthira – Vidura
Bhiima – Kimdama
Arjuna – Pandu
Nakula-Sahadeva – Dhaumya
True to the great indeterminacy of Mahabharata, (and true to my inconsistent nature, I may add), now I find it impossible to believe in my own theory.
The new theory that intoxicates my brain now is that, the actual fathers of Karna and Pandavas are –
Karna – Durvasa/ Suurya Vamshii Brahmana/ Brahmana of Suurya Gotra (residing in Jarasamdha’s Magadha)
All Pandavas – Pandu
Leaving the matter of ‘determining’ Karna’s father for the next article, I will discuss here why I have started considering that all Pandavas are indeed Pandu’s very own biological son.
First, a terrible burden needs to be removed – the overwhelming burden of the theory that Vidura was Yudhishthira’s father, if not of all Pandavas.
1. Why Vidura cannot be Yudhishthira’s father?
(or, why Vidura cannot be father of all Pandavas)
The theory that Vidura is Yudhishthira’s father was first proposed by Iravati Karve, and has become a much cliché topic of discussion. I do not want to go into details of Karve's theory any more; instead I will go straight to the point why Vidura cannot be Yudhishthira’s father – or, all Pandavas’ father.
First, the Pandavas were born at Shatashrnga Parvata near Uttarakuru. To give birth to Yudhishthira, Vidura would have to travel all the way from Hastinapura to Uttarkuru – and that too clandestinely! Let us check out the distance of Hastinapura and Uttarakuru from wikimapia or google.map or the ‘epicindia’ map from wikipedia and that would be self-explanatory.
Mahabharata gives us no information that Vidura ever left Hastinapura except once much later when he was driven away by Dhrtarashtra. In short, such a clandestine journey to and fro for Vidura is impossible, if not absurd.
Secondly, Vidura giving birth to all Pandavas is further improbable, because to give birth to Pandavas ‘serially,’ he would have to travel to Shatashrnga Parvata every year (for 4 or 5 consecutive years) the same distance and back.
Logically, if Vidura were fathers to all, the ‘birth-serial’ of the Pandavas should have been tentatively as follows:
a) Yudhishthira, Nakula, Bhiima, Sahadeva, Arjuna (if Nakula-Sahadeva is not twin), or
b) Yudhishthira, Nakula-Sahadeva, Bhiima, Arjuna (if Nakula-Sahadeva is twin). That does not explain why Madrii would ‘stop’ after the twin.
Needless to discuss further, the proposition is absurd, if not ludicrous.
Thirdly, one reason why Vidura is the ‘primary suspect’ is that, while trying to convince Kunti to adopt Niyoga, Pandu supposedly tells her that according to Dharmashastras, Devara can be Niyukta. This dialogue has been excluded by C.E. – that is, all Mahabharata recensions do not agree on this part of the dialogue. Therefore, Pandu’s ‘Devara-dialogue’ is unreliable.
Fourthly, even accepting that Pandu’s ‘Devara-dialogue’ is a logical possibility – in fact, the Dharmashastras do speak of ‘Devara-Niyoging’ – we can cancel Pandu and Kunti’s Vidura-option by the same logic. Careful reading of Pandu’s dialogue reveals, that Pandu tells Kunti twice to give birth by Niyoga in the seed of some Brahmana or someone greater than him or equal to him. Since Brahmana/s is Pandu’s emphasized choice (twice), there is no way Kunti could have violated his wish and embrace Vidura.
Again, it is said that when Pandu resided in Shatashrnga, many Rshis there considered him as brother. Thus, Devara can refer to them as well.
Fifthly, another reason why Vidura-theory evolved is that Vidura is Dharma-incarnate, and Yudhishthira is called Dharma-Putra. Now, let us note five things:
a) Just as Vidura is called Dharma-incarnate, Yudhishthira is also called Dharma-incarnate and/or Dharma-Amsha. Thus, there is no consistency that Yudhishthira is Dharma-Putra.
b) If we believe in Durvasa’s ‘God-taming’ Mantra, then we have also to believe that everything Durvasa says must be true. Now, after giving ‘God-taming’ Mantra to Kunti, Durvasa blessed her that she would be Dharma’s mother. Since, Karna was born just after that, we have to take Karna as the ‘original’ Dharma, if not, all Pandavas including him are Dharmas.
c) If that again brings us back to Vidura, then let us remember there are many other Dharma-sons in Mahabharata. In Shanti-Parvan, Krishna tells Pandavas that once he was born as Dharma’s son. Thus, if Vidura is Dharma, that does not necessarily mean, Yudhishthira has to be his son.
d) Krishna’s purpose of life is Dharmasamsthapana. In Draupadii disrobing scene, Dharma supplies Draupadii's dress, and Draupadii remembers Krishna. That too strongly suggests, Krishna is Dharma of Mahabharata.
e) In Ancient Bharatavarsha, the king was considered as Indra on earth, and Dharma is one aspect of the king. Thus, Pandu can be Dharma as well. I will have to come back to this very important point later.
