Yudhishthar is one of the most well known characters of Mahabharata, the great protagonist of Mahabharata. This Dharamadhikari (Administrator of piety) of the heavens is said to have descended into a material human form as atonement for some mistake committed by him.

In his mortal earthly form also Yudhishthar was regarded as piety personified. He spent all his life on the earth in a ascetic and pious manner. However he did commit a blunder once – that of playing a game of gamble–which was but a reflection of the mistake committed in his heavenly life, for penitence of which he had been made to don the human form. Barring that mistake, all his life remained spotlessly clean and pious. His life progressed, grappling with hostile circumstances.

While on the earth, he was secretly and severely tested thrice, by none other than the Dharamraj (The lord of Piety) himself. He could regain his glorious position of Dharamadhikari only after successfully going through all these three tests.

This story is about the first such test taken by Dharamraj.

The incident relates to the period when the twelve years of Banwas (Forest living) of Pandavas were about to end and the thirteenth year of Agyatvas (Living secretly – without being identified) was about to begin.

As a principle, Yudhishthar used to begin his day by performing yagya alongwith learned Brahmins. A special kind of wood called Arani, was used to ignite the fire for the Yagya. Aranis are used to produce fire by rubbing against each other, along with chanting of relevant Mantras.

Once, when Yudhishthar and others were taking rest after performing yagya, a wild deer reached the place and started scratching its head against a bunch of Aranis hanging on a tree trunk. Its horns got entangled into the Aranis. Panicked, the deer ran away, still carrying the bunch of Aranis on its horns. Seeing the deer running away with the Aranis, the Pandvas ran after it, with their bows and arrows, as it was important for them to get the Aranis back for the Yagya. The frightened deer dashed off deep into the forests. The Pandvas too had to follow.
It was a hot afternoon. Panting and sweating , the tired Pandvas were extremely thirsty. Their focus shifted from the deer. Now it was more important to find some water to quench their distressing thirst. Sahdev climbed a tree to look for some source of water around, and saw a lake at some distance.

“There is a lake nearby”, said Sahdev, as he climbed down the tree. “All of you relax here, while I go and fetch water for you in some quivers (Cases for holding arrows).”

Sahdev reached the lake, which was not very far. The lake water was clean and clear. “I will drink some water first, and then carry it for my brothers”, he thought. However, as he was about to drink water, a mysterious voice warned him “Stop Sahdev”, said the loud voice. “I am the lord of this lake. I have some questions to ask. If you touch the water before answering them, you will drop dead, right here”.

However, arrogance, thirst and indolence mislead Sahdev to ignore the grim warning, and he proceeded to drink the water. The moment he brought a handful of water to his lips, he dropped down instantly like a dead man.

Back in the forest, the Pandavas were worried. It had been long since Sahdev went to fetch water. Apprehending some trouble, it was decided to send Nakul to look for Sahdev.

Nakul reached the lake and was infuriated to see his brother dead. “Who dared to kill my brother”, he shouted, trembling with sorrow as well as anger. “Come out and face me.”

There was nobody around except an eerie silence. Thirsty as he was, he thought of drinking some water before looking for the evil one who had killed his dear brother. However, as soon as he touched the water, the mysterious voice spoke again. “Stop Nakul. I am the lord of this lake. I have some questions to ask. If you touch the water before answering them, you will drop dead, right here like your brother Sahdev.”

However, not paying any heed to the words, Nakul proceeded to drink water and dropped dead, instantly.

Worried over delay in return of Nakul and Sahdev, Yudhishthar sent Arjun to look for them . Arjun reached the lake only to find the two brothers dead near the lake. In a fit of rage he held his bow and fired a volley of arrows in all directions, assuming that the enemy must be hidden nearby and would be hit by the arrows shot by him. However there was usual silence all around. There was no one around. “Who must have killed my brothers. May be the water is poisonous”, thought Arjun. However, the flowers blooming in the lake water and the beautiful fish swimming in the lake water indicated that the water was indeed sweet and clean. Thirsty Arjun, like his brothers, bent down to drink water.

“Stop Arjun”, came the stern voice again. “Listen to me before you take even a sip of water.” Arjun reacted instantly by shooting Shabd Bhedi (Sound seeking) arrows. There was a loud laughter which shook the entire forest. The same loud voice followed. “ Your arrows are useless Arjun. They cannot harm me. But just listen. Don’t dare to drink the water before you answer my questions. “

However, overcome by arrogance, Arjun too ignored the warning and met the same fate as his two brothers.

It had been long since the three brothers left to fetch water. Back in the forest, the eldest of Pandavas, Yudhishthar and Bhima, were worried when even, the valiant Arjun failed to return. At last Yudhishthar decided to venture himself, to trace his missing brothers. However, Bhima requested he be allowed to try.

