A look at some of the exalted traits of one of Lord Krishna’s dear devotees in ancient Hastinapura.
By Suvarna Radha Devi Dasi and Brajanatha Dasa
A look at some of the qualities that made Vidura an exemplary devotee of the Lord.

Vidura is one of the prominent personalities in the Mahabharata. He is commonly known as Mahatma Vidura, mahatma meaning “great soul,” especially someone fully devoted to Lord Krishna. In this article we discuss some of Vidura’s exalted traits.

The Mahabharata informs us that Vidura was in fact Yamaraja, who determines the fate of all living beings after their death. For punishing Mundaka Muni, Yamaraja was cursed by the muni to be born as a shudra, the lowest of the four divisions of human society. Mundaka Muni was once wrongly arrested along with thieves who had concealed themselves in his hermitage. The king’s court sentenced the muni to death by being pierced with a lance, but the king stopped the enactment of the death penalty and sought the muni’s forgiveness for his men’s blunder.

Mundaka Muni went to Yamaraja to ask why such a punishment was being meted out. Yamaraja explained to Mundaka Muni that in his childhood he had pierced an ant with a sharp straw and for that reason he was put into difficulty. Mundaka Muni replied to Yamaraja that according to the scriptures, children’s innocent acts are not wicked even though they may seem so. For Yamaraja’s misjudgment, Mundaka Muni cursed him to be born as a shudra.

Yamaraja then took birth as the son of a maidservant and Vedavyasa, the literary incarnation of the Lord, and was known as Vidura. Though he was born as a shudra, he retained his wisdom.

Vidura had many qualities that make him stand out as a mahatma. The following are some of them.

A Bold and Wise Advisor

Vidura was renowned for his brilliance and his ability to speak the truth. He had the extraordinary characteristics of a fearless and wise advisor. Despite knowing that Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana would not accept his good counsel, Vidura still instructed Dhritarashtra to return the kingdom to the Pandavas, the legitimate heirs to the thone. An advisor almost always faces opposition to his counseling, but must still advise boldly. Vidura cautioned Dhritarashtra that even though he had ninety-nine sons besides Duryodhana, that one son’s bad character would result in Dhritarashtra’s ending up with not one hundred sons, but zero. Vidura insisted that for the sake of the kingdom, Dhritarashtra must discard his offense-personified son Duryodhana just as his ancestor Bharata had done. King Bharata rejected his nine worthless sons for the sake of the kingdom, adopted a qualified successor, and coronated him.

Vidura reminded Dhritarashtra that he had responsibilities as a king and a father, his responsibilities as a king being greater than those of a father. For the sake of the kingdom, Dhritarashtra should stop Duryodhana’s atrocities against the Pandavas.

An Optimist

Vidura was an optimist and a compassionate person. He could understand a person’s mind and heart. He knew that Dhritarashtra was a descendant of the great Kuru dynasty, was the son of Vedavyasa, and had been blessed to see a partial manifestation of Lord Krishna’s universal form. He understood that if Dhritarashtra could simply free himself from his attachment to Duryodhana, he would be a great person and glorified throughout history and in the scriptures. Unfortunately, his attachment to Duryodhana overrode Vidura’s compassion for him.

Dhritarashtra was unable to listen to Vidura’s repeated instructions for his well-being, but he finally followed Vidura’s instructions after losing all his sons in the Kurukshetra battle. Vidura enlightened Dhritarashtra and then took him and his wife, Gandhari, into a forest to perform austerities, and the couple’s lives came to an auspicious end.

Possessed of Equal Vision

The princesses Ambika and Ambalika and a shudrani (maidservant) gave birth respectively to Vyasadeva’s sons Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura. The Kauravas were the sons of Vidura’s eldest half-brother, Dhritarashtra, and the Pandavas were the sons of Vidura’s elder half-brother Pandu. As such, Vidura treated the Kauravas and Pandavas equally and showed compassion to them both.

