Skip to main content

Understanding Mahabharata: The Riddle of Pandu 3

A possible answer is: for the same reasons as turned him impotent.

There is every reason to believe that Pandu’s impotence was psychological. Pandu was physically fit. He was a mighty warrior who was a terror to his enemies. Except for the paleness of his skin, there is no mention of any physical deficiency in him. And his death comes while engaged in an act of sex with his wife. All these point at his impotence having been psychological and not physical.

Are there then psychological reasons that could have caused impotence in Pandu?
Literature on the psychopathology of impotence tells us that while impotence may have physical causes in males over forty, it is almost always of psychological origin in males under forty; that psychopathological impotence may be associated with a very restrictive upbringing concerning sex, negative attitudes toward sex, negative or traumatic sexual experiences and other deep-seated causal factors such as unconscious feelings of hostility, fear, inadequacy, or guilt.

Could Pandu’s impotence have risen from any of these sources? To answer that question we will have to look into Pandu’s past – particularly into his early years as a child when he was most impressionable and into the years when he was an adolescent and his sexuality was blossoming. Unfortunately the Mahabharata gives us no details of these years and for that reason all that we can do is conjuncture about them.

As we all know, Pandu was the son born to Vyasa and Ambalika through the custom of niyoga. His mother had become a widow at the death of Prince Vichitraveerya. When he met with his early death due, according to the epic, to overindulgence in sex with his two wives, Ambika and Ambalika, he had produced no offspring. The illustrious line of the Kuru-Bharatas was now without a man qualified to sit on the throne on which such legendary kings as Manu, Puroorava, Nahusha, Yayati, Dushyanta, Bharata, Hastin, Ajameedha, Kuru, and Shantanu had sat, without a head to wear their proud crown.
Devavrata Bheeshma was there, of course, but he had taken the vow not to sit on the throne though he would stand by it. The Kurus were desperately in need of a prince.
It was Bheeshma whom Satyavati approached first – she must have felt that now that her father’s greed had come to naught and Bheeshma’s vows had been rendered meaningless by mighty time, he should take the reigns of the kingdom into his own hands to which they had originally belonged. Bheeshma refused – vows were vows and he would not break them, come what may. Perhaps it was the bitterness in him speaking, perhaps this is what had become of him because of that bitterness or maybe he had become really Bheeshma – the aura around his vows had imprisoned him in its awesome glare. Whatever the reason, Bheeshma decided his vow and himself were greater than the desperate need of the Kuru-Bharata empire and refused both to marry and beget children and to perform niyoga in Vichitraveerya’s ‘fields’ and produce offspring. Eventually Vyasa had to be called in and this other half-brother of Vichitra had to do the niyoga in spite of his reluctance.

The niyoga was not a happy incident for Pandu’s mother Ambalika just as it was not for her sister Ambika, Dhritarashtra’s mother, either. While in the case of Ambika she did not know it was the sage who would be performing the niyoga, in the case of Ambalika, she in all probability knew it would be the sage who would be coming to her. But in spite of that knowledge, when the sage entered her room and approached her bed, she was horrified and turned pale.

The act of conceiving Pandu was an act of indescribable horror and repugnance to his mother. So great was the repugnance and horror the sisters felt that they refused to undergo the torture a second time and when forced, sent a maid in their place. And after conceiving and giving birth to Pandu, Ambalika, like her sister after conceiving and giving birth to Dhritarashtra, withdrew into a shell from which she never came out.

It is unlikely that Pandu grew up without hearing palace rumors about his birth. In a place packed with maids and slaves as the palace of Hastinapura was, it is impossible that this did not happen to a child who had no father and was totally neglected by his mother. It should not surprise us if he had heard, or at least overheard, what happened in some graphic details. The incident involves niyoga, it involves sex between a young widowed princess and a sage and such stuff is ideal for gossip.

How a young sensitive mind would react to such talk he hears is impossible to predict and Pandu was definitely a very sensitive child and later a very sensitive man. In Pandu’s case it appears that the result was an unconscious horror of sex, for what he heard about his own mother. The images that the gossip he heard generated must have been played repeatedly over and over again in his mind, rendering him eventually psychologically impotent. It is not impossible that every time he approached one of his wives, the image of his mother, of the horrible experience she was subjected to, images of his mother’s horror and aversion at the moment of his conception, all rushed into his mind.

From the picture of him that the Mahabharata presents to us, Pandu appears to have been a man capable of great love, at least to begin with. As a child he must have loved his mother deeply, as is shown by his act of offering at her feet part of the wealth he had brought from the conquest. Listening to all those stories from palace gossip, stories that could have been very confusing to a child, he must have felt like countless other children that sex was something horrid that men did to women. It wouldn’t be surprising if he had felt he too had a share in subjecting his mother to that horrid act – partly because he was a male and partook of the crime of all males towards women and partly because his mother had to undergo it all for his sake, so that he could be born. The result would have been guilt – powerful guilt.

