Vidura is one of the wisest characters in the Mahabharata. Born of the servant maid of Ambika and Ambalika, the wives of Vichitravirya, Vidura was the half brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra.
Though he had two wives, Vichitravirya was unable to beget children, and the great sage Vyasa was summoned for consultation. Faced with the powerful aura of the sage, Ambika shut her eyes while Ambalika turned pale and weak. It was only the servant maid accompanying them who remained calm, and in due course, children were born to all three of them. While Ambika’s son was born blind, Ambalika’s son was weak and pale. It was the maid’s son who was born with the knowledge and the wisdom of the great sage, and grew to be Vidura – respected by the young and old alike.
It is believed that Vidura was an incarnation of Yama or Dharmaraja – the lord of righteousness and also of death. Yama incarnated as Vidura due to the curse of the sage Mandavya.
Sage Mandavya had acquired great strength of mind and knowledge of the scriptures and spent his time in penance, living in his ashram on the outskirts of a city. Once, a band of thieves who had robbed the palace came that way, followed by the king’s guards. Seeing the ashram, they hid the loot in a corner and ran away. The king’s guards entered the ashram and asked the sage about the robbers, but he was so deep in meditation that he was not aware of the happenings around him. Meanwhile, the guards discovered the loot in the cottage and came to the conclusion that the sage was one of the robbers, so disguised. They impaled the sage on a spear and returned to the city.
Meanwhile, the other sages in the area came to know of the incident and arrived at the ashram, and the king, getting the news, arrived too, afraid of the sage’s reaction. However, the sage, when he came to himself, was far from angry at the king or his guards. He wondered which of his past misdeeds would have earned him such torture, and accordingly went to Yama with the question.
Yama answered, “O sage, it is indeed your past deeds which earned you this punishment. As a child, you tortured insects and other small creatures, which is why you suffered the same fate as them!” Hearing this, the sage was angry “The punishment you have decreed for the act of an innocent child is far too harsh. Be born, therefore as a mortal on earth!” it was in response to this curse that Yama incarnated as Vidura, and epitomized the ideal of knowledge without attachment, ego or anger.
As the son of a servant, Vidura was never considered a contender for the throne of Hastinapur. However, Bhishma insisted on educating him on par with his brothers and made him their minister. Even at an early age, Vidura showed his greatness and his statesmanship, guiding his royal half-brothers on the right way to rule the kingdom.
Vidura, as the chief counsel to Dhritarashtra, continually advised him against wrongdoing, even when he knew that his advice would go unheeded. Once, Dhritarashtra was so angry with his advice that he ordered him to leave the city at once. Vidura, without an angry word or rancor, left the city and headed towards the abode of the Pandavas. However, Dhritarashtra soon realized his error and sent messengers to bring back Vidura, who agreed at once and came back, without any negative feelings; for he knew he was on the right path and simply doing his duty. Such was his attachment to duty, without any attachment to the people involved!
Vidura was also among the few who were aware of the divinity of
Krishna. When Krishna arrived at Hastinapur to advise Duryodhana against the war, it was at Vidura’s house that he elected to stay, instead of the grand palace designated for him. Vidura and his wife were thrilled and made every arrangement possible for their divine guest. An interesting story illustrates the love that Krishna had for Vidura.
While at Vidura’s house,
Krishna and Vidura spent the time discussing the various scriptures and exchanging knowledge. The conversation was so engaging that Vidura, who was peeling bananas and handing them over to Krishna to eat, mistakenly started handing over the peels to Krishna instead of the fruits! Krishna calmly ate the peels without uttering a word, and this blunder was discovered only when Vidura’s wife interrupted them! Vidura was appalled at his behavior, but Krishna assured him that this was one of his ‘leelas’ – his doings, so that people would understand that the lord would accept anything offered with love, not just the fruits, but the peels too!!!
Once the Mahabharata war was over, Vidura continued to counsel the Pandavas and guide them in the righteous way of governance. When the time came, it was he who made Dhritarashtra and Gandhari aware that it was time for them to leave for the forest, giving up their attachment to worldly life. Kunti elected to go with them too, and all four of them entered the forest together. While Kunti, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari soon left their bodies and attained heaven, Vidura continued his penance till the time came for him to leave his mortal coil.
Vidura proved himself to be the embodiment of Dharma – truth and righteousness. Moreover, he lived his life by the rules of non-attachment and forgiveness, and most of all, devotion to the lord.