By Swami Harshananda
Yudhiṣthira literally means ‘one who is steady in battle’.
If there is anyone in the epic Mahābhārata who could be compared with Rāma of the Rāmāyana, as to the meticulous observance of dharma or righteousness, it is undoubtedly Yudhiṣthira. That is why he was called Dharmarāja and Ajātaśatru. With perfect purity and equanimity of mind, he was free from the ariṣadvargas or the six enemies like lust, greed or anger. His love and consideration for others were phenomenal, so was his devotion to truth and justice. Yet, he was not timid. He was a great hero, steady in battle, just as his very name suggests.
He was born as the eldest of the Pāṇḍavas by the grace of Yamadharma. He was educated along with his four younger brothers by two great teachers, Kṛpācārya and Droṇācārya, under the tutelage of Bhīṣma, the grandsire. When his father, the king Pāṇḍu died, he was crowned as yuvarāja. This roused the jealousy and hatred of his cousin Duryodhana who tried his best to destroy the Pāndavas by all the foul means he could think of such as arson and poisoning.
After escaping from the combustible palace at Vāraṇāvata, where he had been cleverly sent by Duryodhana, Yudhiṣṭira travelled to the capital of the king Drupada, along with his brothers and mother Kuntī. He and his brothers disguised themselves as brāhmaṇas and participated in the svayaṁvara of Drau-padī. When Arjuna won the hand of Draupadī in it, a quirk of fate made her the wife of all the Pāṇḍavas. Yudhiṣṭhira returned to Hastināpura, the capital, but found to his dismay that Duryodhana had usurped the kingdom. By the intervention of Bhīṣma, he got the Khāṇdava forest area to rule. With the help of his brothers, he built up a flourishing empire. Indraprastha was the new capital.
He performed the Rājasūya sacrifice with great pomp and grandeur. This further roused the envy and ire of Duryodhana. Taking advantage of Yudhiṣṭhira’s weakness for the game of dice, he arranged the same with high stakes. Yudhiṣṭhira lost everything including his brothers and Draupadī who was openly humiliated. By the intervention of Dhṛtarāṣtra, the blind king and father of Duryodhana, the kingdom was restored to him.
However, Yudhiṣṭhira was tricked into the game of dice once more, lost it and was banished to the forest for twelve years, followed by one year to be lived incognito. At the end of this period, when he staked his claim for his share of the kingdom, Duryodhana flatly refused, forcing the Pāṇḍavas to fight. Once the war was decided, Yudhiṣṭhira, along with his brothers and with the assistance of Kṛṣṇa fought bravely, decimated the Kauravas under Duryodhana and became the king. He ruled benevolently for thirty-six years. He then crowned Parīkṣit as the king and left for heaven along with his brothers and Draupadī, walking all the way in the Himālayas. He alone reached heaven while all the others fell on the way. His sticking to the path of dharma, come what may, has made him a model to be emulated for all time.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore