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Yudhisthira on the throne with Draupadi, surrounded by the other Pandavas
In the Hindu epic Mahabharata,Yudhisthira (Sanskrit: युधिष्ठिर, yudhiṣṭhira meaning "steady in war", from yudh meaning war, and sthira meaning steady, also Bharata (descendant of the line of Bharata) and Ajatashatru (one without enemies)), the eldest son of King Pandu and Queen Kunti, was king of Indraprastha and later of Hastinapura (Kuru). For his piety, he was known as Dharmaraja (which may be translated as either 'righteous king' or 'king of dharma'). He was the leader of the successful Pandava side in the Kurukshetra War or the Mahabharata War. At the end of the epic, he ascended to heaven along with his four brothers.
- 1 Birth and upbringing
- 2 Coronation and Marriage
- 3 Performing the Rajasuya
- 4 Losing kingdom and exile
- 5 Return to Indraprastha and Kurukshetra War
- 6 Retirement and Ascent to Heaven
- 7 Virtues of Yudhisthira
- 8 In the media
- 9 Citations
- 10 External links
Birth and upbringing
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Once a Brahmin rishi, Kindama and his wife were making love in the forest when Yudhisthira's father Pandu accidentally shot at them, mistaking them for deer. Before dying, Kindama cursed the king to die when he engages in intercourse with any woman. Due to this curse, Pandu was unable to father children. As an additional penance for the murder, Pandu abdicated the throne of Hastinapura, and his blind brother Dhritarashtra took over the reins of the kingdom.
After Pandu's disability, Yudhisthira was conceived in an unusual way. His mother, Queen Kunti, had in her youth been granted the power to invoke the Devas by Rishi Durvasa. Each Deva, when invoked, would bless her with a child. Urged by Pandu to use her boons, Kunti gave birth to Yudhisthira yajna invoking the Lord of Judgement, Dharma(also known as Yama. Being Pandu's eldest son, Yudhisthira was the rightful heir to the throne, but this claim was contested by the Dhritarashtra's son, Duryodhana. It has been claimed by the astronomers researching on Indian system of astrology that he was born at near about 3154 BC as the legend says on a full moon of Jyeshtha (month), the second month on Indian calendar (according to current systems, falls between mid May to mid June. His zodiac sign was Scorpio and zodiac moment was Leo according to Indian system of zodiac.
As the child was born the sages and the deities predicted the he will be the most virtuous, honest and truthful king of all times. In Sanskrit - "eSha dharmabhrutang shreShtha bhabiShyati narottamah".
Yudhisthira's four younger brothers were Bhima, (born by invoking Vayu); Arjuna, (born by invoking Indra); and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, (born to Pandu's second wife Madri by invoking the Ashwini Gods). If Karna, the son of Kunti born before her marriage by invoking Surya is counted, Yudhisthira would be the second-eldest of Kunti's children, hence, since his father, Yama was the son of Surya, so Surya was the grandfather of Yudhishtra and Karna was the paternal uncle also, to Yudhishtra as well as an elder brother.
Yudhisthira was trained in religion, science, administration and military arts by the Kuru preceptors, Kripa and Drona. Specifically, he became a master in using the spear and war chariot. It is said that his spear was so strong that it could penetrate a stone wall as though it were a piece of paper. His chariot always flew at a 4 finger distance from the ground for his piety.
Coronation and Marriage
Yudhisthira came back to Hastinapura after his training was over, and under the advice of Bhishma, Dhritrashtra had to make him the crown prince of the state. But due to the growing love of people for him, Dhritrashtra and Duryodhan became jealous and conspired to kill him with his brothers and mother Kunti in Varnavata, a border town of Hastinapura. Vidura sensed the conspiracy and with his wisdom Pandavas bore a tunnel and fled from the house made of incense just before it was set in fire.
