Mahabharat Episode 11: The Origins of the Pandavas
After a long hiatus, we’re back with the Mahabharat series. In this episode, Pandu’s curse leaves him facing childlessness, despite his two young wives. However, Kunti avails her boon of a mantra, calling upon the gods to bring children. We learn the origins of each of the five Pandava brothers.
For a king and for the future of his kingdom, not having children was a big problem. Who was going to be the future king? The moment others saw there was no strong prince in succession to the throne, just about anyone would get ambitious. This was a political problem.
Once again, as in the previous generation, the Kuru clan did not have progeny. Pandu got so frustrated with this situation that he gave up all his power and authority and went to live with his wives in the forest. He interacted with the sages who were around and tried to keep himself busy, tried to forget that he was a king, but this deep frustration kept on growing within him. One day, when it reached its peak, he told Kunti, “What shall I do? I want to kill myself. If none of you bear children, the Kuru clan will be lost. Dhritarashtra also does not have children. Besides, he is a king in name only, and since he is blind, his children anyway should not be kings.
When he expressed his frustration to a point where he wanted to commit suicide, Kunti revealed something about herself. She said, “There is a possibility.” He asked, “What?” She said, “When I was a young girl, Sage Durvasa came to my father, and I was his hostess. He was so pleased with me that he gave me a mantra. He said with this mantra, I can call for any god I wish and I can bear his child. So if you really wish, I will do this for you.” She did not tell him that she had already called someone in the past. Pandu was more than eager. He said, “Please do it. Whom shall we call?” They thought for a moment; then Pandu said, “We must call Dharma. We must have Dharma’s son as the king of the Kuru clan.” Dharma is also known as Yama, the Lord of Death and Justice.
Birth of Yudhishthira and Bhima
Kunti withdrew into the forest and called for Dharma, and Dharma came. She bore a child, who was named Yudhishthira and considered as the first of Pandu’s sons. A year had passed when Pandu became greedy and said, “Let us have one more child.” Kunti said, “No, we have a son and the Kuru clan has progeny. This is enough.” He said, “No, we must have one more child.” He begged and pleaded, “What will they think of me if I have only one son. Please have one more.” “So who should be the father?” Pandu said, “We have Dharma, but we also need strength. So let us call Vayu, the God of the Winds.” She withdrew and called for Vayu. Vayu came. Because he was such a fierce presence, they could not stay where they were. He took Kunti and went away.
There is a beautiful, detailed description in the Mahabharat of how they initially crossed the mountains, then the oceans, before they flew into Ksheera Sagara, which means “ocean of milk” – the Milky Way. He showed her that the Earth is actually round. He told her that when it is day in Bharatvarsh, on the other side of the globe, it is night. And when it is night here, it is day there. And that there was another great civilization on the other side of the planet, what kind of people lived there, and what their skills and capabilities were. He said that there were also great sages, seers and warriors in that land. Kunti bore another child, the son of Vayu – Bhima, who, as he grew up, was described as the strongest man in the world.
After some time, Pandu said, “I know I am greedy, but after seeing these two beautiful sons, how can I resist? I want one more son – just one more.” Kunti said, “No, no.” Time passed, but Pandu would not leave her. She finally said, “Okay, who?” He said, “Let’s get Indra, the king of all gods – none less than that.” She invited Indra and bore a child by him – Arjuna, the greatest archer and warrior. The Mahabharat refers to him as the Kshatriya, which means the warrior. There has never been another warrior like him, and there never will be.
The three divine children grew up and started displaying phenomenal skills, capabilities, and intelligence. All the focus was upon them and their mother Kunti. Pandu’s other young wife, who neither had a husband to call her own nor children, grew increasingly bitter. One day, Pandu noticed that Madri was no more the sweet bride he had married – her face looked venomous. He asked, “What is the matter? Aren’t you happy?” She said, “How can I be happy in this place? It is all about you, your three sons, and your other wife. What is there for me?” After an initial argument, she said, “If you can ask Kunti to teach me the mantra, I will also bear children. Then you will pay attention to me too. Otherwise, I am just an appendage.”
Pandu understood her plight. He went to Kunti and said, “Madri needs a child.” Kunti said, “Why? My children are also her children.” He said, “No, she wants children of her own. Can you teach her the mantra?” Kunti said, “I cannot teach the mantra, but if it is necessary, I will use the mantra, and she can call for any god that she wants.” She took Madri into a cave in the forest and said, “I will use the mantra. Think of the god that you want.” The young woman was confused, “Whom shall I call? Whom shall I call?” She thought of the two Ashvins, who are not gods but demi-gods. Ashva means horse – the two were divine horsemen linked to the clan who were horse experts. Madri had twins of these Ashvins – Nakula and Sahadeva.
The Five Pandavas
So Kunti had three children – Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna. Madri had two children – Nakula and Sahadeva. But Pandu still wanted more children. For a king, the more sons he had, the better. When battles happened, the number of sons may decrease, so it was best to have as many as possible if you wanted to conquer, or even just rule the land. Kunti said, “This is it. No more children for me.” Pandu pleaded, “Okay, if you are not willing, use the mantra for Madri.” She said, “Nothing doing,” because the queen who had the maximum number of sons would be the main queen. She had three sons, Madri had two, and she didn’t want to give away this arithmetic advantage. She said, “Nothing doing. We are not using the mantra anymore.”
The sons of Pandu were referred to as Pandavas. The boys grew up as pancha Pandavas, the five Pandavas. They were the king’s children and members of the royal clan, but they were born and grew up in the forest for about 15 years.
To be continued...
Editor's Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower, October 2015.