This morning, after reading the Towers of Silence piece from yesterday, in which mythic dogs came into the picture, A. Anumpama wrote and said, “Do you know the story about Yudhishtira’s dog and the mountain of death at the end of the Mahabharata?” Of course, I didn’t, but I do now. How could I resist an invitation with the words “dog” and “mountain of death?”
The story is in the Mahaprasthanika parva, the seventeenth of the eighteen books of the Mahabharata. Yudhishtira has come to the end of his string and he and his companions set off on their last journey toward death in the mountains accompanied by a dog. The companions fall away (die) one by one until only the righteous Yudhishtira reaches the high pass at the top amid the snow and wind. Arjuna meets him there and tells him to hop into the chariot for the last leg of his journey to Heaven. Yudhishtira calls up his dog, but Arjuna says he can’t take the dog to Heaven. Yudhishtira is mystified, but in the end he steps down from the chariot, saying he must be true to his good and faithful companion even if it means giving up on the joys of Heaven. As I read this (via the link Anu sent me) my aged dog was hunkered up against me, her head under my elbow. So we had a mythic moment together.
The story goes on. As soon as Yudhishtira makes his choice to stay with the dog, the dog turns into a god and rewards Yudhishtira by taking him straight to Heaven. But it’s a strange sort of Heaven, and the good people Yudhishtira remembers aren’t there. I’ll let you read the rest. It’s a great story.
You can find many versions, translations or reconstituted, on the web. Here is a bit of the one Anu sent me.
And suddenly, there was Indra, in his chariot, offering Yudhishtira a hand up.
“Welcome, Yudhishtira, hero. You have won to my heaven. Come aboard and I will take you there.”
Yudhishtira whistled for his dog.
“Hold on.” Indra smiled fondly at Yudhishtira and wagged his finger. “No dogs in heaven.”
“He is a faithful and true companion,” said Yudhishtira.
“Sorry, old chap. Just gods and human heros in my heaven.”
“If he cannot come with me, then I will stay with him.” And Yudhishtira stepped down from Indra’s chariot.
“But, Yudhishtira, old warrior, great king. You are the great hero of a great story. Your place is in my heaven.”
“My place is where dharma is constant. This dog has been companion, protector, friend. I will stay near him.”
“Yudhishtira,” said the dog as he transformed into the embodied form of god Dharma. “My son, I have been with you through your long sad journey, and I am well pleased with your devotion. Draupadi and your brothers await you in Indra’s heaven; they have all left their bodies behind. You alone, great king, alone in all the ages, will enter Indra’s heaven in this body.”
But Indra’s heaven was not quite what Yudhishtira had expected. Duryodhana was there, for one thing, in a place of prominence and honor, surrounded by luxury. And there was Duhsasana, along with the 98 other sons of King Dhritarashtra, and the deceitful Sakuni, all in noble places, partaking of Indra’s glory. Karna was not there, nor Dhritarashtra, nor Drona; there was no one to be seen who had held Yudhishtira’s love and admiration on earth.
“Where are my brothers,” demanded Yudhishtira. “Where is the sinless Draupadi?”
There was an embarrassed silence. Then Indra spoke. “They are elsewhere, Yudhishtira. Now you must try to be friends with Duryodhana, and put the past behind you.”
“Take me to my brothers.”
And here is a picture of my dog, for the sake of context. Clearly, she is of the gods.