The story of the Mahabharata is a story of death. The entire epic poem is filled with bloodshed and death. But along with death, this epic is also filled with deceit. The Mahabharata is filled with conspiracy to defeat the opponent.
But a large portion of the deceit and conspiracy of the Mahabharata were designed by one man and his mind. The Mahabharata was a game for this man, a game orchestrated to fulfill his goal. This man used his genius and cunning mind to achieve his ultimate desire. This man was the master of deceit, the master conspirator. This man is considered the mastermind of the Mahabharata. This man was Shakuni, the devious prince of Gandhara.
Throughout this post, we will take a journey through the life of Shakuni, the mastermind of the Mahabharata. We will explore his life from birth to death, all the while analyzing his inner motives and feelings. We will see how he controlled thousands and achieved his ultimate goal: the happiness of his sister.
Make sure to read the entire post because there is a poll at the end asking for your opinion on Shakuni.
- Background and Birth of Shakuni
- Bhishma Arrives: The Day that Changed History
- Shakuni Influences Kuru Politics
- Duryodhana: Shakuni’s Beloved Nephew
- Shakuni’s First Moves
- Shakuni Marries
- House of Lac- House of Death
- The Infamous Gambling Game
- Gambling Round 2
- The War: Shakuni’s Death
- Father: Subala
- Mother: Vasumathi
- Brothers: Many brothers
- Sister: Gandhari
- Wife: Arshi
- Son: Uluka
Background and Birth of Shakuni
Gandhara was a kingdom situated in north-western Bharat (modern Peshawar basin). It was a small kingdom surrounded by mountains. Because of its location, the kingdom rarely interacted with the rest of Bharatvarsha. But this kingdom was very prosperous. Gandhara was known for many natural resources, such as precious gems and medicinal herbs. The strong horses and wool of Gandhara were also famous and were often traded to other kingdoms.
The ruler of this kingdom was Subala. He was loved by his subjects and he was an efficient ruler. He cared a lot about his subjects, more than he cared about political and military matters. Subala had no enemies in other kings. Because of the formidable terrain encompassing Gandhara and the lack of foes, Subala knew that Gandhara wouldn’t be attacked. Thus, he hadn’t focused on the military and they didn’t have a strong army.
Born to this king and his wife Vasumathi was Shakuni. Being the son of Subala, he was also known as Saubala. He was a handsome boy, but he was born with a physical disability. His leg was slightly contorted, and thus his steps came with a minute limp.
From his youth, he was a clever and assertive boy, always ready to give his opinion. During those days, all young princes received rigorous military training. But because of Subala’s disregard for the military, Shakuni was barely trained in the use of weapons. He was able to use all the weapons, but he hadn’t mastered them. His dad just didn’t see any importance in giving Shakuni formal training. In his mind, Shakuni often felt that adequate attention was not being given to the army, as they could be attacked at any moment. But Subala always dismissed Shakuni’s arguments about increasing military strength.
Though he wasn’t trained in combat, Shakuni became proficient at other activities. He became adept at scaling mountains and he developed a liking for games of dice. Soon enough, he had become unbeatable at gambling. Sheer luck coupled with his wits allowed him to excel at all games of dice. Shakuni also became an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva.
Shakuni also had a sister. Subala had named her Gandhari after his own kingdom. She was the most beautiful woman in Bharatvarsha. Shakuni deeply adored her and always wished the best for her. She had worshipped Lord Shiva and gained the boon that she could have 100 sons.
Bhishma Arrives: The Day that Changed History
One day, a messenger came running into the court of Subala. The exhausted messenger bore an expression of fear. He bowed down to Subala and said, “My Majesty, I have been sent by your eastern subjects to inform you that we have spotted a large army on the eastern side.”
Subala calmly listened and didn’t react. Meanwhile, Shakuni became greatly agitated and enraged. He had always told his father that they must increase their military strength. But Subala had always rejected his ideas. Shakuni shouted, “I have always told you that we must be prepared for any situation. How will our army defeat this massive force!” But Subala responded, “Our kingdom is constantly attacked by barbarian tribes. These forces are merely barbarians or bandits that will be easily defeated by our army.”
At that moment, the commander-in-chief of the army entered the palace and took his seat. His spies had given him detailed information regarding the army.
