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The Eldest of the Trio: Vidura
|by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay|
Continued from Previous Page
Certainly, Dhritarashtra would not have taken Vidura on his lap and smelt his head, ‘ankam.aadaaya.viduram.muurdhny.upaaghraaya,’ had he been younger to Vidura.
Then Vidura says, ‘O king, I have forgiven thee. Thou art my superior, worthy of the highest reverence! Here am I, having come back, eagerly wishing to behold thee!’
Which shows Vidura clearly admitting that Dhritarashtra is his ‘guru’.
When Shakuni and Duryodhana advises Dhritarshtra to play dice, Dhritarashtra calls for Vidura and says, ‘Vidura is my minister, I am under his rule,
Though Dhritarashtra says he is under Vidura’s rule that does not necessarily mean Vidura is the eldest, of course. For, the next moment, Vidura comes and touches the feet of his elder brother-
“The intelligent Vidura, however, as soon as he heard of it, knew that the arrival of Kali was at hand. And seeing that the way to destruction was about to open, he quickly came to Dhritarashtra. And Vidura approaching his illustrious eldest brother and bowing down unto his feet said these words: ‘O exalted king, I do not approve of this resolution that thou hast formed. It behave thee, O king, to act in such a way that no dispute may arise between thy children on account of this gambling match.’
Along with this we have two other references, where Vidura ‘seems’ to be the youngest, but the matter is very confusing, and not so conclusive. In Udyoga Parva, Drona recollects Pandu’s abdicating the throne and says: ‘(Though king by right) that perpetuator of Kuru’s race (Pandu) yet made over the sovereignty to his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, endued with great wisdom, and to his younger brother Kshattri (Vidura)-
Vidura is clearly mentioned as ‘yaviiyasas’.
But Drona also says: ‘And having made over the kingdom to Dhritarashtra and Vidura, that conqueror of hostile cities, Pandu, wandered over the whole earth-
If Vidura was a mere shuudra-Dasi born youngest son, how could Pandu give him the kingdom at par with Dhritarashtra?
After Drona’s speech, Gandhari tells Duryodhana: ‘The kingdom of the Kurus is enjoyable in due order of succession. Even this hath always been the custom of our race. Of sinful soul and exceedingly wicked in acts, thou seekest the destruction of the Kuru kingdom by thy unrighteousness. Wise Dhritarashtra is in possession of the kingdom, having Vidura of great foresight under him (as his adviser). Passing over these two, why, O Duryodhana, dost thou, from delusion, covet the sovereignty now? Even the high-souled king and Kshattri, when Bhishma is alive, should both be subordinate to him.-
But the next moment she says: ‘Let this king (Dhritarashtra) and Vidura also, at the command of Bhishma of great vows, proclaim the same thing.
If ‘due order of succession’ is ‘the custom of our race’, how can Gandhari contradict herself in same breath and wish that Vidura be king at par with Dhritarashtra?
Though calling the dialogues ‘interpolation’ would be an easy escape-route, I would not like to use that much detested word at this time. So, how do we reconcile Vidura’s exalted position in Hastinapura with his shuudra-Dasi born youngest status? Before deciding on that, let us go through another important episode – when Bhisma contemplates marriage of the Trio.
Iravati Karve notices the improbability of Bhisma seeking advice of the youngest Vidura: ‘The beginning of chapter 103, where such a conversation occurs, is clearly an interpolation. Bhishma says to Vidura, “I have decided to bring Subala’s daughter Gandhari, the Madra princess Madri, and the Yadava princess Kunti as brides to our house. What do you think of this, Vidura?” Vidura answers, “You are our father and mother. Do what you think right.” Following this exchange is a long account of each girl, ending with her marriage. This means that the eight stanzas at the beginning of the chapter are meaningless. Moreover, the question was about the marriage of Vidura’s two elder brothers, and Vidura himself was unmarried. All the brothers must have been below the age of twenty, and Vidura was the youngest of the three. It is impossible that Bhishma should have asked his advice at such a time.’
Now, we agree with Karve that Bhisma’s asking Vidura’s advice is impossible if Vidura is the youngest. In that case he would have spoken (if at all) either to Dhritarashtra or Pandu. However, if Vidura is the eldest it is only natural for Bhisma to speak with him over the matter.
Another interesting thing is to be noted in Bhisma’s speech is what he actually says:
It is to be noted that he does not mention ‘Kunti’, though all translators, readers and researchers take ‘yaadavii.kanyaa’ as none other than Kunti.
The order of mentioning the princesses is also very significant, though the significance is lost in most translations. For example, K.M. Ganguly translates it as, ‘One is the daughter of (Surasena of) the Yadava race; the other is the daughter of Suvala; and the third is the princess of Madra’, that is certainly not in the original. It is evident that thinking Dhritarashtra to be eldest, he mentions Gandhari first. One of the problems with translations is the translator translating with a pre-conceived notion, which makes the translation an interpretative re-creation of narrative instead of a direct re-creation.
