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Throughout the Mahabharata the Pandavas are praised for their devotion to religion. But, on more than one occasion they remain safe because they dress as, and pretend to be, Brahmins. They did this knowing that they would be favorably treated—which wouldn't have been the case if they had pretended to be Vaishyas. Why is such deceitfulness sanctioned for them? Is it okay for anyone to pretend in such a way or was this specifically allowed for the Pandavas?

Yudhisthira was said never to lie, is such deceit not considered lying?

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    Which instance are you referring? Pandava-s dressed as Brahmana once after failed attempt to burn them in a house of lac (LAkshagraha). For security reasons it was justified to hide their original identity. Yudhishthira's nature was not to lie. But he was not bound by such condition. He did whatever was righteous. You may want to specify particular instance. – iammilind May 24 '18 at 14:22
  • There were many instances. Are you saying that the morality of deceit lies in the particular circumstances? – Rubellite Yakṣī May 24 '18 at 14:31
  • @RubelliteYakṣī Please focus on a particular event. Reason is that every event may have different answer and then your question becomes broad. – hanugm Jan 4 at 18:49
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+100

Why is such deceitfulness sanctioned for them? Is it okay for anyone to pretend in such a way or was this specifically allowed for the Pandavas?

Manusmṛti sanctions lying accompanied by a simple prāyaścitta (expiation) when there is a risk to one's life.

In some cases, a man who, though knowing the truth, deposes otherwise, through piety, does not fall off from heaven. This is a divine assertion that they reproduce.—(8.103)

Where the telling of the truth would lead to the death of a Śūdra, a Vaiśya, a Kṣatriya or a Brāhmaṇa,—in that case falsehood should be spoken; as that is preferable to truth.—(8.104)

They should offer sacrifices to Sarasvati with half-boiled rice dedicated to the speech-goddess,—doing the best expiation for the sin of untruthfulness.—(8.105)

The Vasiṣṭha Dharmasūtra also allows lying in special cases:

Chapter XVI

35. (Men) may speak an untruth at the time of marriage, during dalliance, when their lives are in danger or the loss of their whole property is imminent, and for the sake of a Brāhmaṇa; they declare that an untruth spoken in these five cases does not make (the speaker) an outcast.

Now it can be argued that Pāṇḍavas living in disguise (post Lākṣāgṛha incident) is a form of lying and they simply resorted to it to protect themselves from Duryodhana and his aids. Staying alive at the time was more important for them than being truthful and revealing their true identities.

You may also want to check this post which is pretty close to what you are asking here: Did Yudhishthira lie more than once?

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  • Thank you for the answer from scripture. I really can't understand why Dharmasūtra would say, "at the time of marriage, during dalliance," but I suppose that is another matter. I will chose your answer but let me follow up by asking, why then, could they not lie to get out of the dice match? "The loss of their whole property is imminent." It seems to me there is something not quite right about the whole ordeal. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 2 at 4:32
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    Very nice answer – Archit Jun 2 at 15:54
  • @RubelliteYakṣī "at the time of marriage, during dalliance" - Krishna says the same thing in Mahabharata. Check this answer and this post. – sv. Jun 2 at 18:06
  • 'could they not lie to get out of the dice match' - I think Yudhishthira had a gambling addiction. But the way Mahabharata explains it is, a Kshatriya cannot turn down invitation for a match/duel. Read this answer on what Krishna thought about the whole incident. Interestingly, he doesn't hold Yudhishthira responsible for any of it. @RubelliteYakṣī – sv. Jun 2 at 18:07
  • Yes, I recall reading "a Kshatriya cannot turn down invitation for a match." I don't understand when one rule usurps another rule. Is it that they would have lost face by denying the match, even though they suspected their opponent was cheating? It seems to me that the rule of being able to be deceitful in the face of losing everything would have superseded the rule about not turning down a challenge. WRT "marriage & dalliances" I read your answer there, but it doesn't explain why this is moral behavior. my intuition, based on those translations, says it is immoral. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 5 at 13:25
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Pandavas are righteous in the following two instances.