Sixthly, in Yaksha-Yudhishthira samvada, Dharma appears as Yaksha. If Dharma is already born as Dharma-Vidura, how can Dharma appear as Yaksha? We can certainly discard the Yudhishthira-Yaksha narrative as an interpolation or, we can take it as a poetic allegory, however, if we choose to ‘take it all’ then we have to admit there are multiple Dharmas in Mahabharata.
Seventhly, Dharma appearing as Yaksha tells Yudhishthira that he is his father, and also tells him to spend incognito exile in Virata. This dialogue is at the end of Vana Parvan. However, at the beginning of the next Parvan (Virata Parvan), Yudhishthira asks Arjuna where to spend the incognito exile. If Yudhishthira is Dharma’s son, how can he be disrespectful to Dharma?
Eighthly, according to Dharmashastras, the purpose of Niyoga is served once a wife has a son with another man. Thereafter, the other man has to look upon the woman as his daughter-in-law. Thus, Vyasa has only ‘one-time affairs’ with Ambika and Ambalika. In rare cases, more than one child is permitted. Thus, Diirghatama produces five sons in Balii’s wife Sudeshna’s womb. However, that exceptional case is mostly followed by Asurik Culture or the Asurik Tradition of Vedic Culture. The Kurus certainly followed the ‘Deva-Culture’ or Orthodox Vedic Culture. Thus, even if Vidura gave birth to Yudhishthira, the birth of other Pandavas in his seed is improbable.
With all these facts in mind, I can no longer think of Vidura as Yudhishthira’s father.
Now, let me move on to the next part, why I consider that Pandu is the Pandavas’ biological father.
2. Pandu is Pandavas’ biological father
In my previous articles, I discussed that Pandu is Arjuna’s biological father. There, I discussed from Mahabharata that Pandu was not impotent.
We may also remember that according to many Folk Mahabharatas, Pandu is father to at least one of the Pandavas. For example, in one version of Garhwali Folk Mahabharata, Pandu is Nakula’s father, and according to another version, he is Sahadeva’s.
Then, according to Indonesian Mahabharata and Jain Mahabharata, Pandu indeed fathered all the Pandavas. According to Jain Mahabharata, Pandu is Karna’s father too in a pre-marital affair with Kunti! These versions must be carrying the Cultural Memory of some other versions of Mahabharata of antiquity than the one we know.
The integral point of all these versions is that Pandu was not impotent and was capable of giving birth. The question is: why would Pandu then want to go for a Niyoga?
The Kimdama episode – that earns Pandu the curse that he would die if he tries to have Sex with his wife - has actually three versions:
a) Pandu kills a stag mating with a doe
b) Pandu kills Kimdama by mistaking him to be deer – when he is mating with his wife
c) Pandu kills Kimdama by mistaking him to be deer – when he is mating with a doe – that is, Kimdama is killed in an act of bestiality
Since two versions agree that Pandu kills Kimdama by mistake, I accept that version as ‘authentic.’ Before dying, Kimdama absolves Pandu of the crime of Brahmana-slaughter, but curses him. Pandu abdicates the throne, and becomes an ascetic with his wife. He vows that never would he take recourse to Niyoga for children because ‘begging’ children from other men is ‘dog-like.’ Later, when he wants to go to Brahmaloka with some Rshis, and the Rshis discourage him because his wives are young and cannot undertake such arduous trek, Pandu desists, but concludes that his access to Svarga is denied because he is childless.
Next, Pandu has long discourses with Kunti to make her agree to Niyoga. Kunti resists at first, but finally gives in. She tells him about Durvasa’s Mantra, and next follows the story we have known and believed for ages.
Why despite this, do I think that Pandu fathered his own sons?
Let me now enumerate the reasons.
First, the idea of Niyoga has already passed Pandu’s mind, but he rejects the idea considering it ‘dog-like.’
