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In the very beginning of Rāmāyaṇa, Vālmīki curses a hunter for shooting down a krauncha bird because it upset him very much. But isn't it the sva-dharma of a hunter to kill deer or bird for food?

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Yes, it is. However, as Vālmīki says, a hunter can kill a bird, no doubt; but only when it's alone. And not when it's with its mate both enjoying their time together.

ततः करुण वेदित्वात् अधर्मो अयम् इति द्विजः | निशांय रुदतीम् क्रौन्चीम् इदम् वचनम् अब्रैइत् || १-२-१४

Then on seeing the wailing female krounchi bird, compassion haunting him and apperceiving the killing of male bird as unjust, the sage uttered this sentence... [1-2-14]

मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठाम्त्व | मगमः शाश्वतीः समाः | यत् क्रौङ्च मिथुनात् एक | मवधीः काम मोहितम् || १-२-१५

Oh! Ill-fated Hunter, by which reason you have killed one male bird of the couple, when it is in its lustful passion, thereby you will get an ever-lasting reputation for ages to come... [1-2-15]

That makes sense.

Now fast forward to Mahābhārata.

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King Pāṇḍu is in the exact same situation as the hunter from Rāmāyaṇa. Only difference is, there, it was a pair of birds and here, it's a couple of deer.

Vaisampayana said, 'O king, one day Pandu, while roaming about in the woods (on the southern slopes of the Himavat) that teemed with deer and wild animals of fierce disposition, saw a large deer, that seemed to be the leader of a herd, serving his mate. Beholding the animals, the monarch pierced them both with five of his sharp and swift arrows winged with golden feathers. O monarch, that was no deer that Pandu struck at, but a Rishi's son of great ascetic merit who was enjoying his mate in the form of a deer. Pierced by Pandu, while engaged in the act of intercourse, he fell down to the ground, uttering cries that were of a man and began to weep bitterly.


Questions:

  1. I can understand that the hunter from Rāmāyaṇa was ignorant and illiterate, therefore, Vālmīki educated him by delivering a curse. But it's rather strange that a well-educated and skilled king like Pāṇḍu wasn't aware of the rules of hunting. Had he not read Rāmāyaṇa ever? How can one explain Pāṇḍu's actions?

    Pāṇḍu even defends his action saying:

    It is well-known that men slay deer by various effective means without regarding whether the animals are careful or careless...

    So does it mean you can't kill a bird when it's romancing with its mate, but with deer it's not a problem?

  2. What was Pāṇḍu really doing in the forest in the first place? A couple of chapters earlier, it's said that he retired into the woods. Now why would a healthy king suddenly retire into the woods to only chase deer? Was he always fond of hunting or chasing deer?

    A little while after, O bull of Bharata's race, Pandu who had achieved a victory over sloth and lethargy, accompanied by his two wives, Kunti and Madri, retired into the woods. Leaving his excellent palace with its luxurious beds, he became a permanent inhabitant of the woods, devoting the whole of his time to the chase of the deer. And fixing his abode in a delightful and hilly region overgrown with huge sala trees, on the southern slope of the Himavat mountains, he roamed about in perfect freedom. The handsome Pandu with his two wives wandered in those woods like Airavata accompanied by two she-elephants. And the dwellers in those woods, beholding the heroic Bharata prince in the company of his wives, armed with sword, arrows, and bow, clad with his beautiful armour, and skilled in all excellent weapons, regarded him as the very god wandering amongst them.

    And at the command of Dhritarashtra, people were busy in supplying Pandu in his retirement with every object of pleasure and enjoyment.

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    I think Valmiki Ramayana wasn't avaliable to anyone during Mahabharata era just as it is avaliable now to everyone. For eg. Yudhistira and other hear Ramayana through sage Markandeya when they were given Vanavasa. Before that they didn't knew about Rama. – Tejaswee Nov 24 '16 at 2:07
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    @Tezz I agree. But saamaanya dharma probably shouldn't change? Pandu could have heard VR from other sages. We see Dritarashtra hearing from Sanat-sujata. I don't think Vyasa captured all events in MB. Most of the story revolves around Pandavas. – sv. Nov 24 '16 at 2:47
  • @sv. How can u assume that everyone who even knows the difference between Dharma & Adharma will act accordingly?..I think most people act more or less on the basis of instincts ,passions ... – Rickross Nov 24 '16 at 6:15
  • @Rickross Yes, I and everyone else assume that Yudhishtira being a follower of dharma cannot lie for no reason. So we have this question: Did Yudhishthira lie more than once? (Bhima also lied but no one's interested in why he lied). Now Pandu is also considered a great king, not an ordinary citizen, so the question "why did the king kill a deer which was mating" is a valid one, IMO. – sv. Nov 24 '16 at 6:21
  • @Rickross In Ramayana, Dasaratha shot an arrow mistaking a kid for deer. Such mistakes can happen while hunting. Pandu however deliberately killed a mating deer. – sv. Nov 24 '16 at 6:34
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Well, your main question seems to be that if Pandu knew very well the definition of Dharma when it comes to hunting then why acted in contrary to that?

