Yudhishthira (Sanskrit: युधिष्ठिर, IAST: Yudhiṣṭhira) also known as Dharmaraja, was the king of Indraprastha (Current Delhi) and later the Kuru Kingdom in ancient Indian History and the eldest among the five Pandava brothers, he is also one of the central figures of the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata.[2]

Yudhishthira (centre) and Draupadi seated on a throne, while the other Pandavas surround them, a print by Ravi Varma Press, c. 1910
Personal Information
Brothers (Kunti) Half-Brothers (Madri)
  • Suthanu

Yudhishthira was the son of Kunti, the first wife of King Pandu, fathered by the god Yama due to Pandu's inability to have children. Yudhishthira held a belief in dharma (morals and virtues) and was chosen to be the crown prince of Kuru. But after the Lakshagriha incident, he was presumed to be dead and his cousin Duryodhana was appointed as the new heir. The kingdom was split in half due to a succession dispute between Yudhishthira and Duryodhana. Yudhishthira received the barren half, which he later transformed into the magnificent city of Indraprastha.[3]

Yudhishthira and his brothers had a polyandrous marriage with Draupadi, the princess of Panchala, who became the empress of the Indraprastha. After Yudhishthira performed the Rajasuya Yagna, he was invited to play a game of dice by his jealous cousin, Duryodhana and his uncle, Shakuni. Shakuni, a master at the game, represented Duryodhana against Yudhishthira and manipulated him into gambling his kingdom, wealth, the freedom of his brothers, Draupadi, and even himself. After the game, the Pandavas and Draupadi were sent into exile for thirteen years, with the last year requiring them to go incognito. During his exile, Yudhisthira was tested by his divine father Yama. For the last year of the exile, Yudhishthira disguised himself as Kanka and served the King of Matsya Kingdom.[4]

Yudhishthira was the leader of the successful Pandava faction in the Kurukshetra War and defeated many venerable warriors such as Shalya. He then ruled the Kuru Kingdom for 36 years until announcing his retirement. At the end of the epic, he was the only one among his brothers to ascend to heaven while retaining his mortal body.[5]

Etymology edit

Statue of Yudhishthira

The word Yudhiṣṭhira is an aluk compound (meaning it preserves the case ending of its first part). It means "one who is steady in battle". It is composed of the words, yudhi (masculine locative singular) meaning "in battle"—from yudh (युध्) meaning 'battle, fighting'—and sthira (स्थिर) meaning 'steady'.[6] His other names are:

  • Bharata-vanshī (भरतवंशी) – descendant of Bharata[7]
  • Ajātashatru (अजातशत्रु) – one who is born without enemies[8]
  • Dharmanandana (धर्मनन्दन) or Dharmaputra (धर्मपुत्र) – The son of Dharma (Righteousness) or Yama Dharma Raja
  • Dharmarāja (धर्मराज) or Dharmarāya or Dharmaja – Lord of Dharma.
  • Pānduputra (पांडुपुत्र) – Son of Pandu.
  • Pāndavāgrajah (पाण्डवाग्रजः) – Eldest of Pandavas.
  • Jyeshthakaunteya (ज्येष्ठकौन्तेय) – Eldest son of Kunti.
  • Sārvabhauma (सार्वभौम) / Samrāt Chakravarti (सम्राट् चक्रवर्ती) – Emperor of the complete planet Earth.
  • Kanka (कङ्क) – another name for Yudhisthira given by Draupadi for the 13th year in exile.

Birth and upbringing edit

Once a Brahmin rishi, Kindama and his wife were enjoying nature in the forest when Yudhishthira'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 become a father. 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.[9]

After knowing the curse of Pandu, Kunti told him that he could be the father of the child and told her boon of sage Durvasa. Then Pandu requested Kunti to apply her boon and suggested to call Dharma to get a truthful, knowledgeable and justice knowing son who can rule Hastinapur. On the full moon of May (Sanskrit: Jyeshth masa) first and the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira was born. Yudhishthira's four younger brothers were Bhima (born by invoking Vayu); Arjuna (born by invoking Indra); and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva (born by invoking Aśvins).[10]

Yudhishthira 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 above the ground due to his piety.[11]

Marriage and children edit

After Yudhishthira and his brothers completed their studies, they returned to Hastinapura. Duryodhana along with Shakuni planned to kill them and sent Yudhishthira, his siblings and his mother to a palace made of lac, called Lakshagriha.[12]

One night, Shakuni's man, Purochana set it on fire. However, the princes and their mother survived. They were heartbroken and decided to hide from Hastinapura. Later, Arjuna attended Draupadi's swayamvar and won her hand in marriage. But due to Kunti's misunderstanding, Draupadi became the common wife of all the Pandavas. Later at Indraprastha, Draupadi bore Yudhishthira a son, Prativindhya and a daughter Suthanu. Suthanu was later married to Asvabhanu, Krishna and Satyabhama's eldest son. Although Yudhishthira had another wife named Devika, Draupadi was his chief consort as well as the empress.[13]