Secondly, when Pandu asks the Rshis whether he could procure sons by Niyoga, they say they could foresee Deva-like sons for Pandu, and advise him to concentrate on his own effort. This suggestion is certainly not an advice to go for Niyoga, rather, a clear statement that Pandu can break Dharmashastrik Krccha if he so wishes.
Thirdly, Kunti does not agree to procure sons by other men, and counsels Pandu that he could give birth. If Kimdama’s curse is binding, how could Kunti advise so?
Even after this, why would Pandu go for a Niyoga? If Kimdama’s curse hangs over his head as a dagger suspended with a hair, the Rshis’ blessings must have set him free.
The only reason at this point why Pandu could not have Sex with his wives is that, the penance he has been undergoing for killing Kimdama is inviolable. Vyasa tells us that Pandu has been undergoing Krccha – and according to Dharmashastras, abstention from Sex is one form of Krccha. In case of serious offences (like killing Brahmana), such Krccha is to be of 12 years.
Our question is therefore,
is the Krccha of 12 years’ Sex-abstention inviolable?
Let us note some points, or rather, what I consider, Vyasa’s hints at what ‘actually’ happened:
a) After Pandu falls into difficulty, Vyasa uses the word ‘Aapadii’
b) Let us remember yet again, Pandu rejects the idea of Niyoga calling it dog-like.
Does the words ‘Aapadii’ and ‘dog’ bring anything to our mind?
a) Aapadii is the time when one can take recourse to Aapaddharma
b) Vishvamitra once ate dog-flesh while starving – and that episode is a famous example of Aapaddharma
c) During Yudhishthira’s Svargarohana, Dharma follows Yudhishthira in the guise of Dog
Thus, I consider that Vyasa’s use of the words at the time of Pandu’s Krccha-crisis is hints that Pandu-Kunti actually takes refuge of Aapaddharma. In short, Pandu and Kunti finally consider their situation as Aapadii and invoking Aapaddharma they break the ‘inviolable’ Krccha of 12 years.
Pandu thus gives birth to Pandavas.
3. More questions need to be answered …
We have reached a conclusion, but would Vyasa let us be complacent so easily?
a) Following Aapaddharma is not everybody’s cup of tea. What other strong reasons could Pandu-Kunti have that they could violate Dharmashastrik injunctions of Krccha without censor?
b) The same problem – that I pointed before – arises here. If Pandu breaks the Krccha, how could the Pandavas be born ‘serially’? Why would Madrii be quiet for 3 years?
c) If Pandavas are Pandu’s son, why are they called God-sons? If a father gives birth to his own sons, why would that fact be hidden? Why would Pandu agree to that? Why would Kunti and Madrii agree to that? Why would not the Pandavas object?
3.1. Why Pandu-Kunti could break Dharmashastrik injunctions with immunity
3.1.1. Dharmavyatikrama and Teja
In the Dharmashastras, there is an interesting concept of Dharmavyatikramah or Teja. The terms refer to persons who are not bound (or who cannot be bound) by Dharmashastrik precepts meant for ‘ordinary’ men of Society. It needs great strength of character, will, and courage to be Dharmavyatikramah and Teja. A study of the characters of Kunti and Pandavas show that the epithets indeed fit them. I will cite here three examples:
a) Kunti’s decision to send Bhiima as Baka Rakshasa’s ‘food’ to save their host Brahmana. even Yudhishthira cannot accept that decision at first and argues with Kunti, and calls her action ‘lokavedaviruddha.’ Kunti tells him calmly that what she does is Dharma: “This decision about dharma (dharmasya-viniscitam) is not coming from greed nor ignorance nor from illusion. On the basis of intelligence I have made my decision (nedam lobhan na cajnanan na ca mohad viniscitam buddhi-purvam tu dharmasya vyavasayah krto Maya, 1.150.19).”
b) According to Dharmashastra, a younger brother cannot marry before his elder brother. However, when Hidimba wants Bhiima, both Kunti and Yudhishthira sanction and approve it. Yudhishthira must have learnt his lessons from Kunti.
c) Kunti’s sanctioning of Draupadii's polyandrous marriage.
In this regard, Kunti and Pandavas are in Vyasa’s line. Vyasa’s (and Satyavati’s) Dharmavyatikramii nature is evident in the birth of his four sons. He agrees to Niyoga without following any Dharmashastrik rules (like application of ghee on the body, intercourse in dark etc.).
It is natural then that Pandu too can be Dharmavyatikramii like his father, and with a wife like Kunti. It is not without significance then that Pandu remembers Vyasa twice after killing Kimdama.