Then, it happens like that with many people all the time. It happens with the Rishis and also with the Gods.

So, even people, who are well aware of what is Dharma and what is not, end up doing Adharma. It's extremely difficult to pin point any reasons as to why they did so. It can be due to passion, anger or any other Shadaripus.

For example, from Devi Bhagavatam 4.15:

  1. O Goddess! This whole Universe, moving and unmoving is selfish; hence arise so many differences between several opinions. There was no one unselfish in this world and there would be no unselfish persons born hereafter. 59-64. Look! The Moon stole away perforce knowingly the wife of Brihaspatî; Indra, knowing what is religion stole away the wife of Gautama; Brihaspatî enjoyed forcibly the wife of his younger; and also he outraged his elder brother’s wife in her pregnant state and cursed the boy in the womb and made him blind.

So, in this passage it's describing how several deities, who very well know what is Adharma, still did it. And, here they did those acts out of lust.

Pandu's actions can be similarly explained.

In any case, as Manu Smriti already said, one of the vices for a king to indulge in, is hunting and which brings about his downfall. And, Pandu proved it.

7.46. For a king who is attached to the vices springing from love of pleasure, loses his wealth and his virtue, but (he who is given) to those arising from anger, (loses) even his life

7.47. Hunting, gambling, sleeping by day, censoriousness, (excess with) women, drunkenness, (an inordinate love for) dancing, singing, and music, and useless travel are the tenfold set (of vices) springing from love of pleasure.

So, just like the Moon God did one Adharma being subdued by lust, Pandu did one out of his excessive addiction for hunting. IMO, we can't pinpoint any other reasons neither can we justify his act by citing some rules from the Smritis.

  • 'Pandu did one out of his excessive addiction for hunting' - sources for this? – sv. Jul 11 '18 at 19:42
  • 'IMO, we can't pinpoint any other reasons neither can we justify his act by citing some rules from the Smritis.' – but my question also asks: "Pāṇḍu even defends his action saying: It is well-known that men slay deer by various effective means without regarding whether the animals are careful or careless...So does it mean you can't kill a bird when it's romancing with its mate, but with deer it's not a problem?" – your answer doesn't address this part. Because Pāṇḍu is defending his action, you need to quote any smriti which mentions the rules of hunting and state if Pāṇḍu violated any rule. – sv. Jul 11 '18 at 19:43
  • Pandu was obviously doing it as a sport/pastime. He was neither a hunter by profession nor he had to kill the deer to secure his food. So, it is easy to infer he was addicted to hunting. It was just a pleasure seeking activity for him. For e.g. if someone is found gambling we infer that he is addicted to it. Similarly, i have stated that, i don't have any references to cite here. @sv. – Rickross Jul 12 '18 at 5:53
  • "your answer doesn't address this part. Because Pāṇḍu is defending his action, you need to quote any smriti which mentions the rules of hunting and state if Pāṇḍu violated any rule. " AFAIK, the Smritis regard hunting as a vice just like gambling (some Manu Smriti verses already given in the answer). So, they are not going to give rules for "lawful" hunting when the act itself is overall regarded as a vice. Pandu's excuses are lame AFAIK when viewed from the Smritis' POV. @sv – Rickross Jul 12 '18 at 5:55
  • 'For e.g. if someone is found gambling we infer that he is addicted to it.' - not necessarily. Not all smokers are chain-smokers, not all 'social drinkers' are alcohol addicts. 'they are not going to give rules for "lawful" hunting' - Why did Valmiki think hunting (as a profession / for livelihood) itself wasn't bad, but only when the animals (prey) are romancing? – sv. Jul 12 '18 at 18:05

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