Vidura was kind to the Kauravas and urged Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana to rectify their heinous transgressions against the Pandavas. Vidura’s conversations with Dhritarashtra, which occur repeatedly in the Mahabharata, have been compiled and are called Vidura Niti (“Vidura’s Ethics”).

A Devoted Friend

Vidura was a devoted friend who always wanted the best for Dhritarashtra even though the latter consistently disregarded his counsel. He alerted Dhritarashtra that he was being manipulated and exploited by his sentiments toward his son and always advised him to do the right things and make the right decisions. Krishna was on the side of Pandavas, he told him, and whatever he would do against them, he would be directly doing against Krishna Himself.

Vidura represents Yamaraja’s principle of discipline, and disregarding his suggestions can result in destruction. Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana ignored Vidura’s warning not to engage in the gambling match with the Pandavas. The Pandavas lost the match, but the Kurus were later destroyed in the Kurukshetra battle.

Advisor to the Pandavas

Vidura was affectionate to both the Kauravas and the Pandavas, but he was more inclined toward the Pandavas because they were being ill-treated by the Kauravas, they were faithful to religious principles, and, most importantly, they were devotees of the Lord. Other than Krishna, Vidura was the most trusted advisor to the Pandavas and cautioned them repeatedly about Duryodhana’s plots to destroy them.

Sided with Neither Party in the War

The Kurukshetra battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas happened in the holy place called Kurukshetra. Unlike Vibhishana in the Ramayana, Vidura didn’t go against Dhritarashtra and side with the Pandavas in the battle; he went on a pilgrimage. Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother, had sided with Lord Ramachandra in the battle against Ravana because Ravana didn’t heed Vibhishana’s request to stop the battle, but rather expelled Vibhishana from his kingdom.

Renounced

Being a pure devotee of the Lord, Vidura was totally renounced and transcendental to material disappointments, such as insults, ridicule, and lack of position. In protest against the Kurukshetra battle, he resigned from the post of minister. When Vidura advised Dhritarashtra to get rid of Duryodhana, who was the root cause of the imminent battle, Duryodhana criticized Vidura harshly. In this incident, the Lord’s energy worked simultaneously on both Duryodhana (through maya, the Lord’s external energy, or illusion) and Vidura (through the Lord’s internal energy). Duryodhana acted under the influence of the external energy and thus facilitated Vidura’s pilgrimage and his path toward renunciation.

A True Devotee of Lord Krishna

Why did Vidura go on pilgrimage instead of seeking Krishna’s shelter? Vidura was conscious that he had incurred sins due to diplomatic association with Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana and considered himself unfit to associate at once with the Lord. Krishna arranged for Vidura to become fully dependent on Him. Vidura thought of the Lord constantly as he performed his duties to please Him while wandering in holy lands dedicated to the Lord.

For thirty to thirty-five years, Vidura traveled to numerous sanctified holy places. He bathed in sacred rivers and lakes, visited temples, and finally arrived at Prabhasa, a holy place on the western shore of India. There he learned that Lord Krishna and His dynasty had departed from this world. Feeling morose, he continued his pilgrimage and met Uddhava on the bank of the Yamuna River. Their meeting is described at the beginning of the Third Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Krishna’s Reciprocation

While performing the duty of a messenger for the Pandavas, Krishna reciprocated Vidura’s devotion by visiting him at his home. According to the Udyoga-parva of the Mahabharata, when the Lord visited Vidura the conversation focused on the Lord’s role as Yudhishthira’s messenger and His desire to create harmony between the conflicting the Kauravas and Pandavas. They did not discuss philosophy but acted in harmony with the events of the time, concerned about the horrible battle that was brewing. By Krishna’s grace, however, Vidura later met the Lord’s confidential messenger Uddhava and was able to hear devotional topics from him.