Mahabharata is a Grantha on Dharma – but it is no Orthodox Dharma that Vyasa preaches. Vyasa breaks the conventional concepts of Dharma, and presents in Mahabharata discourses on various alternatives of Dharma like Jiiva-Dharma, Strii-Dharma, Aapaddharma etc. We often find in different narratives, how one Dharma aids another form to counter another powerful form.
For example, according to Orthodox Dharma, Vishvamitra cannot eat dog-flesh. However, his Jiiva-Dharma demands that he takes food and survive. Since Vishvamitra decides that survival is more important in his ‘present’ case, Aapaddharma and Jiiva-Dharma combine together to prevail over Orthodox Dharma.
My point is, since Pandu’s situation is Aapadii, he can take refuge of Aapaddharma, and here Kunti’s Strii-Dharma comes to the aid.
Dharmashastras are place-bound and custom-bound. They are not same everywhere. I suggest the Pandavas’ birth in Uttarakuru region has a role to play here. Uttarakuru is a place where Man and Woman enjoy Sexual Freedom. Pandu shifted to that area with his wives because the Dharmashastrik bindings of Krccha would loose force there – and even the Orthodoxy of ‘then’ Aryavarta would not be able to criticize them.
If Pandu undertakes Krccha of the nature of Sex-abstention, it is his Dharmik duty to abide by rules and rituals to atone, however, what about Kunti-Madrii? Pandu’s Krccha means for them deprivation of their conjugal rights. Why would Kunti accept that?
If it is argued that Kunti should have no option but to accept that ‘Patriarchal’ Dharma, we cannot accept that. It is evident from various narratives in Mahabharata, that two parallel streams of Dharma always run in Mahabharatan Society. For convenience, I call them Orthodox Dharma, and Liberal Dharma. Aapaddharma is one aspect of this Liberal Dharma.
Strii-Dharma has various forms in Mahabharata. If one form is that a Woman is Subservient to Man, and in married life that forces her to be Subservient to her husband, the Liberal form suggests a Woman’s Evolutionary demand is far greater than the boundary set by Society, and a Woman is free to transgress that boundary to recognize her Evolutionary Self.
Ahalya is the foremost example. Despite embracing Indra out of ‘curiosity,’ (and her curiosity is owing to her Sexual Dissatisfaction with Gautama – a fact evident in Gautama-Cirakarii-Ahalya narrative in Mahabharata), she is worshipped as the first of Pancha-Kanyas. Satyavati and Kunti are two of the other Pancha-Kanyas, who, despite giving birth to sons in Kanya-hood, never acquire any ill-reputation.
Beyond doubt, Vyasa is the upholder of this Liberal Tradition. He says (the same idea is found in Dharmashastras too) that a Woman is never defiled because her monthly menstruation washes away all her sin. The Dharmashastras go as far to say that a Woman is always Pure during Sex.
Again, in several narratives the explicit bottom-line is that, when a Woman seeks Sexual Intercourse from a Man, she cannot be denied. For the Man too it does not become a matter of Dharmashastrik violation in that case. In short, when a Woman seeks Sexual Intercourse from a Man, her ‘condition’ merits the use of Aapaddharma. I will cite her three examples in brief.
When Sharmishtha seeks Yayati’s embrace she says it is his Dharmik duty to ‘save’ her in such times of ‘distress.’ When Hidimba falls in love with Bhiima she says Kunti that she would die if she does not permit her to have Bhiima. She further says that being Woman, Kunti should know what ‘oppression’ a Woman undergoes in ‘such’ times. Kunti and Yudhishthira have no problem in approving a Hidimba-Bhiima affair. During Arjuna’s singular Forest Exile after their marriage with Draupadii, Uluupii falls in love with Arjuna, even abducts him, and tells him to ‘save’ her by ‘surrendering’ to her. When Arjuna hesitates initially (or pretends so, because he has been calm and smiling all the while), and says that he cannot ‘surrender’ to her because that would be violation of his Brahmacarya-vow, Uluupii says that his vow relates to Draupadii only, and argues well why ‘saving’ her would be Dharma for Arjuna.
Of course, Arjuna being firmly established in Dharma, does ‘save’ poor Uluupii.
In all the three episodes, the message is clear. When a Woman is ‘oppressed’ by overwhelming Kama for a Man, she has Dharmik Freedom to follow Strii-Dharma or her Evolutionary demand, even if that violates typical Orthodox Dharmashastrik injunctions.
