O f the five sons of Pandu, Yudhisthira was the wisest. Yet he was apparently the reason the Pandavas had lost their kingdom Indraprastha and were banished to the forest for thirteen years. But then it was an age in which a kshatriya prince could not refuse a challenge to battle or a formal contest with the dice. Yudhisthira knew the Kauravas were planning treachery and uncle Shakuni’s dice was loaded, but he could not back away. The consequence was defeat, humiliation and exile.
And now the Pandavas were roaming the forests. Suddenly they were accosted by a sage in distress. A deer had carried away in its horns the sacred wood with which the sage was to perform a yag. After hearing him, the Pandavas immediately set out in pursuit of the deer. But it ran like the wind and before long, the five brothers were exhausted from the chase and very thirsty.
kula then set out in search of water. Soon he reached a lake and was about to take a sip of water when a voice called out : “0 Prince, this is my lake. Answer my questions first if you wish to drink”. Puzzled, kula looked around but saw no one. His thirst was great, so without heeding the words he had heard, he drank and at once dropped dead. The same fate befell Sahadeva, Arju and Bhima.
When his brothers did not return, Yudhisthira set out in search and soon reached the lake. Seeing his brothers lying dead, a terrible sorrow seized him. With great effort, he took hold of himself. Soon the voice was addressing him: “I am the Yaksha who owns this lake. Your brothers perished because they drank its water without answering my questions. If you want to drink, answer my questions first.”
Yet again this was a challenge from which Yudhisthira would not back away. After all, as the eldest of the Pandavas, he had learnt at the feet of the greatest masters, imbibing knowledge of all the shastras. He was ready for the stern test the Yaksha was to administer. The questions came thick, fast and searching:
What is greater than the earth? What is higher than the skies?
A mother is greater than the earth. A father is loftier than the skies.
How can one acquire something very great?
Everything desirable can be attained by the performance of austerity.
What is faster than the wind? What troubles a person always?
The mind is faster than the wind. Worry troubles a person always.
Who is a great man?
One who practices non-violence.
What is ignorance?
Not knowing one’s constitutiol duty.
What is the king of knowledge?
Knowledge pertaining to the Supreme Godhead is the king of all knowledge.
Who is truly happy?
One who cooks his own food, does not owe a debt to anyone, and does not have to leave home to earn a living is truly happy.
What is the most wonderful thing?
That even though a man sees countless living beings dying every day, he still thinks and acts as if he will live forever.
Such were the profound answers Yudhisthira gave. Deciding to grant a boon, the Yaksha asked Yudhisthira which of his four brothers he wanted brought back to life. Without a moment’s hesitation, Yudhisthira replied: “kula”.
The Yaksha asked: “Bhima has the strength of many thousand elephants. Arju is the greatest warrior. Why do you choose kula instead?” Yudhisthira replied: “O Yaksha, Kunti and Madri are the two wives of my departed father. I am the surviving son of Kunti. So that my younger mother Madri is not completely bereaved, I ask that her elder son kula be revived”
The Yaksha was so pleased, he brought back to life all the four brothers of Yudhishthira. Then the Yaksha revealed himself as Dharmaraja, the embodiment of religiosity. On parting, he told Yudhisthira, “Because you uphold dharma, victory will be yours.”
The blessing was to prove true. The Pandavas filly prevailed in the war at Kurukshetra. But Yudhisthira showed that in defeat or in victory, in adversity or in good fortune, it is always the best policy to stick to the principles of dharma. One who knows and respects cosmic order, discharges his duties and lives the right way is never swayed by the buffetings of fate.