Maharaja Yudhisthira
Yudhisthira on the throne with Draupadi, surrounded by the other Pandavas
Titles Dharmaraja
Predecessor Pandu
Successor Parikshit
Consort Draupadi
Issue Prativindya
Royal House Kuru
Father Pandu
Mother Kunti
Religious beliefs Hindu Kshatriya

In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira (Sanskrit: युधिष्ठिर, yudhiṣṭhira meaning "steady in war", from yudh meaning war, and sthira meaning steady, also Bharata[1] (descendant of the line of Bharata) and Ajatashatru[2] (one without enemies)), the eldest son of King Pandu and Queen Kunti, was king of Indraprastha and later of Hastinapura (Kuru). For his piety, he was known as Dharmaraja (which may be translated as either 'righteous king' or 'king of dharma'). He was the leader of the successful Pandava side in the Kurukshetra War. At the end of the epic, he ascended to heaven along with his four brothers.

Birth and upbringing

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Once a Brahmin rishi, Kindama and his wife were making love in the forest when Yudhisthira'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 father children. 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.[3]

After Pandu's disability, Yudhisthira was conceived in an unusual way. His mother, Queen Kunti, had in her youth been granted the power to invoke the Devas by Rishi Durvasa. Each Deva, when invoked, would bless her with a child. Urged by Pandu to use her boons, Kunti gave birth to Yudhisthira by invoking the Lord of Judgement, Dharma(also known as Yama). Being Pandu's eldest son, Yudhisthira was the rightful heir to the throne, but this claim was contested by the Dhritarashtra's son, Duryodhana.

Yudhisthira's four younger brothers were Bhima, (born by invoking Vayu); Arjuna, (born by invoking Indra); and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, (born to Pandu's second wife Madri by invoking the Ashwini Gods). If Karna, the son of Kunti born before her marriage by invoking Surya is counted, Yudhisthira would be the second-eldest of Kunti's children.

Yudhisthira 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.[4]

Coronation and Marriage

Under the advice of Bhishma, Dhritrashtra decided to divide the Hastinapura kingdom between Kauravas and Pandavas. Yudhisthira gracefully accepted the arid and fallow region of Khandavaprastha that was offered to him.

With the help of Yudhisthira's cousin, Krishna and the Deva architect Viswakarma, Yudhisthira constructed a new city, Indraprastha in the area offered to him. The Asura architect Mayasura constructed the Mayasabha, which was the largest regal assembly hall in the world. Yudhisthira was crowned king of Khandavaprastha (Later named Indraprastha). As he governed with absolute piousness, with a strict adherence to duty and service to this people, his kingdom grew prosperous, and people from all over were attracted to it.

Yudhisthira married the Panchali princess Draupadi, who bore him a son, Prativindya.[5] Another wife of Yudhisthira was Devika, the daughter of Govasana of the Saivya tribe, who bore him a son named Yaudheya.[6]

Performing the Rajasuya

After the coronation at Indraprastha, Yudhisthira set out to perform the Rajasuya yagna to become the Emperor of the World. His motives were not to obtain power for himself, but to establish dharma and defend religion all over the world by suppressing the enemies of Krishna and sinful kings.

Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva led armies across the four corners of the world to obtain tributes from all kingdoms for Yudhisthira's sacrifice. The non-compliant Magadha king, Jarasandha was defeated by Bhima and Krishna. At his sacrifice, Yudhisthira honoured Krishna in the Rajasuya for his slaying of Jarasandha.

Losing kingdom and exile

Yudhisthira succumbed to Shakuni's challenge in the game of dice, while being a novice in it. He lost all his kingdom in the game and was forced into exile for 13 years, which included one year in anonymity.

Main article: Yaksha Prashna

During exile, once four other Pandavas happened to drink water from a lake, which was haunted by a Yaksha. Yudhisthira went in last, answered many questions put forth to him by the Yaksha and released his brothers. This story is often cited as an example of Yudhisthira's upright principles.[7] The Yaksha later identified himself as Yudhisthira's father, Dharma and pointed them to the kingdom of Virata to spend their last year in exile anonymously.

Along with his brothers, Yudhisthira spent his last year of exile in the kingdom of Virata. He disguised himself as a Brahmin named Kanku bhattu (within themselves Pandavas called him Jaya) and taught the game of dice to the king.[8]

Return to Indraprastha and Kurukshetra War

When the period of exile was completed, Duryodhana and Shakuni refused to return Yudhisthira's kingdom. Yudhisthira made numerous diplomatic efforts to retrieve his kingdom peacefully but in vain. He was convinced by Krishna to wage war.

The flag of Yudhisthira'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.[9][10][11]

Yudhisthira had to bend numerous rules of Dharma during the course of the war. Krishna made him trick Drona about the news of the death of Ashwathama. Yudhisthira also had to slay a number of warriors, including his own uncle, Shalya.