In short, Strii-Dharma may be treated as Aapaddharma.
I think the same happens in Pandu-Kunti’s case. Aapaddharma and Strii-Dharma combine together and prevail over Orthodox Dharma.
Thus, despite Dharmashastrik injunctions of Krccha, Kunti narrates Vyushitashva’s history and tells Pandu to have Sex with her. If Kunti approaches Pandu following her Strii-Dharma, Pandu cannot refuse her; and if Pandu does not refuse her, he is violating Dharmashastrik command of Krccha, but following Aapaddharma - his act is Dharmik still. Indeed, according to one Liberal Tradition of Dharmashastra, if a wife in her season seeks sexual congress with her husband, he is duty-bound to fulfill her wish.
Let us recollect that Kunti tells Pandu – you can give birth to Viira children in my womb by Dharma:
tvam eva tu mahabaho mayy apatyani bharata
viira viiryopapannani dharmato janayishyasi (1.112.3)
After narrating Vyushitashva’s history, Kunti further says – you are capable of giving birth to sons by the Power of Tapah and Yoga:
tatha tvam api mayy eva manasa bharatarshabha
shakto janayitum putrams tapoyogabalanvayat (1.112.34)
Let us note the word ‘Bala’ that Kunti uses.
When Dharmashastra threats to throttle the real demand of life, the Bala of Mind must rise to oppose, fight, and defeat the Bala of obsolete and static Dharmashastra, and must discard Dharmashastra by redefining Dharma in a new way with humanitarian vision. That is Aapaddharma, and the one who can redefine Dharma thus is Dharmavyatikramii and Teja.
If Kunti’s role here is not only like a counselor but also like Pandu’s Guru, that has again Dharmashastrik sanction – which says that in times of Aapada even a non-Brahmin can be Guru, and that regarding Dharma, Vidya, and advice anyone can be Guru.
3.2. Why would Madrii wait for three years?
If Pandu-Kunti decides to follow Aapaddharma, and Pandu respects Kunti’s Strii-Dharma thus, why would Madrii be silent for three years and want children only after Arjuna’s birth? Or, to put it otherwise, why does not Pandu respect Madrii’s Strii-Dharma and invoke Aapaddharma in her case?
The ‘serial’ birth of Pandavas is indeed a problem common to all theories of Pandavas’s birth – whether they are born in Gods’ seeds by Niyoga, whether they are born by unknown persons’ seeds by Niyoga, whether Vidura fathers Yudhishthira or all Pandavas, and whether they are Pandu’s biological son.
Since the problem is common, then I suggest it is no problem, and our present theory then must learn to accommodate it as it is, that is, the Pandavas are indeed born in that ‘serial.’
I offer here three explanations why Madrii does not give birth during the first three years.
First, from Kautilya’s Arthashastra we learn that king’s could marry Kanya who has not yet started menstruating. Then when the Kanya-queen starts menstruating, Kautilya suggests worship of Indra and Brhaspati. My point is, when Pandu marries Madrii she is yet to menstruate. Her menstruation starts only after Arjuna’s birth.
Secondly, Madrii’s might be a case of late menstruation. Medical cases record, that in some cases menstruation can start as late as 17 years of age. By a peculiar twist of fate, while Kunti starts menstruating at the ‘earliest’ scale and suffers for that, Madrii menstruates at the ‘latest’ scale and suffers for that. That would mean that when Pandu marries Madrii she is 13-14. To me this is the most satisfactory explanation.
Thirdly, Kunti and Madrii are not same. While Kunti has the courage and strength of character to violate Dharmashastras, Madrii has not. After Arjuna’s birth, Madrii perhaps makes up her mind owing to children-thirst. In that case, Kunti’s giving Mantra to her on Pandu’s request may be interpreted as Kunti’s encouraging counseling to Madrii.
Fourthly, according to many Folk Versions of Mahabharata (e.g. Bheel version, one version of Garhwali Folk Mahabharata, Jain Mahabharata etc.), all Pandavas are Kunti’s son. In some Folk Mahabharata, Madrii is non-existant.
Since we cannot deny Madrii’s ‘existence’ in Mahabharata, and since at the same time, we cannot entirely overlook the Folk Mahabharatas, the only reasonable explanation is therefore, Madrii is incapable of giving birth.