“The army besieging is not a ragtag group of bandits or barbarians from the West. This army is a professionally trained military force. They carry proper weapons and armor. Their stock of supplies is also very extensive. We know that they are the royal forces of a powerful kingdom based on their banners. These banners are none other than the royal flags of the Kuru kingdom. At the center of the army is an old man with a long beard. He is dressed in all white and has a golden crown on his head. He is a very potent warrior and carries various divine weapons.”
By the time the commander had finished dictating his message, the expressions of Subala, Shakuni, and all the courtiers had transformed into utter shock and terror. The forces of Kuru, one of the most powerful kingdoms in Bharatvarsha, were at their gates. And they all knew who the old man was. This god-like man was famous everywhere. He had the capability to destroy entire lineages. This man was the undefeatable Bhishma Pitamah.
Bhishma was the son of King Shantanu and Goddess Ganga. He was taught warfare by Parshuram and the devas themselves, political science by Brihaspati and Shukracharya, the Vedas by Vashishta, mental and spiritual science by Sanatkumara, and the duties of Yatis by Markandeya. Bhishma was able to withstand the attacks of Parshuram himself when they fought each other. He even had the boon of ichhamrutyu, meaning he could only die when he wished to. He had supported the Kuru dynasty through all its dark years with weak kings.
“I do not believe that Bhishma is here to attack us. If he wanted to gain territory, why would he choose Gandhara? If we react aggressively, then our kingdom will be utterly destroyed by the Kuru forces. We will invite him to the palace for a conversation,” Subala declared.
Thus, a messenger set out to invite Bhishma to the palace. The messenger was treated warmly by Bhishma. Bhishma told the messenger that he wanted to meet King Subala. When the messenger came back with the good news, everyone was relieved. Subala prepared a grand welcome for Bhishma.
The Marriage Proposal
A couple days later, Bhishma arrived at the gates of the capital of Gandhara. He was welcomed with a grand celebration in the city. Bhishma was escorted to the palace, where he was greeted by Shakuni and Subala. This was the first time Shakuni was seeing the great Bhishma. After exchanging pleasantries, Bhishma, Subala, and Shakuni sat down in a private room.
“King Subala, I have heard that your daughter, Gandhari, had propitiated Lord Shiva. And Shiva gave her the boon that she would have one hundred sons. The throne of Hastinapura has been empty for many years and now I would like to crown a king. Dhitrastra, the oldest prince, has come of age. I would like to have him married and then coronated. Thus, I have come with a marital proposal for the marriage of Gandhari and Dhitrastra,” Bhishma proposed.
Both Shakuni and Subala were shocked. Shakuni knew that Dhitrastra was a blind and incompetent man. How could his priceless sister marry that useless man! He was enraged and decided that he couldn’t let this marriage occur.
“How can I let my sister marry Dhitrastra. She must marry a suitable groom, not a blind and inept coward. How can you come to Gandhara with such a horrific proposal!” Shakuni bellowed.
Bhishma was surprised by the prince’s reaction. He warned, “Young prince, you do not need to interfere. You can’t comprehend the power of Kuru. If you don’t cooperate then we can easily abduct your sister. So watch your tongue.”
King Subala, who was helpless, asked for more time. Bhishma then left for his own quarters and Shakuni and Subala discussed the proposal. They were in a complete dilemma. Shakuni was not ready to give his sister to a blind and weak man, but Subala reminded him that if they resisted, Bhishma would simply kidnap Gandhari. Gandhari’s boon to beget 100 sons had turned into a curse. Subala declared that their only option was to give away Gandhari to Bhishma.
Shakuni takes a Vow
Shakuni hesitantly approached Gandhari’s room. He was on the verge of tears. They silently greeted each other. “Gandhari, I am willing to fight till I’m dead to stop this marriage!” Shakuni announced.
But Gandhari had already taken her decision. “Brother, I have decided to accept this proposal. I would rather marry Dhitrastra than put all of Gandhara in peril. I have also decided to permanently blindfold myself for the rest of my life with a cloth to respect my husband’s blindness,” she sorrowfully said. When Shakuni heard her resolve, he was astonished. He couldn’t bear to see this proposal become reality. He collapsed and started weeping. That day, Shakuni took a resolve:
“Bhishma has flooded my house with tears. I shall now fill his eyes with tears. He has inflicted a grave injustice upon us. I will use my wit to counter Bhishma’s arrow. I will stay at Hastinapura and ensure that my beloved sister Gandhari is happy and safe.”
Shakuni Influences Kuru Politics
The next day, Subala, Shakuni, and Gandhari met Bhishma again. They told him that they had 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. Shakuni started visiting Hastinapura very often and soon, he was spending most of his time there.
