In her brilliant and path-breaking study of the Mahabharata called Yuganta, Iravati Karve argues that there is a possibility that Vidura could have been Yudhishthira’s father – a strong possibility, though not a certainty. According to her, there is much in the Mahabharata to suggest this.
Whether Vidura was Yudhishthira’s father or not has important implications to the story of the epic, for, says Karve, “As soon as we consider the possibility that these two might be father and son, the whole Mahabharata takes on a new light. If Dharma [i.e., Yudhishthira] is the natural son of Vidura and the legal son of Pandu, the whole Mahabharata conflict is no longer between the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, but among the sons of all three brothers. The triangular fight does not materialize because Vidura and Pandu have a common son. To prevent anyone’s finding out who were the fathers of his children, Pandu went and lived far away in the Himalayas and apparently the natural fathers of his sons remained unknown and unacknowledged.”
Speaking about Vidura’s possible fatherhood of Yudhishthira, Karve says: “The Mahabharata does not hide anybody’s secrets. It even reveals that Karna is the illegitimate son of Kunti. If Dharma was born from Kunti and Vidura, then, why should this fact be kept a secret? All the sons of Kunti are alleged to have been born from gods who were invited at Pandu’s wish. The children were born while Pandu was still living and were acknowledged by him as his sons. According to the legal conceptions of those times, they were Pandu’s sons and were thus called Pandavas. Supposing that one of the children had been born from Vidura, would he in any way have been inferior to the others? Dharma’s right to the throne rested on two things: he was older than Duryodhana, and he was the son of Pandu. His rival Duryodhana was indeed younger by a few months. But he was the son of Dhritarashtra, a prince of the royal house, and Gandhari, a princess. One wonders if Dharma’s claim would have been considered inferior if he were known to be the son of Vidura, a suta.”
Developing her argument further, Karve says, “When they were planning to call gods to father the children, it is very curious that the first god Kunti called was Yamadharma, the god of death. Vidura was said to be an incarnation of Yamadharma, so we can surmise that she did not call the god but her husband’s brother Vidura. Moreover, as the younger brother of Pandu, Vidura was, from the point of view of law and dharma, suited to father Pandu’s children. The child born from this union with an incarnation of Yamadharma or the god himself was
Yudhishthira, but because of the serious nature he early displayed he was called Dharma. Thus, for many reasons, Dharma seems to be the son of Vidura.”
According to Karve there are two more incidents which lend support to this argument. She cites the incidents: One, Vidura’s yogic merging with Yudhishthira just before his death; and the other, Vyasa’s statement in support of Vidura fathering Yudhishthira. She says that the fact that Kunti had a son by her brother-in-law Vidura was kept secret up to the end of the war.
Before taking a deeper look at Karve’s arguments about the fatherhood of Yudhishthira, one thing about my own thoughts about the problem. I consider the Mahabharata fictionalized history, in the sense that at the core of it all are incidents that really happened and people who really lived, and since it is history, though fictionalized, I do not accept that the god of Dharma or any other god fathered Yudhishthira. I believe it is perfectly fine for children to have non-human fathers at a mythical level, but at a realistic level it is not.
Now, while Karve’s arguments for Vidura being the father of Yudhishthira are on the whole quite strong, there are some problems with them, a few with regard to details and others with regard to the arguments themselves. To begin with, Karve says, referring to Yudhishthira: “Dharma’s right to the throne rested on two things: he was older than Duryodhana, and he was [legally] the son of Pandu. Let us see if this is true.
The clearest and conclusive discussion on Yudhishthira’s right to the throne appears in the Udyoga Parva of the epic. Here during a heated scene immediately before the war, in yet another attempt to make Duryodhana accept the truth, Bhishma tells him:
Andhah karanahīneti na vai rājā pitā tava
Rājā tu pāndur abhavan mahātmā lokaviśrutah
Sa rājā tasya te putrāh pitur dāyādyahārinah
Mā tāta kalaham kārshī rājyasyārdham pradīyatām
“Since your father was blind, he could not become king, being disqualified because of that. It was the noble Pandu, renowned everywhere, who became king. Since he was king and the Pandavas are his children, they are the heirs to his property. Don’t quarrel, son, and give [at least] half the kingdom to them.”
