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Sahadeva (Sanskrit: सहदेव, romanizedSahadeva, lit.'one with the gods') was the youngest of the five Pandava brothers in the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata. He, along with his twin brother Nakula, was born to Madri, one of the wives of Pandu, the Pandava patriarch, who invoked the Ashvini Kumaras, divine twin physicians, to beget her sons. Kunti, Sahadeva's stepmother, loved him the most despite his birth to Madri. Sahadeva is renowned for his wisdom, knowledge of astrology, and skill in swordsmanship.

Sahadeva shared the common wife, Draupadi, with his four brothers. He was also married to Vijaya of Madra Kingdom. He had two sons Shrutasena and Suhotra from his two wives respectively. Sahadeva played a crucial role during the Rajasuya of Yudhishthira, where he conquered the kings of the South. After Yudhishthira lost all his possessions to Duryodhana in a dice game, the Pandavas and Draupadi were exiled for thirteen years. During the Pandavas' year of incognito exile, he disguised as a Vaishya named Tantripala, and worked as a cowherd in the kingdom of Virata. Sahadeva was a skilled warrior who fought in the Kurukshetra War between the Pandavas and their cousins Kauravas. On the 18th day of battle, he slayed the cunning Shakuni, who played as Duryodhana's convoy during the dice game. After the war, Yudhishthira appointed Sahadeva as the king of southern Madra. At the end of the epic, during the Pandavas' journey to the Himalayas to enter heaven, Sahadeva was the second to fall, following Draupadi, due to his excessive pride in his wisdom.


The word sahadeva is derived from two Sanskrit words saha (सह) and deva (देव). Saha means ‘with’ and deva is a Hindu term used for ‘deity’.[2] So literally, Sahadeva means ‘with the gods’ or ‘protected by the gods’.[3][2] In southern India, he was regarded as a very accomplished astrologer, a face reader and all other forms of intuitive perception, but because of his secretive nature in revealing anything though full knowing the situation he is called "Sahadeva" colloquially.[4]

In the epic, various epithets for Sahadeva has been used. Prominent ones are the patronymics—Āśvineya, Aśvinīsuta—and matronymics—Mādrīputra, Mādreya. Other important other names are Bharataśārdūla, Bharatasattama, Kauravya, Kurunandana, Nakulānuja, Pāṇḍava and Pāṇḍunandana.[5]

Literary background

The story of Sahadeva is told in the Mahabharata, one of the Sanskrit epics from the Indian subcontinent. The work is written in Classical Sanskrit and is a composite work of revisions, editing and interpolations over many centuries. The oldest parts in the surviving version of the text may date to near 400 BCE.[6]

The Mahabharata manuscripts exist in numerous versions, wherein the specifics and details of major characters and episodes vary, often significantly. Except for the sections containing the Bhagavad Gita which is remarkably consistent between the numerous manuscripts, the rest of the epic exists in many versions.[7] The differences between the Northern and Southern recensions are particularly significant, with the Southern manuscripts more profuse and longer. Scholars have attempted to construct a critical edition, relying mostly on a study of the "Bombay" edition, the "Poona" edition, the "Calcutta" edition and the "south Indian" editions of the manuscripts. The most accepted version is one prepared by scholars led by Vishnu Sukthankar at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, preserved at Kyoto University, Cambridge University and various Indian universities.[8]

Sahadeva also appears in later Hindu scriptures like the Harivamsa—which is regarded as khila (supplement or appendix) of the Mahabharata—and Puranas like the Bhagavata Purana.[5]

Birth and early years

Sahadeva was one of the five brothers born to Pandu, a member of the illustrious Lunar dynasty lineage and the heir of the throne of Kuru. The collective name “Pandavas” originates from their father. However, Pandu was afflicted by a curse that would lead to his demise if he engaged in sexual relations with a woman. Consequently, Sahadeva and his brothers were born through a sacred mantra bestowed upon Pandu's first wife Kunti by the revered sage Durvasa during her maidenhood. Both of Pandu’s wives—Madri and Kunti—invoked different deities and were blessed with children.[5]