In Classical Mahabharata, when Madrii wants children, the narrative we have always believed is that Pandu tells Kunti to give Madrii her Mantra (Durvasa’s Mantra). Does Pandu really say so? Let us see.
sa tvam madriim plaveneva tarayemam anindite
apatyasamvibhagena param kiirtim avapnuhi (1.115.14)
Pandu literally says apatyasamvibhagena – to divide sons. I think that explains.
In other words, all Pandavas are Kunti’s sons, and Kunti gives away Nakula-Sahadeva (whether they are twin or not does not matter here) to Madrii. That also explains why Kunti loves Sahadeva the most. Now, that is not to suggest that Kunti could not love Sahadeva if he were Madrii’s biological son.
To me this is the second-most satisfactory explanation.
3.3. If Pandavas were born by Pandu, why are they called God-sons?
We cannot certainly state ‘all reasons’ why Vyasa or later poets choose to ‘hide’ Pandu, however, here I try to offer some.
3.3.1. Vyasa’s Kuuta-Upaya of telling truth
If Vyasa regards Pandavas as God-sons, I suggest Vyasa is only telling us the truth here – though not directly, rather in a Kuuta-way, or through poetic riddles. In the Brahma-Ganesha-Vyasa myth, Vyasa has to keep Ganesha engaged with his Kuuta-Buddhi, and perhaps, the Pandava birth-riddle is a part of that.
Let us note in what ways Pandu is Devata, and how Vyasa tells the truth without telling the truth.
In Mahabharata, Devata does not only mean beings of Supernatural Power or God, but often refers to Human Beings contextually.
First, a husband is Devata to his wife. Thus, Pandu is Devata. (Feminists need not frown upon this. It has been customary to call woman Devii)
Secondly, a Brahmana is Devata. Pandu being Vyasa’s son carries Brahmana-blood, and having taken to ascetic mode of life too he is Brahmana because he has established himself in Sattvika mode of Life. Thus, Pandu is Devata.
Thirdly, Pandu has been compared with Devata many times. During his marriage with Kunti, he is compared with Suurya and Indra, during his forest stay he is compared with Devata again. If Vyasa tells us that Kunti invokes Devata, she actually does so by invoking Pandu.
Fourthly, as king, Pandu is Indra on earth. That explains why all Pandavas are Amshas of Indra or Indra-incarnates.
Fifthly, according to Mahabharata and Dharmashastras, a king has the aspect of several Gods including Yama, Dharma, and Indra.
Sixthly, the Rshis bless Pandu that he would have God-like sons. If sons are God-like, by implication, Pandu is Devata.
3.3.2. Pandavas born in Uttarakuru region
Pandavas are born near Shatashrnga Parvata – which was most probably a part of Uttarakuru region. In Mahabharata (and Puranas, also Buddhist references etc), we have one mythical Uttarakuru also known as Svarga, and also one geographical territory where God-like people live. If Pandavas are born there, then by birth too they are God-people – and Pandu is Devata.
3.3.3. Political Propaganda
In the light of Kautilya’s Arthashastra, proclaiming association with Gods is a political strategy of ruling class to establish power and influence. (see, ‘Mahabharata: Rational Reading in the light of Kautilya’s Arthasastra’)
From Adi Parvan we know, the return of Kunti with Pandavas to Hastinapura is not that smooth. Many subjects doubt whether they are really Pandu’s son because they have ‘heard’ that Pandu had died long before. Undoubtedly, after Dhrtarashtra gets the throne, much political games have already started. If Dhrtarashtra and/or anti-Pandu camp have started propaganda that Pandu had long been dead, the Pandavas too needed counter propaganda to meet that.
Secondly, there is a clear idea doing the rounds in Hastinapura, that Duryodhana is the eldest of the next generation. Mahabharata tells us that Duryodhana is conceived first. Then however, we have a Supernatural and Mythical Narrative that Duryodhana stays in Gandharii’s womb for 2 years, and so Yudhishthira is born eldest.
In Sabha Parvan, Duryodhana mentions twice that he is elder to Yudhishthira.
Since Vyasa ‘admits’ Duryodhana is conceived a year earlier than Yudhishthira, and since we cannot believe in the ‘ghost’ story that Duryodhana stays in Gandharii’s womb for 2 years and another year as a sliced meat-ball in a pot, the only rational conclusion is, Duryodhana indeed is the eldest.
We would have known that better and clearly, had Duryodhana won the war.
The Pandava-‘side’ thus needs a viable story that would enable Yudhishthira to be conceived one year later yet born one year earlier. The propaganda that they are Godsons is thus necessary, because Gods are capable of giving birth like ‘instant coffee.’
