Did any major epic or puranic character ever die of natural causes like disease or old age? I have heard of major characters only dying in battles or unnatural deaths due to curses or conspiracies. They lived so long. Never had any problems like cancer, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer's, or attacked by diseases like malaria, typhoid, dengue (not as a result of a curse, but a mosquito bite for example)?
I will quote some instances, wherein the major characters of an EPIC died naturally.
Yayati - It was mentioned in Sambhava Parva that Yayati, after installing Puru on the throne, succumbed to the inevitable influence of Time.
King Dhritarashtra - He, along with his Wife Gandhari and Kunti, the wife his brother Pandu obtained death in a forest fire.
Sage Narada says,
Restraining all the senses, he remained like a post of wood. The highly blessed Gandhari, and thy mother Pritha too, remained in the same attitude. Then thy royal sire was overtaken by the forest-conflagration.
Sanjaya, his minister, succeeded in escaping from that conflagration. I saw him on the banks of Ganga in the midst of ascetics. Endued with great energy and great intelligence, he bade them farewell and then started for the mountains of Himavat. Even thus the high-souled Kuru king met with his death, and it was even thus that Gandhari and Kunti, thy two mothers, also met with death, O monarch.
In course of my wanderings at will, I saw the bodies of that king and those two queens, O Bharata. Many ascetics came to that retreat, having heard of the end of king Dhritarashtra.
Interesting question. The way I would like to respond to this is as follows:
- There are many Puranic characters such as for example, Yayati, Devahuti, Dasaratha's queens possibly passed away due to old age. It is hard to ascertain that or provide reference because such incidents are not recorded by the authors / poets. Not sure if you consider Yayati or Devahuti as major characters (which is subjective). King Janamejaya could be another example. King Vichitravirya (half brother of Bhishma) would be an example of a person who died of illness (by some Mahabharata accounts at least, I can't pull the source immediately. Will get back later adding it as a comment)
- Disease classifications like Dengue, Multiple Sclerosis etc are modern terms. With what we have today in the way of historical evidence, it is very hard to know if such ailments existed in the historic times (either recorded or unrecorded period, which brings me to the next point).
- Puranas and Itihasas, form part of unrecorded part of history. Don't take this to mean they are fiction etc. I am not even going there. I am simply saying the level and quality of evidence sharply declines as we go back in time, and beyond a certain point, things go into the unrecorded period. We only have indirect evidence if at all we use that word. So finer details of how the lives ended for many of the characters is hard to trace (and hence provide a reference)
Adding to this answer, Rg Veda, Mandalam 10, Sukta 163 (yakshma nasanam) addresses various forms of diseases such as tuberculosis etc. Though it does not say which Puranic characters were afflicted with this disease, more to the point of your question, it does enumerate various natural diseases, which could be taken as an indirect evidence that people did suffer from those diseases. And the extension of the thought would lead us to conclude that some characters, did die of natural causes.