According to the Adi Parva ('First Book') of the Mahabharata, upon Pandu's behest, Kunti had used her boon three times to invoke celestial gods and gave birth to her three children—Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna. Upon hearing about Madri's desire to give birth to a son, Pandu requested Kunti to shared her boon to her. Madri, upon seeking divine assistance, invoked the twin celestial deities of health, the Asvins, and bore two sons—Nakula and Sahadeva—who were extolled to be unparalleled in earthly beauty. An ethereal voice proclaimed that these twins would surpass even the Asvins themselves in energy and allure. Despite invoking the gods only once, Madri obtained two remarkable sons. However, her co-wife, Kunti, fearing that Madri might surpass her in offspring, beseeched the king not to command her further, accepting this as her granted boon.[1][9] Sahadeva, along with his brothers, spent his childhood in the company of sages at Shatashriga mountain. However he was orphaned after Pandu, who had a curse inflicted upon him by Kindama, attempted to engage in love making with Madri, resulting in his demise. Following this, Madri entrusted her children to Kunti, and followed him to his death by performing the ancient practice of sati, immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. Kunti raised the twins alongside her own sons in Hastinapura, the capital of Kuru which was being ruled under Pandu's elder brother Dhritarashtra. Despite Sahadeva not being her biological offspring, Kunti held a special affection for him, making him her favorite among the Pandavas.[10][5]

Sahadeva and Nakula were instructed in the gurukula for by Kripa and Drona in warfare and use of weapons such as bow and arrows and martial art.[5] He also mastered his skills in fencing and axe fighting. At the end, Sahadeva alone also acquired the knowledge of Neeti Sastra (Essence of Statesmanship), astronomy and astrology, economics, and civil administration from Brihaspati, guru of the Devas during a two years travel through southern India.[citation needed] After completing their training, the Pandavas defeated Drupada, King of Panchala, as a gurudakshina for Drona. Notably, Sahadeva along with Nakula protected the wheels of Arjuna's chariot during this endeavor. Later, Duryodhana—the eldest son of Dhritarashtra and leader of hundred Kaurava brothers—plotted to burn the Pandavas alive by constructing Lakshagriha, a lac palace, in Varanavata. Fortunately, with the aid of their wise uncle Vidura, the Pandavas escaped through a secret tunnel.[5]

Marriage and children

In the Mahabharata, Sahadeva had two wives—Draupadi, the princess of Panchala who was also married to his four brothers as well, and Vijaya, the princess of Madra. Details of their marriage is provided in the Adi Parva.[5][1]

Following the events at Lakshagriha, Sahadeva, accompanied by his mother and brothers, made the decision to conceal themselves from Hastinapura. During this period, Arjuna received information that Drupada, the ruler of Panchala, was organizing an archery tournament to determine the suitor for his daughter's hand in marriage and disguised as a Brahmin, emerged victorious in the tournament. The Pandavas hastened home to share the news of his achievement with his mother. In his excitement, he exclaimed, "Look what we have found!" Kunti, his mother, insisted that this newfound fortune be shared with his brothers, as they had always collectively faced life's challenges in the past. This misunderstanding, coupled with the protocol that the eldest brother, Yudhishthira, should marry first, led to a unique arrangement: all five brothers would wed Draupadi. This instance stands as a rare example of polyandry within Sanskrit literature . The brothers collectively agreed that Draupadi would become the wife of each Pandava for one year and none would intrude upon Draupadi's privacy when she was alone with any of them. The penalty for violating this pact was a year of exile during which the offender must maintain celibacy. Sahadeva was the fourth in line as Arjuna had broken the treaty, resulting in latter's exile. Shrutasena was born to Sahadeva and Draupadi.[5]

Sahadeva later also married Vijaya, the daughter of his maternal uncle Dyutimata of Madra, in a self-choice ceremony organised in Madra. She who bore him one son, Suhotra.[5][11]

The Harivamsa, the appendix of the Mahabharata, adds Bhanumati, the granddaughter of the avatar Krishna, as another wife of Sahadeva. According to the story narrated in the Vishnu Parva of the text, she was the daughter of the Yadava leader Bhanu, son of Krishna and Satyabhama. The Yadavas held a festival when Krishna traveled to the sacred palace known as Pindaraka with his entourage of Yadavas. Bhanumati was taken away by a demon known as Nikumbha at the event. This resulted from a curse placed on Bhanumati by Durvasa, whom Bhanumati had formerly disregarded during their meeting in Raivata's garden. After the curse, Durvasa had comforted her by telling her that she will be rescued. It is true that Bhanumati was rescued by the combined effort of Krishna, Arjuna and Pradyumna and wed Sahadeva on the suggestion of the divine-sage Narada.[12]

