When death was born again – Part 1

Most of us know of Vidura as the wise minister of the court of Hastinapur and as somebody who guided the blind king Dhritarashtra when he governed the large kingdom. We are all also aware that he was the brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, but was denied the opportunity to become the king when Pandu died because he was born of a maid and not from either of Vichitravirya’s queens, Ambika or Ambalika. However, what most of us might now know is the fact that Vidura was an incarnation of Yama, the God of Death. The story goes thus.



Once upon a time a holy man named Mandavya had taken a vow of silence and was engaged in severe austerities and penance at his hermitage in the forest. He stood near the door to his hermitage, his arms upraised and mind devoted to the Gods.

One day a gang of robbers with their loot, who were being pursued by the king’s guards came across the hermitage. Finding no other place to hide their loot and themselves, they barged into the holy man’s hermitage and hid themselves there.

When the king’s guards arrived on the spot, they noticed the holy man and began questioning him. Sir, did you see any robbers run past you this way? – the chief of guards asked him. O best of brahmanas, which way did the robbers run? Let us know so that we may pursue and capture them, he said.

As Mandavya had taken a vow of silence, he didn’t respond to these questions posed to him. The guards, on the orders of their chief, then searched the hermitage and easily located the robbers hidden there. Considering the circumstances and the holy man’s silence, they seized him as well along with the thieves and presented the group to the king. The king ordered the entire group to be executed by impaling them on sharp stakes.

The guards carried out the king’s orders and impaled Mandavya along with the group of thieves on sharp stakes. However, they were in for a rude surprise.

Mandavya, by virtue of his penance and austerities managed to stay alive, and also continued his meditative state even though he was stuck on a sharp stake. Using his magical asetic powers, he summoned other holy men to the spot he was impaled, and they came there in the dark of the night in the guise of birds.

They asked Mandavya O brahmana, please tell us for what sin of yours have you been punished so? Why have you been forced to suffer this torture of impalement?

Mandavya replied I have nobody other than myself to blame for this current predicament of mine. Had I spoken the truth when required, I would not be in this position.

<< PART 2 >>

13 thoughts on “When death was born again – Part 1

  1. In Irawati Karwe’s Yuganta, the author takes this strand a little further and asks whether Yudhisthir is actually Vidur’s son. She proposes that if we reject the ‘sons of Gods’ hypothesis, Kunti must have performed ‘Niyoga’ with her husband’s brother: i.e. Vidur. And since Vidur was the incarnation of Yama, Yudhisthir became known as the son of Yama.

    Far-fetched? Maybe. But if true, it does explain why Vidur always seems to have Yudhisthir’s back at all times, by giving him advice and so on.

    • @Sharath, so true, even Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Jaya” makes a mention of the fact that if we reject the ‘sons of Gods’ hypothesis, Vidura fits right into the slot of being Yudhishthira’s son given his penchant for dharma and the path of righteousness. And your point regarding Vidura always ‘having Yudhisthira’s back’ throughout the epic reinstates this theory as well 🙂

  2. I didn’t know this story either.
    Well, all I can say is thank you for telling me a new tale everyday 🙂

  3. Ah! To take from Sharath’s point, Vidura does seem to act as Yudhishtir’s in loco parentis but then, given that he was the incarnation of Yama and Yudhishtir was the son of Yama, such affinity may be termed natural though Vidura may not be Yudhishtir’s biological father as a result of “Niyoga”.

    The “Niyoga” with Vidura hypothesis could well be a sort of explanation for why Yudhishtir is considered the son of Yama, without the ‘sons of Gods’ hypothesis, BUT one would have to quest for equivalents for Surya, Indra, Vayu and the Ashwini twins to account fot Karna, Arjun, Bhim, Nakul and Sahadev. I sure hope that Sugriv, Vali and Hanuman were not dragged in as “Niyoga” candidates – in the case of “Hanuman”, at least, the Mahabharat itself calls him brother to Bhim AND Vali is long dead.

    It is far easier to let the ‘sons of Gods’ hypothesis stand as is – Occam’s Razor 🙂

      • @Sharath and Suresh, well the ‘sons of Gods’ hypothesis is the only one here with the least assumptions, isn’t it, and it therefore qualifies as the best example of using Occam’s Razor regarding the fatherhood of the Pandavas 😀

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