With help of the great sage Vyasadev, the Kuru dynasty now has three princes – Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. Dhritarashtra was married to Gandhari, daughter of mountain king Suvala and Pandu was married to Kunti, daughter of King Kuntibhoja after winning her hand in a svayamvara. In the svayamvara ceremony, Pandu subdued a massive bull, defeating many other kings. Pandu also married Madri, sister of King Salya.
King Pandu enjoyed life with his queens in the city of Hastinapur. Although possessed of all material opulences, Pandu was by nature disinterested in sensual enjoyment. Having enjoyed with his two wives for only a short while, he found his mind turning to other things.
Although the Kuru dynasty had for many thousands of years been emperors of the globe and had upheld religious codes, their hold over other kings had begun to slip with the death of Çantanu and his two sons. Some of the kings were now becoming arrogant, exceeding their own boundaries and antagonizing weaker kings.
Pandu as a responsible king, felt impelled to take action. Going before Bhisma, he said, “My lord, our dynasty’s greatness has suffered diminution. The world is straying from the path of righteousness established by our ancestors. Irreligion is rising. It is my duty to our noble house, and indeed to the Supreme Lord himself, to go out and check the offenders.”
Bhisma smiled. Here indeed was a worthy descendent of the great Bharata, after whom the very earth had been named. He replied, “Your desire befits our line and is praiseworthy in every way. Take blessings from the Brahmins and then leave with an army. Whatever we are now is only due to the blessings of Brahmins. May victory attend you!”
Pandu approached the Brahmins with great respect and sought their blessings. The Brahmins blessed – “May Lord Vishnu, the source of all victory bestow His choicest blessings on you”. The king quickly assembled a vast force consisting of infantry, horsemen, elephants and chariots. As he left Hastinapura he looked like the king of the gods surrounded by his celestial army. Pandu marched to the east and defeated the king of the Dasarhas, who was becoming averse to Hastinäpura’s rule. Moving south toward Maghada, where the powerful King Dirgha was assailing many surrounding countries, Pandu attacked the proud king at his capital, Rajgriha, and killed him.
After that Pandu subjugated several other warlike kings. He ranged across the globe like a fire, his far-reaching arrows and the splendor of his weapons resembling brilliant flames. As his fame spread, monarchs submitted without resistance. Soon all the world’s kings recognized him as the most powerful ruler on earth. They bowed to him with joined palms and offered tribute of various kinds.
After this one-year campaign, Pandu returned to his capital with the wealth he had obtained. All the Kurus, with Bhisma at their head, came out to greet him. They viewed with delight the train of elephants, oxen, camels, horses and chariots, all laden with riches and stretching farther than the eye could see. Pandu then presented to the Kuru elders the precious stones, pearls, coral, gold and silver piled in heaps, along with millions of cows, horses and other animals. He showed them innumerable costly blankets, rugs and skins from the rare black renku deer.
Pandu bowed at Bhisma’s feet as he presented all this wealth, and Bhisma tearfully embraced the young king and appreciated his dutiful nature as a king. Surrounded by Brahmins uttering prayers and benedictions, the two men then mounted a golden chariot and proceeded to the royal palace, heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, conches and kettledrums.
Pandu ensured that his two brothers were each given much wealth. He had little personal interest in wealth, being more attracted to forests and plains than to the luxurious palace life. He loved to mount his stallion and ride out on long hunting expeditions. Thus, a few months after returning to Hastinäpura, he decided to make his permanent residence upon a hilly slope of the Himälayan range. Taking his two wives with him, he left his magnificent palace and moved to a simple dwelling on the mountainside.
One day Pandu went out hunting. He saw a couple of large deer mating. They bolted when they saw the king, but he quickly fired five swift arrows after them. As the golden-feathered shafts pierced the male deer, it fell down crying. To the king’s surprise the dying deer began to speak in a pained voice.
“Oh, how shameful! Even degraded men who are slaves to their senses never act so cruelly. No man’s judgment can ever prevail against the ordinance of scripture. How then have you, the king and a descendent of the noble Bharata race, acted so, in conflict with Vedic ordinance?”