Conquest and Rajasuya Yajna

Sahadeva's military expedition to the southern kingdoms, as per epic Mahabharata.
Emperor Yudhishthira (centre) with his brothers Bhima (bottom left), Arjuna (bottom right), Nakula and Sahadeva (both standing beside the throne), with their common consort, Draupadi.
King Yudhishthira, performs the rajasuya sacrifice in which Sahadeva performs unique services before and during the yajna.

Sahadeva was sent south by the eldest Pandava, Yudhishthira, to subjugate kingdoms for the Rajasuya sacrifice, after being crowned as the emperor of Indraprastha. He was specifically chosen for the southern campaign because of his expertise with the sword, and because Bhishma opined that Southerners are skilled with sword-fighting in general. A verse in the scriptures also mention that Sahadeva before his invasion south of Indraprastha, had forced tribute from Antioch, Rome and the City of the Greeks. His twin brother Nakula is said to have conquered the Huns along with Chinese to give tribute at the Rajasuya Yajna.[13] The brothers including Sahadeva went for out in four directions for subjugating other kingdoms and rulers and collected huge bounties which enriched the treasury of Indraprastha Kingdom immensely.[14] The Mahabharata mentions several kingdoms to the south of Indraprastha which were conquered by Sahadeva. Some of them are as under:[15]

The venue and other aspects related to the conduct of the Rajasuya Yajna was elaborately done under the stewardship of Bhishma. He ordained that the person who deserves the honour of the first sacred arghya of the Yagnya would be Krishna who commands the qualities of a Brahma and Kshatra, of a rishi, a yogi and a king. He immediately signalled to Sahadeva to begin the proceedings by washing the feet of Krishna as the first recipient to receive sacred arghya, in form of the water of the Sarasvati. Sahadeva was too happy to perform this task. He went to Krishna, placed his feet lovingly in a flat vessel and poured the holy water of the Saraswati river mixed with five sacred herbs on Krishna's feet, he then touched his feet to his forehead and proceeded to dry them with a towel. After drying he proceed to apply sandal paste to them and to venerate him with a form of worship offered to the first among equals in a yajna.[14][peacock prose]


Following Yudhishthira's loss in the game of dice meant that all Pandavas including Draupadi had to live in exile for 13 years with last year in Agnatavas (incognito).[16] p. 214[broken footnote]

As the Pandavas departed Hastinapura, the entire populace of the city had lined along the streets in grief. Sahadeva had then smeared his face with mud thinking "none should recognise me in this hour of calamity". Nakula covered himself with ashes. Arjuna scattered sands to symbolize the countless arrows he would let loose in battle, Bhima walked with his hands outstretched to indicate to people that no one could equal him, and Yudhishthira had covered his face. Kunti had appealed to Draupadi to take care of her son Sahadeva as he holds a special place in her heart; Draupadi had left Hastinapura along with the Pandavas wearing a single safron cloth with her hair disheveled.[16] p. 214[broken footnote][peacock prose][relevant?]

During their exile, travelling on pilgrimage from place to place, Sahadeva and his brothers were living at Vadarika (also known to be Badarikasrama). A rakshasa named Jatasura was also living amidst them in disguise of a learned Brahmin, and enjoying their hospitality. Suddenly, when Bhima was away from the camp on a hunting trip, Jatasura assumed the form of a demonic rakshasa and forcibly abducted Yudhishthira, Nakula, Sahadeva, and Draupadi, with the objective of seizing their weapons. Sahadeva somehow extricated himself from the clutches of Jatasura and attacked him with his sword, and at the same time calling out to Bhima for help. Jatasura also counter attacked Sahadeva. A long fight ensued between them, and Sahadeva initially felled Jatasura to the ground. Sahadeva had then thrown his axe at him but Jatasura rose up and gave a hard slap to Sahadeva and threw him to the ground; Yudhisthira, Nakula and Draupadi were distressed and told Jatasura that his death was near. Sahadeva and Jatasura continued the fight by uprooting trees and throwing them at each other, and at one stage, Sahadeva by throwing his axe had cut off the Jata or hair tuft by which the rakshasa was known as Jatasura, which infuriated him further. The rakshasa then, with magical powers, as a mayavi, had assumed immense proportions and relentlessley attacked and injured Sahadeva. But then Bhima appeared on the scene eventually, and challenged Jatasura, asking his brothers to keep away. In a very fierce fight, Bhima hit Jatasura's head with his mace and slayed him. Sahadeva and his brother Nakula with their brothers Bhima and Yudhishthira then trekked to a nearby lake, which was surrounded by a herbal forest, where they nursed their wounds.[17][18]