Submissive and Inquisitive

Krishna instructs us in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34) that one must submissively approach a bona fide spiritual master when one is inclined to inquire about spiritual topics. Vidura was exemplary in his submissiveness, setting an example of how to inquire from great souls, as he did by learning from Uddhava and Maitreya Muni.

Humble

Vidura displayed humility by accepting spiritual knowledge from Uddhava, who was younger than him. On meeting Uddhava, Vidura embraced him and asked him about news of the Lord and His associates. Vidura knew that they were no longer in this world; his inquiry therefore seems strange. But Srila Jiva Goswami comments that the news shocked Vidura, and thus his inquiry was psychological and not practical.

Vidura concluded his questions to Uddhava with a request: “O my friend, please, therefore, chant the glories of the Lord, who is meant to be glorified in the places of pilgrimage. He is unborn, and yet He appears by His causeless mercy upon the surrendered rulers of all parts of the universe. Only for their interest did He appear in the family of His unalloyed devotees the Yadus.” (Bhagavatam 3.1.45)

The Quality of His inquiries

At the beginning of the Third Canto, King Parikshit says to Shukadeva Goswami, “Saint Vidura was a great and pure devotee of the Lord, and therefore his questions to His Grace Rishi Maitreya must have been very purposeful, on the highest level, and approved by learned circles.” (Bhagavatam 3.1.4) When Lord Krishna was about to leave this world, He gave instructions to Maitreya so that he could transmit them to Vidura. The greatest devotees of the Lord, such as Vidura, always seek the association of other saints and are eager to hear submissively from them. Considering the elevated spiritual status of the inquirer in these meetings, their questions sometimes seem quite basic. There are many possible reasons for this, such as:

* To clarify an important point for others’ benefit.

* To hear what another devotee has to say about a particular point.

* To become purified. Advanced devotees feel very fallen and often ask questions from a position of deep humility, thinking they haven’t really understood.

Vidrura’s Relationship with Yudhishthira

As we learn from the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira Maharaja was the son of Yamaraja. Since Vidura was Yamaraja, a natural similarity exists between Vidura and Yudhishthira. Both were virtuous, noble, learned in the scriptures, and faithful to religious principles. So naturally there was an attraction between them. As an example of their closeness, Vidura sometimes spoke enigmatic words that eluded the rest of the royal family, as they were meant only for Yudhishthira ears. Vidura and Yudhishthira were also united in their attempts to always do good for both the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

Vidura’s Return to His Abode

Yamaraja’s misjudging Mundaka Muni and being cursed to become a shudra seems very unfortunate. But the result was that as Vidura he was blessed with the opportunity to assist Lord Krishna in His pastimes on earth. This assistance included advising and protecting the Pandavas, the Lord’s eternal associates, such as by alerting them to the Kaurava’s plots to kill them.

Some versions of the Mahabharata say that Vidura, before returning to his post as Yamaraja, by a mystical process transferred his prowess to Yudhishthira so that he could rule with virtue and glory.

For 150 years, Yamaraja played the role of Vidura during the Lord’s pastimes on earth. Upon Vidura’s passing, Yamaraja’s curse ended. He returned to his abode and resumed his position.

Follower of the Mahajanas

Vidura strictly followed the actions and standards set by the twelve mahajanas, the great authorities on religious principles. He was even raised by one of them – Bhishmadeva. He was worshiped by King Yudhishthira and adored by the Pandavas; only those who were hostile to Lord Krishna found him repugnant. He was remembered by Lord Krishna at the time of Krishna’s departure from the material world.

Vidura’s life is full of lessons for us. Among them is the lesson that although life may bring problems, they cannot control us if we take shelter of Krishna by recognizing Him as the cause of all causes and always remembering Him.

Suvarna Radha Devi Dasi, PhD, and Brajanath Dasa, PhD, both disciples of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, live in Longmont, Colorado, with their two daughters. They are active in book distribution and serving Sri Sri Radha-Govinda at ISKCON Denver.