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Vidura

Vidura: The Man Devoted to Dharma

Vidura was Dhritarashtra and Pandu’s brother in the Mahabharata. He was famously known for his devotion to dharma (righteousness). Vidura was considered the most wise man in all of Bharatvarsha. Whatever happened, Vidura always took the side of righteousness. Therefore, he always favored the Pandavas. On several occasions, he advised Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana to take the path of dharma, but they ignored him. In fact, Vidura was the incarnation of Lord Yama himself, the god of dharma and death.

Family

  • Father: Vichitravirya
  • Mother: a Shudra woman
  • Half-Brothers: Dhritarashtra, Pandu
  • Wife: Unnamed daughter of Devaka
  • Sons: Many unnamed sons

The Reason behind Vidura’s Birth

This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 101

Once, there was a Brahmin named Mandavya. He was very knowledgeable and righteous. Once, Mandavya Rishi was doing a vow of silence. He sat under a tree and passed hours in meditation. At that time, some robbers had stolen money. They were being chased by the royal guards. The robbers came across Mandavya’s house. They decided to hide inside his house. The soldiers also came there. They asked Mandavya, “Brahmin, have you seen some robbers here. We are chasing them, and they ran in this direction.” But Mandavya couldn’t respond to them. He was following a vow of silence. Hence, he kept quiet. The soldiers finally gave up and searched his house. Eventually, they found the robbers and the loot hiding inside the house. The soldiers then doubted Mandavya himself. Along with the robbers, they arrested Mandavya.

They were all presented in front of the king, who sentenced them to death. Thus, Mandavya was impaled on a stake and left there. However, Mandavya was spiritually powerful. He used his powers to stay alive. He even invoked other rishis. When the king realized that Mandavya was a powerful rishi, he realized his mistake. He ran to Mandavya and said, “Oh great rishi, I foolishly harmed you. Please do not be angry at me. I only want your blessings!” Mandavya forgave him. He was then lowered from the stake. However, he couldn’t completely take the stake out of his body. Thus, he left the end in his body and continued to meditate.

Mandavya Curses Yama

Thereafter, Mandavya went to Yamaloka and asked Lord Yama, “Why have I suffered this punishment? I never did anything sinful.”

“When you were young, you once pierced an insect with a piece of grass. This was the punishment for your actions,” Yama said.

“You have cruelly punished me for such a small sin! I curse you that you will be born as the son of a Shudra woman! From now on, I declare that any sins committed under the age of fourteen will not matter,” Mandavya then declared.

Top: Dharmaraj talks to Mandavya, bottom right: young Mandavya pierces an insect, bottom left: Mandavya meditates on the stake

Vidura’s Birth

This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 96-100

King Vichitravirya of Hastinapura had two wives: Ambika and Ambalika. They were the princesses of Kasi, and Bhishma had kidnapped them to marry Vichitravirya. Both wives loved their husband, and vice versa. But Vichitravirya had one flaw: he was addicted to alcohol. This weakened his health, and one day, he suddenly died.

Satyavati then beseeched Bhishma to marry and father a child to continue Shantanu’s lineage. However, Bhishma refused to break his vow of celibacy. He said, “I suggest that we invite a Brahmin. This Brahmin can give birth to sons with Vichitravirya’s wives and thus, continue the lineage.”

Satyavati invited her son Veda Vyasa (Satyavati’s son with Parashara). After properly greeting him, she said, “My son, your brother Vichitravirya has died. But he has left behind two beautiful woman. They want to have children. The line of Shantanu must continue. I request you to have children with them. Please fulfill my and Bhishma’s wishes.” Vyasa agreed.

Ambika Sends her Maid

After purifying herself, Ambika got ready to have a child. Ambika was scared when she saw Vyasa’s appearance: dark skin and wild hair. Because she was scared, she kept her eyes closed when they had sexual intercourse. Hence, her child was born blind. He was named Dhritarashtra. After that, Vyasa entered Ambalika’s chamber. Ambalika was also scared and turned pale while they had sexual intercourse. As a result of this, her child was born with pale skin. He was named Pandu.

