Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Pandavas included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Pāṇḍavas


Śantanu, a celebrated King of Candravaṃśa (lunar dynasty) had two wives, Gaṅgā and Satyavatī. Bhīṣma was the son of Gaṅgā. After the birth of Bhīṣma Gaṅgā his mother went to heaven. After that Śantanu married Satyavatī, mother of Vyāsa. Satyavatī got two sons, Citrāṅgada and Vicitravīrya. Even while a bachelor, Citrāṅgada was killed by a Gandharva of the same name. So Vicitravīrya became King on Śantanu’s death. Bhīṣma forcibly brought the three daughters of the King of Kāśī named Ambā, Ambikā and Ambālikā for Vicitravīrya to marry. But knowing that Ambā was in love with the King of Sālva, Bhīṣma let her off on the way. Ambikā and Ambālikā became the wives of Vicitravīrya. But for a long time they had no sons.

At that time Satyavatī, mother of Vicitravīrya, sent for Vyāsa her eldest son and asked him to beget sons of Ambikā and Ambālikā. Ambikā got Dhṛtarāṣṭra of Vyāsa and Ambālikā, Pāṇḍu, father of the Pāṇḍavas. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was born blind and he married Gāndhārī. Pāṇḍu was born pale-white in colour and he married Kuntī mother of the Pāṇḍavas.

Kuntī was the sister of Vasudeva, father of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The real name of Kuntī was Pṛthā. Śūrasena, King of the Yādavas, was the father of Kuntī and Vasudeva. Because Kuntibhoja son of Sūrasena’s sister, had no issues Kuntī was sent to the palace of Kuntibhoja and she grew up there. Pṛthā got the name of Kuntī because of that. Besides Kuntī, Pāṇḍu had another wife named Mādrī.

While she was living in the palace of Kuntibhoja the sage Durvāsas came and stayed in the palace as the king’s guest. Kuntī was a little girl then and yet she served the sage with such care, patience and devotion that the sage was greatly pleased with her and gave her a divine mantra. He said: "If you call upon any god repeating this mantra he will manifest himself to you and bless you with a son equal to him in glory and valour. You can use this only five times." The impatient curiosity of youth made Kuntī give a test to the power of the mantra and though unmarried she invoked the Sun. The Sun immediately presented himself before her and by his grace she conceived and got a son whom she secretly set afloat in a river. A childless charioteer named Adhiratha happened to see the child and he took it home and brought it up. When he grew up he was sent to Hastināpura and the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra took him in their service. He was Karṇa, the celebrated warrior of the Kauravas. Kuntī married Pāṇḍu after the birth of Karṇa.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra got of Gāndhārī a hundred sons and a daughter named Duśśalā. The children of Dhṛtarāṣṭra were known as Kauravas or Dhārtarāṣṭras. Pāṇḍu had a curse that he would die the moment he entered into sexual sport with his wives. (See under Kindama). So under instructions from her husband Kuntī invoked Dharma, Vāyu and Indra and got the sons Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīmasena and Arjuna. She gave the remaining one chance to Mādrī and Mādrī invoked the two Aśvinīdevas, Nāsatya and Dasra and got two sons named Nakula and Sahadeva. All these five were accepted as the sons of Pāṇḍu and so they got the name of Pāṇḍavas. (Upto Chapter 123, Ādi Parva).

Life in Hastināpura and the lac-palace incident.

After the birth of the Pāṇḍavas, Pāṇḍu with his wife and children spent a very long time in the forest of Śataśṛṅga. Kaśyapa, the royal priest of Vasudeva, performed the Upanayana (investiture with the sacred thread) and such other religious ceremonies ordained for boyhood. They were educated under the sage Śuka. One day in the Spring season Pāṇḍu’s resolution broke down under the exhilarating influence of the season and he caught hold of Mādrī and embraced her despite earnest and repeated protests from Mādrī. At once the curse of the sage took effect and Pāṇḍu fell dead. It was the custom then that the wife should end her life in the funeral pyre of her husband and so Kuntī and Mādrī came forward to do so. But Mādrī said that one of them should live to take care of the children and so entrusting her children also to the care of Kuntī, Mādrī jumped into the funeral pyre and ended her life. The sages of the Śataśṛṅga forest took the children and Kuntī to Hastināpura and handing them over to the charge of Dhṛtarāṣṭra came back.

