King Pandu, the emperor of the world, killed a sage and his wife who were disguised as deer just as they were about to mate. Before the sage died, he cursed the king to die if the king ever tried to conceive a child. As the Mahabharata continues, the sage Vaisampayana tells of Pandu's lamentation and of the extraordinary birth of Pandu's sons.
Seeing the young sage pass away, the king was distraught. Agonizing over the accidental killing of a saintly brahmana, he and his wives lamented as if for their own kin.
People like me who lack spiritual advancement, even though born in noble families, come to misfortune by their own foolish acts. Such people are trapped in the network of their selfish desires.
I have heard that my father Vicitravirya, though born to religious parents, became absorbed in sex pleasure and by overindulgence that young king died childless. Therefore, the self-disciplined and divine sage Dvaipayana begot me in my father's wife. [What a blessed birth was mine!] And yet today my degraded mind became absorbed in evil passion, and I foolishly lost myself in hunting. I am so wicked that even the gods have abandoned me!
[I conquered the earth with military strength, but because I did not conquer my own material desires I remained in bondage.] I am determined to seek salvation, for bondage to this world is nothing but a great calamity. Now I shall follow the imperishable path of my father Dvaipayana. I have no doubt. I shall practice the most severe austerities and wander the world alone as a thoughtful mendicant, staying each day beneath the shelter of a single tree. I shall shave my head and cover my body with dust. I shall live in deserted houses or simply beneath a tree, and nothing will please or displease me. I shall not lament or rejoice for any material thing. Whether people ridicule or praise me, I shall accept both ridicule and praise equally. I shall not hanker for anything in this mortal world, or flatter any man for his favor. Heat and cold, happiness and distress, victory and defeat I shall not waver in the face of these worldly dualities, nor shall I claim anything to be mine. I shall not ridicule or frown upon any creature. I shall always be of cheerful countenance and dedicate myself to the spiritual welfare of every living being. I shall not commit violence against any life, moving or unmoving, for I shall always look upon all God's creatures as my own beloved kin. I shall treat all living things with equality.
Speaking thus, King Pandu, deeply aggrieved, breathed heavily for a long time. Carefully meeting the eyes of his beloved Kunti and Madri, he told them, "Everyone must be told of the changes in my life. Many people depend on me, so as gently as possible you must inform my mother, the wise Vidura and King Dhrtarastra, and all our other relatives. Speak to the noble Satyavati and Bhisma, all the priests of the royal family, and the brahmanas, those great souls so strict in their vows who drink the nectar of the gods. Tell all the senior and elderly citizens who have faithfully served us all their lives. Tell them all that Pandu is gone, gone alone to the forest."
Hearing of his decision to live in the forest as an ascetic, the women replied with equal determination: "There are other stages of life for married people in which you can perform heavy austerities together with us, your lawful wives. Undoubtedly you will be successful and reach the heavenly abode. Both of us are ready to fix our mind and senses on spiritual life, for we are determined to follow you in this life and the next. We have decided to give up material lust and enjoyment, and we shall undergo serious austerities. O most learned one, O lord of the earth, if you reject us we shall immediately give up our lives. There is no doubt about it."
If that is what you have both decided, then you may come along, since your proposal is in accord with religious principles. But I warn you, I shall follow my vows strictly, following my father Dvaipayana Vyasa. I shall truly renounce all domestic comfort and concerns and perform severe austerities. I shall wander in the deep forest, dressed in tree bark, nourished on wild fruits, nuts, and roots. I shall sit by the fire, not only in freezing winter but in scorching summer. I shall bathe in the river not only in summer but in winter as well. I shall wear rags and skins and long matted hair, and my body will grow thin from my meager diet. I shall have to tolerate cold, wind, and heat. Hunger, thirst, and fatigue will be my constant companions. By all these difficult austerities, I must conquer and dry up the senses before they conquer me. If my senses overwhelm me, I shall immediately die, and not a glorious death.
In all my thoughts and acts, spiritual progress will be my only goal. With the fruits of the wilderness, ripened or not, and with my words and thoughts and all that I collect, I shall worship my venerable forefathers and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whom they adored, and I shall revere the Lord's empowered servants who manage this temporary world.