In the 13th year, Pandavas collectively decided that the Virata Kingdom of king Virata would be an ideal place for them to hide in disguise. The day after Draupadi's entrance into Virata's palace as Sairandhri, 'an expert maid', in the name of Malini, employed by Queen Shudeshna, Sahadeva made his way into the city dressed as a cowherd. He arrived at one cow posture in the region of Virata's palace. The king happened to be visiting his herd and was present when he saw a handsome well built man clad in a cowherd's dress, and speaking the dialects of the cowherds. Beholding him the king was struck with amazement. He asked Sahadeva, "To whom dost though belong" and whence though come; What work dost though seek: I have never seen thee before." Sahadeva replied saying that he was a Vaisya, Arishtinemi by name, and was earlier in the employment of Kuru King Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five sons of Pandu and had tended to eight hundred thousand cattle and that people used to call him 'Tatripala' (Pandavas however called him Jayadbala), and that he knew the present, the past and the future of all kine (cows) living within ten yojanas (12–15 kilometres (7.5–9.3 mi)). He also told the king the means by which kine population could be multiplied in a short time, and that he liked the work of taming, milking and breeding cattle. Impressed with the resume narrated by Sahadeva, King Virata employed him in his palace as the chief cowherd who supervised the maintenance and upkeep of all cows in his kingdom, while his elder brothers assumed different roles in disguise to work in Virata's court. Yudhishthira assumed the identity of game entertainer to the king and called himself Kanka, Bhima was the cook Ballava, Arjuna taught dance and music as eunuch Brihannala and dressed as a woman, and Nakula tended horses as Granthika.[relevant?] In Virata's kingdom, the Pandavas in disguise had a very hilarious but entertaining time but also a mini war erupted when Duryodhana was trying to locate them so that he could send them back to exile again, which ultimately revealed their identity at the end of the Agnyatavasa period of one year.[19] p. 606.[broken footnote]

With the all powerful brother-in-law of King Virata, Kichaka's death at the hands of Bhima due to his lascivious behaviour towards Sairanadri (Draupadi), Virata was weakened. Then scenting that Pandavas were hiding in the Virata's court, Susharma, King of Trigatas and the Kauravas invaded Matsya Kingdom successively, not only captured Virata but also robbed him of his immense cattle wealth. Virata, with the help of the four Pandavas in his employment, Yudhisthira, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva defeated Susharma and freed King Virata. Meanwhile, the Kurus in cohets with Susharma, robbed Virata's kingdom of sixty thousand cattle. However, they were defeated by Arjuna, with Prince Uttara, son of Virata as a charioteer. The Kurus, including Karna, were humiliated and returned the cattle to Virata and went back to Hastinapura. It was also the last day of the one year agnyatavasa of the Pandavas, and when they revealed their true identity to King Virata and Kauravas.[19]

Role in the Kurukshetra War

With the Pandavas finishing their Agnyatavasa in Virata's Kingdom and King Virata welcoming them heartily as his allies, and assuring them all help to get back their territory from the Kauravas, the issue of division of the Kuru Kingdom became a matter of deep debate concern. Krishna, Yudhishthira and his mother Kunti wanted the issue of sharing the Kingdom of Hastinapura with Kauravas be negotiated by Krishna and as a last resort propose to Duryodhna and his father Dhritarashtra to at least give them five provinces – Kushasthal, Vrikosthal, Asanti, Varnavat and any other of their choice if they do not agree to part with Indrapratha kingdom which the Pandavas had established and had lost it to Duryodhana in an unfair dice game. None of the Pandavas were hopeful of a solution and each had an axe to grind against the Kauravas and felt that war was inevitable. But Sahadeva told Krishna in a cynical way, with ‘tongue in cheek’ to first break Shakuni's dice and kill Shakuni or cut-off Draupadi's hair as she would have nothing to tie up and her vow would be futile or even tie up Krishna up so that he will not be up to his tricks. Krishna's mission for mediation failed and there was even an attempt by Duryodhana to imprison him.[citation needed]

