In Mahabharata, Vyasa and Krishna describe Yudhishthira as a tall and strong king who was humble like any other citizen.
In the epic, the king of Indraprastha and later of Hastinapur, Yudhishthira is portrayed as the ardent follower of dharma, whose heart was pristine and untouched by the worldly temptations.
The following excerpt from Mahaprasthanika Parva is a testament to the many good virtues of the simple, truthful, kind, adaptable, and patient king.
Years after the Kurukshetra war, the successful Pandavas decided to retire and renounce their kingdom on the advice of sage Vyasa.
Following the coronation of Parikshit as the king of Hastinapur and Vajra as the king of Indraprastha, the Pandavas along with the wife Draupadi commence their journey of India and Himalayas. Yudhishthira leads, followed by the brothers Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, and last in the line was Draupadi.
At the start of the journey, a dog befriends them and keeps them company throughout.
During the journey, one by one, they fall to their deaths, succumbing to their respective weaknesses.
When they start to cross the Himalayas, Draupadi is the first to fall.
A sad Bhima asked Yudhishthira about why was she, the virtuous and the bearer of a good heart, was the first to fall.
Yudhishthira replied, “Her fault was excess attachment to Arjuna. That was her failing.”
Next to collapse was Sahadeva. The reason for his falling as explained by Yudhishthira to Bhima was,
“Pride in his intelligence was his failing.”
Then fell Nakula, and the lesson in his falling as explained by the former king was,
“He admired his own good looks. That was his failing,”
When the ace warrior from the epic Arjuna fell, Yudhishthira told Bhima,
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“He was brilliant, but conceited and over-confident. That was his failing.”
The last Pandava to fall before completing the journey to heaven was Bhima. A tired Bhima, while collapsing, asked his brother the reason for his failing. Yudhishthira replied that his vice lied in gluttony. He ate in excess without concerning about the other people who starved, and so failed.
Yudhishthira continued his journey undeterred by the loss of near and dear ones. And all this while, the dog kept him company.
Just before it was time to ascend to heaven, Indra descended in his chariot, asking Yudhishthira to come on board so they could go to heaven together.
The epitome of all that is virtuous and righteous, Yudhishthira refused Indra’s offer. He said he couldn’t travel to heaven without Draupadi and his brothers. To this, Indra told him that they all ascended to heaven after falling to their deaths.
Yudhishthira then asked Indra to allow the dog to accompany them
A firm Indra told him that dogs can’t travel in his chariot, but only Yudhishthira can. But, how could the man of dharma let go of the being who stayed with him throughout. To the former king, the dog was now a friend who didn’t leave his side through the rough and smooth of the journey. His heart didn’t allow him to betray his friend, as that would’ve been a sin.
But Indra continued to convince Yudhishthira by means of clouding his beliefs. He asked him to give importance to his happiness and abandon the dog. Yudhishthira countered him saying that his happiness lied in not abandoning the dog for as long he breathes.
Yudhishthira was just being himself till his very last moment, but unknowingly, was weaving one of the most glorious stories of morals in the epic.
Another thing he didn’t know of was that it all was a play of the supremacy.
The dog he showed his everlasting commitment for was none other than the deity Dharma himself.
Touched and impressed by Yudhishthira’s unnerving kindliness and commitment as strong as that of the Earth to the sky, the dog reappeared as the deity and praised the kind for his virtues. It was a test of dharma and Yudhishthira had once again proved his righteousness by not abandoning people who stayed with him throughout.