As I wander about the wilderness, I shall never do anything to harm or displease the elderly who have retired to the forest for spiritual liberation. Nor shall I disturb my countrymen or any of the simple village-dwellers. I shall strictly follow the scriptural injunctions for renounced life in the forest. Indeed, I wish to follow the most severe of those injunctions, until this body is finished and I lie down in peace.
Having thus spoken to Kunti and Madri, the great Kuru monarch took off his jeweled crown, medallion, bracelets, and earrings, and he offered everything to the saintly brahmanas, including his invaluable wardrobe and the wardrobe and jewels of his wives.
Pandu then spoke again, this time addressing his followers and personal attendants: "Go to Hastinapura," he said sadly, "and make it known that Pandu, along with his faithful wives, has departed for the forest to live as a mendicant, without worldly riches or pleasure."
Hearing these heart-rending words from their beloved lord, Pandu's followers and personal attendants made a terrible cry and sobbed in anguish. Shedding hot tears, they turned away from their monarch and ran to Hastinapura to deliver his final message. When the Kuru leader Dhrtarastra heard from them all that had happened in the deep forest, he could not stop weeping for his younger brother.
Life in Hundred Peaks
In the meantime Pandu, the beloved Kuru prince, journeyed with Kunti and Madri to the mountain called Naga-sabha, along the way eating only wild fruits, nuts, and roots. Traveling like sages, they journeyed next to Caitraratha and beyond that to Varisena, continuing their trek by crossing over the mighty Himalayan range and going up to Gandhamadana. All along the way, Pandu and his women were protected by powerful higher beings such as the mystic Siddhas and liberated sages. Sometimes he stayed on smooth and easy earth, and at times on the steep sides of mountains. He lived at times in hardship and at times with an abundance of natural gifts. Reaching the famous lake of the primeval monarch Indradyumna, he crossed beyond to Hamsakuta and finally arrived at the mountain region called Satasrnga, "Hundred Peaks," where he surrendered fully to the practice of religious austerity.
The mighty Pandu lived for some time in the region of Hundred Peaks, perfectly executing religious austerities. Higher beings like Siddhas and Caranas, who frequented the area, appreciated his noble character and grew quite fond of him. They saw that Pandu was free of false pride, always eager to help others, and completely self-controlled in mind and senses. To some residents of Hundred Peaks he was like a brother, and to others a close friend. The senior sages loved him like their son and took care of him in every way. With the blessings of those sages and after long practice, Pandu achieved mastery in his religious austerities and became exactly like a powerful sage versed in the spiritual wisdom of the Vedas.
Once on a dark-moon night, the leading sages of Hundred Peaks, so strict in their vows, prepared to leave that place. These great ascetics wished to see Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, and they were all leaving together. Seeing the sages ready to depart, Pandu said, "O eloquent masters, kindly tell me where you are all going."
The sages replied, "There will be a great meeting of saints on the planet of Lord Brahma. The demigods, the sages, the forefathers, and all the great souls will be there. We are eager to see Lord Brahma, and so we will also journey there."
Hearing their words, Pandu at once yearned to go with them and quickly rose from his seat. Eager to reach the heavenly abode, he prepared to depart with his wives toward the north, but seeing this the austere sages told him, "We are going very far to the north on our way to Brahma's abode. We shall be ascending Mountain King, the vast Himalayan region. In our previous journeys there, we have seen many lands that are difficult to cross, places where the gods themselves, as well as the Gandharvas and Apsaras, have established exclusive places for recreation. We have seen there the famous gardens of Kuvera, both flat and hilly, the undulating banks of mighty rivers, and impenetrable mountain canyons.
"There are lands en route that are always cold icy places where no trees, animals, or birds can live. There are vast expanses of inaccessible terrain and zones of such heavy rainfall that even birds cannot cross, what to speak of other animals. Mystic Siddhas and liberated sages like us can make it across, but other than us only the wind goes through that land. How could your two wives possibly travel through Mountain King without collapsing on the way? Those fine ladies are the daughters of kings and are quite unaccustomed to such hardship. We might add that they hardly deserve such pain and trouble. O Bharata king, it is best that you not go."