4. Pandavas, Godsons: The Beauty of Vyasa’s Kavya
Mahabharata is Itihasa-Kavya, we must remember that. Vyasa’s part is not just to ‘report’ to us the history of his times, but also to convey to us his poetic visions and Wisdom through Coded Messages.
All Supernatural and Mythical Narratives of Mahabharata are in fact such Coded Messages.
I suggest that by describing the Pandavas as godsons, Vyasa tells us many things at one go:
a) Pandu-Kunti (and Pandu-Madrii) relational dynamics at the time of birth of each
b) Character of Pandavas
4.1. Pandu-Kunti (and Pandu-Madrii) relational dynamics at the time of birth of each
4.1.1. Yudhishthira: Dharma’s Son
As the narrative goes, Pandu tells Kunti to invoke Dharma. As we have seen, this Dharma-God is no other than Aapaddharma.
As king, Pandu is Indra on earth, and according to SHatapatha Brahmana, Indra-king is also Dharma-king. Thus, Pandu is also Dharma.
If Pandu-Kunti decide to invoke Dharma first, that suggests their motive in violating Dharmashastrik Krccha is with Dharma-motive.
Much later – in Anushasana Parvan – Vyasa tells all that both Vidura and Yudhishthira are Dharma, and that he who is Vidura is Yudhishthira. This dialogue is often taken as a ‘conclusive proof’ that Vidura is Yudhishthira’s father. Having had already rejected that interpretation, I suggest Vyasa is here pointing out an affinity between Vidura and Yudhishthira.
Vyasa could not foresee Vidura’s birth; similarly Yudhishthira’s birth is also unforeseen for him. Vidura is Shuudra-Dharma and Yudhishthira is Aapaddharma – both ‘outcaste’ Dharmas from the Point of View of Vedic Orthodoxy, but both cherished Dharmas that Vyasa writes Mahabharata for.
4.1.2. Bhiima: Vayu’s son
Vayu has close affinity with Indra and Vishnu. Pandu is Indra on earth, and he is Vishnu’s Amsha (Anushasana Parvan). One name of Indra is Maghavan – and according to Shatapatha Brahmana, Indra acquires that name because of being established in Makha or Sacrifice. In Shatapatha Brahmana, Vishnu is Makha. Thus, Indra as Maghavan represents a synthesis of Indra-Vishnu – and Pandu is both Indra-Vishnu thus.
In Vyasa’s narrative to Drupada regarding the previous birth of Pandavas, one ex-Indra wants to take birth in Maghavan’s seeds. We know now, that Maghavan is no other than Pandu.
While resolving to take ascetic mode of life, Pandu tells specifically that he wants to be like Vayu. Vayu here suggests Freedom from Dharmashastrik boundaries or Social Dharma. Pandu says: “Freed from all sins and snares of the world, I shall be like Vayu subject to none (na vashe kasya cit tishthan sadharma matarishvanah). Following the path of fearlessness and bearing myself in this way I shall at last lay down my life (deham samdharayishyami nirbhayam margam asthitah) (1.110.15-19).”
In short, if Kunti invokes Vayu, she invokes Vayu-Pandu. Vayu-Pandu is the metaphor for forceful violation of Dharmashastras to recognize Aapaddharma.
After the first son is born, the purpose of Dharma is served. Yet, Pandu wants another son – thus, the force like Vayu is necessary for them.
4.1.3. Arjuna: Indra’s Son
Before Arjuna’s birth, Pandu-Kunti undertakes a Vrata of one year. They do this after consulting with the Rshis and Munis who lived with them. Arjuna’s birth is the most ‘pure’ in the exercise of Aapaddharma because not only is it sanctioned by Rshis, but also they undertake Vrata like Indra.
We may remember, Indra is called Vratapa in RgVeda.
4.1.4. Nakula-Sahadeva: Ashvins’s sons
In RgVeda, Ashvins share one aspect of Indra; like Indra, they are also Shaciipati – thus Ashvins are Pandu-Indra’s ‘healing aspect,’ because Ashvins are healer Gods. Healing is not only physical healing, but also refers to mental healing.
Kimdama’s curse and aftermath must have left scar in Madrii’s mind. Pandu’s embracing her ‘cures’ her.