1: Vyasa asked Pandavas to live in disguise at Ekachakra and Pandavas followed the same.

"Vyasa then said, 'Ye bulls of Bharata's race, I knew beforehand of this affliction of yours consisting in your deceitful exile by the son of Dhritarashtra. Knowing this, I have come to you, desirous of doing you some great good. Do not grieve for what hath befallen you. Know that all this is for your happiness. Undoubtedly, the sons of Dhritarashtra and you are all equal in my eye. But men are always partial to those who are in misfortune or of tender years. It is therefore, that my affection for you is greater now. And in consequence of that affection, I desire to do you good. Listen to me! Not far off before you is a delightful town where no danger can overtake you. Live ye there in disguise, waiting for my return.'

[Section 158, Hidimva-vadha Parva, Adi Parva, The Mahabharata]

2: Pandavas got boon from Dharma devta (Yama) that no one can recognize Pandavas even when they are in their original forms and Pandavas can take any form. Pandavas utilized the same.

Yudhishthira said,--'We have spent these twelve years in the forest; and the thirteenth year is come. May no one recognise us, as we spend this year somewhere.'

Vaisampayana continued,-'Thereat that worshipful one replied,--'I give this boon unto thee!' And then reassuring Kunti's son having truth for prowess, he also said, 'Even if, O Bharata, ye range this (entire) earth in your proper forms none in the three worlds shall recognise you. Ye perpetuators of the Kuru race, through my grace, ye will spend this thirteenth year, secretly and unrecognised, in Virata's kingdom! And every one of you will be able at will to assume any form he likes! Do ye now present the Brahmana with his fire-sticks. It was only to test you that I carried them away in the form of a deer! O amiable Yudhishthira, do thou ask for another boon that thou mayst like! I will confer it on thee. O foremost of men, I have not yet been satisfied by granting boons to thee! Do thou my son, accept a third boon that is great and incomparable! Thou, O king, art born of me, and Vidura of portion or mine!" Thereat Yudhishthira said,--'It is enough that I have beheld thee with my senses, eternal God of gods as thou art! O father, whatever boon thou wilt confer on me I shall surely accept gladly! May I, O lord, always conquer covetousness and folly and anger, and may my mind be ever devoted to charity, truth, and ascetic austerities! The Lord of justice said,--'Even by nature, O Pandava, hast thou been endued with these qualities, for thou art the Lord of justice himself! Do thou again attain what thou asked for!"

[Section 312, Aranya Parva, Vana Parva, The Mahabharata]

Thus, Pandavas, during the firs instance live in disguise based on the suggestion by Vyasa, who is a dharma sastra kartha and Pandavas utilized the boon of Yama, who is dharma devtha, during second instance.

Hence there is no unrighteous act from the side of Pandavas.

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    even during agnyaat-vaas, they did not lie. Yudhistir introduced himself as 'i am atma-sama-sakha of yudhishtir' - and that is true, because we are our own closest friend. – ram Jun 1 at 22:01
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    I don't understand your argument. If Vyasa tells me to murder and eat a person, should I do it? It seems to me that sharma of ṛta is primary. Even devas must follow ṛta (follow ṛta by following their dharma) else there are consequences. So, why should Vyasa telling them to be deceitful make it okay? And, do you also intend to suggest that having a boon to do a wrong thing without anyone noticing makes it a right thing? This also seems to contradict ṛta. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 2 at 0:12
  • @RubelliteYakṣī Are you questioning about the righteous of Vyasa and Dharma devtha? – hanugm Jun 2 at 0:59
  • Both Vyasa and Yama sanctioned it as righteous based on the circumstances. You can ask another question like Is disguise allowed in certain circumstances or so on. – hanugm Jun 2 at 1:07
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    @RubelliteYakṣī But your question is from Pandavas perspective. Hence I wrote accordingly. If you write the question in general, then sastra praman can be provided. – hanugm Jun 2 at 4:26

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