On the fleeing spree the five brothers married the legendary Draupadi and made an alliance with Panchalas and their mother's relatives the powerful Vrishni Yadavs, led by Krishna, and came back to the city for rightful inheritance of the throne. Under the advice of Bhishma, Dhritrashtra decided to divide the Hastinapura kingdom between Kauravas and Pandavas. Yudhisthira gracefully accepted the arid and fallow region of Khandavaprastha that was offered to him.
With the help of Yudhisthira's cousins, Krishna and Balarama, and the Deva architect Viswakarma, Yudhisthira constructed a new city, Indraprastha in the area offered to him. The Asura architect Mayasura constructed the Mayasabha, which was the largest regal assembly hall in the world. Yudhisthira was crowned king of Khandavaprastha (Later named Indraprastha). As he governed with absolute piousness, with a strict adherence to duty and service to this people, his kingdom grew prosperous, and people from all over the world were attracted to it.
Yudhisthira married the Panchali princess Draupadi, who bore him a son, Prativindya. Prativindya was killed by Aswatthama as a revenge for his father Drona's death at the end of the Kurukshetra war. Another wife of Yudhisthira was Devika, the daughter of Govasana of the Saivya tribe, who bore him a son named Yaudheya. His son Yaudheya was killed by Karna.
Performing the Rajasuya
After the coronation at Indraprastha, Yudhisthira set out to perform the Rajasuya yagna to become the Emperor of the World. His motives were not to obtain power for himself, but to establish dharma and defend religion all over the world by suppressing the enemies of Krishna and sinful kings.
Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva led armies across the four corners of the world to obtain tributes from all kingdoms for Yudhisthira's sacrifice. The non-compliant Magadha king, Jarasandha was defeated by Bhima and Krishna. At his sacrifice, Yudhisthira honoured Krishna in the Rajasuya for his slaying of Jarasandha.
Losing kingdom and exile
Yudhisthira succumbed to Shakuni's challenge in the game of dice, while being a novice in it. He lost all his kingdom in the game and was forced into exile for 13 years, which included one year in anonymity.
During exile, once four other Pandavas happened to drink water from a lake, which was haunted by a Yaksha. Yudhisthira went in last, answered many questions put forth to him by the Yaksha and released his brothers. This story is often cited as an example of Yudhisthira's upright principles. The Yaksha later identified himself as Yudhisthira's father, Dharma and pointed them to the kingdom of Virata to spend their last year in exile anonymously.
Along with his brothers, Yudhisthira spent his last year of exile in the kingdom of Virata. He disguised himself as a Brahmin named Kank (within themselves Pandavas called him Jaya) and taught the game of dice to the king. While in the last month of their Agyatbas, the kauravas had attacked Virata. The helpless son of Virata, Uttar, was assisted and protected by Brihannala (in disguise Arjun) in the fight. Later when Virata's kingdom emerged victorious, Virata boasted about his son to Yudhisthira during a dice game between them. Yudhisthira knew the truth, and tried his best to convince the king that the whole fight was fought by Brihannala. The king in a rage threw the dice on Yudhisthira's face. His nose bled and the maid present there (in disguise Draupadi) quickly rushed to Yudhisthira with some water in a bowl so that his blood did not fell to the floor. The king was informed that Uttar and Brihannala were coming back and he gladly invited them. However Yudhisthir silently ordered the soldier not to let Brihannala (Arjun) in as he knew if Arjun sees his own brother hurt, he would destroy the entire race of Virata. Uttar comes and sees Yudhisthira in this state. He rushes to tell his father to plead to Kank for forgiveness as if someone makes his blood fall because of no fault of his own then he being the pious son of Dharma could destroy their family completely. After Virata came to know their real identity, Yudhisthira readily told him that he had forgiven him long ago and they thanked Virata for his kindness.
Return to Indraprastha and Kurukshetra War
When the period of exile was completed, Duryodhana and Shakuni refused to return Yudhisthira's kingdom. Yudhisthira made numerous diplomatic efforts to retrieve his kingdom peacefully but in vain. He was convinced by Krishna to wage war.