King Pandu's Request
[Hearing the words of the sages whom he so deeply revered, Pandu bowed to their request. But since they were leaving, he revealed to them that which troubled his heart, despite all of his austerities.]
O most fortunate sages, authorities say that there is no way to heaven for a childless man. I confess to you all that being childless causes me great anguish. Strapped with four kinds of debts, men are born in this world, for they have dues to pay to the forefathers, to the gods, to the sages, and to other men debts by the hundreds and thousands. Knowers of the law have established that a human being who does not acknowledge these debts at the proper time will not attain to the higher planets. One satisfies the gods by sacrifice, the sages by study and penance, the forefathers by children and sraddha rites, and humanity by kindness.
By law, I am freed of my debts to the sages, gods, and humanity, but I still owe a debt to the forefathers, and for this I feel pain, O ascetics rich in austerity. If a man leaves no descendants, when his body perishes his forefathers also perish. That is a fact. Thus it is to have progeny that noble men are born in this world.
Dear sages, even I was begotten in my father's widow by a great soul. By a similar arrangement, couldn't there be offspring from my wives?
The ascetics said:
O virtuous king, you certainly will have beautiful and sinless children, like unto gods. We know it by divine sight. O tiger of men, by your acts you must accomplish what is ordained by providence. An intelligent man, undistracted, enjoys a happy ending. Dear son, since the goal is already in sight, you must simply endeavor, and upon obtaining very qualified children you will attain to happiness.
Hearing these words from the ascetic sages, Pandu absorbed himself in thought, knowing well that because of the brahmana-deer's curse he could not beget a child. [The sages were gone, but Pandu fixed their words in his mind.] He then spoke to his lawful wife Kunti in a secluded part of the forest, urging that celebrated woman to accept the right and necessary means to beget children in times of difficulty:
"My dear Kunti, to beget good children is the very foundation of society, and thus it is enjoined in the sacred lawbooks. Sober authorities have therefore recognized that to raise good children is sanatana-dharma, a perpetual duty for civilized human beings. The performance of sacrifice, charity, and austerity, the careful observation of regulative principles it is said that even all these will not suffice to sanctify the life of a childless man.
"Knowing this well, I clearly see that as a childless man I myself shall not achieve the blessed worlds. This is my constant worry, O sweet-smiling woman. O shy one, due to my immaturity I was cruel toward the brahmana-deer, and as I ruined his act of begetting, so my power to conceive a child has been ruined by his curse.
"Good woman, I cup my red-nailed hands like lotus petals, and placing them on my head in supplication, I beseech your mercy. O lovely-tressed lady, at my behest [and as authorized by scripture] approach a brahmana who is greater than I in his vows and austerity and beget sons endowed with every noble quality. With your help, broad woman, I will surely go to the blessed land reserved for the fathers of good sons."
Determined to help her husband and to please him, that lovely woman of tapering thighs then replied to her Pandu, who had conquered the cities of all impious kings: "While living as a young girl in my father's house, I was engaged in serving the respected guests who came to our kingdom. Once I received the fierce brahmana Durvasa, who is so strict in his vows. Durvasa bears frightening power and is extremely dangerous when displeased. It is moreover most difficult to understand what will please or displease him. I made every possible effort to serve him nicely, and at last that strict seer was satisfied. He gave me a boon and revealed a set of mantras invested with mystic power. He said this to me: 'Whatever demigod you care to summon with this mantra, he will certainly come under your control, willing or unwilling.'
"O Bharata, that brahmana thus spoke when I was still in my father's house. His words are true, and the time has come. O mighty, saintly king, with your permission, I shall summon a god with this mantra so that we may have a child. You know best what is right and true. Tell me, which god shall I summon? Know that I simply await your permission, for I am determined to carry out this mission."
This very day, O statuesque woman, you must act, and by the rule! Bring to you the god Dharma, good lady, for he among all the gods is devoted to virtue. Dharma would never join us in this endeavor were it unjust or evil. O statuesque lady, thus the world will conclude, "This act was lawful." Our little son will undoubtedly be the very image of justice for the Kurus. When he is given to us by Dharma, the lord of justice, his mind will never delight in adharma, injustice. Therefore, making dharma, virtue, our first priority, you must concentrate, sweet-smiling one. With reverence and the mystic mantra, seek the blessings of Dharma.