There is one single reason given here for the Pandavas’ claim to the throne: that they are the sons of Pandu and Pandu was the king. Unlike what Karve says, that Yudhishthira was older than Duryodhana is not an issue at all.
On this occasion, Gandhari, who too was present during the discussion, adds this clear statement supporting what Bhishma says:
Rājyam tu pāndor idam apradhrshyam;
tasyādya putrāh prabhavanti nānye.
Rājyam tad etan nikhilam pāndavānām;
“This powerful kingdom, indeed, belonged to Pandu. And after him it belongs to his children, and to no one else. The entire kingdom belongs to the Pandavas, for, the tradition is that the kingdom comes down from the father to the son and then to his son.”
Here too a single reason is given for the claim of the Pandavas over the kingdom – that they are the children of Pandu and Pandu was the king. The kingdom passes down from the father to the son. That Yudhishthira was older than Duryodhana is not an issue at all.
If these statements by Bhishma and Gandhari are not enough, here is what Dhritarashtra himself says on the issue on this occasion. Old Dhritarashtra point blank tells his son that he has no right to the kingdom. The kingdom belonged to Pandu, since he, Dhritarashtra, was disqualified by his blindness, ever since Pandu’s death, it has belonged to his son Yudhishthira. Dhritarashtra concludes his long discourse to Duryodhana here, saying:
Mayyabhāgini rājyāya katham tvam rājyam icchasi.
Yudhishthiro rājaputro mahātmā;
nyāyāgatam rājyam idam ca tasya
Sa kauravasyāsya janasya bhartā;
praśāsitā caiva mahānubhāvah.
This quotation is from the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. The Gita Press edition has additional half a verse here, which should be part of the text: Arājaputro hyasvāmī, parasvam hartum ichhasi. When you add this half verse after the first line above, the verses quoted above mean:
“I was not fortunate to have the right over the kingdom; how can you then desire to be king? You are not the son of a king and therefore the kingdom does not belong to you. You are coveting what does not belong to you and trying to snatch it away from its rightful owner. The noble Yudhishthira is the son of the king, and this kingdom has rightfully been inherited by him. He is now the lord of all of us Kauravas, and that generous one is the [rightful] ruler of this land.”
As we can see, here too the only factor mentioned is that Yudhishthira is Pandu’s [eldest] son – that he is older than Duryodhana is not a matter of importance at all.
If at all a second factor is to be considered, as Dhritarashtra and others imply, it is whether the claimant is morally, physically and competency-wise qualified or not. Dhritarashtra explains here [not quoted] that Yudhishthira admirably fits every requirement of a king and Duryodhana does not.
Another minor thing here. During the discussion, Karve says “Duryodhana was indeed younger [than Yudhishthira] by a few months.” According to the Mahabharata, it is not by just a few months that Duryodhana is younger than Yudhishthira, but more, though we cannot be sure exactly how much. What the Mahabharata says categorically is that Duryodhana was born the same day as Bhima [Yasminn ahani bhīmas tu jajñe bharatasattama, duryodhano ’pi tatraiva prajajñe vasudhādhipa]. It will be safe to assume that Duryodhana was at least one year younger than Yudhishthira.
Another thing that Karve says in her essay on the Vidura-Yudhishthira relationship is: “When they were planning to call gods to father the children, it is very curious that the first god Kunti called was Yamadharma, the god of death.”
Yama and Dharma are names of the same god, with two functions, and that god is occasionally referred to as Yamadharma. However, the Yama name is more commonly associated with death, and the name Dharma, with dharma – virtue, righteousness, justice, etc. Karve refers to Yamadharma as the god of death. It would indeed have been strange if they had thought of the god of death – but when Pandu suggests that Kunti invoke the god, it is not his function as the god of death that he had in mind.
The Mahabharata repeatedly says that it is Dharma that was invoked by Kunti to beget her eldest son – not once does it use the word Yama in this context. Dharma is invoked is the god of virtue and not as the god of death.
