Pandu was the father of the five Pandavas in the Mahabharata. He was a brave king who conquered various kingdoms of Bharatvarsha. However, one fatal mistake brought him down: he accidentally shot a rishi. Because of this grave sin, he was cursed that if he ever had sexual intercourse, he would perish.
After this incident, Pandu and his wives Kunti and Madri went into exile. Pandu ended up having the children of the gods themselves, but he was lustful. He couldn’t resist sexual intercourse. One day, his desire overwhelmed him and he died.
- Father: Vichitravirya
- Mother: Ambalika
- Half-Brothers: Dhritarashtra, Vidura
- Wives: Kunti, Madri
- Sons: Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva
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 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.
Ambalika Turns Pale
After purifying herself, Ambika got ready to have a child. In the middle of the night, Vyasa entered her chamber. 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.
The Three Brothers
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 102
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.
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.
Pandu Marries Kunti and Madri
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 105
Bhishma advised the three brothers to marry. Dhritarashtra was married to Gandhari, the princess of Gandhara. Meanwhile, Pandu attended the Swayamvara of Kunti. Pritha, famously known as Kunti, was the daughter of Surasena (Lord Krishna’s grandfather). However, she had been adopted by King Kuntibhoja. At the Swayamvara, Kunti chose Pandu out of all the kings. They were then married in a grand ceremony. After that, Bhishma and Pandu went to Madra Kingdom. There, Pandu married Madri, the princess of Madra. Madri was famous around Bharatvarsha for her beauty.
Pandu Conquers Bharatvarsha
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 105-106
After marrying Kunti and Madri, Pandu decided to go on a Digvijaya to the east. A Digvijaya is a military campaign. During the reign of the weak king Vichitravirya, many Kuru lands had been robbed and conquered by invaders. Pandu was determined to take them back. He set out with a large army and first conquered the kingdom of Dasarna. After that, he attacked Rajagriha, the capital of the Magadha Kingdom. King Darva of Magadha was very strong, but the brave Pandu killed him in battle and conquered Magadha. Pandu then defeated the kingdoms of Videha, Kasi, Suhma, and Pundra.
Thus, Pandu became the strongest king in Bharatvarsha. Dozens of kings regularly gave him tribute. Pandu then returned to Hastinapura. All of the citizens and royals were happy. Bhishma and Ambalika were especially pleased. Pandu presented all of the riches he had collected. He gave the riches to Bhishma, Satyavati, Ambika, Ambalika, and Vidura. Dhritarashtra also performed 100 Ashwamedha yagnas with all of the wealth.
Pandu’s Grave Mistake
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 109-110
Now that the kingdom was protected, Pandu would often go on hunting trips. On one such hunting expedition, he saw two deer mating. With five arrows, Pandu deftly shot the deer. When Pandu shot the deer, they turned into humans. Pandu was SHOCKED. The male deer was actually a rishi, and the female deer was his wife. They were having intercourse in the form of deer.
“Oh deer, please do not blame me. I killed you thinking you were a deer. All kings hunt and kill deer,” Pandu begged.
“I am not mad because you hurt me. I am mad because you did a cruel act: you shot us while we having intercourse. You could have waited. This is a horrible act! Your duty is to protect the good and punish the bad. But instead, you have harmed a helpless couple. My name is Kindama, and I am powerful rishi. I took the form of a deer because I was ashamed of men. You killed me while I was in intercourse. Thus, I curse you when you have intercourse with your loved one, the same will happen to you. You will immediately die, and so will your lover. You killed me while I was happy. The same will happen to you!-Kindama Rishi’s Curse on Pandu
Saying this, Kindama Rishi and his wife passed away. Pandu was extremely saddened and overcome with guilt.
Pandu’s Forest Life
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapters 110-115
He was so upset that he decided to abandon the royal lifestyle and became an ascetic. Stepping down from kingship, he resolved to do penance. Kunti and Madri were loyal wives. They decided to follow Pandu. The citizens and servants couldn’t bear to see their beloved king leave. Dhritarashtra and Bhishma were taken aback when they heard the news. They mourned for the great king Pandu. Dhritarashtra was then crowned the king. Pandu, Kunti, and Madri went to the Nagasata Mountain. They then crossed the Varishena River and reached Chaitraratha Forest. Thereafter, they crossed the Himalayas and went northwards towards Gandhamadana Mountain. They stayed there for some time with the rishis and siddhas. Afterwards, they turned south and reached Indradyumna Lake. They crossed the Hansakuta Mountain and reached their final destination: Shatashringa Mountain.
There, Pandu practiced severe penance. He gained control over his senses. He became a favorite of the rishis and siddhas who lived there. Pandu was happy in Shatashringa. But there was still one thing troubling him: children. Pandu could never have children because of Kindama Rishi’s curse. He could never continue his dynasty. He expressed his worries to the rishis: “Men are born on this earth with four debts- to their ancestors, gods, rishis, and men. I have fulfilled all but the first: I do not have any children to fulfill my debt to my ancestors. When I die, so will my lineage and ancestors. I must have children, but I can’t!”