Yudhisthira had to bend numerous rules of Dharma during the course of the war. Krishna made him trick Drona about the news of the death of Ashwathama. Yudhisthira also had to slay a number of warriors, including his own uncle, Shalya.
Duel with Drona and Duryodhana
When Drona became the commander of the Kaurava army, his main objective was to capture Yudhishthira. But Arjuna guarded his brother ferociously. On the fourteenth night however, Drona challenged Yudhisthira to a duel. Drona showers numerous weapons on him, but Yudhishthira calmly counters them and successfully drove off his preceptor. Eager to continue the duel, Yudhishthira is about to chase the guru but is stopped by Krishna. On the fifteenth day, Drona launched a furious attack on the Pandava army when Arjuna was distracted. Yudhishthira lead a counterattack with his brothers and managed to wound Drona grievously.
Yudhishthira and Duryodhana engaged themselves in a duel on the 16th day of the war. However, with his level headed demeanour, Yudhishthira overpowers his cousin. With four sharp arrows, he kills Duryodhana's horses, with a fifth, his charioteer, with a sixth, knocks off his diadem, a seventh, breaks his bow and with an eight his sword. he cuts off his banner with a spear but spares his life as he was weaponless.
Killing Of Shalya
Shalya was the brother of Madri and thus a maternal uncle of the Pandavas. He was tricked into joining the Kauravas. Yudhishthira however managed to extract a vow from him that he will constantly demoralize Karna when he becomes his charioteer for the duel with Arjuna. Krishna said that since Shalya was a warrior with a calm demeanour none but Yudhishthira would be able to match him in a duel. Therefore he swears to kill him. though he fights with him several times, he lets Shalya live as he was needed to help defeat Karna. On the eighteenth day Krishna reminds Yudhishthira of his vow. A usually mild Yudhishthira was transformed into a ferocious fighter as he used his bow to break through the Kaurava ranks in search of Shalya. With his expertise in using the war chariot, he destroyed Shalya's many times, but he kept coming back on another one. Yudhishthira breaks his chariot for the last time with a shower of 700 arrows. In desperate attempt, Shalya rushed towards him on foot but Yudhishthira hurled his spear towards Shalya, thus killing him. At the end of the war, Yudhisthira performed the Ashwamedha Yagna and crowned himself as the Emperor of Hastinapura.
Retirement and Ascent to Heaven
Upon the onset of the Kali yuga and the departure of Krishna, Yudhisthira and his brothers retired, leaving the throne to their only descendant to survive the war of Kurukshetra, Arjuna's grandson Parikshit. Giving up all their belongings and ties, the Pandavas, accompanied by a dog, made their final journey of pilgrimage to the Himalayas.
While climbing the peaks, Draupadi and four of the Pandavas fell to their deaths, dragged down by the weight of their guilt for their sins. While on the way up, Yudhisthira had to answer every time Bhima asked him the reason for his wife and brothers' fall. But he did not even look back to help any of them which seemed very cruel to Bhima. This was because Yudhisthira knew that the time to leave earthly ties had come and he needed to focus his mind. Yudhisthira was the only one to reach the mountain peak in his mortal body, because he was unblemished by sin or untruth. This may also prove that Dharma cannot die ever.
On reaching the top, Indra asked him to abandon the dog before entering the Heaven. But Yudhisthira refused to do so, citing the dog's unflinching loyalty as a reason. It turned out that the dog was his god-father, Dharma. The incident symbolized that dharma follows you till the end.
Virtues of Yudhisthira
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Son of Dharma
Yudhisthira's true prowess was shown in his unflinching adherence to Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteousness to fulfill one's moral duty), which were more precious to him than royal ambitions, material pursuits and family relations. Yudhisthira rescued Bhima from Nahusha. He also rescued his four brothers from Yaksha by exemplifying not only his immense knowledge of Dharma, but also understanding its finer implications.
