When the boys heard of their father’s death they were struck with grief. They ran crying to where he lay and fell to the ground, like powerful lions rolling on the earth. Madri blessed them tearfully and told them that she would be ascending the pyre with her husband. She asked her two sons to remain with Kunti and to serve her steadfastly. The boys were too shocked to reply. They watched as the rsis built a pyre next to the king’s body, then, while reciting mantras, placed his body upon the pyre. They asked Yudhistira to step forward. The prince, blinded by tears, set fire to the pyre and stood back. As the flames rose, Madri folded her palms and fell upon her lord’s body, holding tight as the fire consumed them both. Within minutes both she and Pandu were gone.

The griefstricken Kunti then asked the rsis what she could do. The rsis advised Kunti to return to Hastinäpura with her boys as soon as possible. They also told her they would accompany her, carrying the remains of Pandu and Madri with them

The large number of rsis, Siddhas and caranas formed a procession, walking ahead of Kunti and her sons. By their mystical powers, they all arrived at Hastinäpura within a short time. Kunti then presented herself at the northern gate and messengers ran swiftly to inform the king.

The rsis said, “Steadily adhering to virtue, and leaving behind him these children, Pandu has ascended to the higher worlds. The chaste Madri has gone with him. Now his sons should be accepted as the kingdom’s rightful heirs.”

The rsi pointed to a bier lying nearby, covered with a white cloth. “Here are the remains of Pandu and his wife. Perform the funeral rites and accept his sons as if they were your own. We shall now depart.”

Dhritarashtra ordered the funeral rites to be performed and declared a state of mourning in the city for twelve full days. At the end of the mourning period, the Kurus performed Pandu’s çraddhä. They distributed vast amounts of food and wealth to the Brahmins on behalf of the departed souls.

Dhrtharashtra meanwhile had hundred sons. It once came to pass that Vyäsadeva arrived hungry and thirsty at Dhritarashtra’s palace. Gandhari attended to him conscientiously. Vyäsadeva was pleased with the girl and blessed her, “You shall soon have one hundred sons as powerful as your husband.” In due course of time Gandhari conceived. For two years she bore the embryo within her womb, becoming increasingly anxious. Then one day news reached her that Kunti had given birth in the forest to a boy as effulgent as the morning sun. Out of frustration and anger at her own excessively long gestation, she struck violently at her womb. She then brought forth a hard mass of flesh that resembled an iron ball.

As her nurses informed her of the stillbirth, she was afflicted by grief and thought of Vyäsadeva and his boon.

At once the sage appeared before her and said, “What have you done?”

Gandhari told him how she had become overwhelmed with envy and frustration when she had heard of Kunti giving birth to Yudhistira. With tears in her eyes she said, “I struck my womb and this lump of flesh came out. What then was the meaning of your boon?”

Vyäsadeva replied that his words could never prove false. He asked the servants to bring one hundred one pots filled with ghee. He then sprinkled cool water on the lump of flesh and it gradually divided into one hundred and one parts, each the size of a thumb. These were placed in the pots which were then sealed and placed in a concealed spot. Vyäsadeva instructed that the pots should be opened only after two more years had passed. He then departed for his lonely mountain ashram.

Exactly after the two years had elapsed the pots were opened one by one. From the first came a child who was named Duryodhana. At the moment he was brought out of the pot the sound of braying asses and screaming vultures was heard. Jackals howled and the wind blew fiercely. Without any apparent cause, fires sprang up all around the city and raged in all directions.

The frightened King Dhritarashtra summoned the Brahmins, Bhishma, Vidura and other ministers and counselors. He asked them the meaning of the omens. “The eldest of the princes is undoubtedly Yudhistira and he should inherit the kingdom. I do not dispute that. But will my own son become the king after him? O wise ones, please tell me what is right and lawful.”

As Dhritarashtra spoke the terrible sounds began again from all sides. Hearing this, Vidura replied to the king, “When these omens are seen at the birth of a child, it is evident that he will be the exterminator of his race. Our prosperity and future depend upon his being abandoned. Do not hesitate, O King. This child must be cast away at once.”

Vidura told Dhritarashtra that he would still have ninety-nine other sons. There would be no sin in abandoning this child, as the scriptures clearly state that an individual can be abandoned for the sake of a family. Indeed, a family can be abandoned for the sake of a village, a village for the sake of a city and the world itself can be abandoned for the sake of the soul.

Dhritarashtra was unable to accept Vidura’s counsel. He could not allow his son to be cast away. He shook his head slowly and said nothing in reply. As the nurse stood by holding the baby, the king waved her toward Gandhari and the child was handed to her. Bhishma and Vidura looked at one another but said nothing. Dhritarashtra was the monarch; his word was final.

Over the course of the next month, all the pots were opened and one hundred boys and one girl were brought out.

[Adopted from Mahabharat by Krishna Dharma Prabhu]


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