When Kunti is persuaded to beget children by niyoga with a god, she asks Pandu to tell her which god she should invoke – āvāhayāmi kam devam brūhi. Pandu tells her to invoke Dharma.
Adyaiva tvam varārohe prayatasva yathāvidhi
Dharmam āvāhaya śubhe sa hi deveshu punyabhāk
Adharmena na no dharmah samyujyeta kathamcana
Lokaś cāyam varārohe dharmo’yam iti mamsyate
Dhārmikaś ca kurūnām sa bhavishyati na samśayah
Dattasyāpi ca dharmena nādharme ramsyate manah
Tasmād dharmam puraskrtya niyatā tvam śucismite
Upacārābhicārābhyām dharmam ārādhayasva vai.
"Hearing this, Pandu replied, 'O handsome one, strive duly this very day to gratify our wishes. Fortunate one, summon thou the god of justice. He is the most virtuous of the celestials. The god of justice and virtue will never be able to pollute us with sin. The world also, O beautiful princess, will then think that what we do can never be unholy. The son also that we shall obtain from him shall in virtue be certainly the foremost among the Kurus. Begotten by the god of justice and morality, he would never set his heart upon anything that is sinful or unholy. Therefore, O thou of sweet smiles, steadily keeping virtue before thy eyes, and duly observing holy vows, summon thou the god of justice and virtue by the help of thy solicitations and incantations.' [KMG translation]
I have quoted in Sanskrit the entire speech of Pandu in this context to point out that the word dharma appears several times in it, but there is no mention of the word Yama or any indication of Dharma’s association with death, whereas what Karve says is that the first god invoked by Kunti was the lord of death.
The passage quoted above also makes clear the reasons given by Pandu while asking Kunti to invoke Dharma: Dharma is the most virtuous of all gods – sa hi deveshu punyabhāk. And if he is invoked, the act that we are going to do will never be linked to adharma – adharmena na no dharmam samyujyeta kathamcana. A son given by Dharma will remain rooted in dharma, and there is no fear of his swerving from dharma, being the son of Dharma.
In innumerable places in the epic, Yudhishthira has been called the son of Dharma and in all these places the association of Dharma is with virtue and justice and other meanings of dharma, but never once with death.
Incidentally, the primary function of a king, according to the Indian tradition is the maintenance of dharma. The Mahabharata tells us that kingship was born out of the need to protect dharma. Considering this it is perfectly understandable that Pandu thought of Dharma on that occasion. He might also have been prompted by the thought that there has been adharma in the royal family in the previous few generations.
In contrast to this repeated references to Dharma as the god of virtue, when the god is discussed in connection with death, he is usually referred to as Yama, as in the Savitri-Satyavan story. The appearance of the god too on such occasions is that of the god of death, rather than of virtue. When he appears before Savitri to take away Satyavan’s life, what she sees before her an effulgent being in red clothes, with a crown on his head, his complexion dark, his eyes red, a rope in hand, and looking fearsome. When Savitri asks him, it is as Yama that he introduces himself, and not as dharma: viddhi mām tvam śubhe yamam.
He then informs her that her husband Satyavan’s life is over and he has come to tie him up and carry him with him.
ayam te satyavān bhartā kshīnāyuh pārthivātmajah
neshyāmy enam aham baddhvā viddhy etan me cikīrshitam
Savitri then engages Yama in a conversation. She tells him she has heard it is his agents [dutāh] that come to take the dead with them and asks him why he has come by himself.
Dharma is not associated with agents – dutas. There is nothing called dharmadutas. It is only in his function as the lord of death, Yama, that he has dutas.
Which is not to say that the two are not referred to as one god – they are. In the following verse in which the Savitri-Satyavan story is summed up, for instance, he is referred to both as Yama and as Dharmaraja.
tathety uktvā tu tān pāśān muktvā vaivasvato yamah
dharmarājah prahrshtātmā sāvitrīm idam abravīt.
However, generally the name Dharma stands for the god of virtue and the name Yama, for the god of death. And when Pandu asks Kunti to invoke the god, it is clearly as the god of virtue and not as the god of death.