Bhima also went to the lake but met the same fate as his brothers.

At last Yudhishthar started himself in search of his lost brothers. He was shocked to see them lying dead on the lake bank. He looked around. There were no signs of any fight; no bloodshed, no wounds. The lake water did not show any signs of poisoning either.

Yudhishthar was perplexed. “My brothers, the bravest warriors on the earth, whom even the gods cannot defeat, lying dead. Is there a mysterious power in this lake? Let me taste the water.” Thinking thus, Yudhishthar decided to taste the water, but was confronted with the loud mysterious voice.

“Stop Yudhishthar”, said the loud voice. “I am the lord of this lake. I have some questions to ask. If you touch the water before answering them, you will drop dead, right here, like your brothers.”

Yudhishthar was composed. He replied with a cool mind and folded hands, “Whoever you are, kindly appear in front of me. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability.”

An Yaksha-(a divine superhuman form) appeared before Yudhishthar and asked hundreds of questions, which Yudhishthar was able to answer skillfully. ( It will be out of context of this story to describe the questions asked and answers given by Yudhishthar. A discussion on these questions is vast enough to be a separate book in itself. The inquisitive readers may refer to the text of Mahabharata for details of these questions and answers).

The Yaksha was happy and satisfied with Yudhishthar’s replies. “Yudhishthar, I am Dharamraj. I came here to test you” said the Yaksha as he changed his form and appeared as Dharamraj (the lord of piety).

“I am greatly satisfied. Your answers show your understanding of the arcane principals of piety and propriety. You have seen the condition of your brothers. They have met this fate only due to their minds conditioned by arrogance and foolishness”, said Dharamraj “But I am pleased with your piousness. Therefore I wish to grant you a boon. I will revive one of your dead brothers, and you will have the choice to decide who it will be out of the four.”

“Nakul”, replied Yudhishthar.

“As I said, only one of them will be revived”, replied Dharamraj. “You know that a war with Kauravas is sure to be fought after your banwas is over. The great Bhima can lead you to victory. If alive, the great Arjun can defeat the Kauravas. Choosing Nakul may mean life long suffering and miserable life in the forests. You can think again.”

“My decision is well considered and in accordance with propriety”, replied Yudhishthar with humility. “ My father had two queens, Kunti and Madri. While queen Madri immolated herself on the pyre of my father, my mother Kunti had promised to take full responsibility of her sons Nakul and Sahdev. I am alive as a memory of queen Kunti my mother. I wish that as a memory of my second mother, Madri, one of her sons Nakul should be revived. Naming Bhima or Arjun would be selfishly foolish of me. I would rather have Nakul revived even it implies a life full of misery.”

Extremely pleased with Yudhishthar’s selfless reply, Dharamraj revived all the four Pandava brothers. In addition, he also gave some valuable guidance to them on how to spend the agyatwas( period of living secretly).

Yudhishthar had emerged successful through the first phase of Dharamraj’s test. However to test Yudhishthar’s piousness on a practical plain, Dharamraj cleverly confronted him with the second phase by agreeing, on the first instance, to revive only one of his four brothers. This phase was also cleared successfully by Yudhishthar. This was the end of the first test. However, Yudhishthar had to clear through two more tests before he regained his lost postion of Dharmadhikari((Administrator of piety).

In fact dharma(religion) is not denoted by the customary traditions or faiths like Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism Buddhism etc. These are the traditions initiated by the great ones for propagating the practices of piety.

Dharma actually signifies a practical Sadhana of propagating selfless love amongst all beings.

In simple words, we are propagating adharma (the opposite of dharma) if we do not fulfill, selflessly and without Moha (worldly attachment), our duties towards our family- our parents, our siblings, our children.

We are propagating adharma, if our Moha (worldly attachment) prohibits us from stopping our dear ones from proceeding in the wrong direction.

Just think :

How many teachers really find it inappropriate to help their incompetent children pass their exam through unfair means.

How many of those in authority (Judges, high officials, ministers etc) find it inappropriate to conceal the blunders committed by their own children

How many parents would laugh at the misconduct of their children, while actually they should be viewing them seriously.

How many of us will take impartial unbiased decision even when their own kith and kin are involved

How many of us are ready to concede that in an argument, our near and dear ones can also be wrong? How many of us are prepared to see the shortcomings of those close to our hearts.

Yudhishthar emerged successful in the first test of propriety by not discriminating between his real brothers and his step brothers, knowing fully well that his decision could force him to spend all his life in misery and suffering.

How many of us can maintain such indiscrimination between our dear ones and others. Those who can, are the ones who pass the first test of piety and propriety.