King Pandu was cursed to die if he were to ever approach his wives for sexual intercourse. At his request, therefore, his wife Kunti bore three sons through union with demigods. As the Mahabharata continues, the sage Vaisampayana tells of the birth of two sons to Madri, Pandu's other wife, and of the king's death. For the mighty king, who in the forest had mastered his senses as he had formerly conquered his enemies, fell prey to uncontrolled lust.

Vaisampayana continued:

The Brahmana’s Curse Fulfilled

AFTER KUNTI and Gandhari gave birth to their children, the lovely Madri, daughter of the Madra king, approached her husband, Pandu, in a secluded place and spoke these words: "I have no complaint against you, even if you have treated me unfairly. I have always taken the inferior role, though by right I was to be honored. Nor was I unhappy or jealous when I heard that Gandhari gave birth to a hundred sons. But allow me to tell you what makes me very, very unhappy. Although I am equal to these women, I have no children! It is our good fortune that Kunti has given you sons to preserve your family line. If she could possibly arrange for me to give you sons also, this would be the greatest blessing for me and good for you as well. Because of my natural rivalry with Kunti, I cannot bring myself to ask her, but if you are in any way pleased with me after all these years, you should personally convince her."

Pandu said:

My dear Madri, you know that the desire for children is ever turning in my heart. [I wanted you to ask Kunti to share her boon with you, but] I dared not ask you to do this because I was not certain whether you would be pleased with the idea or not. But now that I know your feelings, I accept personal responsibility to do this for you. I'm sure that Kunti will carry out my instruction.

Vaisampayana said:

Thereafter Pandu spoke to Kunti in a secluded place and told her, "You must act to preserve my family and bring happiness to the world. You are a good woman, and now, out of your love for me, you must carry out a supreme act of goodness so that I and our forefathers never lose the holy Pinda*. For the sake of your good name and glory, perform this difficult task. Even after achieving sovereignty, Lord Indra performed sacrifices, seeking a good reputation. O lovely lady, the twice-born knowers of mantras yet undertake grueling austerities and wait upon their gurus for the sake of glory and a good name. Likewise all the saintly seers,brahmanas, and ascetics underwent difficult tasks, large and small, for the sake of true glory. O faultless woman, with the boat of your boon it is you who must take Madri across the river of her grief. Share the gift of progeny and attain to the highest glory."

Thus addressed, Kunti at once spoke to Madri. "You must think of a deity, one time, and he will undoubtedly bestow on you a child with qualities similar to his own."

Hearing these words, Madri carefully considered the matter, until finally her mind settled on the twin Asvins, the handsome physicians of the heavenly planets. Kunti then faithfully chanted her powerful mantra, and the twin gods came at once and begot in Madri a set of twins.

* Pinda is a religious offering made by sons and descendants to ensure that their fathers and forefathers do not fall from heaven.

Madri's two sons, unequalled in their beauty, became known in this world as Nakula and Sahadeva. As with Pandu's other children, an invisible voice announced their glorious birth: "These two boys will surpass all others in beauty, strength, and kindness. Indeed, they are blessed with extraordinary splendor, stamina, beauty, and wealth."

As these noble Kuru princes were born to Pandu, one year after the another ** , the joyful brahmanas bestowed names. The eldest they called Yudhisthira; the middle son of Kunti, Bhima-sena; the third, Arjuna. The eldest twin of Madri they declared to be Nakula, and the younger Sahadeva. All five possessed great nobility, stamina, courage, strength, and daring. Seeing his sons as handsome as gods and very powerful, the monarch rejoiced, and the greatest happiness was his. The five Pandava boys were loved by all the sages who dwelled in Hundred Peaks, and by the sages' saintly wives.

except for the twins, who were born together.

Then Pandu again spoke to Kunti, requesting that Madri be allowed to use the special mantra again. As they sat alone together, the chaste Prtha replied, "I invoked the mantra only once on her behalf, and yet she obtained two children. Somehow I feel cheated by that. I fear that Madri will surpass me. I am sorry, but that is the nature of women. I was so foolish. I didn't know that by calling two gods it was possible to get two sons at once. Therefore, I should not be ordered by you to do this. Please give me that benediction."

[Pandu agreed.] Thus all five god-given sons were born to King Pandu. Each of them possessed great strength, all would be glorified for their heroic deeds, and all would increase the prosperity and influence of the Kuru dynasty. Their bodies were marked with auspicious signs and were as agreeable to the sight as the placid moon. Proud as lions, these sons possessed deadly skills with the bow and arrow. They walked with the confident gait of lions, and their necks were as strong as a lion's. They were the natural leaders of society, and as they grew to maturity their heroic deeds revealed their godly origins. Growing up in the holy Himalaya range, the five constantly amazed the saints who resided there with them. In fact, both the five Pandavas and the hundred sons of Dhrtarastra grew quickly, like lotus flowers quickly rising up in clear waters.

Vasudeva Sends Gifts

When the sons of Pandu came into this world, the ascetic inhabitants of Hundred Peaks at once accepted them within their community, treating them as if their own children. Meanwhile, the members of the Vrsni dynasty, headed by Vasudeva, spoke among themselves as follows: "Frightened by a brahmana's curse, Pandu journeyed to Hundred Peaks and there became an ascetic, dwelling with the sages. He lived on forest vegetables, roots, and fruits, performed austerities, carefully controlled his senses, and fully devoted himself to mystic meditation on the form of the Lord within the heart. So has the king lived." [The Vrsni leader, Vasudeva, was Kunti's brother and Pandu's brother-in-law.]