Karve says: “Vidura was said to be an incarnation of Yamadharma, so we can surmise that she did not call the god but her husband’s brother Vidura. Moreover, as the younger brother of Pandu, Vidura was, from the point of view of law and dharma, suited to father Pandu’s children.”
Karve is right is implying that in calling Vidura, they would be in effect be invoking Dharma since Vidura is considered an incarnation of Dharma. However, she is wrong when she says that as Pandu’s younger brother, “Vidura was, from the point of view of law and dharma, suited to father Pandu’s children.” Vidura was not, for there was something that disqualified him completely.
One thing ancient Indian culture and the dharmashastras were very particular about is that marriages should be anuloma and not pratiloma. An anuloma marriage is when a man marries a woman of the same varna as his or of an inferior varna. When a woman married a man of an inferior varna, it was called a pratiloma marriage and all dharmashastras were in one voice against this. The rule regarding anuloma and pratiloma marriage applied to niyoga too. And this totally disqualified Vidura from performing niyoga with Kunti – though he was the son of Vyasa, he was throughout his life considered a suta as his mother was a slave woman, a dasi, and hence Kunti’s niyoga with him would have been pratiloma noyoga, disapproved by, or rather tabooed by, both the scriptures as well as tradition.
Would Kunti have quietly performed niyoga with Vidura, keeping it a secret? I do not think so. Varna/caste feelings were very strong then in the minds of people, as it is even today, and there is no reason why Kunti could have been tempted to perform niyoga with Vidura. In the Mahabharata, Vidura does not come out as a very ‘desirable’ man from the standpoint of a woman like Kunti for her to break the taboo and approach him for niyoga. She would have been particular, speaking in human terms, that her niyoga was with a kshatriya of royal descent or with a brahmana.
And, for that matter, I do not think Pandu would have considered Vidura an appropriate choice either, for the same varna/caste reasons as Kunti’s, in spite of any amount of affection he might have had for his younger half-brother.
Neither Kunti nor Pandu would have wanted their son to be the grandson of a household slave of the family of the Kurus.
We have several instances of royal niyogas mentioned in our epics. Rama’s ancestor King Kalmashapada asks his queen Madayanti to perform niyoga – with Vasishtha, the most revered sage of the day and a brahmana. Emperor Bali sends his wife Sudeshna for niyoga – with Deerghatamas, a sage and a brahmana. In the Mahabharata itself, when niyoga has to be performed with Ambika and Ambalika, the options were limited only to anuloma niyoga and the thought of a pratiloma niyoga occurred to no one. The queens expected some member of the royal family of the Kurus – all kshatriyas. Bhishma’s choice, since he himself would not do it, was some respected brahmana. And when he mentioned it, Satyavati immediately mentioned her own son Vyasa, universally acknowledged as a brahmana of the highest quality. The epics do not give us a single instance of a kshatriya queen choosing a man of an inferior varna or caste as the surrogate father of her child through niyoga.
Let’s recall Draupadi’s attitude towards sutas that she expresses in her swayamvara hall, which I am sure, would have been the attitude of any kshatriya princess of the day. As Karna aims the arrows at the target in the hall, Draupadi shouts for everyone in the assembly to hear: nāham varayāmi sūtam – I shall not wed a man of the suta caste.
And remember Karna was a king in his own right at that time and apart from being considered a suta, he was practically everything that a kshatriya princess could look for in a man – among the very best warriors of the day, greater than almost anyone in archery, particularly with the common knowledge that Arjuna was dead; noble in character, young, full of valour, glorious to look at. As he makes his entry in the Mahabharata, in a single verse the epic compares him to the sun, the moon and fire. He was born with golden armour and earrings, making him very, very special. Besides all these, he was a hater of her father’s enemies Drona and Bhishma – Draupadi had been born from a sacrifice her father performed to obtain a son who would kill Drona and her brother Shikhandi has been born from another sacrifice her father had performed to obtain a son who would kill Bhishma.
In spite of all this, Draupadi shouts there, even forgetting the good manners required of a bride: nāham varayāmi sūtam – I shall not wed a man of the suta caste.
