In Episode 18 of my Mahabharata short stories, we meet Prince Shalya of Madra. His sister, Madri, weds King Pandu of Kuru Pradesh. Here is a side story of Shalya.

Pandu, who killed Sage Kindama and his wife during a hunt, fell under a curse. Years later, Pandu died when he ignored the curse and gave in to his weakness. Grief stricken, Madri committed sati on Pandu’s funeral pyre. Kunti, Pandu’s first wife, became mother to Madri’s twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.

Shalya felt that Nakula deserved better than to be fourth inline to the Kuru throne, as Kunti’s three sons, who were older, took precedence. Moreover, Duryodhana who belonged to the Kaurava clan of the Kurus was also making a strong bid for the throne.

After he ascended the Madra throne, Shalya often visited Hastinapura and tried to convince the twins to return with him.

The twins were in the royal stables, attending to a pregnant mare. When Shalya approached, the brothers fell at their uncle’s feet and received his blessings.

“We need to talk,” said King Shalya. He threw a glance at the attendants. Nakula gestured. The attendants bowed and stepped back and went away.

“My dear boys, your father Pandu loved your mother, my sister, more. You deserve to rule,” said Shalya.

“I do not desire the Kuru throne, and will never betray my elder brothers,” said Nakula.

“You misunderstand my words, dear nephew,” said Shalya. “As King of Madra. I wish to make you and your brother, my heirs. Forget not that in your veins run the blood of divinity.” He referred to the Ashwini twins, who were the celestial fathers of Nakula and Sahadeva.

“In Hastinapura we might stand in the shadows of Yudhishthira, Bheema and Arjuna and rightly so, as they are our elders,” said Sahadeva. “They love us and so does our mother, Kunti Devi.”

“Enjoy their love and love them back with all your heart,” said Shalya. “But why deny your uncle his wish? Come join me and raise Madra to its rightful place in the sun.”

“Is it love or statecraft that compels you, dear uncle?” said Nakula. “For you’ve taken every opportunity to remind us of our celestial genes.”

“Why do you hurt me so, beloved nephew?” said Shalya. “I place you and your brother above my own sons, and yet you question my motives. What harm is there if you two became heirs to my throne?”

“Our Madra cousins might turn against us,” said Sahadeva. “Do you not already see the problem brewing in Hastinapura with the Kauravas?”

“My sons stand ready to pledge their allegiance to you,” said Shalya.

After much deliberation, the twins agreed but attached several conditions to their uncle’s wish. Sahadeva said,

“If we accept your most generous offer, dear uncle, my brother and I will remain in Hastinapura and continue to serve Yudhishthira.”

“And when you name us heirs, we will appoint your eldest son Emeritus Prince Regent, and will not ascend the throne unless invited by him and his brothers,” said Nakula.

King Shalya agreed. Nakula and Sahadeva became heirs but did not ascend the Madra throne. They faithfully served and supported their eldest brother Yudhishthira in war and peace. But when the Kurukshetra War broke out, Duryodhana tricked Shalya to fight on the Kaurava’s side against the Pandavas.

*** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2020 ***

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