When Kunti was thus addressed by her husband, that excellent woman replied, "So be it!" She offered him her heartfelt obeisances and, with his permission, respectfully circumambulated him.
Sons of the Gods
My dear King Janamejaya, after a year of pregnancy, Dhrtarastra's wife Gandhari still had not given birth to a child. At that time Kunti summoned the unfailing Dharma so that she herself could become pregnant.
Kunti quickly offered an oblation to Dharma and carefully chanted the mantra given to her years ago by Durvasa Muni. Joining with Dharma, who appeared in his true form as a devoted servant of the Lord, the statuesque princess obtained as her son the best of all that breathe.
Exactly at noon, at a most auspicious moment, when the moon is especially benevolent and the stars foretell pious victory, Kunti gave birth to a son of glorious fame. As soon as he was born, an invisible voice spoke from the heavens: "Among all who faithfully follow the laws of God, this child is undoubtedly the best. The first-born son of Pandu will be known as Yudhisthira, 'steady in battle,' and his fame as a monarch will spread throughout the universe. Fully endowed is he with fame, strength, and kindness."
Having obtained a virtuous child as his first son, Pandu again approached Kunti and said, "It is said that a ksatriya king is preeminent in strength. [Our sons will be leaders, and they must have ideal qualities.] Therefore, choose for your boon a son who is the strongest of all men."
Being so instructed by her husband, Kunti summoned the mighty wind-god, Vayu, and from him was born a mighty-armed son named Bhima, "the dreadful one," for he would act with terrifying power. Indeed, Bhima's surpassing strength would never fail, and at his birth a heavenly voice declared, "Of all mighty men, the mightiest has now taken birth."
Indeed soon after his birth, a most amazing incident took place. Still an infant, Bhima once fell from his mother's lap and with his tender limbs pulverized masses of solid stone. On the tenth day after his birth, Kunti had taken her son to a charming lake to bathe him. After bathing him, she went to visit various religious shrines in the area to obtain blessings on her baby. Just as Kunti reached the foot of a mountain and stopped to rest, a huge tiger suddenly emerged from a mountain cave and rushed with deadly speed toward the helpless mother and child. Pandu had been keenly watching his wife as she walked toward the mountain. He always carried his bow and arrows to protect his family in the dangerous jungle. As the huge tiger rushed to kill, Pandu, with the prowess of the gods, pulled back his handsome bow and pierced the tiger's body with three deadly arrows. Lunging back into its cave, the mortally wounded beast filled the cavern with awful roars.
When the tiger attacked, Kunti had jumped up in terror, forgetting that her child slept peacefully on her lap. The infant Bhima fell from her lap and began to roll down the slope. He struck the stone mountain with the strength of thunderbolts hurled by mighty Indra. Indeed, as Bhima bounced down the slope, solid stone shattered into hundreds of pieces. When Pandu had seen his beloved son fall from his mother's lap, Pandu had come running, but when he beheld the shattered stone he was struck with awe.
On the very day Bhima was born, O lord of the abundant earth, Duryodhana also was born. Soon after Bhima's birth, Pandu again began to desire another son. "How can I have another excellent son," he thought, "a son who will be most exalted in this world? Success in life depends both on God's blessings and on our own honest endeavor. If we carefully follow the laws of God and act at the proper time, surely we can obtain His blessings.
"We have heard that among the demigods who manage our world, Indra is the chief. He is said to possess immeasurable strength, courage, nobility, and splendor. [Surely Indra could give us the greatest son of all.] I shall make a special effort to satisfy Indra by performing austerities, and I shall thus obtain a mighty son. Indeed, Indra will give a most exalted son. Yes, I shall perform very difficult austerities with my body, mind, and speech [to convince mighty Indra of our sincerity]."