When Satyavati heard that the children were pale and blind, she asked for a third grandchild. Vyasa again went to Ambika’s chambers. However, Ambika was scared. Instead of going herself, she sent her beautiful maid. The maid was not scared, so the child born was completely normal. He was extremely wise and was named Vidura.

Early Life

This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 102 and 106

Right from their birth, Bhishma raised the three brothers as if they were his own sons. Bhishma taught them everything about archery, horsemanship, combat, religion, and history. Pandu was a master archer. Dhritarashtra was the strongest of them all; he had the strength of ten thousand elephants. Meanwhile, Vidura was the most righteous. He was devoted to dharma. He was also extremely intelligent and wise.

Soon, a king had to be chosen between the three brothers. Naturally, Dhritarashtra would become the king because he was the oldest. However, the Kuru elders objected to his coronation because he was blind. Vidura couldn’t be the king because he was the son of a Shudra. Thus, Pandu was crowned the king of Kuru.

At that time, Bhishma heard that King Devaka of the Yadavas had a daughter from a Shudra woman. This daughter was young and beautiful. Bhishma went to King Devaka and asked for his daughter. Devaka agreed, and Bhishma brought her to Hastinapura. There, she married Vidura. They gave birth to many good sons.

Vidura Sides with Dharma

Vidura soon became renowned as the most wise man of his time. He always advised his brothers on topics of righteousness. After Pandu gave up the throne and left for the forest, Dhritarashtra became the king.

The Birth of Duryodhana

This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 107

Soon, Dhritarashtra’s wife Gandhari gave birth to a son named Duryodhana. At the time of his birth, Dhritarashtra called Vidura, Bhishma, and learned Brahmins. He asked them, “Pandu’s son Yudhishthira is older than my son. Will he get the throne or will my son? What will happen in my son’s future?”

A baby Duryodhana lying on the ground with pieces of the pot he was born from
Duryodhana’s Birth

After he finished speaking, bad omens began appearing. Vultures and howling jackals could be heard. Vidura said, “It is obvious that your son Duryodhana will bring destruction to this family. I advise that you kill him. He will cause great destruction if he lives. You will still have 99 other sons, but abandon this one.”

Vidura was not being sadistic or partial. He was simply siding with dharma. He knew that Duryodhana would be unrighteous in the future. However, Dhritarashtra couldn’t bring himself to kill his own son. He ignored Vidura’s advice.

Vidura Saves the Pandavas from Varnavrata

This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 129-137

As soon as the Pandavas arrived at Hastinapura, Vidura developed partiality towards them. Vidura always sided with righteousness, and the Pandavas were very righteous. Meanwhile, the Kauravas were wicked and evil. All of the citizens began loving the Pandavas. Duryodhana became filled with jealousy and complained to his father. They hatched a ploy to kill the Pandavas. Duryodhana told his minister Purochana to construct a beautiful palace in the city of Varnavrata. But this hall would be made of inflammable materials. The plan was to send the Pandavas there and then burn the palace, killing them once and for all. At the suggestion of Dhritarashtra, the Pandavas set out for Varnavrata.

Vidura sensed a conspiracy. Why were only the Pandavas being sent? Why weren’t the Kauravas accompanying them? He pursued the Pandavas and decided to warn them. Vidura spoke to Yudhishthira in the form of a riddle. This was because both Yudhishthira and Vidura were learned, so they could understand the riddle. Meanwhile, the others couldn’t understand. In the riddle, Vidura warned of the impending danger and gave his advice.

