THE sage Mandavya who had acquired strength of mind and knowledge of the scriptures, spent his days in penance and the practice of truth.
He lived in a hermitage in the forests on the outskirts of the city. One day while he was immersed in silent contemplation under the shade of a tree outside his hut of leaves, a band of robbers fled through the woods with officers of the king in hot pursuit.
The fugitives entered the ashrama thinking that it would be a convenient place to hide themselves in. They placed their booty in a corner and hid themselves. The soldiers of the king came to the ashrama tracking their footsteps.
The commander of the soldiers asked Mandavya, who was rapt in deep meditation in a tone of peremptory command: "Did you see the robbers pass by? Where did they go? Reply at once so that we may give chase and capture them."
The sage, who was absorbed in yoga, remained silent. The commander repeated the question insolently. But the sage did not hear anything. In the meantime some of the attendants entered the ashrama and discovered the stolen goods lying there.
They reported this to their commander. All of them went in and found the stolen goods and the robbers who were in hiding.
The commander thought: "Now I know the reason why the brahmana pretended to be a silent sage. He is indeed the chief of these robbers. He has inspired this robbery." Then he ordered his soldiers to guard the place, went to the king and told him that the sage Mandavya had been caught with the stolen goods.
The king was very angry at the audacity of the chief of the robbers who had put on the garb of a brahmana sage, the better to deceive the world. Without pausing to verify the facts, he ordered the wicked criminal, as he thought him, to be impaled.
The commander returned to the hermitage, impaled Mandavya on a spear and handed over the stolen things to the king.
The virtuous sage, though impaled on the spear, did not die. Since he was in yoga when he was impaled he remained alive by the power of yoga. Sages who lived in other parts of the forest came to his hermitage and asked Mandavya how he came to be in that terrible pass.
Mandavya replied: "Whom shall I blame? The servants of the king, who protect the world, have inflicted this punishment."
The king was surprised and frightened when he heard that the impaled sage was still alive and that he was surrounded by the other sages of the forest. He hastened to the forest with his attendants and at once ordered the sage to be taken down from the spear. Then he prostrated at his feet and prayed humbly to be forgiven for the offence unwittingly committed.
Mandavya was not angry with the king. He went straight to Dharma, the divine dispenser of justice, who was seated on his throne, and asked him: "What crime have I committed to deserve this torture?"
Lord Dharma, who knew the great power of the sage, replied in all humility: "O sage, you have tortured birds and bees. Are you not aware that all deeds, good or bad, however small, inevitably produce their results, good or evil?"
Mandavya was surprised at this reply of Lord Dharma and asked: "When did I commit this offence?"
Mandavya then pronounced a curse on Dharma: "This punishment you have decreed is far in excess of the deserts of a mistake committed by a child in ignorance. Be born, therefore, as a mortal in the world."
Lord Dharma who was thus cursed by the sage Mandavya incarnated as Vidura and was born of the servant-maid of Ambalika, the wife of Vichitravirya.
This story is intended to show that Vidura was the incarnation of Dharma. The great men of the world regarded Vidura as a mahatma who was unparalleled in his knowledge of dharma, sastras and statesmanship and was totally devoid of attachment and anger. Bhishma appointed him, while he was still in his teens, as the chief counsellor of king Dhritarashtra.
Vyasa has it that no one in the three worlds could equal Vidura in virtue and knowledge. When Dhritarashtra gave his, permission for the game of dice, Vidura fell at his feet and protested solemnly: "O king and lord, I cannot approve of this action. Strife will set in among your sons as a result. Pray, do not allow this."
Dhritarashtra also tried in manly ways to dissuade his wicked son. He said to him: "Do not proceed with this game. Vidura does not approve of it, the wise Vidura of lofty intellect who is ever intent on our welfare. He says the game is bound to result in a fierceness of hate which will consume us and our kingdom."
But Duryodhana did not heed this advice. Carried away by his doting fondness for his son, Dhritarashtra surrendered his better judgment and sent to Yudhishthira the fateful invitation to the game.