My Favorite Hindu Story

Since it’s sort of a lazy Friday, I thought I’d post my favorite Hindu story (Can you tell I took a course on Eastern religions when I was in college?). Via, here’s the much retold story of Yudhishthira’s entry into heaven.

Do keep in mind that a lot of the details of this story seem to change depending on who’s telling it and that I selected this particular telling as much as anything because it reads well.

On to the story…

The ending of the Mahabharata centers on a dog. When the Pandava brothers hear of the destruction of their cousins and of Krishna, having experienced the cruel devastation of the war they retire to the Himalayas to be contemplatives. They throw their weapons into the river, and go along with their wife Draupadi to begin the ascent to Swarga, Indra’s heaven on Mount Meru, but a dog begins to tag along.

As they near the summit, first the woman is left behind because of her attachment to Arjuna, and then one after another (because of each person’s pride, hunger, love or other kind of attachment) four of her husbands fall dead. The only survivors now are Yudhishthira and the dog.

Now Shakra [Indra’s private name] appeared in his gleaming chariot. “Embark in my chariot and come with me to Swarga.” But when Yudhishtira went to take his seat in the vehicle, the dog hopped in.

When they reach the heavenly gates of Swarga, Shakra invites the pious, truthful Yudhishtira in, but the man says he does not want to be there alone. Shakra assures him that he will see his brothers and Draupadi, already there.

Yudhishtira then says, “Lord of Past and Present, this dog who is so devoted to me should also enter.”

Indra replies, “You have acquired immortality and all the joys of heaven today; leave the dog behind.”

The man says, “Lord of a Thousand Eyes, what is the use of bliss if to attain it I have to reject one who is so devoted to me?”

“There is no place for people with dogs in heaven. The apsaras will deprive you of their blessings; think of that. Now will you give up the dog?”

“Even for such bliss, I could never leave one who is terrified, devoted to me, needs my help, is weak or begs for his life. I could never abandon such a one.”

Shakra informed him, “Whatever blessings or benefits a dog can observe, the heavenly daughters will take way. So renounce the dog, and attain the joys of heaven. You went on without your own brothers, why won’t you give up the dog?”

But Yudhishtira said, “As long as they were still alive, I did not renounce them. To abandon the dog would be like injuring a friend or like frightening someone under my protection.”

Then Indra relented, and praised the man for the mercy he demonstrated towards the animal. He admitted them together to Swarga as an example to others.

Just then, Dharma “with his golden hair” emerged from the dog’s form and blessed the man.

Some say that this Dharma is the one who is the man’s father, and that he had come to test Yudishtira’s loyalty and was pleased with his son’s conduct. Others say that it is the Dharma-rajah who is Yama, Lord of Death but still others, that Dharma stands for the dharma that is the law of the universe itself.

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