The Eldest of the Trio: Vidura

Continued from Previous Page

Had Vidura really been the youngest result of Dwaipayana’s carnal desire, could that ‘living corpse’ be brought up at par with Dhritarashtra and Pandu?    

However, despite all our above arguments, there are many references in Mahabharata that Vidura was younger to Dhritarashtra, in fact, references enough to make my theory collapse. For example, once there was misunderstanding between Dhritarashtra and Vidura, and then Dhritarashtra realized his mistake and called Vidura back. When Vidura returned, ‘the king then took Vidura on his lap and smelt his head, and said, ‘Forgive me, O sinless one, the words in which thou wert addressed by me!-


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.
anujnayaa.ca.atha.mahaa.vratasya;bruuyaan.nRpo.yad.viduras.tathaa.eva./ (CE-5.146.34)

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,
‘Meanwhile the son of the ocean-going Ganga heard that king Devaka had a daughter endued with youth and beauty and begotten upon a Sudra wife. Bringing her from her father’s abode, Bhishma married her to Vidura of great wisdom.’(KMG-Adi.114)

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
Pandu – Gandhari
Pandu – Madri

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
Dhritarashtra – Gandhari
Pandu – Madri

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
Dhritarashtra – Artha
Pandu – Kama
And taking Suka into account –
Suka – Moksha

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
Dhritarashtra – Kama
Pandu – Artha

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
Pandu – Artha
Vidura – Dharma

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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More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

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Views: 3522      Comments: 2

Comment thanks for your patient reading.
brother, a theory is a theory is a theory.
the base of my theory is that, mahabharata has been interpolated much; so, what we have today is not entirely Vyasa's.
besides, all great names - drona, kripa, bhisma - have their mothers' names hidden; in all probablity they were not of higher varnas. so, the matrilineal thing did not work in their case.
vidura, despite being eldest, would not have been accepted as king by citizens - that's what i think, he did not get the throne.
citizens wielded power those days. see, for example janamejaya's ascension in adi parva. though he was natural choice being parikshit's son, he had to be elected by citizens. and bhisma's 'jyathamashai' pratipa did not get throne owing to objections of citizens. if a kshatriya prince is deprived of throne, no doubt, a dasi-putra would be.
looks like 'democratic monarchy' - with all the hazards of democracy.

26-Jan-2011 14:33 PM

Comment Dear Indrajit da,

Much respect to you for your in depth knowledge and detailed analysis of the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the entire article and read it several times, separately as well as in conjunction with other articles published elsewhere. I feel that although you have made a very logical attempt to investigate and expose the aberrations in the lineage (I will come to this again in the end), yet it may be futile for Vidura. I will attempt to analyze your thoughts mentioned in this article.

My humble submission in favor of Vidura not being the eldest are as follows:

1. The probable reason behind concealing 'Vidura was the eldest' in Mahabharata may have been to justify why Vidura, despite being eldest, was not offered the throne. That also, when Dhritarashtra was born blind and Pandu as an albino. It is a separate argument that a blind or an albino can't be the king. Both were made the king in succession, but not Vidura, because it is not just about being elder.

2. The varna of offspring in those days would be determined by the varna of the mother at the time of their birth. He was born of a Shudra-Dasi mother and so, he was also of same varna. This automatically takes him out of the contention of the throne and therefore, there may not be any need to hide his being elder and also no need to interpolate dialogues of characters to establish he was the youngest.

3. As to why Vidura was brought up equal to Dhirtarashtra and Pandu, well, they were all fathered by the same person (Vyasa or Krishna-Dwaipayana), and with Satyavati behind the Niyoga, it would have been very odd to not give Vidura the same affection and respect as his other two half-brothers. Of course, he went on to deserve all of this due to his own intelligence and tactfulness. However, when it came to offering the throne, then he was never the choice, regardless of age.

4. Rest of the points in your article, establishing the age-theory through the order of the names of their wives, or the order of Dharma-Artha-Kama or for that matter Mitra-Varuna-Indra by equating with them seems a bit far-fetched purely because they have to serve as means to an end - there has to be some purpose behind the supposed age-theory indoctrination. And the result was already well known to everyone, that Vidura could not be the king due to above mentioned reasons.

5. As for the theory behind sequence of conception and birth of Dhirtarashtra, Pandu and Vidura, it also seems unlikely purely based on when dasi was sent. It may also have been that Vyasa warned his mother about a blind son after eyes-wide-shut episode with Ambika, so Satyavati would have asked her to do it again. Since it was so unpleasant the first time (the real reason for her eyes closed, nothing to do with big-O), she could not get herself to do it and sent in her dasi.

Other arguments about Vyasa's carnal desire or Ambika fancying Bhishma, etc. are purely speculations and not much can be read into these. As it is, the man involved in the act himself was the one who wrote it all and we have no means to contradict his writings. I also think glorification of winners in battle of Kurukshetra and justifying them as the ones with Dharma was also overstated, when in fact, none of the Kauravas and Pandavas were true sons of Kuru. The lineage of Kuru ended with Bhishma, with all Kauravas and Pandavas being progeny of Vyasa.

Ashish Chandra Mishra
16-Jan-2011 22:39 PM

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