Yudhishthira was married to Devika in a self-choice marriage ceremony, arranged by her father Govasena, who was the king of Sivi Kingdom. They had a son, Yaudheya. According to Puranas, Yaudheya was also the name of the son of Prativindhya.[14] The Bhagavata Purana, as well as Vishnu Purana, also mention Pauravi as one of the wives of Yudhishthira. A son named Devaka was born to this couple.[15]

Ruling the Indraprastha edit

Division of Hastinapura edit

When the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura after hiding, there was conflict between Yudhishthira and Duryodhana regarding as the crown prince of Hastinapura. Yudhishthira was originally made the crown prince of Hastinapura, but after the event of Lakshagriha, people thought that he was dead, and Duryodhana was made the new crown prince of Hastinapura. On Bhishma's advice, Dhritarashtra gave half of the kingdom to Pandavas to rule. However the land was under the control of Takshaka. Pandavas defeated Takshaka and with the help of Mayasura, they built a magnificent city named Indraprastha.[16]

Rajasuya yajna edit

King Yudhishthira Performs the Rajasuya Sacrifice

Some years after his coronation at Indraprastha, Yudhishthira set out to perform the Rajasuya yagna.[17] Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, and Sahadeva led armies across the four corners of the world to obtain tributes from all kingdoms for Yudhishthira's sacrifice. The non-compliant Magadha king, Jarasandha was defeated by Bhima and Krishna. At his sacrifice, Yudhishthira chose Krishna as his honored guest. At the yajna, many kings were present there, including Duryodhana and Shishupala. Shishupala was beheaded by Krishna for his evil deeds. An annoyed and jealous Duryodhana returned to Hastinapura.[18]

The game of dice edit

Draupadi's vastraharan at game of dice

Yudhishthira was challenged to play a game of dice in Hastinapura by his cousin, Duryodhana. Duryodhana invited him because he was jealous of Yudhishthira's wealth and power that he witnessed at the Rajasuya. Shakuni used the dice made from the bones of his father, which always ensured that he got the number he wanted and Yudhisthira was allowed to bet whatever he had he was proud of and had right over. After losing his brothers and his empire, he bet himself and also his wife which lead to the Vastraharan. Later, he lost his kingdom in the game again and was forced into exile for 13 years, which included one year in anonymity.[19]

Exile edit

Yaksha Prashna edit

Yudhisthira answering the questions of Yaksha

During their exile, the four other Pandavas happened upon a lake, which was haunted by a Yaksha. The Yaksha challenged the brothers to answer his moral questions before drinking the water; the four Pandavas laughed and drank the water anyway. As a result, they choked on the water and died. Yudhishthira went in last, answered many questions put forth to him by the Yaksha and revived his brothers. He asked for any other wish as he was impressed and told him he could ask for wealth, strength, power, anything he wished. Yudhishthira said he already got the strength, wealth and power when all his four brothers were revived and said he could not ask for any other wish. Sahadeva said that if he did not use his wish, they might get into trouble in the future. Arjuna knowing that his brother Sahadeva knew the future told Yudhishthira to ask another wish. Bhima and Nakula also knew that Sahadeva and Arjuna were very smart and told him to use his wish. Later Yama, his father told him to ask for a wish. Yudhishthira said, "Asking for 1 or 2 boons is not being greedy but asking for 3 or more boons is being greedy and it is one of the gravest sins.

My brothers are insisting me to ask for a wish and the person who is ready to give me a boon, my father also wants me to ask for another boon. I do not ask for being the wealthiest man nor being the most powerful man. All I ask is that me, my brothers and Draupadi should not be recognized during the 13th year of exile." This story is often cited as an example of Yudhishthira's upright principles.[20] The Yaksha later identified himself as Yudhishthira's father, Dharma and pointed them to the kingdom of Matsya to spend their last year in exile anonymously.

Ajñātavāsa (Incognito) edit

Along with his brothers, Yudhishthira spent his last year of exile in the kingdom of Matsya. He disguised himself as a Brahmin named Kanka (among themselves Pandavas called him Jaya) and taught the game of dice to the king.[21]

Kurukshetra war edit

Krishna talking with Yudhishthira and his brothers, on preparation for war

When the period of exile was completed, Duryodhana refused to return Yudhishthira's kingdom. Yudhishthira made numerous diplomatic efforts to retrieve his kingdom peacefully but in vain. Left with no other option, Yudhishthira wages war.[22]

The flag of Yudhishthira's chariot bore the image of a golden moon with planets around it. Two large and beautiful kettle-drums, called Nanda and Upananda, were tied to it.[23] Before the war started, Yudhishthira stepped down from his chariot to take blessings from his grandsire Bhishma, teachers Drona and Kripa and uncle Shalya, who all were in his opposite side in the war showing his respect towards his elders. He also asked the willing Kauravas to join his side. On his request one of Dhritarashtra sons, Yuyutsu joined the war on the side of Pandavas.