H.J. Resnick does not mention ‘Kunti’, ‘I’ve heard there is a very nice princess in the Yadu dynasty who would be quite suitable for our family. Similarly, King Subala has a nice daughter, and so too the king of Madras.’ Prof. P. Lal also transcreates her as the ‘Yadava Princess.’(1.110.5)
Since the three princes have been mentioned together all along, it is likely Bhisma would be considering three princesses for their marriage. In my opinion, the ‘yaadavii.kanyaa’ cannot be Kunti, though most readers of Mahabharata think so. This ‘yaadavii kanyaa’ is actually Yadava Devaka’s daughter by his Sudhra wife, with whom Vidura is ultimately married to,
Except Kunti (who garlands Pandu in swamvara) the three wives of the three brothers are actually Bhisma’s ‘arranged marriage.’ That is another reason why this ‘yaadavii kanyaa’ is not Kunti, for if Bhisma has really thought of Kunti at this time, how is it that Pandu would leave himself to chance (or better, given Bhisma’s penchant for arranging marriages, why would Bhisma allow Pandu to leave maters to chance) in Kunti swamvara?
If ‘yaadavii kanyaa’ is Kunti, and if Dhritarashtra is eldest, Bhisma’s mentioning order of the princesses creates another problem. The following absurd chart evolves going by the much believed belief regarding how Bhisma plans marriage:
Dhritarashtra – Kunti
The absurdity is on at least two counts. First, why would Bhisma think of two wives for Pandu and one wife for Dhritarashtra Secondly, if Bhisma asks Vidura’s opinion, where is Vidura in the scheme? However, going by our thesis, Bhisma’s mentioning of the princesses fit exactly, if we think it this way:
Vidura – Yadavi Kanya
One may question, where is Kunti in the scheme? To that our answer is Kunti was never in Bhisma’s scheme, and that is why Pandu has to go to Kunti’s svamvara and earn his prize for himself.
Vidura’s coy and reverential answer to Bhisma also shows how he interprets Bhisma’s question as including himself i.e. how he thinks the ‘yaadavii kanyaa’ is meant for him: ‘Thou art our father and thou art our mother, too. Thou art our respected spiritual instructor. Therefore, do thou what may be best for us in thy eyes.’
Nowhere in the Mahabharata have we found mention that Pandu went to Kunti-swamvara with Bhisma’s permission and any careful reader should note how Bhisma receives the brides.
This is how Gandhari is received: ‘And Gandhari was received with great respect and the nuptials were celebrated with great pomp under Bhishma’s directions. And the heroic Sakuni, after having bestowed his sister along with many valuable robes, and having received Bhishma’s adorations, returned to his own city.’(KMG-Adi.110)-
Contrast that with the description of when Pandu returns with Kunti: ‘Then the Kuru prince Pandu, accompanied by a large force bearing various kinds of banners and pennons, and eulogised by Brahmanas and great Rishis pronouncing benedictions, reached his capital. And after arriving at his own palace, he established his queen therein.’
Not only is that Bhisma’s absence in Pandu-Kunti’s reception conspicuous, Pandu himself ‘established his queen therein’, whereas Bhisma should have done it. Bhisma is clearly discontent with the marriage, and now decides to go ahead with his own plan: ‘Some time after, Bhishma the intelligent son of Santanu set his heart upon getting Pandu married to a second wife. Accompanied by an army composed of four kinds of force, and also by aged councillors and Brahmanas and great Rishis, he went to the capital of the king of Madra.’(KMG-Adi.113)
It should also be noted how an exalted Bhisma returns having ‘bought’ Madri: ‘Then the wise Bhishma, the son of the oceangoing Ganga, rejoiced at the issue of his mission, took Madri with him, and returned to the Kuru capital named after the elephant. Then selecting on auspicious day and moment as indicated by the wise for the ceremony, King Pandu was duly united with Madri.’
Though the Bhisma-Pandu conflict is not a relevant matter for discussion here, we may yet cite one reason why ‘yaadavi kanya’ could not have been Kunti. In Shanti-Parva Bhisma says, ‘The king should always devote himself to the study of the three Vedas. He should respect the Brahmanas and do good offices unto them. He should be devoted to righteousness. He should make alliance (of marriage) with high families. (KMG-Shanti.123)
Kunti-bhoja’s family was not considered ‘high family’ not only by the Kurus but even by Madras as evident in Karna-Shalya dialogue. That is why we find Madri telling Pandu later in the forest that she is of higher birth than Kunti. So, Pandu clearly went against Bhisma’s wishes to Kunti’s svamvara and married her. As per the narrative, Vidura’s marriage is described after Pandu returns from the Digvijaya and before he even leaves for the forest with his wives. As we have already seen, this is improbable.