I do not think either Pandu or Kunti would have considered Vidura fit for the niyoga, let alone the first choice.
Remember Vidura’s wife was a suta woman – Bhishma, who arranged his marriage, did not look for a kshatriya woman for him, quite possibly because no kshatriya woman would have been willing – certainly not a royal kshatriya princess.
Karve quotes Vyasa as saying “Vidura was Yama incarnate born to Vichitravirya’s maidservant and me through my yogic powers; and he in his turn, through yogic powers, gave birth to Yudhishthira, the king of the Kurus.” The Hindi translation of Yuganta, made from the Marathi, is equally clear. In it Karve quotes Vyasa as saying: “pahle vicitravīrya kī dāsī se mere dwārā sākshāt dharmarāj hī yogbal se janmā aur usne yogbal se kururāj yudhishthir ko janm diyā”
If we go by Karve, Vyasa’s statement here makes it crystal clear: it is Vidura, through his yogic powers, who fathers Yudhishthira.
Had this clarity been there in Vyasa’s words, we would not be discussing this topic now – the whole world would have accepted Yudhishthira as the son of Vidura. Unfortunately, however, there is no such clarity in Vyasa’s words in the Mahabharata. There are only two ways of describing Vyasa’s words in the epic in this context: either as ambiguous, or as clearly stating that it is the same god who became both Vidura and Yudhishthira. This is what Vyasa says:
Yena yogabalāj jātah kururājo yudhishthirah
Dharma ityesha nrpate prājñenāmitabuddhinā.
KM Ganguli translates this as: “From that deity of Righteousness, through Yoga-puissance, the Kuru king Yudhishthira also took his birth. Yudhishthira, therefore, O king, is Dharma of great wisdom and immeasurable intelligence.”
Yo hi dharmah sa viduro viduro yah sa pāndavah
Sa esha rājan vaśyas te pāndavah preshyavat sthitah.
“He who is dharma, is Vidura; he who is Vidura, is the Pandava [Yudhishthira]. It is that Pandava, of king, that is standing before you, obedient like a servant.
As we can see, nowhere does Vyasa say that Vidura through yogic powers gave birth to Yudhishthira. There is no such categorical statement from Vyasa here or anywhere else in the entire Mahabharata.
Incidentally, once again, Karve uses the word Yama [“Vidura was Yama incarnate”] here, though the Mahabharata text uses the word Dharma. On this occasion Vyasa uses the word Dharma seven times in the course of a few verses, and not once does he use the word Yama or allude to the deity of death. In fact, Vyasa here very clearly defines Dharma in a couple of verses, and the definition is not of the lord death but of righteousness and virtue [“who grows in the hearts of men when practiced as truthfulness, sense control, mind control, non-injury and charity”].
Karve gives another argument to say that Vidura could have been Yudhishthira’s father – a beautiful one this time. She refers to an Upanishadic custom according to which a father at the moment of his death makes his son lie next to him and then transfers all his powers into him. If there was such a custom, this is definitely a good argument, though a father-like person could also have done it with a son-like person and Vidura definitely had father-like feelings for his nephew Yudhishthira.
We now come to how Karve sums up her argument. In her final words about the issue, she says, “One thing at least is clear: the Mahabharata, which is outspoken about all relationships, has not made a single unambiguous statement about the affection of Vidura and Dharma [Yudhishthira], or about their relationship.”
Once again it is difficult to agree with what Karve says. Though we may find it difficult to accept it today on rational grounds, the Mahabharata clearly states in several places that Yudhishthira was the son of the god of Dharma. Vyasa states this in his own words spoken soon after Vidura’s death – he says here that Yudhishthira’s father was the god Dharma who “like fire, like air, like water, like earth and like space is present simultaneously both here as well as there, at the same time. He is at once everywhere and is immanent in everything, moving and unmoving.”
In the famous Yakshaprashna of the epic, god Dharma, who had earlier appeared as a crane and then as a Yaksha, eventually reveals himself as Dharma. This is what Dharma tells Yudhishthira:
Aham te janakas tāta dharmo mrduparākrama
Tvām didrkshur anuprāpto viddhi mām bharatarshabha.