I wonder what Bheeshma’s effect on the child and adolescent Pandu could have been with regard to his sexual development. The Mahabharata tells us that it was Bheeshma who mostly brought him up. Here was a man who had become a legend in his own lifetime – more for denying sex to himself than for other things, though there certainly were other great achievements to his credit. The whole world looked up at him with awe. He had said no to women once and then, even when begged to break his vow, stuck to his vow. The Mahabharata does not tell us what his relations with Satyavati were – when Shantanu saw her and fell hopelessly in love with her, Devavrata had already been officially appointed the crown prince and what she had done was to snatch away from his head that crown of yuvaraja.

The Mahabharata does not tell us if he hated her for this, if he hated all women because of this. It is possible that he did, considering how adamantly he stuck to his vow of having nothing to do with women, though he was always perfectly gentlemanly and chivalrous in his behavior towards them. Perhaps his forcing Gandhari to marry his blind nephew Dhritarashtra and his capturing by force and bringing to Hastinapura the three Kashi princesses from their swayamvara hall speak of his contempt for women, though these actions were not very rare in his days. The vow that he would never fight a woman too speaks of his dislike and contempt for women.

Also relevant to our discussion is Bheeshma’s attitude towards women in general as expressed in a chapter in the Anushasana Parva [Ch 38], though it is possible that this discussion does not really represent Bheeshma’s views on women at all and is a philosophical discussion added later to the epic in his name. At the opening of this chapter, Yudhishthira tells Bheeshma that women are the root of all evil and it has been said that they are mean-minded. He then asks Bheeshma to tell him about the nature of women. In answer, Bheeshma quotes the answer the Apsara Panchachooda had given Narada who had asked her the same question. What follows is a downright condemnation of women. We are told that even pretty women with husbands, born in noble families, do not remain within bounds. Once they get an opportunity to meet outsiders, they do not bother even for husbands who are famous, rich and endowed with unparalleled handsomeness, even when these husbands do everything to please them. Women can give themselves to the greatest sinners, without feeling any shame about it. There is no man woman wouldn’t give themselves to – his age, his other conditions, nothing matters to them; all that is needed is that he be a male. He may be a deformed dwarf, it does not matter; he may be nauseatingly repulsive, that does not matter. All that matters to women is that he is male. And if men are not available to satisfy their lust, women will have no hesitation to seek sexual pleasure from other women. For, women are just never satiated sexually; with them it is as fire is never satiated with wood, the ocean is never satiated with rivers, death by consuming mortals.

Panchachooda has words to say about the nature of women which I am reluctant to quote here – so blunt and crude is she in her description of the evil that women are. Death, fierce storms, the evil world underground, massive all consuming conflagrations, the sharp edges of weapons, poison, fierce snakes – weigh all these against just woman on the other side and woman would be no less than all these terrors put together, says Panchachooda in words that Bheeshma approves of and quotes to Yudhishthira answering his question.

Years of almost single-handed upbringing by Bheeshma who held such views on women, upbringing by the man from whom a fishermaid had snatched away the throne of the crown prince of an empire that was already his because his father in his old age had contemptuously fallen in love with her, by the man who for the sake of his father’s lust for her had to take the terrible vow of life-long continence, by the man who had the very vicious and distasteful experience with Amba that eventually forced him to engage his own guru in a fierce battle, couldn’t have but left its marks on the tender soul of the growing child Pandu.

And if all this is not enough, consider the two references to his lineage Pandu makes immediately after killing the deer in coitus and feeling guilty about it: He says he is the son of the kamatma Vichitraveerya, the prince whose soul itself was lust, born to him in his kshetra, ‘field’, begotten by Vyasa.

What is the legacy of Vichitraveerya that Pandu considers himself an heir to? Lust. Lust that brought death. Lust in which Eros and Thanatos met. The adolescent Vichitra was so enamored by the two beautiful princesses whom his half-brother had brought for him that he spent his days and nights in a single passion – making love to them, which eventually lead to his death. Vichitra also brought with him the legacy of an old emperor’s lust for a young maid – Shantanu’s lust for the fishermaid Satyavati. And Satyavati herself is a product of lust. King Uparichara had gone to the jungle on a hunting trip rejecting his wife’s invitation to him to go to bed with her. She had made her desire known to him through a message she had sent him informing him she had just had her ritual bath after her monthly periods and was eagerly waiting for him in their bedchamber. In the jungle the king was unable to control his lust – all around him nature stood bathed in all her estrous glory, the mating calls of birds filled the air around him thick with the scent of passion. Satyavati was the child born to that king who had lost control over himself, born to an apsara living as a fish in the Yamuna according to the Mahabharata – in all probability a fishergirl who satisfied the king’s lust of the moment.