Pandu discussed his plan with the great sages and he then instructed Kunti to observe an auspicious vow for one year. And with utmost concentration, Pandu underwent a grueling austerity, standing on one leg from sunrise to sunset without rest, determined to gain the favor of Lord Indra, the chief of the thirty principal demigods. After a long time, O Bharata, Indra addressed the virtuous Kuru king: "I shall give you a son who will be celebrated throughout the universe. That excellent child will fulfill the mission of the gods, the brahmanas, and his own loved ones, for I shall give unto you the first of sons, and he will vanquish all who oppose him."
Hearing these words from Lord Indra, and keeping them in his mind, the noble Pandu said to Kunti, "O sweet-smiling wife, we have received the mercy of the king of gods. O shapely wife, call him now and beget a son who will carry all the fire and might of the warrior race, a great soul who will be strict in moral principles, brilliant as the sun, invincible in battle, dynamic, and exceedingly wondrous to behold."
At these words, that illustrious lady called Indra, and the king of gods came to her and begot Arjuna. As soon as the child was born, a voice from the sky spoke out in such deep, clear tones that the heavens resounded with the message: "O Kunti, this child shall bring glory to your name, for he will be as invincible as his mighty father, Indra. Indeed, his power and courage will equal those of kings like Kartavirya and Sibi.
"Just as the Supreme Lord Visnu gave ever-increasing pleasure to His mother Aditi [when He appeared as Vamana], so your son Arjuna, who is like Visnu Himself, will increase your happiness more and more. He will subdue the Madra warriors, the Kekayas and the warriors of Cedi, Kasi, and Karusa, and thus he will establish the authority of the Kuru dynasty. By the strength of his arms, the god of fire will be fully satisfied by consuming all the creatures of the Khandava forest.
"This powerful leader of his people will heroically conquer the regional rulers of the earth and then with his brothers perform three great religious sacrifices. O Kunti, your son will be fierce in battle like Parasurama himself, and his deeds as glorious as those of primeval Visnu. Arjuna will be the very best of heroes, and none will defeat him, for he will secure unto himself the most advanced celestial weapons. Thus this best of men will bring back the glory and opulence of his dynasty."
Resting in the maternity room, Kunti heard these most extraordinary words which Vayu himself vibrated in the sky. As the learned ascetics of Hundred Peaks heard these loud declarations, the greatest joy arose among them. And so Lord Indra himself, with all the demigods, great sages, and other denizens of heaven, began to celebrate the birth of his earthly son. Celestial drums sounded forth, and a joyful tumult filled the skies. Showers of flowers floated to earth from the heavenly abodes as communities of demigods and godly beings, shouting congratulations, gathered to honor the exalted son of Prtha.
Pandu himself happily worshiped the Supreme Lord and His appointed representatives. Pleased with his worship, the demigods then addressed that best of kings: "By the mercy of the Supreme Lord, acting through his empowered demigod agents, Justice himself has taken birth as your first son, Yudhisthira; the mighty Wind has appeared as your powerful son Bhima, who will always crush the wicked; and now by the mercy of Indra, Arjuna has appeared as your son, endowed with all the potency of Lord Indra. Surely there is none more pious than you, for the gods themselves have become the fathers of your children. You are free of your debt to the forefathers, and you will attain the heavenly abode, for the merit of piety is yours to enjoy." Having thus spoken, all the demigods departed as they had come.
King Pandu, overjoyed by his blessings, was still not satiated, but rather felt encouraged to pursue further his intense yearning for exalted children. Again, therefore, the illustrious monarch requested his lovely and shapely wife Kunti to beget a child, but this time Kunti adamantly refused and spoke the following words:
"Even in times of crisis, authorities do not allow a woman to approach four different men. If I approach another man, I shall certainly become a fallen woman. A fifth time and I would become an ordinary harlot. Pandu, you speak like a madman. How can you think to violate my honor like this for the sake of another son, knowing as you do our religious principles? We should remember those principles!"
"Yes," said Pandu, "you are right. The religious principle is exactly as you have stated it."
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Fluent in several languages, Hridayananda Dasa Goswami has extensively taught Krsna consciousness in India, Europe, the United States, and Latin America. He is a member of the Governing Body Commission, the ultimate managing authority of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.