Yudhisthira's understanding of Dharma was distinct from that of other righteous kings. He married Draupadi along with his four brothers, he had Bhima marry an outcast Rakshasi, he denounced casteism, saying a Brahmin is known by his actions and not his birth or education, thus portraying a changeable Dharma that modifies itself to suit the times.
Due to his piety, Yudhisthira's chariot did not touch the ground (until his deception of Drona), to symbolize his purity. This means he was well regarded as a wise and pious man even by his enemies.
Yudhisthira was unable to refuse when Duryodhana's maternal uncle, Shakuni, challenged him to a game of dice. Thanks to Shakuni's mastery of gambling, Yudhisthira lost each game, eventually gambling away his kingdom, his wealth, his brothers and finally his wife. Yudhisthira was criticized by Draupadi and Bhima for succumbing to temptation and playing dice, an art he was absolutely unskilled at, making the Pandavas prey to Shakuni and Duryodhana's designs. Yudhisthira reproached himself for weakness of mind, but at the time he argued that it was impossible to refuse a challenge of any nature, as he was a Kshatriya and obliged to stand by the Kshatriya code of honour.
During the thirteen years, his adherence to religious values in face of adversity was repeatedly tested.
Karna is Yudhisthira's elder brother as well as his paternal uncle
Yudhisthira was also skilled in the art of political maneuvering. Despite all the taunts from his wife and his brothers, he would not rashly make war upon Kauravas. He waited for right moment when Kauravas were at their weakest; that is, when their chief warrior Karna was deprived of his invincible powers.
He also cursed the entire womenhood of not being able to hide any secrets with themselves after he was made aware that Karna was his elder brother after the holy war of "Mahabharata".
Piety and Dharma
He was considered so pious that some sources say his ratha (chariot) used to fly four fingers above the ground in the battle of Kurukshetra. He spoke truth in the hardest circumstances. He was cheated multiple times by the Kauravas. But he as a king and protector of Dharma always felt for his subjects. He tried to avert the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas as far as possible. But since sins of Duryodhana kept piling he was forced to fight against Duryodhana. He was never greedy about the throne and always cared for the benefit of all beings. Even at the last battle between Bhima and Duryodhan he promised Duryodhana that he will give Duryodhana the throne if Duryodhana wins the mace fight. He was a deserving person and became the king after Duryodhan's death. This symbolises the victory of dharma over evil. He was an adept warrior with the spear and ratha.
Test of patience in Hell
Yudhisthira was carried away on Indra's chariot. On reaching heaven he did not find either his virtuous brothers or his wife Draupadi there. Instead he saw Duryodhana and his allies. The Gods told him that his brothers were in Naraka (hell), atoning for their sins.
Yudhisthira loyally went to Naraka to meet his brothers, but the sight of gore and blood horrified him. Though initially he was tempted to flee, after hearing the voices of his beloved brothers and Draupadi calling out to him, asking him to stay with them in their misery, he remained. Yudhisthira ordered the divine charioteer to return. He preferred to live in hell with good people than in a heaven with his enemies. Eventually this turned out to be another illusion to test him and also to enable him to atone for his sin of deceiving his guru during the war where he half-lied to Drona about Ashwatthama's death. Thereafter Indra and Krishna appeared before him and told him that his brothers(including Karna) were already in heaven, whilst his enemies suffered from hell's torment in due time for their earthly sins.
In the media
Being a character in Indian mythology and an important person in Mahabharata, this role has been enacted by various actors over the years. Two most famous actors to have played this role are Gajendra Chouhan, Mahabharat (1988 TV series), and Rohit Bharadwaj, Mahabharat (2013 TV series) ( Interestingly, both actors were offered the role of lord Krishna first and then Yudhisthira). Famous Indian actor, Manoj Bajpayee, has also voiced the charcter in an animated Mahabharat (2013 film).
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