When the Pandavas reached the Varnavrata, Yudhishthira immediately sensed the trap; he could smell the inflammable materials. But the Pandavas decided to keep quiet and go along with Purochana’s plot. Meanwhile, Vidura realized that he had to help the Pandavas. He sent a skilled miner to Varnavrata. The miner met the Pandavas and confirmed his identity as a friend of Vidura. The miner then began digging a secret underground tunnel. When the Pandavas decided to escape, they lit the palace on fire and escaped through the tunnel. Everyone thought the Pandavas died; only Vidura knew the truth.

The Gambling Game

This story is in the Mahabharata, Sabha Parva, Chapters 276-277

After the Pandavas came back, Vidura convinced Dhritarashtra to partition the kingdom between the Kauravas and Pandavas. The kingdom was divided between the Pandavas and Kauravas. When Duryodhana attended Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya Yagna, he was amazed and jealous at their wealth. The evil quartet (Duryodhana, Shakuni, Karna, Dushasana) formulated another evil plot. They decided to play a gambling game, in which the master gambler Shakuni would seize the Pandavas’ wealth. They ran the plan past Dhritarashtra, who was reluctant. Vidura advised against the plan, but as usual, Dhritarashtra couldn’t say no to his son.

He ordered Vidura to invite the Pandavas to a gambling game. Vidura didn’t want to do this, but he had to. He set out for Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas. The Pandavas welcomed Vidura. He invited them to the gambling game. Yudhishthira said, “Gambling is an evil thing. It can cause fights. What do you think we should do?”

“I know that gambling is a bad thing. It is unrighteous and causes all miseries. I would advise against it. However, the king has sent me. It is your decision,” Vidura said. Yudhishthira replied, “If Shakuni challenges me to a game, I can’t refuse him. I also can’t refuse my uncle Dhritarashtra. Hence, I will participate!”

During the following gambling match, Vidura was one of the only people who consistently spoke out against Duryodhana’s actions. Many times, he told Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra to stop the gambling. However, every time, Duryodhana ignored or insulted him. Vidura was heartbroken and enraged when Draupadi was molested and harassed.

a picture of the gambling game scene in the palace

Dhritarashtra Banishes Vidura

This story is in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Chapter 5-7

After the infamous gambling game, the Pandavas went sent into exile. Dhritarashtra approached Vidura and asked, “Your intelligence is as vast as the ocean. You know what is right and wrong. Please help me, I don’t know what to do! How can I please the citizens and the Pandavas after what happened?”

“It is said that a kingdom is based upon dharma. Therefore, protect dharma. This evil Shakuni acted unrighteously in the gambling game. Return to the Pandavas their kingdom and their possessions. Otherwise, your sons and this dynasty will be destroyed. Bhima and Arjuna will kill your sons. Earlier, I had told you to abandon Duryodhana, but you didn’t. Now, you must listen to me, or you’ll regret it. Split the kingdom between the Yudhishthira and the Duryodhana. And if your son doesn’t agree to that, defeat him and give the kingdom to the Pandavas.”

-Vidura’s Advise to Dhritarashtra

Enraged, Dhritarashtra said, “You’re always partial to the Pandavas. You always speak in their favor. How I can do this to my own son? I respect you, but everything you said is wrong. I want you to leave right now!”

Dhritarashtra sits in his throne, while Vidura sits next to him and talks to him

Vidura Returns

Vidura was deeply upset. He left the palace and joined the Pandavas in the forest. Meanwhile, Dhritarashtra regretted his orders. He couldn’t bare to lose his brother. He called Sanjaya and said, “Go call Vidura. I miss him every moment. I made a mistake!” Hence, Sanjaya found the Pandavas and called Vidura back to the palace. Vidura agreed, and the two brothers reconciled.

ANALYSIS: There is a recurring pattern in the Mahabharata: Dhritarashtra always had to decide between his son and his dharma. On one hand, Dhritarashtra dearly loved Duryodhana. He would do anything for Duryodhana. On the other hand, Vidura always advised him against Duryodhana’s schemes. Vidura knew that if Duryodhana wasn’t controlled, there would be massive war. The entire Kuru dynasty would be destroyed. However, Dhritarashtra was a weak father. He knew that Vidura was right, but he couldn’t say ‘no’ to his son. Ultimately, Dhritarashtra would always agree with Duryodhana’s plan.

