King Pandu: The Tragic Monarch of the Kuru Dynasty

King Pandu, a central figure in the Mahabharata, belonged to the illustrious Kuru dynasty. Born to King Vichitravirya and Queen Ambalika, Pandu faced a tragic fate that would shape the course of the epic.

He married Kunti and Madri, and his lineage included the Pandavas, who played pivotal roles in the unfolding events of the Mahabharata.

Roles and Major Life Events:

FatherVichitravirya (Biological father- Krishna Dvaipayana-Vyasa)
MotherQueen Ambalika
Wives Kunti and Madri
Sonsvia Kunti (Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna); via Madri (Nakula & Sahadeva)

Birth of Pandu

Pandu, the son of Queen Ambalika and Vichitravirya, came into existence through the ancient practice of Niyoga, a sacred tradition employed to ensure the continuation of a royal lineage. Sage Vyasa played a crucial role in the Niyoga ritual as the progenitor.

After King Vichitravirya’s death, his mother, Queen Satyavati, was determined to secure heirs for the Kuru dynasty. Sage Vyasa, her son from sage Parashar, was called upon to help through Niyoga. Vyasa was known for his asceticism and ability to bless queens with offspring through a unique ritual.

Satyavati approached her daughters-in-law in private and appealed them to accept the responsibility of bearing sons to ensure the continuation Bharata lineage. Ambika, one of Vichitravirya’s widows, was the first to undergo the Niyoga ritual. However, out of fear and disgust at Vyasa’s formidable appearance, she closed her eyes during the union. Consequently, Ambika gave birth to Dhritarashtra, who was born blind. Concerned about the suitability of a blind heir for the Kuru dynasty, Satyavati requests Vyasa to grant a second son with her daughter-in-law, Ambalika.

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At the time of her season, when her daughter-in-law had purified herself through a bath, sage Vyasa was summoned. When Vyasa entered the chamber of Ambalika for the union, on seeing him, she was distressed and turned pale but she fulfilled her duty as instructed by her mother-in-law.

On seeing her frightened and pale complexion, Vyasa told Ambalika, since you turned pale on seeing my ugliness, you will have a son who will be pale in complexion, and his name will also be Pandu. Ambalika gives birth to a handsome, radiant son with a deathly pallor, as predicted. The word “Pandu” itself means pale or whitish, reflecting the condition of his complexion at birth.

Realizing that both sons had some kind of disabilities, Satyavati made a last request to Vyasa. When the eldest daughter-in-law (Ambika) was again in season, she asked her to have a union with Vyasa. Remembering her unusual previous encounter, Ambika sent a maidservant for the union this time. As a result, she gave birth to Vidura, an extremely wise brother of Dhritashtra and Pandu.

Pandu spent his early years receiving education and training, befitting a future king. His noble upbringing instilled in him the virtues of dharma, righteousness, and the responsibilities that came with royal power.

Marriage to Kunti and Madri

Kunti, the daughter of Kuntibhoja, was renowned for her beauty and virtue. In a svayamvara, she chose Pandu from among many powerful kings. Their union was likened to that of Indra and Sachi, blessed with abundant fortune.

Later, Pandu, accompanied by Bhishma, ventured to the capital of the Madra kingdom to wed Madri. Madri, the daughter of the king of Madra, was known throughout the three worlds for her unparalleled beauty. Bhishma, desiring her for Pandu, bought her with great wealth.

Pandu’s Conquest; Reviving the glory of Kauravas

Pandu, renowned for his courage, embarked on conquests to the east, defeating the Dasharnas and Magadha’s king Darva and expanding the fame of the Kouravas. His victories extended to Mithila, Kashi, Suhma, and Pundra, establishing his dominance over various kingdoms.

Pandu’s prowess in battle earned him recognition as the only warrior on earth, akin to Purandara among the gods. The defeated kings acknowledged his supremacy, paying tribute with gems, riches, and livestock. After this triumphant, Pandu returned to Gajasahrya (Hastinapura) and paid homage to Bhishma and his mother. He was welcomed with great joy by his people.

Having mastered his senses, Pandu retreated to the forest with Kunti and Madri, leaving behind his luxurious palace. They resided in the forest, hunting, and dwelling amidst the majestic scenery of the Himalayas. Pandu, accompanied by his wives and armed with weapons, resembled a deity to the forest inhabitants. This led to Dhritarashtra, his blind elder brother, assuming the responsibilities of ruling Hastinapura.


Pandu’s life took a tragic turn during a hunting incident. One day, he brought great misfortune to himself by shooting a sage named Kimdama, in the form of stag, when it was uniting with its doe in the state of lust but without his desire having been satiated. Wounded by the arrow, the sage cursed Pandu, ” As you killed Brahamana who was uniting with his wife before his desires were satiated, you will also die before your desires are sated. ”

The deer foretold that Pandu would meet the same fate, dying in the arms of his beloved. Pandu, stricken with grief, witnessed the deer’s demise and immediately felt the weight of the curse upon him. Thus, Pandu refrained from uniting with his wives.

Pandu’s Desire for Sons

Pandu expressed his deep sorrow over his inability to have sons. According to dharma, one must discharge debts to ancestors, gods, sages, and other humans. While he fulfilled his duties towards others, he felt troubled by his inability to fulfill the debt towards his ancestors through progeny. Ascetics assured Pandu that divine sight revealed he would indeed have offspring with exceptional qualities. However, Pandu, aware of his infertility due to the curse, felt anxious about his ability to fulfill this destiny.

Feeling distressed, Pandu discussed the importance of progeny with Kunti. He explained the various types of sons mentioned in religious texts and emphasized the significance of having children to attain bright worlds.

Knowing his incapacity for procreation, Pandu urged Kunti to obtain sons through superior Brahmanas, citing the example of Sharadandayani, who bore three sons through a Brahmana after performing a specific ritual. He instructed Kunti to follow a similar course to ensure the lineage’s continuation.

Kunti expressed her unwavering devotion to him. She urged him not to suggest alternative means for having children and reminded him of his duty to father sons through her according to dharma. Declaring her commitment to him alone, she assured Pandu that she would never entertain the thought of being with another man.

Birth of the Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna

To continue his lineage, Pandu encouraged Kunti to bear children for him by using her boon to invoke deities. As a result, Kunti gave birth to Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna, fathered by Dharma (Yama), Marut (Vayu), and Shakra (Indra), respectively.

Birth of Nakula and Sahadeva

After Kunti’s and Dhritarashtra’s sons were born, Madri, the daughter of the king of Madra, expressed her desire for children. She acknowledged feeling inferior despite her superiority and sought Pandu’s help, persuading Kunti to arrange for her also to have sons. Pandu appealed to Kunti, urging her to perform a supreme act on Madri to ensure the lineage’s continuity.

Pandu emphasized the importance of securing offspring for their lineage and the welfare of their ancestors and successors. To bestow children on her, Kunti instructed her co-wife Madri to think of a god to obtain children. Madri chose the Ashvins, and as a result, she gave birth to twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.

The people of the Shatashringa mountains performed the birth rites for Kunti’s and Madri’s sons, affectionately naming them. Kunti’s sons were named Yudhishthira, Bhimasena, and Arjuna, while Madri’s sons were named Nakula and Sahadeva; collectively they were known as Pandavas.

Death of Pandu

Pandu witnessed his five handsome son (pandavas) growing up under his protection in the great forest on the mountain. One day, during the vibrant spring season, Pandu strolled through the forest with his wife. The forest was adorned with trees such as palasha, tilaka, champaka, and others, bearing abundant flowers and fruits.

The ponds added to the scenic beauty with their diverse varieties of lotuses. When he saw this, his heart turned to thoughts of love. Madri followed him, clad in a beautiful, semi-transparent garment. Desire stirred in him like a dense forest fire when he saw her youth through that garment.

Under the control of love, the descendant of the Kuru lineage did not remember the curse and failed to control his desire. He forcibly seized her and tried to make love with her. Before having his desire fulfilled, the Pandu succumbed to death while united with his wife. As Madri ascended the funeral pyre when Pandu died, Kunti affectionately reared all pandavas like her son.

The great ascetics living in the forest performed Pandu’s last rites and then gathered to discuss the fate of Pandu’s newborn sons and wife. Recognizing the importance of caring for Pandu’s family, they took Pandu’s sons and wife to Nagasahrya (another name for Hastinapura). The ascetics immediately embarked on their journey with Pandavas, Kunti, and two bodies (of Pandu & Madri)*.

*Note: There is some contradiction about when the bodies were burnt. There were parts of bodies that had not been burnt.

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