Pandu stood before the deer, which was weeping bitterly, and replied, “As a king it is my duty to hunt. I thus control the forest, making it safe for the rsis. At the same time, I am able to practice the kingly art of weaponry. Furthermore, even great sages in the past have killed deer in the forest by offering them in sacrifice. O deer, why do you reprove me?”
The deer replied that it did not condemn Pandu for injuring it, but for not taking into consideration that it was mating. The deer then told Pandu that it was a rsi named Kindama. He had assumed the form of a deer to mate with his wife in the woods. The rsi had no dwelling and could not unite with his wife in a human form as people would criticize. He had therefore transformed himself and his wife into deer. The king had killed him just as he was about to beget a child in his wife’s womb. Kindama continued, “No creature should be attacked at the moment of intercourse. Your act was extremely cruel and sinful, and is liable to lead you to hell. It is especially reproachful as you are a king and are meant to chastise the wicked and protect the tenets of religion.”
Pandu gazed at Kindama in shocked silence. He had spoken correctly. It had certainly been sinful to shoot at the deer as it mated. How had he allowed himself to be so overcome with passion? And what would come from having killed a rsi? This was a calamity. The king hung his head in shame.
Seeing Pandu’s crestfallen condition, Kindama said, “You need not fear the sin of killing a Brahmin, as you did not know my true identity. But as you killed me when I was indulging in pleasure, so too shall you meet your death at such a time.”
The rsi wanted to free Pandu from his sin. By cursing the king, Kindama knew that Pandu would immediately receive the reaction for his misdeed and thus not have to suffer after death. Struggling to speak as his lifeblood ebbed away, Kindama uttered his fearful imprecation.
“When next you approach your wife out of desire, you will immediately fall dead. O King, as I was plunged into grief when I was happy, you shall also meet with grief at such a time.”
The deer then gave up its life. Pandu stood for some moments unable to move. As he gazed at the deer’s dead body hot tears ran down his cheeks. Gathering his wits, he returned to his hut. He immediately told his wives what had happened. Afflicted by sorrow, the king wept aloud with his two queens. He condemned himself again and again. Holding his head and lamenting, the king spoke in an anguished voice: “I have heard that my father, although born of a virtuous man, was himself a slave of lust and died as a result. Having been begotten in the wife of a lustful king, I too have become afflicted with lust. I have become devoted to sin. My life is simply spent in killing innocent creatures. The gods have forsaken me and I stand cursed.”
Pandu resolved to live a life of austerity. He declared that from that moment he would accept a vow of celibacy, as Bhishma had done. He would seek salvation by renouncing all sexual pleasure, the great impediment to spiritual understanding. Pandu spoke to his horrified wives, “I shall shave my head and cover my body with dust. Sorrow and joy will be equal to me. I will entirely renounce anger and I shall be devoted to the good of all creatures. I will accept no gifts and I will obtain my food by begging. In this way, I shall transcend the dualities of this world and rise to the highest regions, where the Lord himself resides.”
The king asked his wives to return to the capital and inform his elders of the turn of events. They should gratify the Brahmins on his behalf, giving them much wealth. For his part, he would immediately retire into the wilderness and leave society forever.
Kunti and Mädri were torn by grief. They could not face the prospect of separation from their husband. In piteous voices they begged that he allow them to follow his path. Both queens were prepared to accept whatever austerities he accepted. On behalf of them both, Kunté said, “Let us together accept the order of vänaprastha, retirement in the forest. We shall be happy practising asceticism with you. If you leave us today, we shall not bear our lives any longer.”
Pandu relented, but he made it clear that he intended to perform the strictest austerities. His wives were not deterred. They wished only to be with him wherever he went.
Pandu resolved to embark on his ascetic life immediately. He would not return to the city. He removed all his royal ornaments and gave them, along with his riches, to the Brahmins. Then he said to his attendants, “Go back to Hastinäpura and inform Bhishma of everything that has occurred.”