Vidur was one of the key characters of the epic Mahabharat (Mb) and many a times referred to as a daasi-putra, or the son of a slave or a servant. After the death of Vichitravirya, his two widows, Ambika and Ambalika were childless. Mother-in-law Satyavati, called her other son, Sage Vyasa to impregnate the widows under the accepted practice of niyoga. When Ambika saw Vyasa, she shut her eyes in disgust and thus the child born to her was blind, Dhritarashtra. When Ambalika saw Vyasa, she paled in fear, and thus was born Pandu who was impotent. When Satyavati came to know about the nature of births, she requested Vyasa to meet Ambika once again. But Ambika who had not recovered from her earlier shock, sent her maid servant, who was neither shocked nor fearful of Vyasa, and gave birth to a healthy child, named Vidur, and thus the reference daasi-putra.
The royal family treated Vidur like an equal, but since he was not born of a princess, he could not be crowned the King of Hastinapur, even though he was the only one eligible for the same. However, he was given the prominent position of the chief minister of the King. Needless, to say that he was an extremely intelligent and well-versed in matters related to administration and politics and remained true and loyal to his position and the Kuru family, who treated him with respect, especially the likes of Bhishma and Satyavati. His policies on stately matter are well known as Vidur-niti or the policies of Vidur. However, there is an interesting story regarding the birth of Vidur and his identity.
According to the Sambhava Parva of Adi Parva in the epic of Mahabharat, once Sage Mandavya was sitting in deep penance, when some robbers hid themselves in his cottage, with some loot. When the King’s soldiers caught them, they arrested the sage too on the grounds of connivance, as they surmised that the sage had given the robbers shelter. During the trial, he too was punished by impaling (death by spearing). When the sage reached the heavens, he questioned Lord of Death, Yama, the cause for such suffering, when he had always followed a righteous path. To this, Yama replied that as a child he would kill little insects with blades of grass and thus the punishment.
The sage was upset with the sense of justice as he felt that crimes committed during ones childhood could not be seen as grave, as they were done out of ignorance and immaturity and that he did not agree with such justice. He faulted Yama on his justice and cursed Yama, for injustice to a Brahmin that he would be born on earth as a lower caste and suffer. He further decreed that any crime committed before the age of fourteen should not be seen as a serious offence and thus not punishable. It is this mandavian dictum which is supposed to be the base of the Juvenile Justice Act, under the Indian Penal Code, which over time has undergone changes from fourteen to eighteen.
According to the curse of Sage Mandavya, Yama was born as Vidur in Mb.
As we know, that Yama is also referred to as Dharma and Kunti’s eldest son was born by the blessings of Lord Dharma or Yama. During many interactions, Vidur was found sympathetic towards the Pandavs and more so towards Yudhishtir as he was very level headed and dharma-oriented, which Yudhishtir demonstrates in many occasions, especially during the Yaksha-parva. Many scholars have also found Vidur favouring Yudhishtir, albeit within the ambit of his legal position.
With this background, the noted author Iravati Karve makes an interesting observation, in her book ‘Yuganta’ or ‘End of the Epoch’. According to the rules of niyoga, which is in full display in the epic, if a man is unable to beget children, then for the safe passage of salvation for ones ancestors, his wife can take the help of any man, with the prior knowledge of the husband and bear the family a child. For niyoga, the person can be the man’s brother too. Could it be possible that Yudhishtir was born out of the practice of niyoga between Vidur and Kunti? Given the similarities between Vidur and Yudhishtir and the fact that the first god was Lord Yama, while Vidur was Yama on earth at that time, these questions are not quite out of place.
Many might say that if this be so, then why would the text hide this angle, when niyoga had been practiced in other cases and not kept a secret in the epic? The answer could be, that since Vidur was a daasi-putra and not of higher born, Yudhishtir’s candidature for the throne of Hastinapur could be in jeopardy, just as Vidur was not considered apt for the throne. In such a scenario, it made sense to refer to the boon of Kunti and credit Lord Dharma, instead of Vidur!
Could this affinity be the cause of Vidur’s opting out of the war of Kurukshetra, while Bhishma, Drona, etc. fight against the Pandavas, even when they were their sympathisers?
As they say, not all questions have answers or ask no question and you’ll be told no lies!!
Next we will discuss another lesser known daasi-putra from Mahabharat. Keep reading…..