Yudhishthira was described to be an excellent car-warrior and a master at spear-fighting. Yudhishthira’s spear was made by Tvashtr which he would use to kill Shalya during the war.[24] Yudhishthira defeated many warriors in the war, like Duryodhana.

On the 1st day, he fights with Shalya and wounds him. On the 14th day of the war, while Arjuna was busy searching for Jayadratha, Drona decided to capture Yudhishthira but Arjuna would foil Drona's plans. Yudhishthira and Drona engaged in a fierce duel where Yudhishthira defeated Drona in a spear fight. Ashwathama came in aid of his father and was also defeated.

On the night of the 14th day, he tried to stop Duryodhana as he was inflicting heavy casualties on the Pandava army. However, an enraged Duryodhana severely wounds Yudhishthira. But before being taken away from the battlefield, Yudhishthira wounds Duryodhana and make him unconscious as well.

On the 15th day of the war, Yudhishthira defeated major warriors like Kritavarma and Dushasana and Yudhishthira was approached by Drona, the Kauravas' then-Supreme Commander and his mentor, in the latter' inquiry on the death of his son Ashwatthama when he heard the name claimed to have died at Bhima's hand. Torn between his duty to cripple Drona and upholding his morals, Yudhishthira opted to half truth where he confirmed the death of Ashwatthama the elephant, but omitted the contextual part that it was an elephant and not his son. This was effective in the former purpose of crippling Drona, but also caused his own chariot to finally fall down to the ground, instead of slightly levitating as it had been before this incident.

On the 16th day, he faced Duryodhana and got a good fight. However, Yudhishthira soon destroyed Duryodhana's chariot and put him to flight.

On the 17th day, he injured Duryodhana badly and was about to kill him but Karna came in aid of his friend and defeated Yudhishthira. When Karna died, Yudhishthira pledged to destroy the Kaurava army with the Suryastra and destroyed the army with the weapon.

On the last day of the war, Yudhishthira killed Madras king Shalya and his brother Madrasena. It is said that Yudhishthira was highly energetic for the day, and engaged in a fierce duel against the Kauravas' final supreme commander, before slaying his uncle.[25]

With the battlefield cleared of the Kauravas but no sight of Duryodhana, Yudhishthira received a report that his nemesis went into hiding in a nearby swamp. The Pandavas brothers and Krishna thus went to the swamp, and taunted Duryodhana off his refuge. Yudhishthira proposed a final challenge to Duryodhana, to a battle against any of the Pandavas under any weapon of Duryodhana's desire.[26]

With Duryodhana choosing Bhima, the other Pandavas brothers, Krishna and Balarama witnessed the mace duel between the mace fighters. When Bhima finally defeated Duryodhana and started insulting his nemesis, Yudhishthira became sufficiently displeased with his brother's disrespect and ordered Bhima off the battleground. Ultimately, Yudhishthira heard out Duryodhana's final conversation and lamentation, before leaving the fallen Kauravas' overlord on his deathbed.[27]

Yudhishthira's curse edit

After he was made aware that Karna was his elder brother, Yudhishthira cursed all women with not being able to hide any secrets. Had Yudhishthira's mother Kunti not kept that fact a secret, the war might have been averted, with millions spared.[28]

Reign after the war edit

After getting victory in the war, Yudhishthira was crowned as the Emperor of Hastinapura for 36 years. He performed the ashvamedha on Krishna and Vyasa's insistence. In this sacrifice, a horse was released to wander for a year, and Yudhishthira's brother Arjuna led the Pandava army, following the horse. The kings of all the countries where the horse wandered were asked to submit to Yudhishthira's rule or face war. All paid tribute, once again establishing Yudhishthira as the undisputed Emperor of Bharatavarsha.[29]

Retirement and ascent to heaven edit

Yudhishtira Surveys Hell.