This is a legacy of lust – straight and unmixed with anything else. The other lineage he speaks of is perhaps more confusing. Vichitra’s biological father is Vyasa – born of sage Parashara’s lust for the fish-smelling Kali-Satyavati, lust that was unwilling to wait even so long as it takes for Kali and the sage to cross the river. Their union took place in the boat itself, right in the middle of the river. Vyasa brings in his blood the irrepressible lust of Parashara and of Uparichara Vasu. But at the same time, Vyasa is an ascetic too – a man who had his sexuality under control, though he too had slipped once, thus begetting his son Shuka. Pandu’s Vyasa lineage is thus both of lust and asceticism.

A very restrictive upbringing concerning sex, negative attitudes toward sex, negative or traumatic sexual experiences, though at second-hand, other deep-seated factors such as unconscious feelings of hostility, fear, and guilt… Pandu seems to have had his share of all these elements that cause psychopathological impotence – and a rich share of them at that.

To be continued…


  1. Dear Sir,

    It is an amazing analysis of the character, Pandu. I personally never thought on these lines but the rationale given has compelled me to believe every word of this.

    Vijay Deep Nandal

  2. I had a talk with my aunt about this. She is a doctor, and her theory may be of interest to you: Pandu was called so because of his yellow colored skin. His mother had gone pale when Vyasa came to her bed chamber, and this manifested itself as a pale skinned offspring. Now, the yellow affliction could be the type associated with jaundice, where the liver ceases to function. Now, Pandu may also have had a form of hepatic failure, which would lead to an accumulation of the female hormone, estrogen, in his blood stream, which would in turn negate him ever having an erection. This hepatic failure would also have contributed to his death in the form of a cerebral hemorrage. When he had sex with Madri, his blood pressure would have shot up, and with his faling liver the blood would not clot, causing the hemorrage. I believe the term my aunt used was "Sarr phat gaya".


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Arjuna Becomes a Woman: A Transgender Tale from Padma Purana

The story of Arjuna cursed to spend time as a hermaphrodite is well known. That happens when the apsara Urvashi approaches him desiring sex and Arjuna politely refuses, telling her she is like a mother to him because in one of her lifetimes on earth she was the wife of Pururava, his ancestor. He sticks to his stand even when she tells him those are human rules and they are not applicable to apsaras. A furious Urvashi curses him that he will spend time as a eunuch among women. It is using this curse that Arjuna lives one year in the antahpura of Virata during his life incognito following the dice game.

This story however is different. Here it is not a hermaphoridite that Arjuna becomes, but a beautiful woman called Arjunī and Arjuniyā. The fascinating tale, pregnant with profound mystic teachings, is told by the Padma Purana in its Patala Khanda.

I would like to tell the story with a warning at the beginning: it is a mystic tale told at the mystic level and trying to understand it at t…

Nalayani: the Past Life of Draupadi

[Translated from the original Sanskrit]

[The Kumbhakonam Edition of the Mahabharata gives us several details that are not available in the KM Ganguli translation of the epic or in the Gita Press edition. The following is one such instance. I believe there is no other English translation of this available at the moment. The passage below constitutes Chapter 212 and 213 of the Adi Parva of the epic in the Kumbhakonam Edition, 1906. In the narrative sequence, these chapters come after Arjuna has won Draupadi, and immediately before all the five Pandava brothers wed her.]

Vyasa Said: Oh king, do not grieve over your daughter becoming wife to all five Pandavas. Her mother had earlier prayed that Draupadi should become the wife of five men. Yaja and Upayaja, constantly engaged in dharma, made it possible through their tapas that she should have five husbands and that is how Draupadi was attained by the five Pandavas as their wife.

It is now time for your whole family to celebrate. For in …

The Moth and the Candle: A Sufi Fable

“One night the moths gathered together, tormented by the desire to unite themselves with the candle. All of them said: ‘We must find one who can give us some news of that for which we seek so earnestly.’

“One of the moths went to a candle afar off and saw within the light of a candle. He came back and told the others what he had seen, and began to describe the candle as intelligently as he was able to do. But the wise moth, who was chief of their assembly, observed: ‘He has no real information to give us of the candle.’

“Another moth visited the candle. He passed close to the light and drew near to it. With his wings, he touched the flames of that which he desired; the heat of the candle drove him back and he was vanquished. He also returned, and revealed something of the mystery, in explaining a little of what union with the candle meant, but the wise moth said to him: ‘Thine explanation is of no more real worth than that of thy comrade.’

“A third moth rose up, intoxicated with love, t…