The Pāṇḍavas grew up in Hastināpura along with the Kauravas. But there was no real affection or intimacy between them. The naturally strong Bhīma found it a sport to tease and torment the Kauravas whenever he got an opportunity. Gradually as the teasings of Bhīma became unbearable a wicked thought of somehow putting an end to Bhīma’s life found place in the minds of the Kauravas. They once poisoned Bhīma and binding him tight with ropes threw him into the ocean. But Bhīma went to the world of the Nāgas and came back unscathed with added siddhis (acquired power). This annoyed the Kauravas.

It was at this time that Droṇa a renowned preceptor in archery, came to Hastināpura. Bhīṣma enrolled the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas as disciples of Droṇa. Arjuna became an extraordinarily brilliant bow-man. This came off as another reason for the Kauravas to drift away from the Pāṇḍavas. After the end of their course of education a contest was held in which Arjuna ranked first. The time came for Gurudakṣiṇ (fees paid in bulk at the end of the studies to a preceptor). Droṇa asked his disciples to bring king Drupada bound hand and foot before him. The Kauravas failed in that mission and the Pāṇḍavas under the leadership of Arjuna fulfilled the demand of their Guru.

When the training and Gurudakṣiṇā were over, Dhṛtarāṣṭra crowned Yudhiṣṭhira as the heir-apparent and this increased the power and status of the Pāṇḍavas in Hastināpura. The jealousy of Duryodhana knew no bounds when he found the Pāṇḍavas in the pinnacle of power and popularity. He decided to kill them. He therefore, built a new palace in a place called Vāraṇāvata and with the permission of Dhṛtarāṣṭra made them change their residence to the new building. The new building was cunningly built of lac and other combustible material. The wise and intelligent Vidura knew this deceit beforehand and so he had warned the Pāṇḍavas of the danger through a messenger named Khanaka. The Pāṇḍavas had, therefore, made ready a secret passage by underground to escape from the building when an emergency arose. The passage was to lead them from the palace to the forest nearby. One night Purocana, a minister of Duryodhana, came stealthily and set fire to the palace. The Pāṇḍavas with their mother Kuntī escaped from the palace to the forest nearby. That night a huntress and her five sons were sleeping in a part of the building and they were burnt to death. They were all sleeping fully drunk and so could not escape from the building. Purocana also was burnt to death. Thus the Pāṇḍavas had to go away from Hastināpura for a brief period.

The Exile and its end.