Upon the onset of the Kali Yuga and the departure of Krishna, Yudhishthira 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. During their pilgrimage, each one starting with Draupadi, fell down dead upon the mountains. Yudhishthira cites Draupadi's partiality for Arjuna, Sahadeva's pride in his wisdom, Nakula's vanity in his beauty, Arjuna's boastfulness of his archery, and Bhima's negligence of the needs of others while eating as the reasons for their fall. Finally, it was Yudhishthira who was able to reach the top, with the dog accompanying him.[30]

On reaching the top, Indra congratulates him and promises Yudhishthira immortality and godhood upon his ascent to Heaven. However, Indra asks him to abandon the dog before entering Heaven. But Yudhishthira refused to do so, citing the dog's unflinching devotion as a reason. Indra retorts that he has abandoned his brothers and wife to reach the top of the Himalayas, but Yudhishthira said he could not prevent their deaths, but to abandon a poor creature was a great sin. It turns out that the dog was his father Yama in disguise. Yama congratulates his son and commends him on his unwavering principles. Yudhishthira proceeds to Heaven upon a celestial vehicle with Narada as his guide, who informs him that he is the first mortal to enter Heaven in a physical form.[31]

Upon his arrival, Yudhishthira finds Duryodhana and his Kaurava cousins in heaven but not his brothers and Draupadi. Furious, Yudhishthira demands that Narada take him to where he might find his family. Narada brings Yudhishthira to Hell where he encounters Karna, his brothers, Draupadi, Dhrishtadyumna, and the Upapandavas. Yudhishthira, enraged, decides that he would rather live in Hell with his family than in Heaven with his cousins.[32] Indra then appears and lifts the illusion, informing Yudhishthira of his deception. Indra reveals that Yudhishthira has been shown a glimpse of Hell due to deceiving Drona with his white lie. Yama congratulates his son on passing his third and final test, the first being the Yaksha Prashna, and the second being his refusal to abandon the dog. Yudhishthira would then bathe in the Heavenly Ganga, casting off his mortal form and was reunited with his family in Heaven.[33]

Skills edit

He was master in spear-fighting and chariot racing. Yudhishthira was a polyglot, knowing unusual languages. He was a hero known for his honesty, justice, sagacity, tolerance, good behavior and discernment.[34]

Yudhishthira could burn down anyone into ashes when he sees someone with his wrath and anger. That's why he used to be calm and composed most of the time. He closed his eyes and came out of the gambling hall even when he lost everything. Otherwise the entire Kuru court and all the one who were present would be burnt into ashes.

Dhritarashtra said to Sanjaya "The son of Kunti and Pandu, Yudhishthira, is virtuous and brave and eschews deeds that bring on shame. Endued with great energy, he hath been wronged by Duryodhana. If he were not high-minded, they would in wrath burn the Dhritarashtras. I do not so much dread Arjuna or Bhima or Krishna or the twin brothers as I dread the wrath of the king, O Suta, when his wrath is excited. His austerities are great; he is devoted to Brahmacharya practices. His heart's wishes will certainly be fulfilled. When I think of his wrath, O Sanjaya, and consider how just it is, I am filled with alarm."[35]

In the media edit

Being an important person in the epic Mahabharata, Yudhishthira's role has been enacted by various actors over the years.

References edit

  1. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section XCV". Archived from the original on 16 January 2010.
  2. ^ "The Mahabharata".
  3. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section I".
  4. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 4: Virata Parva: Section I".
  5. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 17: Mahaprasthanika Parva: Section III".
  6. ^ www.wisdomlib.org (26 December 2010). "Yudhishthira, Yudhiṣṭhira, Yudhisthira: 15 definitions". www.wisdomlib.org. Archived from the original on 21 October 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  7. ^ Agarwala 1979, p. 167.
  8. ^ Abbott & Godbole 1988, p. 402.
  9. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Section CXIX".
  10. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Section CXXII".
  11. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Section CXXXIV".
  12. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Section CXLIII".
  13. ^ Bandyopadhyay 2016.
  14. ^ "Yaudheya, Yaudheyā: 15 definitions". 2 July 2016. Archived from the original on 21 April 2022. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  15. ^ "Devaka: 17 definitions". 13 August 2014. Archived from the original on 24 September 2020. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  16. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section I".
  17. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section XIV".
  18. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section XLIV".
  19. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 2: Sabha Parva: Section LXXV".
  20. ^ Sehgal 1999.
  21. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 4: Virata Parva: Section I".
  22. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 5: Udyoga Parva: Section CLI".
  23. ^ Kapoor 2002, p. 4462.
  24. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 9: Shalya Parva: Section XVII".
  25. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 9: Shalya Parva: Section XVII".
  26. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 9: Shalya Parva: Section XXX".
  27. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 9: Shalya Parva: Section LXI".
  28. ^ Fitzgerald 2004.
  29. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 14: Aswamedha Parva Index". www.sacred-texts.com. Archived from the original on 8 July 2020. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  30. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 17: Mahaprasthanika Parva: Section II".
  31. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 17: Mahaprasthanika Parva: Section III".
  32. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 18: Svargarohanika Parva: Section II".
  33. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 18: Svargarohanika Parva: Section III".
  34. ^ "Mahabharata Text". Archived from the original on 18 June 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  35. ^ "Mahabharata Section XXII". Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2018.

Bibliography edit

External links edit