Yaśah satyam damah śaucam ārjavam hrīr acāpalam
Dānam tapo brahmacaryam ity etās tanavo mama.
Ahimsā samatā śāntis tapah śaucam amatsarah
Dvārāny etāni me viddhi priyo hy asi sadā mama.
“I am your father Dharma, oh son of great valour and I came because I wanted to see you, oh best of Bharatas. Glory, truth, self-control, cleanliness, straightforwardness, modesty, steadfastness, charity, austerities, and brahmacharya – all these are my bodies [I exist in them]. Non-injury, tranquillity, peace, penance, purity, tolerance – these are the doors leading to me. And you are always dear to me.”
The Mahabharata is unambiguous here – according to it, it is the god Dharma who resides in truth, etc., and who could be reached through ahimsa etc., who fathered Yudhishthira.
Clarifying this position further, Dharma says a few verses later: tvaṁ hi matprabhavo rājan viduraś ca mamāṁśabhāk – you are born of me, oh king, and Vidura too is born of a portion of me.
The epic makes it absolutely clear here. Vidura is not the father of Yudhishthira. Both he and Yudhishthira are born of Dharma.
The question Yudhishthira asks the Yaksha/Dharma in the Yakshaprashna too is interesting: sa bhavān suhrd asmākam atha vā nah pitā bhavān? Are you a friend of ours, or are you our father? One of the several fascinating implications of this question of Yudhishthira to the Yaksha is he sees the possibility of the mysterious being in front of him being the father of the Pandavas. The Yaksha was certainly not Vidura – Vidura had no power to appear as a Yaksha [or as a crane] and yet Yudhishthira asks him ‘are you our father?’ According to Yudhishthira here, their father was someone other than Vidura.
Also, when Pandu asks Kunti to invoke the god, he asks her to do so through upachara and abhichara. Upachara is worship and abhichara involves rituals incantations that force a power/deity to appear before you, usually against his well. Pandu and Kunti do not need abhichara to call and make that request to Vidura who was Pandu’s younger brother and for all we know, very close to Pandu and to Kunti.
Also, Vyasa says that Dharma gave birth to Yudhishthira using his yogic power, just as Vyasa gave birth to Vidura using his yogic power. Vyasa was a man of enormous yogic power and he displays it many times in the Mahabharata. But as far as we know Vidura has no such powers, except what he develops in his very advanced age while he was living in the jungle as an ascetic. The man who gave birth to Kunti’s first son through yogic powers could not have been Vidura.
Our problem is that we believe Vidura should be the father of Yudhishthira and does not find a single clear proof for this.
The affection Vidura had for Yudhishthira is easy to explain even without assuming they were father and son. Yudhishthira was loved by all in his day, including most of his enemies, if not all of them. He was good natured, kind and compassionate, well-mannered, courteous, just, willing to accommodate other people’s views and had great self-control. Rooted in dharma like Vidura, a wise man like Vidura, he was so much like Vidura in so many respects. And he was Vidura’s nephew. There is absolutely no reason why Vidura could not have had a strong affection for Yudhishthira even without having a father-son relationship with him. Besides, that Yudhishthira lost his father [Pandu] at a young age and had to suffer so much in life, through the cruelty of his own cousins, could have deepened Vidura’s natural affection for him.
My own stand on Yudhishthira’s parentage is this: at a human level, we do not have a single clue as to who his father is. The Mahabharata gives us none. That secret dies with Kunti and Pandu and if anyone else in the epic knew it, with them.
As for the Mahabharata telling us that Dharma was Yudhishthira’s father, my view is this: It was ‘invented’ later – because Yudhishthira was so much preoccupied with dharma, he was called the son of Dharma.
I also believe that the fathers of the other Pandavas too were ‘invented’ or imagined later. Because Bhima was strong like the wind, it was imagined he was the son of Vayu, because Arjuna was an unsurpassed warrior like Indra, it was imagined that he was the son of Indra, and because Nakula and Sahadeva were twins, good looking, wise and inseparable, they came to be called sons of the Ashwins, the twin gods,.