The Pandavas

The many Vrsni warriors, with their friends and allies, shared a great love for Pandu, so much that as they heard and discussed the news of his condition, their hearts were torn by grief. "When will we hear good news about Pandu?" they lamented.

Even as the Vrsnis and their friends were thus grieving, they heard that Pandu, despite the brahmana's curse, had become the father of worthy sons. All of them were then filled with joy. Celebrating among themselves, they spoke to Vasudeva these words: "The mighty sons of Pandu must not be deprived of the proper religious ceremonies. O Vasudeva, you ever seek their welfare and affection. Send to them the royal priest."

"So be it," said Vasudeva, and he sent the royal priest, together with many gifts appropriate for young boys. Remembering Kunti and Madri, he also sent cows, gold, and silver, and he dispatched servants, maidservants, and gifts for the home. When all these gifts were ready, the priest took them and departed.

When King Pandu, who had conquered the cities of his enemies, saw that the royal priest Kasyapa, the best of brahmanas, had come to them in the forest, Pandu received him with full honor, strictly observing the etiquette. Kunti and Madri were joyous, and they praised Vasudeva. Pandu then had the priest perform all the religious rites for the birth of his sons, and Kasyapa did all that was required and all that was beneficial. He cut the hair of those illustrious princes, whose gaze was as fearless as that of a bull. He initiated them as serious students of the Vedic science, and they excelled in their studies.

Vaisampayana continued:

Watching his five beautiful sons grow up in the great Himalaya forests, Pandu rejoiced, and he protected the boys with his own powerful hands. Once, at the height of spring, when the forest was ablaze with colorful new blossoms, King Pandu began to wander about the woods with his faithful wife Madri. So lovely and sensuous was that forest that it could enchant the mind of any creature.

The lovely forest was alive with the fruits and flowers of blossoming coral and palm trees, glorybowers, mango, and heavenly campaka. The colorful scenery sparkled with cooling springs, rivers, and lotus-filled lakes, and as Pandu contemplated the forest, mind-meddling Cupid arose in his heart.

Dressed in bright garments, Madri saw Pandu sporting there like a demigod, his handsome face bright with affection, and she followed behind him. Pandu observed his youthful wife walking along in her thin dress, and his desire now grew like a fire that flames up from the depths of its fuel. Alone with Madri in that secluded dale, Pandu saw the same fire burn in Madri's heart, and as he peered into her lovely eyes he could no longer control his desire, for it had taken over his very life.

In that secluded forest the monarch pressed down his wife by force. The goddess writhed and struggled with all her strength to stop him, but desire had already possessed him, and Pandu remembered nothing of the curse, as by force he went upon Madri in the act of love. As if to end his life, the great Kuru monarch, throwing off his long fear of the curse, fell under the sway of mind-churning Cupid.

[God is said to be the force of time, which carries away all things in this world.] Destiny, as revealed through time, so harassed Pandu's senses and bewildered his intelligence that he lost his reason and even his ordinary awareness. O Kuru child, even as he united with his wife, that most virtuous king was joined to the inexorable workings of time.

Kunti Mata

Tightly embracing the unfeeling king, Madri wailed in agony. Again and again her tormented cries pierced the forest sky until Kunti came running with all five boys to see what was wrong. As they came near the fallen king, Madri cried out to Kunti, "Come here alone! The children must stay where they are!"

Hearing these words, Kunti held the children back and proceeded alone. [Knowing intuitively what had happened,] she moaned to herself: "My life is over! My life is finished!" Then she saw Pandu and Madri lying on the ground, and every one of Kunti's limbs was seized with sorrow, and she wailed in pain.

"I always protected him!" she sobbed, "and he was a self-realized soul, in full control of himself. O Pandu, you knew that the forest brahmana had cursed you. How could you violate the curse?"

[Trembling with pain, Kunti turned to Madri.] "You of all people, Madri, were meant to protect the king. How could you lust for him in this secluded forest? The poor king was always worried about the curse. How could he be so agitated with desire that he would come to you in a secluded place? O Madri, you are blessed. You are far more fortunate than I; you have seen Pandu's face in his rapture of desire."

Madri said:

The king was allured by me. I tried again and again to stop him, but he refused to turn back, as if he himself would make the bramana's words come true."

Kunti said:

I am the elder of his religious wives, and if our years of faithful service are to bear fruit, then the first reward is for the elder. Do not turn me back, Madri, from that which must come to be. I am going to follow our lord who has now passed away. You should rise now! You can let go of him, [for I shall die with Pandu on the funeral pyre.] Take care of these children!

Madri said:

I must follow my husband, for he will not return. My desires for him were not satisfied. As my senior, please let me do it! The great Bharata king was approaching me with desire at the moment of his death. How could I thwart his love, even in the halls of Yamaraja? And were I to remain in this world, Kunti, I could not treat your children like my own. I will act out my real character, and thus, noble lady, evil would truly lay hands on me. Therefore, Kunti, you must take care of my boys like your sons, for you can actually do it. After all, the king was longing for me when he passed away. My body is to be burned on the funeral pyre along with that of the king. The bodies must be completely covered. O noble woman, do me this kindness! Be careful, and do what is best for the children! I see nothing else to be said.

Vaisampayana said:

Pandu was the best of men, and the daughter of the Madra king loved him with a sacred vow. Now that famous woman hurriedly mounted his funeral pyre.

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