Yudhisthira was the eldest of the five Pandav princes, son of Kunti, begotten on her by the god Dharm. He was known for his righteousness and sense of justice. Yudhishthir and his brothers received their education in Hastinapur, under Krapacharya and Dron. When the time came for naming the heir-apparent to the realm of Hastinapur, king Dhritrashtra selected Yudhishthir in preference to his own eldest son, Duryodhan. The long standing rivalry between the Pandav and Kaurav princes then broke forth openly. Duryodhan expostulated with his father, and the result was that the Pandavs went in honourable ban ishment to the city of Varnavat. The jealousy of Duryodhan pursued them, and his emissaries laid a plot for burning the brothers in their house at Varnavat, but Yudhishthir and his brothers escaped with the help of Vidur. It was believed for a time that the Pandavs and Kunti had perished in the fire. When Draupadi had been won at the Svayamvar, she was married to Arjun. But, through the words of their mother, Kunti, the princess became the common wife of the five brothers, after Yudhishthir had sought the permission of her father, king Drupad of Panchal. On the advice of sage Narad, an arrangement was made that Draupadi should dwell in turn wit the five brothers, in the separate house of each, and that under pain of exile for twelve years no one of the brothers but the master of the house should enter while Draupadi was staying in it. After the marriage, the Pandav: announced their existence. Dhritrashtra was counselled by Vidur and Bhishma to give half of the kingdom to the Pandavs. Vidur went to Panchal and escorted the Pandavs to Hastinapur. The kingdom was divided into two and half of the kingdom was given to the Pandavs, of which Yudhishthir was crowned king at Indraprasth. Yudhishthir ruled his country with great justice and his reign was prosperous.

A son named Prativindhya was born to Yudhishthir by his wife Draupadi. Yudhishthir was also married to Devika, daughter of king Govasan, by whom he had a son named Yaudhey. On the advice of his brothers, Yudhishthir performed the Rajsuya sacrifice, and this led to a war with Jarasandh king of Magadh, who declined to take part in it, and was in consequence defeated and killed by Bhim. The dignity which Yudhishthir had gained by the performance of the sacrifice rekindled the jealousy of Duryodhan and the other Kauravs. They resolved to invite their cousins to a gambling match, and to cheat Yudhishthir of his kingdom. Yudhishthir was very unwilling to but could not refuse his uncle's invitation. Shakuni, maternal uncle of Duryodhan, was not only a skilful player but also a dexterous cheat. Shakuni played on behalf of Duryodhan, and Yudhishthir, after stipulating for fair-play, began the game. He lost his all, his kingdom, his brothers, himself, and his wife, all of whom became Duryodhan's slaves. When Draupadi was sent for as a slave and refused to come, Duhshasan dragged her into the hall by the hair, and both he and Duryodhan grossly insulted her. Bhima was half mad with rage, but Yudhishthir's sense of right acknowledged that Draupadi was a slave, and he forbade Bhim and his brothers to interfere. Bhishma and Vidur finally geared into action and persuaded Dhritrashtra to return the kingdom of the Pandavs. Dhritrashtra declared that his sons had acted wrongfully and sent Draupadi and her husbands away, imploring them to forget what had passed. Duryodhan was very wroth, and induced the old king to allow another game to avoid war, the condition being that the losers should go into exile for thirteen years, and should remain concealed and undiscovered during the whole of the thirteenth year. The game was played, and loaded dice gave Shakuni the victory, so the Pandavs went again into exile. During that time, on Yudhishthir's command, Arjun rendered a service to Duryodhan by rescuing him and his companions from a band of Gandharvs who had made them prisoners. When Jaydrath, king of Sindhu, was foiled in his attempt to carry off Draupadi, the clemency of Yudhishthir led him to implore his brothers to spare their captive's life. Once, while travelling through the forest, the Pandavs became thirsty. Climbing up a tree, Bhim spotted a lake not far away. Sahdeva was sent to fetch water. When he did not return, Yudhishthir sent Nakul to look for him. Some time passed and there was no sign of Nakula. On Yudhishthir's command, Arjun went to look for them and then Bhim. When none of them returned, Yudhishthir went himself to find out what was wrong.

