YUDHISHTHIRA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The eldest of the five Pandu princes, mythologically the son of Dharma, the god of justice.
With the Hindus he is the favourite one of the five brothers, and is represented as a man of calm, passionless judgement, strict veracity, unswerving rectitude, and rigid justice. He was renowned as a ruler and director, but not as a warrior.
Educated at the court of his uncle, Dhritarashtra, he received from the family preceptor, Drona, a military training, and was taught the use of the spear. When the time came for naming the Yuvaraja or heir apparent to the realm of Hastinapura, the Maharaja Dhritarashtra selected Yudhishthira in preference to his own eldest son, Duryodhana. A long-standing jealousy between the Pandava and Kaurava princes then broke forth openly. Duryodhana expostulated with his father, and the end was that the Pandavas went in honourable banishment to the city of Varanavata.
The jealousy of Duryodhana pursued them, and his emissaries laid a plot burning the brothers in their dwelling-house. Yudhishthira's sagacity discovered the plot and Bhima frustrated it. The bodies of a Bhil woman and her five sons were found in the ruins of the burnt house, and it was believed for a time that the Pandavas and their mother had perished.
When Draupadi had been won at the swayamvara, Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five brothers, was requested by his juniors to make her his wife, but he desired that she should become the wife of Arjuna, by whose prowess she had been won. Through the words of their mother, Kunti, and the decision of the sage Vyasa, the princess became the common wife of the five brothers. An arrangement was made that Draupadi should dwell in turn with the five brothers, passing two days in the separate house of each, and that under pain of exile for twelve years no one of the brothers but the master of the house should enter while Draupadi was staying in it.
The arms of the family were kept in the house of Yudhishthira, and an alarm of robbery being raised, Arjuna rushed there to procure his weapons while Draupadi was present. He thus incurred the pain of exile, and departed, though Yudhishthira endeavoured to dissuade him by arguing that the elder brother of a fatherless family stood towards his juniors in the position of a father.
After the return of the Pandavas from exile and their establishment at Indraprastha, the rule of Yudhishthira is described as having been most excellent and prosperous. The Raja "ruled his country with great justice, protecting his subjects as his own sons, and subduing all his enemies round about, so that every man was without fear of war or disturbance, and gave his whole mind to the performance of every religious duty. And the Raja had plenty of rain at the proper season, and all his subjects became rich; and the virtues of the Raja were to be seen in the great increase of trade and merchandise, in the abundant harvests and the prolific cattle. Every subject of the Raja was pious; there were no liars, no thieves, and no swindlers; and there were no droughts, no floods, no locusts, no conflagrations, no foreign invasions, and no parrots to eat the grain. The neighbouring Rajas, despairing of conquering Raja Yudhishthira, were very desirous of securing his friendship. Meanwhile Yudhishthira, though he would never acquire wealth by unfair means, yet prospered so exceedingly that had he lavished his riches for a thousand years no diminution would ever have been perceived."
After the return of his brother Arjuna from exile, Yudhishthira determined to assert his supremacy by performing the Rajasuya sacrifice, and this led to a war with Jarasandha, Raja of Magadha, who declined to take part in it, and was in consequence defeated and killed.
The dignity which Yudishthira had gained by the performance of the sacrifice rekindled the jealousy of Duryodhana and the other Kauravas. They resolved to invite their cousins to a gambling match, and to cheat Yudhishthira of his kingdom. Yudhishthira was very unwilling to go, but could not refuse his uncle's invitation. Sakuni, maternal uncle of Duryodhana, was not only a skillful player but also a dexterous cheat. He challenged Yudhishthira to throw dice with him, and Yudhishthira, after stipulating for fair-play, began the game. He lost his all, his kingdom, his brothers, himself, and his wife, all of whom became slaves.
When Draupadi was sent for as a slave and refused to come, Duhsasana dragged her into the hall by the hair, and both he and Duryodhana grossly insulted her. Bhima was half mad with rage, but Yudhishthira's sense of right acknowledged that Draupadi was a slave, and he forbade Bhima and his brothers to interfere.
When the old Maharaja Dhritarashtra was informed of what had passed, he came into the assembly, and declaring that his sons had acted wrongfully, he sent Draupadi and her husbands away, imploring them to forget what had passed. Duryodhana was very wroth, and induced the Maharaja to allow another game to avoid war, the condition being that the losers should go into exile for thirteen years, and should remain concealed and undiscovered during the whole of the thirteenth year. The game was played, and loaded dice gave Sakuni the victory, so the Pandavas went again into exile.
During that time they rendered a service to Duryodhana by rescuing him and his companions from a band of marauders who had made them prisoners. When Jayadratha, king of Sindhu, was foiled in his attempt to carry of Draupadi, the clemency of Yudhishthira led him to implore his brothers to spare their captive's life.
As the thirteenth year of exile approached, in order to keep themselves concealed, the five brothers and Draupadi went to the country of Virata and entered into the service of the Raja. Yudhishthira's office was that of private companion and teacher of dice-playing to the king. Here Yudhishthira suffered his wife Draupadi to be insulted, and dissuaded his brothers from interfering, lest by so doing they should discover themselves.
When the term of exile was concluded, Yudhishthira sent an envoy to Hastinapura asking for a peaceful restoration to the Pandavas of their former position. The negotiations failed, and Yudhishthira invited Krishna to go as his representative to Hastinapura. Notwithstanding Yudishthira's longing for peace the war began, but even then Yudhishthira desired to withdraw, but was overruled by Krishna.
Yudhishthira fought in the great battle, but did not distinguish himself as a soldier. The version of the Mahabharata given in Mr. Wheeler's work makes him guilty of downright cowardice. At the instigation of Krishna he compassed the death of Drona by conveying to that warrior false intelligence of the death of his son Aswatthaman, and his character for veracity was used to warrant the truth of the representation. His conscience would not allow him to tell an downright lie, but it was reconciled to telling a lying truth in killing an elephant named Aswatthaman, and informing the fond father that Aswatthaman was dead.
He retreated from a fight with Karna, and afterwards reproached Arjuna for not having supported him and Bhima. This so irritated Arjuna that he would have killed him on the spot had not Krishna interposed.
After the great battle was over Krishna saluted him king, but he showed great disinclination to accept the dignity. His sorrow for those who had fallen was deep, especially for Karna, and he did what he could to console the bereaved Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, as well as the many other sufferers.
He was made king, and was raised to the throne with great pomp, he acting as ruler under the nominal supremacy of the old King Dhritarashtra. There, after an interval, he asserted his universal supremacy by performing the great Aswamedha sacrifice.
The death of Krishna at Dwaraka and regrets for the past embittered the lives of the Pandavas, and they resolved to withdraw from the world. Yudhishthira appointed Parikshit, grandson of Arjuna, to be his successor, and the five brothers departed with Draupadi to the Himalayas on their way to Swarga. The story of this journey is told with great feeling in the closing verses of the Mahabharata.
Yudhishthira had a son named Yaudheya by his wife Devika; but the Vishnu Purana makes the son's name Devaka and the mother's Yaudheyi.
Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM