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Yudhiṣṭhira


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In the Mahābhārata, the son of Kuntī and the god Dharma, and the eldest of the five Pāṇḍava brothers; also known as Ajātaśatru (‘he whose conquering enemy has not yet been born’) and Dharmarāja (‘King of Dharma’). As his rival to succeed to the throne, he becomes the focus of his cousin Duryodhana's persistent malevolence. Fatefully, Yudhiṣṭhira engages in a rigged dicing match, in the course of which he loses everything, including his brothers and himself; this is swiftly succeeded by the Pāṇḍavas' forest exile. It is not until the end of the war, over thirteen years later, that Yudhiṣṭhira is eventually crowned and performs a great horse sacrifice (aśvamedha) in atonement for the slaughter. Finally, he renounces the world and sets out for Mount Meru with his brothers and their wife, Draupadī. All the others die en route, but after the last of a number of encounters with his father, Dharma, he enters heaven, where his final illusion is dispelled.

Yudhiṣṭhira represents the perfect king, for whom conforming to dharma overrides all other considerations. But given that what constitutes dharma in any given instance may be ambiguous (the value of ahiṃsā measured against the dharma of the kṣatriya king, for instance), this often leads him into apparently conflicted situations, and protracted dialogues about dharma's true nature. See also Mahābhārata.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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