Pandu's military expeditions and marriage with Madri
The 8th episode of Mahabharata we learn about the territorial expansions of Pandu. He weds his second wife Madri during one of the battles. After the campaigns Pandu goes to the forest with his two wives for relaxation. There he meets sage Kindama and his wife and listen to Kindama's lectures.
References in Mahabharata Wiki
Research and Analysis
Madri Marries Pandu
In BR Chopra's televised Mahabharata episode, we see that Pandu marries Madri during his military expedition. Shalya the king of Madra came to battle against Pandu in a chariot driven by his sister Madri. He came to make friendship with Pandu and if friendship was not acceptable to Pandu he was prepared to resist Pandu in battle. Pandu chose friendship with Shalya and as a token of friendship Shalya gave his sister Madri to Pandu as his wife. However in Ganguli's version we do not find any of these. As per this Pandu married Madri following the command of Bhishma. As per the custom prevailed in Madra, the bridegrooms family should offer wealth to bride's family. It was Bhsihma who went to Madra kingdom and obtained Madri by paying money to Shalya, following their marriage-custom.
Both Madra kingdom and Gandhara kingdom lied in the western region and both were considered as Bahlika kingdoms following similar culture. Madra lied between rivers [[[mbh:Chadrabhaga] (Chenab) and Iravati (Ravi) in Pakistan, containing cities like Sakala (Sialkot). Gandhara lied to the west of Sindhu (Indus) river containing cities like Pushkalavati (near Peshawar) and some cities to the east of Sindhu like Takshasila (Taxila). Though it is not explicitly mentioned in Mahabharata, chances are high that Bhishma obtained Gandhari for Dhritarashtra, in the same manner by which he obtained Madri from her brother Shalya. He might have got Gandhari by giving wealth to her brother Sakuni and her father Suvala. It is also highly probable that Bhishma obtained these two maidens in a single journey. Remember earlier he had obtained three maidens from Kasi in a single journey. That time he forcefully abducted them. This time he was milder and obtained the maidens by paying money.
Mahabharata mentions that Madri was accompanied by Bhishma himself on her journey from Madra to Hastinapura, while Gandhari was brought to Hastinapura from Gandhara by her brother Sakuni. This could be because Pandu, the bridegroom of Madri was the king while Dhritarashtra, the bridegroom for Gandhari was just a brother of the king.
Pandu's military campaign
It is important to note which were the territories visited by Pandu in his military campaign for our next analysis. The kingdoms mentioned were Dasarna that lied along Vetravati (Betwa), Kasi that lied around the city of Varanasi, Magadha that lied south to Ganga in western Bihar, Videha that lied in northern Bihar, and finally the kingdoms of Suhma and Pundra believed to be part of modern day Bangladesh. All of these territories lied to the east of Hastinapura. Dasarna lied a little further to south and the kingdom of Kunti was not very far from Dasarna. Thus this was more or less an expedition to the east. The kingdoms of Kasi, Magadha, Videha, Suhma and Pundra can be visited by traveling along the eastern path passing through Hastinapura and ending at the eastern sea shore in Bay of Bengal. Starting from Hastinapura in this path and taking a diversion after Panchala to the south will lead to Dasarna.
The following is a very likely scenario. Pandu set forth for military expedition. He starts from Hastinapura and and took an eastern route. Passing through Panchala, and probably subjugating its frontier forces (mentioned in televised Mahabharata, but not in Ganguli's version), he might have taken a diversion to south to enter Dasarna. After subjugating Dasarna, while camping there he might have learned about the self choice ceremony of Kuntibhoja in the kingdom of Kunti, that lied not far from Dasarna. After winning Kunti in the self-choice ceremony he might have returned to Hastinapura and established Kunti as his queen as mentioned in Ganguli's version. Then he might have started again from Hastinapura, leaving the newly wed Kunti at Hastinapura (as shown in the televised Mahabharata). This could be either as per the command of Bhishma (who might have wanted to punish Pandu and Kunti for marrying without his approval) or by Pandu's own urge for territorial expansion. Thus leaving his newly wedded wife, Pandu continued his military expedition to the east. In this journey he defeated Kasi, Magadha, Videha, Suhma and Pundra.
One important point worth noting is that he never went to any territory in the west of Hastinapura in his military expedition. He never visited Madra kingdom that lied in the west. Hence he never encountered Shalya or Madri during his battles.
Issue with the sequence of events
In both BR Chopra's version and Ganguli's version, Gandhari's marriage is mentioned as occurring before all these. This will then mean that Gandhari and Dhritarashtra married and lived together much before Pandu married Kunti and Madri and completed his military expedition. Adding the marriage of Kunti and Madri, the total time elapsed will be three or more years. This is sufficient time for Dhirtarashtra to beget a child in Gandhari. This will result into the conclusion that Duryodhana was many years elder to Yudhisthira. But this is against what we can find in Mahabharata, and even Duryodhana who questioned the legitimacy of Yudhisthira's ancestry did not doubted Yudhisthira's seniority in birth.
Probable sequence of events
So what was the actual sequence of events?
