Gandhari was a major character in the Mahabharata. She was the husband of King Dhitrastra of Kuru and the mother of the evil Kauravas. Gandhari is often regarded as the epitome of virtue. At the time of her marriage, she vowed to spend the rest of her life in a blindfold because he was husband was blind. She shrouded herself in eternal darkness because of her loyalty to her husband. Along with that, Gandhari’s curse caused the Yadava destruction and submergence of the great city of Dwarka.
- Father: Subala
- Brothers: Shakuni and many others
- Husband: Dhritarashtra
- Sons: Duryodhana, Dushasana, Vikarna, and 97 others
- Daughter: Dushala
Gandhari’s Birth and Boon
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 103
Situated in north-west Bharatavarsha (modern-day Peshawar basin) was a king by the name of Gandhara. It was a small but prosperous kingdom. Gandhara was renowned for its horses, wool, and natural resources. The king of Gandhara was named Subala. He was an efficient and successful ruler, loved by his subjects and ministers alike. Subala had a daughter named Gandhari, named after her native kingdom. He also had many sons, led by the eldest: Shakuni.
Gandhari was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. She spent hours engrossed in austerity and prayer. Pleased with her devotion, Shiva gave her the boon:
You will give birth to one hundred powerful sons!
The Blind King
This story is in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 102-103
One day, a messenger arrived at the gates of Gandhara. He meandered through the streets of the capital and entered the royal palace. He introduced himself as a messenger from Hastinapura and handed King Subala a message. As Subala read the message, his expression changed from a smile to that of shock. The message was from none other than Bhishma Pitamah, the pillar of the Kuru dynasty. This undefeatable, god-like man was the son of Shantanu and Ganga. He was renowned across Bharatvarsha for his incredible strength and wisdom. During the years of anarchy and chaos after Shantanu’s reign, Bhishma had supported the Kuru dynasty.
The message was a marriage proposal for Dhritarashtra and Gandhara. Dhritarashtra was the eldest son of Vichitravirya (Shantanu’s son). He was an extremely strong man, with the strength of several elephants. However, there was one fatal flaw: he was completely blind. Because of his blindness, he was denied the throne. Instead, his younger brother Pandu was given the throne.
Subala was shocked as he read the marriage proposal. He knew that Dhritarashtra was a blind and weak man. On the other hand, his daughter Gandhari was often called the most beautiful woman in Bharatvarsha. How could he let his daughter marry Dhritrashtra? But, the Kurus were also regarded as one of the greatest dynasties of Bharatvarsha. They were famous for their power and intelligence, and an alliance with them would be invaluable.
Subala and his wife were still in a dilemma. Finally, they formed a decision: they would accept the marriage proposal. Gandhari was informed of the decision, and she was shocked. She didn’t want to marry a blind man, but she had to be faithful to her parent’s orders. To respect her future husband’s condition, Gandhara blindfolded herself. She vowed that she would never take off this blindfold. This act demonstrates Gandhari’s spousal devotion and virtuosity.
Queen of Kuru
The next day, Subala met Bhishma and accepted the proposal. Thus, Bhishma and his army set off for Hastinapura, accompanied by Shakuni and Gandhari. At Hastinapura, Gandhari and Dhitrastra were married with pomp and grandeur.
One day, on a hunting trip, he accidentally shot Kindama rishi, who cursed him that whenever he engages in sexual intercourse with a woman, he will die. Overwhelmed by the guilt of slaying a brahmin, Pandu and his wives decided to leave for the forest. Thus, Dhitrastra became king and Gandhari became the queen.
MYTHBUSTING: There is a common folk story about Gandhari and Shakuni. The story is such that Gandhari had a problem in her astrological chart, so her first husband would die. Thus, Subala married her to a goat first, which died. Gandhari then married Dhitrastra. Soon, Dhitrastra got to know that Gandhari had first married a goat. He was enraged and imprisoned Subala and his 100 sons, including Shakuni. Dhitrastra only gave them a fistful of rice a day. Subala knew that all of them would die, so he started giving all of the rice to the smartest brother: Shakuni. Soon, Shakuni’s 99 brothers died and when Subala was about to pass away, he told Shakuni to take revenge and told Dhitrastra to release Shakuni. Later, Shakuni crafted his magical dice from his father’s bones. This incident is just an additional story added to some versions. This story isn’t mentioned anywhere in the original Mahabharata. Thus, we are going to deem this story as fiction and not as an event that actually occurred in the Mahabharata. Gandhari’s brothers and father didn’t actually die in prison. Gandhari’s brothers even appear in the Mahabharata war, so this is definitely fictitious.