“Great king! Throughout spiritual powers, we can see that in the future, you will have children. But you must be patient. There will be a solution,” rishis said.
At that time, Pandu and his wives received the news of Gandhari’s pregnancy. Pandu was agitated. He approached Kunti and said, “I was born from Veda Vyasa and Ambalika. Veda Vyasa wasn’t my father, but he birthed me. Similarly, I cannot have children. You must have children with a Brahmin to continue my lineage.”
“Please don’t say that. I can’t do that; I will only obtain a son from you. When I was young, Durvasa Rishi came to my father’s house. I was given the job of serving him. Durvasa was pleased with me and gave me a mantra. With this mantra, I can summon any god who will bless me with a child. This way, we can have children. Tell me, which god should I summon?”
“Summon Lord Yama, the god of dharma. He will give us a righteous child,” Pandu urged.
Kunti summoned Yama, who impregnated her. Soon, a beautiful child was born. At that time, a heavenly voice said, “This son will always follow dharma. He will be a great king and will be called Yudhishthira.“
Birth of the Strong Bhima
Pandu then wanted a strong son. He told Kunti to summon Vayu, the god of wind. Accordingly, Kunti had a son with Vayu. When he was a born, a heavenly voice said, “This son will be the strongest of them all!” He was named Bhima, and he was truly was strong. When he was born, he was lying in Kunti’s lap. Suddenly, Kunti stood up and he fell down. As soon as he fell down, the entire surface was destroyed. Kunti and Pandu were shocked. On that same day, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari had a son named Duryodhana.
Birth of the Invincible Arjuna
Next, Pandu wanted an invincible, god-like son. He wanted to father a supreme son who would be the greatest man alive. He pondered over this and decided to propitiate Indra, the king of the gods. “Indra is the king of the gods. He will give me an invincible son,” Pandu thought. Thus, Pandu began penance to please Indra. After one year, Indra appeared before him and said, “I will give you an invincible son. He will destroy all the evil in this world.”
Subsequently, Pandu approached Kunti and told her to summon Indra. Arjuna, the son of Indra, was born. At that time, a heavenly voice once again said, “He will be the greatest warrior alive. He will perform three great yagnas. This Arjuna will conquer all of the kingdoms of Bharatvarsha. He will be equal to Vishnu and Parshuram.” All of the gods, rishis, apsaras, gandharvas, and other heavenly beings appeared to visit the great Arjuna.
Pandu had given birth to three great sons, but he was greedy. He wanted even more children. He once again approached Kunti. However, she said, “Why are saying this? You know that it is not right to have more than three sons. Do not become greedy and unrighteous!”
Madri asks for Children
While Kunti and Pandu were rejoicing, Madri looked sad. She told Pandu, “Although I am older than Kunti, I have always been regarded as inferior. Kunti has three powerful sons. Gandhari has given birth to 100 sons. I also want sons. Please tell Kunti to help me have sons as well. I find it awkward to talk to her, so can you tell her?”
“I suspect that you were upset for this reason. Kunti will definitely agree. I will go ask her right now” Pandu said.
Kunti readily agreed. She gave the mantra to Madri, who summoned the two Ashvins. She then gave birth to twin sons named Nakula and Sahadeva. When they were born, a heavenly voice said, “These beautiful, brave sons will be energetic, handsome, and prosperous.”
Pandu then asked Kunti to once again give Madri the mantra. But Kunti refused, saying, “I gave her the mantra to use once. But she deceived me. She invoked two gods at a time and had two sons. If I give her the mantra again, she may have more sons than me.”
These five children (viz. Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva) were known as the 5 Pandavas. They grew up in the Shatashringa valley. As foretold, their skills were amazing. They were respectful to their parents and were always in reverence to the sages.
Pandu Forgets his Curse
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 116
Once, it was the season of spring and the ground was covered with flowers. Pandu was roaming through the forest with Madri. On seeing the beautiful scenery, Pandu’s mind became filled with thoughts of love. He could see Madri’s body through her semi-transparent clothes. Pandu was filled with lustful desire. Forgetting his curse, he grabbed Madri and had sexual intercourse with her. Madri tried to resist, but she couldn’t overpower her husband. The curse took its toll immediately and Pandu collapsed, dead. Madri wailed and cried.
Kunti and the Pandavas arrived there immediately. Madri told Kunti to leave the children and come alone. Kunti lamented, “You knew about the curse. Why did you do this! Why didn’t you stop him!”
“I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t. It was as if he wanted to make his destiny come true!” Madri wailed.
Thereafter, the Brahmins performed Pandu’s funeral and last rites. During the funeral, Madri committed “sati” (she jumped into the fire and died). Afterwards, Kunti and the Pandavas went to Hastinapura.
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