Vidura’s Pilgrimage

This story is in the Bhagavata Purana, Canto 3

After Krishna’s peace mission before the war, Vidura told Dhritarashtra, “Return to the Pandavas their fair share of land. Lord Krishna himself supports them. Your evil son insulted Lord Krishna. This is the worst deed possible. End this right now.”

But Duryodhana rebuked, “Who do you think you are, you son of a maid! You live in our house, yet you side with the enemies! Kick him out right now!”

Vidura was shocked. He dropped his bow and left Dhritarashtra’s palace. After leaving Hastinapura, he traveled around Bharatvarsha, visiting sacred locations. While Vidura was on his pilgrimage, the Kurukshetra War was being fought between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Vidura learned of how millions, including the 100 Kauravas, had died in the war. He then proceeded along the Saraswati and Yamuna Rivers, where he met Uddhava.

They embraced each other and then, Vidura asked, “How are Krishna and Balarama? What about Pradyumna, Ugrasena, Satyaki, Samba, and the other Yadavas. How is Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas and the king of Kuru? Are the other Pandavas faring well? And what about Kunti? Is she still alive and well?”

Uddhava told Vidura all that had happened. He talked about the Kurukshetra War and how the remaining Yadavas had slaughtered each other. Uddhava also recounted Lord Krishna’s glory and life. Vidura became really upset when he heard about all the destruction. He stayed there for a couple days, and then approached Maitreya Rishi, who lived near the source of the Ganga River.

Maitreya and Vidura

Vidura and Maitreya had an extensive conversation. Maitreya talked about various spiritual concepts. He narrated topics such as enlightenment, the creation of the universe, the cycle of time, the story of Kardama and Devahuti, the story of Hiranyakashipu, the story of Sati, the story of Dhruva, the stories of famous kings, and much more. After learning a lot, Vidura returned to Hastinapura.

Maitreya and Vidura’s Conversation

This section of the Bhagavata Purana is very interesting, filled with captivating stories narrated by Maitreya Rishi. I highly encourage you to read a story that interests you. I am not going to describe them in this post, but you can do your own reading.

Vidura’s Death

This story is in the Mahabharata, Ashrama-Vasa Parva, Chapter 33

After the war, Vidura helped King Yudhishthira in the administration. He also spent his time comforting Dhritarashtra. A couple years later, Vidura, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Kunti, and Sanjaya left for the forest. Vidura started doing severe penance and distanced himself from the others. One day, the Pandavas and their wives visited Dhritarashtra and the others. After meeting Dhritarashtra, Yudhishthira asked, “How is Vidura?”

Dhritarashtra said, “Vidura has resulted to severe penance. He does not eat anything and lives off of air. He lives somewhere nearby alone.” As he said this, Yudhishthira saw Vidura in the distance. The Mahabharata states, “His hair was matted and there were small pieces of wood in his mouth. He was emaciated and naked. He was covered in filth and smeared with pollen from wild flowers“.

Vidura saw that a lot of people had gathered in the hermitage. He wanted to stay away from them and focus on the spiritual path. Hence, he started running away. Yudhishthira pursued him, shouting, “Listen, Vidura. It is me, Yudhishthira!” Vidura ran into the dense forest and stood near a tree. His body was so thin that his veins could be seen. At that moment, Vidura decided to end his life. Through his powers of yoga, he merged his soul into Yudhishthira’s soul. Thus, the man devoted to dharma passed away.

Vidura is also famous for his “Vidura Niti“, a text nested in the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata. It is structured as a dialogue between Vidura and Dhritarashtra. Vidura talks about important philosophies and dharmas in this text.

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