Birth of the Kauravas
Soon enough, Gandhari became pregnant. The entire Kuru family waited for the news of Gandhari’s birth. But the news didn’t come. The pregnancy period had elapsed and Gandhari hadn’t given birth yet.
One day, a messenger arrived at the palace with important news: Kunti had given birth to a son named Yudhistira. Everyone was shocked. How did Pandu engage in sexual intercourse without dying? Kunti had a boon from Durvasa that she could have children from gods. Yudhistira was the son of Yamadeva.
While Bhishma and Vidura were delighted by the news, the news hit Shakuni, Dhitrastra, and Gandhari like a thunderbolt. Gandhari still hadn’t given birth and thus, Kunti’s son was the eldest, so he would become the rightful heir. Enraged, Gandhari pounded her stomach, urging the baby to come out. But instead, a miscarriage occurred and a lump of flesh came out.
Dhitrastra and Gandhari went to Ved Vyas for help. Ved Vyas divided the lump of flesh into 101 parts and kept each part in a cool earthen pot to incubate. After two years, a baby emerged out of one of the pots. Many omens arrived with the baby. Hastinapura’s elders like Bhishma, Vidura, and Ved Vyas suggested that the baby be killed. They said that if they let the baby grow up, he will do many bad things and bring destruction. But, Dhitrastra, Gandhari, and Shakuni refused to kill the baby. They named the baby Duryodhana. That same day, everyone also received the message that Kunti had given birth to another son named Bhima.
In the following years, Kunti gave birth to a last son named Arjuna. Madri also used Kunti’s boon to beget twin sons named Nakula and Sahadeva. Along with that, the other 99 babies were also born in the pots. There was still one last pot left. Out of that pot was born Dushala, a girl.
By the 17th day of the Kurukshetra War, all of Gandhari’s sons had been slaughtered by Bhima. When Dhitrastra and Gandhari heard of this from Sanjaya, they started mourning. 99 of their sons had died, only Duryodhana was still alive.
Gandhari went to Ved Vyas for advice. Ved Vyas that she shouldn’t try to save the life of a sinner like Duryodhana. But Gandhari was desperate to save Duryodhana. After much convincing, Ved Vyas agreed to help Gandhari.
“Because you have kept your eyes blindfolded all your life, you have a lot of power in you. This power has the potential to make your body as strong as the Vajra, Indra‘s weapon. If you take off your blindfold for a moment in front of Duryodhana, his body will become as strong as the Vajra, which will make his invincible,” Ved Vyas advised.
Gandhari told Duryodhana this. Duryodhana started stripping naked to go in front of his mother. While he was doing this, Krishna came and managed to convince Duryodhana to keep clothes on below his waist. Krishna said that in a mace fight, you’re not allowed to hit under the waist.
So, Duryodhana went to Gandhari with clothes on under his waist. For the first time, Gandhari opened her blindfold and power rushed out of her eyes into Duryodhana. She then put her blindfold back on immediately.
On the next day, when Bhima and Duryodhana fought, Krishna told Bhima to hot Duryodhana’s thigh. Bhima did so and Duryodhana died.
When the Pandavas and Krishna returned to Hastinapura, Gandhari got angry at Krishna for letting all the destruction happen.
“Soon, the entire Yadava dynasty will perish right in front of you. Dwarka, your city, will drown,” she cursed.
36 years later, the Yadavas all got into a argument at Prabhasa. In the end, they killed themselves right in front of Krishna’s eyes. When Krishna died, Dwarka drowned just as Gandhari had cursed.
15 years after the Kurukshetra War, Gandhari went with Dhitrastra, Vidura, and Kunti to the forest for penance. They all started living as ascetics. Vidura undertook severe penance and soon died of old age. After a few years, Kunti, Dhitrastra, and Gandhari died in a forest fire.
Gandhari had high moral standards. She blindfolded herself just because her husband was blind. Also, she continuously told Duryodhana to make peace with the Pandavas and go on the path of righteousness. Whenever Duryodhana asked Gandhari for blessings, she just said ‘may victory find the side of righteousness’.
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