What did Yama do for Yudhishthir?

What did Yama do for Yudhishthir - Featured Image - Picture of a bearded man in a turban, representing Vidura

Yudhishthir is the eldest of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. He is the second biological son of Kunti – her first being Karna. His biological father is Yama, the god of justice. Pandu, the king of Hastinapur, is his adoptive father.

Yudhishthir is described by many other characters in the story as the paragon of virtue. He is said to have never spoken an untruth.

He is the only character in the Mahabharata that succeeds in reaching heaven at the end of his life – without having to endure the physical experience of death.

In this post, we will answer the question: What did Yama do for Yudhishthir?

There are two instances in the Mahabharata that Yama arrives to test Yudhishthir: (1) At the end of the twelve-year exile, he dons the disguise of a Yaksha and tests Yudhishthir’s knowledge; (2) At the very end, he takes the form of a dog and tests his son’s loyalty. Yudhishthir completes both tests successfully and is rewarded by his father.

Read on to discover more about what Yama did for Yudhishthir.

(For answers to all Yudhishthir-related questions, see Yudhishthir: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Son of Dharma

When Kunti tells Pandu that she has the ability to summon a god of her choice and ask him to present her with a son, Pandu decides that their firstborn should be the son of Yama.

No long explanations are given about why Pandu makes this choice. One assumes that he vaguely wishes his eldest son to be the epitome of virtue because he will one day go on to rule the Kuru kingdom.

This gives us an insight into Pandu’s mind as to what he considers is the most important attribute for a king: that he is wise and just. Since Yama is the god of justice, and he is the one tasked with judging thousands of souls who have passed on, Pandu believes that his son will grow up to possess similar temperament.

When Yudhishthir is born to Kunti, a divine voice proclaims that this ‘son of Dharma’ will live a long and productive life on Earth, and that he will ensure that Dharma will always stand on all four legs.

The purpose of Yudhishthir’s birth, therefore, is to protect Dharma at all costs and at all times.

Yaksha Prashna

Yama keeps an eye on his son, and on two pivotal occasions in the story, he visits Yudhishthir and tests him to see if he is ready for what lies ahead. The first of these instances occurs during the twelfth year of the Pandavas’ exile.

As the five brothers are debating among themselves one afternoon about which kingdom to choose for their year of hiding, they become thirsty. Yudhishthir sends Sahadeva to search for water. When Sahadeva does not return, he sends Nakula on Sahadeva’s trail.

The process keeps repeating until Yudhishthir finds himself alone under the tree, waiting for his four brothers.

He sets out himself, therefore, and comes upon a lake where he sees a shocking sight: all his four brothers are lying on the shore of the lake, as if dead. And a Yaksha is standing guard by the water, looking at him.

Yudhishthir approaches the lake, but the Yaksha warns him. ‘If you drink water from my lake without first answering my questions, O King, you will embrace the same fate as your brothers.’

Yudhishthir humbly bows before the Yaksha, and agrees to answer all of his questions.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 27: The Yaksha Prashna.)

Yama’s Blessing

The conversation between the Yaksha and Yudhishthir takes the form of a rapid series of questions and answers. At the end of it all, the Yaksha proclaims himself satisfied with Yudhishthir’s wisdom.

‘I can bring just one of your brothers to life,’ he says then. ‘Whom will you choose?’

Yudhishthir replies, ‘Nakula.’

The Yaksha feigns surprise at this, because after all, Arjuna and Bhima are Yudhishthir’s best chances at getting his kingdom back. He asks Yudhishthir why he chose Nakula.

‘When Mother Madri died on my father’s pyre,’ says Yudhishthir, ‘she handed the responsibility of caring for her children to Mother Kunti. From her, it has passed on to me. Now, by good fortune, Mother Kunti’s firstborn is alive and well. I would like Mother Madri’s firstborn to also be alive.’

The Yaksha is once again pleased by this response. He reveals his true form as Yama, and brings all the Pandavas back to life. He also blesses his son that the year of hiding will pass without them being discovered.

A Test of Loyalty

The other occasion on which Yama uses a disguise to test Yudhishthir is during the Swargarohana Parva. Taking the form of a dog, Yama accompanies Yudhishthir throughout their final journey.

He witnesses Yudhishthir’s conduct during the fateful final climb up the mountain of Meru. He hears Yudhishthir’s pronouncements on the deaths of his wife and brothers.

At the summit, when Indra offers Yudhishthir entry into heaven in lieu of giving up the dog’s company, Yudhishthir chooses the dog instead. Indra is flummoxed; he says, ‘You have forsaken your brothers and wife. Why is this dog special to you?’

Yudhishthir corrects the king of the gods. ‘I abandoned by brothers and wife in death, O Lord. Not in life. One must walk alone in death. This animal, however, has placed its trust in me. How can I forsake him?’

Yama is overjoyed with his son’s performance in this test as well. He reveals his true form and takes Yudhishthir to heaven.

(Suggested: 9 Mahabharata Stories from the Swargarohana Parva.)

As Vidura

Due to the curse of a sage called Mandavya, Yama is required to live a full life in the world of men. He chooses to take birth as Vidura, the son of Sage Vyasa and an unnamed waiting woman in the royal house of Hastinapur.

Whether or not Vidura knows that he is the incarnation of Yama, we do not know. But in this form, he offers plenty of assistance to the Pandavas – especially Yudhishthir.

For instance:

  • During the episode of the inflammable house of Varanavata, Vidura warns Yudhishthir – using coded language and a series of metaphors – about what awaits the Pandavas. Later, he sends an engineer to build a tunnel between the house in Varanavata and the nearby forest. The Pandavas take this route to escape.
  • During the dice game, it is Vidura who de-escalates the situation by imploring Dhritarashtra to call an end to proceedings. He also takes Draupadi’s side in the matter, and keeps warning everyone that if Draupadi’s honour is destroyed, the Kuru dynasty will also meet its end.
  • During the Pandavas’ exile, Vidura offers Kunti shelter in his house. For a period of thirteen years, Kunti lives in Vidura’s house. It is here that Krishna meets her when he visits Hastinapur on a peacekeeping mission.

Yama thus looks after Yudhishthir and helps him in multiple ways – sometimes as himself, and sometimes in the form of Vidura.

He ensures that the education of Yudhishthir happens at the required rate so that Dharma will be established around the world by the end of the Kurukshetra war.

Further Reading

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