Then Duryodhana declared that war was the only course left and meets his father to fix an auspicious date and muhurtha to start the war at Kurukshetra. He first asks his uncle Shakuni to tell him the right time to start the war but he is unable to do it. Then Shakuni suggests the name of Sahadeva as the best astrologer in the country to be consulted. Before the war, Duryodhana went to the camp of Pandavas near the battle ground, on the advice of Shakuni, approached Sahadeva seeking the right time (muhurta) to start the Mahabharata war so that the Kauravas would be victorious. Duryodhana offered to spare the life of Sahadeva and his twin after the war, and make them kings in exchange and promised them Indraprastha as their kingdom. Sahadeva declined his offer but disclosed the date for the war in spite of knowing that Kauravas were their enemy, as Sahadeva was known to be very honest in his profession.[20] Then, Krishna planned to create an eclipse much before the beginning of the war. In the meantime, both Sun and Moon got shocked by Krishna's thoughts and appeared before Krishna stating that this will create a huge imbalance in the entire Universe temporarily; as the appearance of the Moon would happen as an illusion a day earlier. Then, Krishna declared that as Earth, Moon and Sun are together in one place, this in itself was an eclipse. Even before the great war, Duryodhana would always ask Sahadeva about his future and Sahadeva would tell his future. He was the most favourite Pandava of Duryodhana.[20] When King Dhritarashtra asked his devoted advisor Sanjay, who had the gift of seeing events at a distance (divya-drishti) right in front of him, about the credentials of Sahadeva, Sanjaya described Sahadeva as the “non-demanding, non-egoistic, non-covetous bhakth".[citation needed]

As the Pandavas assembled an army of seven akshouhinis for the war, seven generals were considered to select a Chief of this army – Drupad, Virata, Dhristadyumna, Shikandi, Satyakim Chekitana, Ghatotkacha and Bhima. Then Sahadeva, the wise diplomat, was asked for his opinion. He suggested the name of King Virata of Matsya Kingdom for this honour as he considered him a valiant king skilled in weaponry who could stand up to Bhishma and other Maharathis in the Kaurava army. Arjuna suggested the name of Dhristadyumna who was a very colourful warrior, mighty-armed, and radiant who could challenge Bhishma.[19] In the end, Yudhishthira and Arjuna opted for Dhristadyumna.[citation needed]

Just before the Kurukshetra war started, another tragic event that took place on the bank of a river was of Karna donating his Kavach (breast plate armour) and Kundala (ear-rings) that were glued to his chest since birth, as a protection of immortality, and made him an invincible warrior; an old Brahmin appeared before Karna on the river bank and had asked Karna to give his Kavach and Kundala as a gift; the old Brahmin was none other than demi-god Indra, in disguise. This act was done intentionally to weaken the strength of Karna in the ensuing war against Arjuna. But as a compensation, Indra gave him a weapon, a missile, called 'Vassavi Shakthi' that could only be used once and would kill any mortal or immortal.[citation needed]

Because of forcible peeling of the kavacha from Karna's chest, his chest started bleeding and he collapsed into an unconscious state. Kunti, who was watching this numbing incident, rushed to help Karna, and Karna's foster parents, Adhiratha and Radha, also reached there. Radha insisted that Kunti should call her sons who were proficient in Ayurvedic herbal treatment to cure Karna. Kunti then sent messengers to fetch Nakula and Sahadeva to come and help. They came and saw Karna in a distressful state but were hesitant to help Karna as he was in their enemy camp and had resolved to kill their brother Arjuna. They even wondered why Kunti should be helping him at all as if he was her own son. On Kunti's pleadings, Sahadeva relented and prepared an herbal paste and applied to the wound and also gave an oral decoction to drink which Kunti forced on her unconscious son. With this treatment Karna soon regained consciousness and was taken to his house in Hastinapura. Karna's mother Radha prostrated to Sahadeva and thanked him for helping Karna. Then, Dhriatrashtra coming to know of this incident through the vision of his advisor Sanjay, called Sahadeva to his palace and thanked him, and also enquired him about his Divya drishti.[citation needed]