In my opinion, Dhritarashtra was married first, and then Pandu married Kunti in swamvara. Since Pandu despite being younger to Vidura married before him, he remained silent when Bhisma brought (and bought) Madri for him. That was the Dharmashashtric rule of the day. We get this rule in Shanti Parva in Bhisma’s voice: ‘The younger brother who has married before the marriage of the elder brother, as also the elder brother whose Younger brother has married before him, becomes cleansed by observing a rigid vow, with collected soul, for twelve nights. The younger brother, however, should wed again for rescuing his deceased ancestors. Upon such second wedding, the first wife becomes cleansed and her husband himself would not incur sin by taking her. ‘(KMG-Shanti.36)
So, where does this all leave us? Being deceived by the Dasi, Dwaipayana blessed her: ‘Thy child also shall be greatly fortunate and virtuous, and the foremost of all intelligent men on earth!-
It is because Dwapayana was deceived, that he realized he was actually deceived by Destiny for purpose beyond his comprehension. That is why he does not bless the Dasi with a son like Mitra, Varuna or Indra, but with a son like Dharma. Dwaipayana’s blessing marks a transition from the Vedic Age to Upanishadic Age as indicated by the shift of his preference from Mitra to Dharma. Dwaipayana clearly had some purpose when he agreed to be Niyukta.
In Section 28 of Ashramavasika Parva, following Vidura’s death, Dwaipayana narrates to Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Kunti and the Pandavas: ‘At the command of the Grandsire, and through my own energy, Vidura of great intelligence was procreated by me upon a soil owned by Vichitraviryya.’
Here, Vyasa says that he agreed to be the Niyukta at the command of Brahma. In other words, it was the decision of his intelligent conscience. Vyasa’s confession means that it was by his desire that he entered the Kuru family. But soon he realized that his purpose must be subservient to God’s purpose.
If Vidura is the eldest, as we theorize, then, (blessed by Dwaipayana) we may say that their character and natural inclination follows Tri-Varga, Dharma-Artha-Kama,
Vidura – Dharma
Well, that might satisfy our aesthetic sense of making Dwaipayana the father of four Purusharthas, but is God and Destiny so humanely poetic as to cater to human poetic needs?
Then again, why would we consider Dhritarashtra = Artha, and Pandu=Kama, when the Mahabharata itself says that Dhritarashtra was the root of Duryodhana Manyu-Tree or adharma tree; and when Krishna says in Gita – ‘kaamaat krodhabhijaayate’ meaning, ‘the root of krodha is kaama’, therefore implying Dhritarashtra=kaama? So, we need to re-adjust the model a bit:
Vidura – Dharma
Undoubtedly, the Tri-Varga model, Dharma-Artha-Kama, is severely disturbed. How would we reconcile with that? How would we also reconcile with the references that Vidura was youngest?
Before arriving at a conclusion, let us remember that Dwaipayana had high respect for Vidura. In Section 28 of Ashramavasika Parva he tells all including Dhritarashtra, ‘Even Vrihaspati among the celestials, and Sukra among the Asuras, was not possessed of such intelligence as that foremost of persons.
And he calls him Dharma personified –
The Mahabharata poet also makes it clear that Vidura alone was Dwaipayana’s true ‘aatmajah’: ‘And, O king, the son thus begotten upon her by Krishna-Dwaipayana was afterwards known by the name of Vidura. He was thus the brother of Dhritarashtra and the illustrious Pandu-
Our final conclusion would in fact be two conclusions in adherence to the glorious ambiguity of Mahabharata and also in respectful subservience to its glorious tradition of multiple narratives within a single frame in Mahabharata in true ‘mimesis’ of history and historicity.
Conclusion One: Vidura was the eldest. Later Brahmana poets thought it ‘improper’ that a shuudra-Dasi born should be so, and interpolated dialogues of some important characters to establish that he was the youngest.
Conclusion Two: Vidura was the first to be conceived. Dhritarashtra and Pandu were conceived in the next two successive nights. Since, conception of a day earlier does not biologically determine earlier birth; Vidura was born after Dhritarashtra and Pandu as the youngest, or younger to Dhritarashtra and elder to Pandu.
Since, Vidura was conceived first, therefore born in the womb first, he always received high honour at par with Dhritarashtra and Pandu, who could never question his seniority. Vidura’s seniority in the womb, yet his being junior in earthly birth, makes the Tri-Varga model topsy-turvy:
Dhritarashtra – Kama
In other words, it becomes Kama-Artha-Dharma instead of Dharma-Artha-Kama, and that is one reason, metaphysically speaking, why the failed Mitra-Varuna-Indra, and more importantly, the precedence of Kama over Artha and Dharma, became the root of Kali Age, that would manifest as a full-grown tree in the next generation through Duryodhana considered to be incarnate of Kali.
Now, it is up to readers to choose their own conclusion. Given my humane weakness of double standard – cherishing multiple conclusions theoretically, yet practically yearning for a single one – my personal preference goes to Conclusion No.1.
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01/26/2011 14:33 PM
Ashish Chandra Mishra
01/16/2011 22:39 PM
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