The Kauravas thought that Pāṇḍavas died in the fire and in that belief conducted the funeral rites of their brothers. The Pāṇḍavas after their escape from the fire walked a long distance through the forests and came to the banks of the river Gaṅgā. On their way a demon named Hiḍimba attacked them and Bhīma killed him but at the request of Dharmaputra married his sister Hiḍimbī. After that while they were continuing their journey crossing the river a Gandharva of name Citraratha attacked them. Citraratha was defeated in a battle and he later became friendly with the Pāṇḍavas. He gave them many valuable presents and also narrated to them the story of Tapatīsaṃvaraṇa. Then they went and stayed in the house of a brahmin in the village of Ekacakrā. It was at that time that the Svayaṃvara of Pāñcālī was held. The Pāṇḍavas went for the Svayaṃvara and married Pāñcālī. The news then spread that Pāṇḍavas were not dead but still alive. Dhṛtarāṣṭra then sent for them and the Pāṇḍavas returned to their palace in Hastināpura. Yudhiṣṭhira was crowned as King of half of the country and he built his palace in a place known as Khāṇḍavaprastha. The palace was designed and built by a demon named Maya with beautiful Crystals and costly diamonds. When the Pāṇḍavas were living there Nārada went to them once. He suggested that Pāñcālī should remain as wife to the Pāṇḍavas in turn, one year each to one of them. They accepted the suggestion and started living like that. Yudhiṣṭhira married Devikā, daughter of King Śibi, also. (Śloka 70, Chapter 95, Ādi Parva). Bhīmasena and Arjuna with the help of Śrī Kṛṣṇa slew Jarāsandha. After that they conducted a victory march over the country and established their overlordship by conducting successfully a Rājasūya yajña. Duryodhana and his brothers once visited Indraprastha, the palace of the Pāṇḍavas. They were fooled at the palace and this enraged them. Duryodhana invited Dharmaputra for a game of dice and the latter lost everything. Yet Dhṛtarāṣṭra gave them back everything and sent them to Indraprastha again. Before Dharmaputra reached the palace Duryodhana once again challenged him for a game of dice. Despite protesis from all sides Dharmaputra went and played and lost again everything. To fulfil the conditions of the game Yudhiṣṭhira went to the forests with his brothers and wife to spend twelve years in exile and a year incognito. At that time Kuntī lived with Vidura.

It was during this period of exile that the Pāṇḍavas got the Akṣayapātra (never-empty pot) from the Sun. They dwelt first in Dvaitavana and then in Kāmyakavana. Then they went to the mountain of Gandhamādana and from there to Badarikāśrama. From there they came back again to Kāmyakavana and while they were living there Duryodhana and his men went to that forest to see the sufferings of the Pāṇḍavas and gloat on their sad plight. But Citrasena, a Gandharva, captured Duryodhana and Arjuna got him released. Duryodhana sent Durvāsas to tease Dharmaputra but the sage was sent back after being received duly and well-attended to earn his blessings. During their stay in that forest Jayadratha kidnapped Pāñcālī but the Pāṇḍavas rescued her immediately. They went from there again to Dvaitavana. Dharmadeva tested them once while they were there. The twelve years of exile came to an end and as per directions from Dharmadeva they spent their incognito period of one year in the court of the King of Virāṭa. After the end of their incognito life the King of Virāṭa gave in marriage his daughter Uttarā to Abhimanyu son of Arjuna.

Even after the return of the Pāṇḍavas from the forests after successfully fulfilling the conditions of the game, Duryodhana showed obstinate reluctance to part with even five pin-points of land in favour of the Pāṇḍavas. A peace mission of Śrī Kṛṣṇa from the Pāṇḍavas to avoid a war and settle matters amicably to Dhṛtarāṣṭra failed and the stage was set for a grea battle between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas.

Ascension to Heaven.

A great and grim battle was fought at Kurukṣetra between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas lasting for eighteen days. Śrī Kṛṣṇa neither fought nor took arms even once against the Kauravas but acted as the charioteer of Arjuna. When the war came to an end the Kauravas were completely annihilated.

Yudhiṣṭhira became King. He performed an Aśvamedha Yāga. After a few years of reign the Pāṇḍavas crowned Parīkṣit, son of Abhimanyu, as the King and started for their Mahāprasthāna (departing this life). They walked in a line in the order of their age, Dharmaputra leading and Pāñcālī following last. At first Pāñcālī fell dead, but nobody turned back. Then Sahadeva fell and nobody worried. This continued thus till Dharmaputra was left alone. A dog which followed them from their very start also remained alive with Dharmaputra. The dog was none other than Dharmadeva, father of Dharmaputra. When Dharmaputra reached the top of the Himālayas Indra was there ready with the divine car to take him to heaven. But Dharmaputra said that he would not come to heaven leaving his brothers and wife elsewhere. Then Indra informed him that they were already in heaven and so Dharmaputra went to heaven with Indra. (Only a general and succinct history of the Pāṇḍavas is given under this head. For details see under the heads of each of the Pāṇḍavas as well as Pāñcālī, Kuntī, Bhīṣma and Vyāsa).

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