On arriving at the lake, he found all his brothers dead. The shocked Yudhishthir looked around to see if he could find the attacker. Not seeing anyone, he decided first to quench his thirst. Just as he was about to drink some water, a celestial voice stopped him and asked him to answer his questions before drinking the water or he too would be dead like his brothers. Yudhishthir gave all the right answers and pleased with him, the Yaksh, who proclaimed himself to be the guardian of the lake, asked Yudhishthir to chose one of his brothers whoa he would like to have revived. Yudhishthir chose for Nakul. When questioned why Nakul and not Bhim and Arjun, Yudhishthir replied that Kunti and Maadri were both wives of his father, and so that both his mothers would have one son surviving, he had asked for Nakul, son of Madri, to be revived. The Yaksh then revealed himself as Dharm. Gratified with Yudhishthir's impartiality, Dharm revived all the Pandavs and advised Yudhishthir to seek employment in the court of king Virat of Matsya during their thirteenth year of exile. As the thirteenth year of banishment approached, in order to keep themselves concealed, the five brothers and Draupadi went to the country of Matsya and entered into the service of king Virat. Assuming the name of Kank, Yudhishthir served as private companion and teacher of dice-playing to the king. Here Yudhishthir suffered his wife Draupadi to be insulted, and dissuaded his brothers from interfering, lest by so doing they should discover themselves. When the term of exile was concluded, Yudhishthir sent an envoy to Hastinapur asking for a peaceful restoration to the Pandavs of their former position. The negotiations failed and Yudhishthir invited Krishna to go as his representative to Hastinapur. Not with standing Yudhishthir's longing for peace the war began.

During the Mahabharat war, at the instigation of Krishna, he compassed the death of Dron by conveying to that warrior false information of the death of his son Ashvatthama, and his character for veracity was used to warrant the truth of the representation. His conscience would not allow him to tell a downright lie, but he was reconciled to telling a white lie in killing an elephant named Ashvatthama, and informing Dron, that Ashvatthama was dead. He retreated from a fight with Karn, and afterwards reproached Arjun for not having supported him and Bhim. This so irritated Arjun that he would have killed him on the spot had Krishna not interposed. After the battle, he performed the funeral rites for all those loved one, who had fallen and also the funeral rites of Karn. When he learnt from Kunti that Karn was his brother, he wept for the latter and rebuked his mother. The victorious but depressed prince, cursed all women that they would not be able to withheld any secret. He did what he could to console the bereaved Dhritrashtra and Gandhari. Gandhari tried in vain to control her anger, and when Yudhishthir prostrated himself before her, from under her blindfold, her glance fell on a toe of Yudhishthir which became scorched from the fury of her wrath. Yudhishthir was made king and was raised to the throne with great pomp, he acting as ruler under the normal supremacy of the old king Dhritrashtra. There, after an interval, he asserted his universal supremacy by per-forming the Ashvamedh sacrifice. Dhritrashtra decided to retire to the forest and he was followed by Gandhari, Kunti, Vidur and Sanjay. Desiring to see his elders, Yudhishthir and his brothers visited them in the forest. Being born from a portion of Dharm, the soul of Vidur, after death, entered the body of Yudhishthir, the son of Dharm. The death of Krishna at Dvarka and regrets for the past embittered the lives of the Pandavs, and they resolved to withdraw from the world. Yudhishthir appointed Parikshit, grandson of Arjun, to be his successor, and the five brothers departed with Draupadi to the Himalaya mountains on their way to Svarg. On the way, Draupadi, Sahdev, Nakul, Arjun and Bhim fell down dead. Yudhishthir proceeded alone with a dog which has followed them from quite a distance. Reaching the peak, Yudhishthir met Indra who was waiting to take him to heaven. Yudhishthir refused to go without Draupadi and his brothers. He was informed that they were already there. When Yudhishthir expressed his wish to take the dog along with him to heaven, Indra forbade it and Yudhishthir declined to go without the dog. Suddenly the dog assumed his real form as the god Dharm. When he arrived in Svarg, Yudhishthir was eager to meet his brothers and Karn, but he only saw Duryodhan, etc. He asked for his family and was led by a celestial messenger through a path enveloped in darkness and stench. Here he heard the piteous voice of his brothers and rebuked the gods for the injustice. He then decided to stay with his brothers in hell. Instantly the illusion of hell disappeared and Yudhishthir was reunited with his loved ones.