At the end of the war, Yudhisthira performed the Ashwamedha Yagna and crowned himself as the Emperor of Hastinapura.

Retirement and Ascent to Heaven

Upon the onset of the Kali yuga and the departure of Krishna, Yudhisthira 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.

While climbing the peaks, Draupadi and four of the Pandavas fell to their deaths, dragged down by the weight of their guilt for their sins. Yudhisthira was the only one to reach the mountain peak, because he was unblemished by sin or untruth.

On reaching the top, Indra asked him to abandon the dog before entering the Heaven. But Yudhisthira refused to do so, citing the dog's unflinching loyalty as a reason. Once again it turned out that the dog was his father, Dharma.[12]

Virtues of Yudhisthira

Son of Dharma

Yudhisthira's true prowess was shown in his unflinching adherence to Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteousness to fulfill one's moral duty), which were more precious to him than royal ambitions, material pursuits and family relations. Yudhisthira rescued Bhima from Nahusha. He also rescued his four brothers from Yaksha by exemplifying not only his immense knowledge of Dharma, but also understanding its finer implications.

Yudhisthira's understanding of Dharma was distinct from that of other righteous kings. He married Draupadi along with his four brothers, he had Bhima marry an outcast Rakshasi, he denounced casteism, saying a Brahmin is known by his actions and not his birth or education, thus portraying a changeable Dharma that modifies itself to suit the times.

Due to his piety, Yudhisthira's chariot did not touch the ground (until his deception of Drona), to symbolize his purity. This means he was well regarded as a wise and pious man even by his enemies.

Yudhisthira was unable to refuse when Duryodhana's maternal uncle, Shakuni, challenged him to a game of dice. Thanks to Shakuni's mastery of gambling, Yudhisthira lost each game, eventually gambling away his kingdom, his wealth, his brothers and finally his wife. Yudhisthira was criticized by Draupadi and Bhima for succumbing to temptation and playing dice, an art he was absolutely unskilled at, making the Pandavas prey to Shakuni and Duryodhana's designs. Yudhisthira reproached himself for weakness of mind, but at the time he argued that it was impossible to refuse a challenge of any nature, as he was a Kshatriya and obliged to stand by the Kshatriya code of honour.

During the thirteen years, his adherence to religious values in face of adversity was repeatedly tested.

Astute politician

Yudhisthira was also skilled in the art of political maneuvering. Despite all the taunts from his wife and his brothers, he would not rashly make war upon Kauravas. He waited for right moment when Kauravas were at their weakest; that is, when their chief warrior Karna was deprived of his invincible powers.

He also cursed the entire womenhood of not being able hide any secrets with themselves after he was made aware that Karna was his elder brother after the holy war of "Mahabharata".[13]

Piety and Dharma

He was considered so pious that some sources say his ratha (chariot) used to fly four fingers above the ground in the battle of Kurukshetra. His chariot came down when he was economical with the truth to guru Drona about Ashwatthama being killed by Bhima. He did this on instruction from Lord Krishna. He was cheated multiple times by the Kauravas. But he as a king and protector of Dharma always felt for his subjects. He tried to avert the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas as far as possible. But since sins of Duryodhana kept piling he was forced to fight against Duryodhana. He was never greedy about the throne and always cared for the benefit of all beings. Even at the last battle between Bhima and Duryodhan he promised Duryodhana that he will give Duryodhana the throne if Duryodhana wins the mace fight. He was a deserving person and became the king after Duryodhan's death. This symbolises the victory of dharma over evil. He was an adept warrior with the spear and ratha.

Test of patience in Hell

Yudhisthira was carried away on Indra's chariot. On reaching heaven he did not find either his virtuous brothers or his wife Draupadi there. Instead he saw Duryodhana and his allies. The Gods told him that his brothers were in Naraka (hell), atoning for their sins, whilst Duryodhana was in heaven since he had died at the blessed place of Kurukshetra.

Yudhisthira loyally went to Naraka to meet his brothers, but the sight of gore and blood horrified him. Though initially he was tempted to flee, after hearing the voices of his beloved brothers and Draupadi calling out to him, asking him to stay with them in their misery, he remained. Yudhisthira ordered the divine charioteer to return. He preferred to live in hell with good people than in a heaven with his enemies. Eventually this turned out to be another illusion to test him and also to enable him to atone for his sin of risking a woman's (his wife Draupadi's) honor during a game of dice. Thereafter Indra and Krishna appeared before him and told him that his brothers were already in heaven, whilst his enemies suffered from hell's torment in due time for their earthly sins.


External links

  • Persons and Stories from Mahabharata
Preceded by
King of Hastinapura Succeeded by
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