Vidura is the embodiment of intellect in Mahabharata. It is believed that Dharma himself took birth in the form of Vidura. In the Mahabharata, his voice is treated as the voice of reason and wisdom. That is why Vidura’s statecraft or Niti is a precursor to the Chanakya’s Niti. Vidura was the half-brother of Dhritarashtra and Pandu. He was blessed to be a sagacious person so he was appointed as the Prime Minister of Hastinapur. His unmatched intellect became the reason behind Dhritrashtra taking his advice on various matters of governance and that became his most famous’ Vidura Niti’.
Vidura has been credited with the saving of the lives of the Pandavas many times when they were in exile. One such instance is that of the plan of the burning of the Lac House (Lakshagriha) by Duryodhana. The Lakshagriha was built under the directions of Duryodhana and his uncle Shakuni, in order to burn alive the Pandavas and their mother Kunti. It was made up of lac which is a highly inflammable material. But here we see Vidura tactfully warns the Pandavas. He says:
“He that knows the schemes his foes contrive in accordance with the dictates of political science, should, knowing them, act in such a way as to avoid all danger. He that knows that there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body though not made of steel, and understands also the means of warding them off, can never be injured by foes. He lives who protects himself by the knowledge that neither the consumer of straw and wood nor the drier of the dew burns the inmates of a hole in the deep woods. The blind man sees not his way: the blind man has no knowledge of direction. He that has no firmness, never acquireth prosperity. Remembering this, be upon your guard. The man who taketh a weapon not made of steel (i.e., an inflammable abode) given him by his foes, can escape from the fire by making his abode like unto that of a jackal (having many outlets). By wandering a man may acquire the knowledge of ways, and by the stars, he can ascertain the direction, and he that keepeth his five (senses) under control can never be oppressed by his enemies.”
As a result of these words of caution uttered by Vidura to the Pandavas, they were successful in foiling the deadly plot of Duryodhana. Vidura thus hereby sends a skilful miner who dugs a large subterranean passage for them. Then on one day, Bhima on the instructions of his elder brother Yudhishthira sets ablaze the house and they run away from there. Here again, Vidura helps the Pandava brothers in taking refuge at a secluded place at the banks of the river Ganga.
Later on, when Dhritarashtra asks for Vidura’s counsel regarding the game of dice, he explicitly shares his apprehension with the king and warning him to avoid it in these words:
‘O exalted king, I do not approve of this resolution that thou hast formed. It behaves thee, O king, to act in such a way that no dispute may arise between your children on account of this gambling match.’ He also said that Gambling is the root of dissensions. It also shows Vidura’s foresightedness and therefore, we see how the prediction of Vidura turns into reality and the game brings havoc on the Kuru clan ultimately.
Even after the tryst of the Pandavas with distress begins and they proceed towards the woods, Dhritarashtra asks Vidura to give an advice which is beneficial to both the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Vidura asks Dhritrashtra to return the kingdom of the Pandavas to them for the broader aim of maintaining the peace and tranquillity in the Kuru Kingdom. But as Duryodhana always disregarded the words of Vidura, Dhritarashtra out of his blind love for his sons paid no heed to his counsel.
After the return of the Pandavas from exile the war became inevitable as wicked Duryodhana (son of Dhritarashtra) refused the demand for minimum compensation. Thus in Udyog Parva, Dhritarashtra asks Vidura to speak some words that are beneficial and might prevent the war fraught with high mortality. Vidura presents a discourse which is referred to as a Vidura-Niti. He hereby chides Dhritarashtra for being not courteous towards Yudhishthira, he says ‘King (Yudhishthira), graced with every virtue, is worthy of being the sovereign of the three worlds; yet, O Dhritarashtra, however worthy of being kept by your side, he was exiled by you.’
He then tells Dhritarashtra the definition of a wise man:
“These are the marks of a wise man, adherence to acts worthy of praise and rejection of what is blamable, faith, and reverence. He who shows neither anger nor joy, nor pride, nor false modesty, nor stupefaction, nor vanity, can draw away from the high ends of life, is considered as wise.”
There are six sins according to Vidura and he says one must try to keep them away these sins are sleep, drowsiness, fear, anger, indolence and procrastination. On the contrary, he says these six qualities must be followed by men: truth, charity, diligence, benevolence, forgiveness and patience.
Further, he says these eight qualities glorify a man. Those are wisdom, high birth, self-restraint, learning, prowess, moderation in speech, gift according to one’s power and gratitude. Great prosperity attends upon that king who knows how to inspire confidence in others, who inflicts punishment on those whose guilt has been proved, who is acquainted with the proper measure of punishment, and who knoweth when mercy is to be shown.
After speaking elaborately on the characteristics of a wise man, Vidura emphasizes on making Yudhishthira the king of Kuru dynasty because he feels Yudhishthira to be endued with energy and wisdom and traits of a righteous ruler. He then asks him to give the Pandavas their due share as he speaks; “A person who himself is shameful (i.e. knows what is right/wrong) is considered best. He with his brightness, stable mind and jolly heart shines like the sun.”
It was Vidura’s grace that once before the Kurukshetra war, Krishna came to Hastinapura on behalf of the Pandavas for peace negotiation he was warmly welcomed. Duryodhana requested Krishna to stay in the palace for the night but he preferred to have food and take rest at Vidura’s place. We witness many a time in the Mahabharata that Lord Krishna held him in very high esteem. According to Krishna, Vidura was considered as Dharmaraja which means the Lord of truth.
It had been the misfortune of Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana that despite having the wisest Vidura by their side, they failed to make use of his percipience.
After the great war of Mahabharata, Yudhishthira appointed Vidura as his Prime Minister and followed his advises in all the matters of statecraft. After some time Vidura moved to the forest as an ascetic along with Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti, did severe penances there before his death. Thus we observe that Vidura had always influenced the course of events in Mahabharata and became the central character of this great Epic. Vidur-Niti is relevant not only today but also for the generations to come.