As a warrior, Sahadeva slew prominent warriors of the enemy side. The flag of Sahadeva's chariot bore the image of a silver swan. His conch was called Manipushpaka which he blew at the beginning of the war. The bow which he used in the war was known as Ashwina. He defeated 40 brothers of Duryodhana while fighting them simultaneously. On the 13th day, his advance into the Chakravyuha was stopped and repelled by Jayadratha. On the night of the 14th day, Sahadeva was defeated by Karna but his life was spared as Karna had made a promise to Kunti that he would only kill Arjuna.[21]

During the gambling loss, Sahadeva took an oath of slaying Shakuni. He accomplished this task successfully on the 18th day of battle. While the war was in full swing, and Sahadeva was fighting Kripa, he saw Shakuni attacking the Pandava army. His fury revived, he first killed Shakuni's son Uluka and he called out to Shakuni and challenged him to a fight. Shakuni in grief on the loss of his son, and in great fury attacked Sahadeva with three arrows and also threw a scimitar at him. Sahadeva responded relentlesly and was even hurt. Then when faced with ferocios occult powers, Shakuni created illusory magical tricks played by Shakuni, when Sahadeva was in loosing stage, he had no alternatiave but to call for Krishna who was steering fight of Arjuna in another front. Krishna then remotely foiled Shakuni's magical strikes.[20]

At this stage of the war, Draupadi in her ferocious look with loose tresses and clad in blood-red cloth made an illusory presence before Shakuni in his chariot which chilled him to the bone. Shakuni found to his utter dismay that his dice had turned to ashes. He was numbed with terror. Thus, Draupadi had marked him for death.[20]

Then Shakuni was pursued relentlessly and slayed by Sahadeva, recalling to him of his dastardly act of the dice game engineered by him which resulted in humiliation of Draupadi in the court, by an attempt to disrobe her. He severed Shakuni's head with a broad headed arrow made of hard iron which was capable of penetrating every armour. There was great rejoicing in the Pandava camp as Shakuni was the chief villain of the Mahabharata war.[20][16]

With Shakuni's death at the hands of Sahadeva, Duryodhana runs away in fear from the battle field and hides in a lake. Then Sahadeva calls to Duryodhana to come out of the lake and take the armour (kavacha) sent by his mother through him with her blessings. He tells him to wear it before his fight with Bhima.[citation needed]

Later life and death

The Pandavas, accompanied by a dog, made their final journey of to the Himalayas to go to heaven and Sahadeva looks back

After the war, Yudhishthira appointed Nakula as king of Northern and Sahadeva as the Kings of southern Madra. Suhotra, son of Sahadeva from his wife Vijaya, would eventually be crowned as the heir to the Madra Kingdom.[citation needed]

Upon the onset of the Kali Yuga and the departure of Krishna, the Pandavas retired. Giving up all their belongings and ties, the Pandavas, accompanied by a dog, made their final journey of pilgrimage to the Himalayas seeking heaven. Except for Yudhishthira, all of the Pandavas grew weak and died before reaching heaven. Sahadeva was the second one to fall after Draupadi. When Bhima asked Yudhishthira why Sahadeva fell, Yudhishthira replied that Sahadeva took much pride in his wisdom.[22]

Associated temples

Thrikodithanam Mahavishnu Temple reported to have been built by Sahadeva

Thrikodithanam Mahavishnu Temple is one of the five ancient shrines in the Kottayam-Alappuzha-Pathanamthitta area of Kerala, connected with the legend of Mahabharata, where the five Pandavas are believed to have built one temple each. This temple has in it the Vishnu image consecrated by Sahadeva. It is one of the 108 Divya Desam temples dedicated to Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, who is worshipped as Mahavishnu.[23][broken footnote][24][broken footnote]

In the media


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