These "totally awesome action figures" (my nephew's phrasing) are action figures of the five Pandava brothers. From left to right is Yudhistira, the eldest, then Arjuna, the middle brother, then Bhima, the second eldest, then Nakula and Sahadev, the twins.
There are many bits of the Mahabharat that are called hidden gems, meaning that they are not well known but give so much knowledge that it would amaze any reader.
One such hidden gem is this:
The five Pandava brothers and their Queen, Draupadi, were sent into exile through the deceit of the Kauravas. They lived in the forest for twelve years, living on simple food they could gather, sleeping in huts made of straw and mud. They lived like this despite the fact that the eldest Pandava brother, Yudhistira, was an Emperor, and Draupadi, his Empress.
One day, while travelling through the forest, they stopped to rest. Draupadi told Yudhistira that she was thirsty and they all agreed that their throats were parched. They were also tired and hungry. They could see cranes flying in the distance and determined that there must be water there so Yudhishtira told Sahadev, the youngest, to go and collect water. A long time passed but Sahadev did not return. Yudhistira then sent Nakula, the second youngest, to go and find Sahadev and bring water. Nakula did not come back either. Yudhistira, who was beginning to worry, sent Arjuna and told him to be careful and find out what had happened to their brothers. Arjuna went and did not come back. Yudhistira then sent Bhima, who was known for his great strength. Bhima did not return.
Yudhistira and Draupadi were now very worried as they could not imagine what could have stopped the younger brothers from returning. Yudhistira told Draupadi to remain out of sight while he went to find them.
He headed towards where the cranes were flying and after a short while came across a beautiful serene lake. All four of his brothers were lying on the lakeshore, dead.
Unable to believe his eyes, Yudhishtira rushed forward and fell upon them. He was stunned. His brothers were invincible so he could not understand how they could be dead. He examined their bodies, looking for signs that might tell him what had happened. Yet they had no injuries so he knew they had not fought an enemy. He wondered if the lake water was poisoned but there was no sign of poisoning on their bodies either. Still, he determined that whatever had caused their deaths had to have come from the lake.
Full of grief and knowing that there could be no life for him without his brothers, Yudhistira filled his cupped hands with lake water and leaned down to drink.
Yudhistira looked up and saw that there was a glowing male person hovering in the air over the lake. "Who are you?"
"I am Yaksha."
"Then you are a celestial being. Are you the one who has killed my brothers?"
"Yes. I told them not to drink from the lake but they did not listen to me. They died as a result."
"Why did you tell them not to drink?"
"This is my lake. No one can drink from it without answering my questions. If you wish to drink water and take it from here then you must answer my questions."
Yudhistira folded his palms and bowed. "I will answer your questions."
Yaksha said: "I know that you are Yudhitira, son of Kunti. You are called Dharmraj, the King of Righteousness. Oh King, do you think you can answer my questions?"
"I will try."
"Then tell me, what is heavier than the earth?"
"What is higher than the sky?"
Yaksha smiled. "What is swifter than the wind?"
"What is more numerous than straw?"
"Worries," Yudhistira said, as one who knew many.
"Who is a friend to one nearing death?"
"What is the main place of duty, fame, heaven and happiness?"
Yudhistira said: "The main place of duty is efficiency. The main place of fame is charity. The main place of heaven is truth and the main place of happiness is modesty."
"What is the soul of a man?"
"What has covered the world?"
"What is laziness?"
"To not do one's duty."
Yaksha nodded. "Who is happy?"
"One who is free from debt."
"What is a real bath?"
"That which purifies the mind."
"What is blacker than black eyeliner?"
"What is the best path?"
"Kindness," Yudhistira said.
"What, if controlled, does not bring grief?"
"What is modesty?"
"To keep away from deeds that should not be done."
"What is kindness?"
"To wish for the happiness of all," Yudhistira said.
"What is the reason for the death of a nation?"
"What is proof of a Brahmin? Is it lineage, learning, knowledge of scripture, or character?"
"Character. An ordinary worker who has character is better than a Brahmin who has lineage, learning, and knowledge of scripture but no character."
"Is spirituality in logical reasoning?"
Yudhistira frowned. "No."
"Is spirituality in the thoughts of sages?"
"No, because not all sages agree. No one sage knows the complete truth."
Yaksha raised his eyebrows. "Then where lies the complete truth of spirit?"
"In the heart of the individual."
Yaksha paused, then asked: "What is the greatest astonishment of this world?"
"The greatest astonishment is that everyone knows that the ultimate reality of life is death. They see death all around them. Yet still they thinks that death is not the ultimate reality of their life. They think it will not happen to them."
"Oh King, I am most pleased with your answers. I will revive one of your brothers as a reward. Which brother do you want me to grant life?"
"Oh Yaksha, please revive my brother Nakula."
"Why Nakula? Why not strong Bhima or invincible Arjuna?"
"Because my father had two wives, Kunti and Madri. I loved them both equally even though Kunti was my birth mother. So if I, the eldest son of Kunti, am alive then Mother Madri's eldest son should also live."
"What if I said you could have two brothers back?"
"Then I would ask for Sahadev, because he is younger than Bhima or Arjuna."
"I am very pleased with you. I will give you all your brothers back."
"Then you must not be Yaksha for he cannot grant the gift of life. Please tell me who you are."
The being then changed his form. He was beautiful and glowing, his black skin shining with divine light. "I am Dharmraj, Lord of Death.* I came here to see you, Yudhistira, and am very pleased to find that you have the qualities of tranquility, endurance, detachment, patience and problem solving. You have overcome the six weaknesses of hunger, thirst, grief, attachment, old age and death. May you be blessed." Saying such, Dharmraj disappeared.
Yudhistira saw that his younger brothers were sitting up and wondering what had happened. He ran and embraced them and told them that he would explain later. Right now they had to take water and hurry back to Draupadi.
*Dharmraj is another name for God. It is written that Yudhistira was an expansion of Dharmraj, the Lord of Death and Righteousness. Therefore, as an expansion, Yudhistira was counted as Dharmraj's son and was being tested by his father. In another interpretation this God, who is father to us all, testing his child.
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