Pandu, after becoming king immediately set out for military expansion. This was much needed. The throne of Hastinapura was empty after the death of Vichitravirya for almost two decades. There could be decay in the loyalties of kingdoms allied to Hastinapura and there will be changes in the political polarizations of the kingdoms. There could be political unrest in the Kuru kingdom itself. Though Bhishma would be taking care of much of these, he would have his limitations since he was acting on behalf of the throne as a commander-in-chief, not as a king. Hence the immediate attention of the new king will be on the affairs of the kingdom, not on marriages. Assume that Pandu spend one year to organize his kingdom and army and another year or more for military expeditions. During his military expedition he married Kunti. But he started living with Kunti after the whole of military expedition is over. Assume that he lived with Kunti for one whole year and no child was born to them. Bhishma would have sensed some problem then. Apart from this, he never approved or recognized Pandu's marriage with Kunti. He might have wanted Pandu to have a wife superior in birth than Kunti who was a Yadava lady. Members of the Yadu clan were looked upon as inferior by the Kurus and their allies. However the women from Bahlika countries were considered to be superior in beauty and health, though some Kurus and their allies had issue with the Bahlika society and culture. Bhishma then set forth to Bahlika countries in the west and obtained Madri for the king Pandu and Gandhari for Dhritarashtra. These were the marriages that went with the blessing and approval of Bhishma. Both of these marriages might have occurred simultaneously. Since Dhritarashtra was the eldest, Bhishma might have caused Gandhari's nuptials with Dhritarashtra to occur first and then the marriage of Madri to Pandu. But it can also happen that since Pandu was the king, Pandu's marriage was more important than that of Dhritarashtra and so might have occurred first. But this doesn't really affect our analysis. It is highly likely that these marriages were separated only by a few hours or by a few days, after both maidens reached Hastinapura.
This in no way indicate that Kunti was the elder than Gandhari. Among the three brides of Hastinapura, Gandhari seems to be the eldest and Madri the youngest. However Kunti's marriage took place one year earlier while Dhritarasthra was still a bachelor. This could be another reason why Bhishma did not approve Kunti's marriage with Pandu, among many other reasons. In any case, the race for the next successor for the throne of Hastinapura started with the marriage of Madri and Gandhari. Pandu did not got a child from Madri probably even after many months of life with her. He might have sensed that the problem was with him and not with his two wives. This was why he left the palace with his two wives, to cure his impotency.
While Pandu was ready to leave the palace, it is highly likely that Gandhari had advanced in pregnancy. Probably she had a six month old pregnancy. This could be the reason why while leaving the palace Pandu chose to give the throne to Dhritarashtra, till he returns back. It was a temporary transfer of power. A conditional transfer. Because he knew that when he remained childless, his brother already had a six month old baby though in the womb of its mother. There is a high probability that this baby was a boy. If yes, then that baby is the next king of Hastinapura. But there is a chance that that baby was a girl. Then Pandu still had a chance to retain the throne of Hastinapura to his own lineage.
Pandu's life in the forest
Pandu went to a forest retreat. This is believed to be in the valley of the Shivalik mountain ranges in the southern side of Himalayas. This region is believed to be in Uttaranchal. It lied to the north of Hastinapura. Here he had a leisurely life, hunting deers and interacting with sages in the forest. Among the sages he interacted with, the name of Kindama is not explicitly mentioned. In Ganguli's version of Mahabharata, the name of Kindama is mentioned only once. In BR Chopra's televised Mahabharata, we see Pandu interacting with Kindama extensively. Pandu's main mission in the forest seems to be to find cure to his illness that deprived him the ability beget an offspring. He was not completely cut off from the city. Dhritarashtra used to send all kings of luxurious items that a king should enjoy, to the forest retreat where Pandu lived.
Marriage of Vidura
Though Mahabharata discussed the marriage of Dhritatashtra and Pandu, it reserved only a few words to describe the marriage of Vidura, who is believed to be born to a Sudra (servant of Ambika) women by Vyasa. Mbh.1.114:- The son of the ocean-going Ganga heard that king Devaka had a daughter endued with youth and beauty and begotten upon a Sudra wife. Bringing her from her father's abode, Bhishma married her to Vidura of great wisdom. And Vidura begot upon her many children like unto himself in accomplishments. Who was Devaka? Mahabharata contain very less information about Devaka. This name appear only three times in Mahabharata. However in Bhagavata we learn that Devaka was a Yadava king like Surasena, Sura and Kuntibhoja. Krishna's mother Devaki is believed to be the daughter of the same Devaka. This makes Krishna and Vidura remote cousins, apart from the strong friendship they shared with each other. Krishna's role as a young statesman of Surasena and Dwaraka kingdoms and Vidura's role as a statesman of the Kuru kingdom too brought them closer. Subsequently Krishna became a statesman for the Pandavas at Indraprastha, whom Vidura too supported which brought these two intellectuals further close.
Vidura and Kunti
Another point worth noting is that Bhishma had initially thought of three ladies, viz. a Yadava lady, Gandhari and Madri who can be worthy of becoming brides of Hastinapura. Some researchers speculate that, here he had decided the Yadava lady as wife for Vidura, who also is speculated to be the eldest, Gandhari for Dhritarashtra and Madri for Pandu. The Yadava lady mentioned here for Vidura can be either Kunti, the daughter of Sura or Surasena who was the paternal grandfather of Krishna. She can as well be the daughter of Devaka, the maternal grandfather of Krishna. It seems that the marriage of Kunti with Vidura did not materialize, probably since Pandu went to Kunti's self-choice ceremony and married her thus disrupting the initial plan of Bhishma. Subsequently Bhishma might have chosen Devaka's daughter as wife for Vidura.
During the marriage of Pandu and Kunti, did Pandu know that Kunti was initially thought as wife for Vidura? Did Kunti know it? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Did they knew it after the marriage or any time during their life-time? Maybe and may be not. However Mahabharata tells one thing certainly. During their old age, both Kunti and Vidura lived together. Vidura also was highly affectionate towards Yudhisthira the eldest son of Kunti through out his life, protecting him from all the dangers and evil ploys designed by Duryodhana. During the last moments of Vidura's life, Yudhisthira was present and he witnessed Vidura's death. Both Yudhisthira and Vidura were mythologically attributed to be born from Yama, the god of Justice! The narrator of Mahabharata cannot give more clues than this, on the important question:- who was the real father of Yudhisthira?