4.2. Character of Pandavas
On the eve of war, during Krishna’s peace mission, Kunti tells Krishna about her sons:
“He that is endued with modesty, is firm in truth, with senses under control and compassions for all creatures,--he that hath vanquished both lust and malice and always treadeth the path of the righteous, he that ably bore the heavy burthen borne by Amvarisha and Mandhatri Yayati and Nahusha and Bharata and Dilip and Sivi the son of Usinara and other royal sages of old, he that is endued with an excellent character and disposition, he that is conversant with virtue, and whose prowess is incapable of being baffled, he that is fit to become the monarch of the three worlds in consequence of his possession of every accomplishment, he that is the foremost of all the Kurus lawfully and in respect of learning and disposition, who is handsome and mighty-armed and hath no enemy,--Oh, how is that Yudhishthira of virtuous soul, and of complexion like that of pure gold?
He that hath the strength of ten thousand elephants and the speed of the wind, he that is mighty and ever wrathful amongst the sons of Pandu, he that always doth good to his brothers and is, therefore, dear to them all, he, O slayer of Madhu, that slew Kichaka with all his relatives, he that is the slayer of the Krodhavasas, of Hidimva, and of Vaka, he that in prowess is equal unto Sakra, and in might unto the Wind-god, he that is terrible, and in wrath is equal unto Madhava himself, he that is the foremost of all smiters,--that wrathful son of Pandu and chastiser of foes, who, restraining his rage, might, impatience, and controlling his soul, is obedient to the commands of his elder brother,--speak to me, O Janardana, tell me how is that smiter of immeasurable valour, that Bhimasena, who in aspect also justifies his name--that Vrikodara possessing arms like maces, that mighty second son of Pandu?
O Krishna, that Arjuna of two arms who always regardeth himself as superior to his namesake of old with thousand arms, and who at one stretch shooteth five hundred arrows, that son of Pandu who in the use of weapons is equal unto king Kartavirya, in energy unto Aditya, in restraint of senses unto a great sage, in forgiveness unto the Earth, and in prowess unto Indra himself,--he, by whose prowess, O slayer of Madhu, the Kurus amongst all the kings of the earth have obtained this extensive empire, blazing with effulgence,--he, whose strength of arms is always adored by the Pandavas,--that son of Pandu, who is the foremost of all car-warriors and whose prowess is incapable of being frustrated,--he, from an encounter with whom in battle no foe ever escapeth with life,--he, O Achyuta, who is the conqueror of all, but who is incapable of being conquered by any,--he, who is the refuge of the Pandavas like Vasava of the celestials,--how, O Kesava, is that Dhananjaya now, that brother and friend of thine?
He that is compassionate to all creatures, is endued with modesty and acquainted with mighty weapons, is soft and delicate and virtuous,--he that is dear to me,--that mighty bowman Sahadeva, that hero and ornament of assemblies,--he, O Krishna, who is youthful in years, is devoted to the service of his brothers, and is conversant with both virtue and profit, whose brothers, O slayer of Madhu, always applaud the disposition of that high-souled and well-behaved son of mine,--tell me, O thou of the Vrishni race, of that heroic Sahadeva, that foremost of warriors, that son of Madri, who always waiteth submissively on his elder brothers and so reverentially on me.
He that is delicate and youthful in years, he that is brave and handsome in person,--that son of Pandu who is dear unto his brothers as also unto all, and who, indeed, is their very life though walking with a separate body,--he that is conversant with various modes of warfare,--he that is endued with great strength and is a mighty bowman,--tell me, O Krishna, whether that dear child of mine, Nakula, who was brought up in luxury, is now well in body and mind? O thou of mighty arms, shall I ever behold again Nakula of mine, that mighty car-warrior, that delicate youth brought up in every luxury and undeserving of woe? Behold, O hero, I am alive today, even I, who could know peace by losing sight of Nakula for the short space of time taken up by a wink of the eye.”
In my opinion, this speech is the most significant one that explains why Pandavas have Dharma, Vayu, Indra, and Ashvins as their fathers. As we can see, the character of the Pandavas correspond to their God-fathers, or to put it otherwise, because of the presence of prominent qualities and attributes of Dharma, Vayu, Indra, and Ashvins in Yudhishthira, Bhiima, Arjuna, and Nakula-Sahadeva respectively, Vyasa or later poets has/have hailed them as Amshas of these Gods, or incarnates, or sons of these Gods.
We must note that Kunti never calls the Pandavas the sons of these Gods, and she constantly refers to them as Pandu’s sons.
Vyasa, in Mahabharata, places the Mother above everything else in the world. Thus, what Mother Kunti says about her sons is final regarding their birth.