Yudhishthira was not preoccupied with dharma because he was the son of Dharma. He ‘became’ the son of Dharma because he was preoccupied with dharma.
By the way, I do not believe that Yudhishthira and Vidura shared the same nature. They definitely had common preoccupations in life, but they were also two very different people. Vidura’s preoccupation with dharma was invariably a very earthly concern, without implying that Vidura was not concerned with dharma that was not practical. And at times Vidura did not mind circumventing the ordinary rules of dharma, the lower dharma or the words of dharma, for the sake of the spirit of dharma or the higher dharma. For instance, he did not mind being disloyal to and betraying his ‘masters’ when they were on the path of adharma, as when the Pandavas were treacherously sent to the house of lac by Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana. In this he is very close to Krishna, who would do the same for the same reasons – for Krishna too the higher dharma was more important than the lower dharma. Krishna had the courage to say that there are times when a lie is superior to the truth – satyāj jyeyo’nrtam vacah, and Vidura would wholeheartedly agree with this. Yudhishthira might eventually be persuaded to agree with this position, but it would be with great difficulty, as when he was persuaded to lie or equivocate about Ashwatthama’s death.
Yudhishthira’s preoccupation with dharma was essentially an intellectual pursuit, and for that reason different in nature from that of Vidura’s. I would call Yudhishthira an idealist obsessed with dharma, and Vidura a pragmatist with great respect for dharma.
Also, Vidura is almost a sthitaprajna, his inner world free from conflicts. Whereas Yudhishthira’s inner world is rarely free from storms, in spite of his external calmness, because of unresolved moral and psychological issues. Yudhishthira was a lost soul most of his life, all tied up within himself. His inadequacies, confusions and self-contradictions last till the very end, as shown by his response to Draupadi’s fall on the Himalayas. Vidura seems to have had absolutely clear perceptions right from the beginning. Vidura not once displays the suicidal tendencies that Yudhishthira repeatedly displays, nor does Vidura share Yudhishthira’s melancholy. Vidura is a ‘master’ from the beginning – if we are to go by the existing text of the Mahabharata, Bhishma begins consulting him on important issues even when he is in his mid-teens. By contrast, Yudhishthira remains a student till the end of his life. When we meet Vidura for the first time in the epic, he is already fully grown and finished and for Yudhishthira, his education is practically never over.
In literary terms, Vidura is a flat character, clear and simple, with no ambiguities about him; whereas Yudhishthira is one of the most complex characters in world literature.
The two individuals are not the same at all, though outwardly they look very similar.
Immediately after finishing this article, I came across a report in the Hindustan Times of 6th April, 2009, under the title “Is that sperm taken from the right caste?” I am giving below the relevant parts from the report, without adding any comment of my own.
“If many childless parents in Bihar had their way, they would want vaults at sperm banks with clear labels: “Brahmin”, “Bhumihar”, “Yadav”.
Couples opting for sperm donations in Bihar are demanding to know the caste of the donor before they go ahead and often getting their answers as well.
“Neither features nor height nor even IQ concerned us as much,” says Anuradha Rai , an Internet marketing manager from the Bhumihar community. “My husband felt that if the sperm donor was from a different caste, the baby would not get the right genes and wouldn’t be like us.”
It is a stunning statement of how even young, urban, educated and well to-do Indians, their lives transformed by the emerging India, have been unable to unshackle themselves from the centuries-old caste consciousness despite their desperation to have a child.
Dr Himanshu Roy, a gynaecologist and infertility specialist, says, “The most common questions are about culture, health…and caste. Parents from the upper caste are especially concerned about this.”
While sperm banks are not permitted to reveal identities or complete details of donors, many have to oblige when it comes to caste. “People are insistent, almost fanatical, about caste,” says Dr S Kumar, who owns the sperm bank Frozen Cell.
Note: All quotations from the Mahabharata are from the BORI Critical edition. However, for the sake of thoroughness, the Gita Press edition has also been consulted. All translations from the Sanskrit are mine, except where otherwise stated.