Mythbusting: Modern media portrays Shakuni as a very revengeful character. The media says that Shakuni wanted to exact his revenge against Bhishma for Gandhari’s marriage. He obviously didn’t like the marriage, but his life wasn’t focused around revenge. There are many stories from various versions of the Mahabharata that are made to display Shakuni’s revenge.
The most prominent of these is the story of Shakuni’s imprisonment. 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 to portray Shakuni as an epitome of revenge. 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. Shakuni’s brothers and father didn’t actually die in prison. Shakuni’s brothers even appear in the Mahabharata war, so this is definitely fictitious.
Anyways, after the marriage, Shakuni waited for the coronation of Dhitrastra so he could see his sister become the queen. But the date of the coronation kept getting delayed. The confused Shakuni finally figured out the situation. Vidura (youngest brother) and other Kuru royals were opposed to the coronation of Dhitrastra. Vidura had suggested that Pandu (younger brother of Dhitrastra) become king instead. Although Pandu had his own share of problems (viz. jaundice and disease), Vidura felt that a blind king wouldn’t be able to govern. Despite of Shakuni’s efforts to stop the proposal, Vidura’s plan was eventually accepted by everyone and Pandu was crowned the king of Kuru. This was a major setback for Shakuni as his sister now couldn’t become queen. That day, Shakuni made a new enemy: Vidura. In the future, Shakuni and Vidura’s opinions would conflict many times.
Pandu married Kunti and them married Madri. He went on two digvijayas and brought back a lot of gold. 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.
And so once again, the question came up: Who would become the king of Hastinapura? This time, Shakuni was determined to not fail. He was determined to enthrone Dhitrastra. By this time, Shakuni had gained a spot in the Kuru royal court. When the Kuru royals assembled to discuss the issue, Shakuni eagerly voiced his opinion.
“The throne of Hastinapura has seen many time periods of vacancy. Even now, with our beloved King Pandu gone, the kingdom is without a king. We cannot let this trend continue. We must install a monarch on the throne immediately. I believe that we should install Prince Dhitrastra as an acting king until King Pandu returns. He is our only option,” Shakuni said.
Bhishma, Satyavati, and Dhitrastra all agreed with Shakuni’s idea. In due time, Dhitrastra was made the king and Gandhari became the queen.
Duryodhana: Shakuni’s Beloved Nephew
Soon enough, Gandhari became pregnant. Shakuni knew that if his sister gave birth to a son before Pandu had a child, then his sister’s son would become the next king. 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. Shakuni’s hopes of seeing his nephew on the throne were crushed. Enraged, Gandhari pounded her stomach, urging the baby to come out. But instead, a miscarriage occured and 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. Shakuni was overjoyed with the birth of Duryodhana. That same day, everyone also received the message that Kunti had given birth to another son named Bhima.
Shakuni was determined to make his nephew Duryodhana the heir to the throne because he knew that this would make his sister happy. But now Yudhistira and Bhima were competition for Duryodhana. Shakuni realized that he would have to apply all of his skills of deceit to defeat the Pandavas.
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.
Shakuni’s First Moves
From when Duryodhana was a child, Shakuni started interacting with him a lot, even more than his father. This built a strong relationship between Shakuni and Duryodhana. Whenever Duryodhana was in a plight, he would approach Shakuni. We’ll see how in the future, Duryodhana will approach Shakuni for everything.
One day, Pandu tried to have sexual intercourse with Madri and he died. Madri became really sad and threw herself into her husband’s funeral pyre. Thus, Kunti and the five young Pandavas were brought to Hastinapura. Soon, an enmity developed between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, especially between the strong Bhima and Duryodhana. Bhima would often torment the Kauravas to show his strength.
Mythbusting: As I stated previously, modern media often conveys Shakuni as a vengeful character. Some accounts even say that he didn’t actually love the Kauravas. He poisoned their mind and used them as a means to destroy the Kuru dynasty. But in reality, Shakuni’s goal was the happiness of his sister. To make his sister happy, he supported the Kauravas and tried to make Duryodhana the king.
Soon, Duryodhana couldn’t tolerate Bhima’s actions. As usual, he approached Shakuni for help. Shakuni realized that they would have to get rid of Bhima. After thinking hard, Shakuni came up with a genious scheme to eliminate Bhima….
Duryodhana invited the Pandavas to a beautiful place called Pramana Koti. Not knowing that this invitation was actually a death trap, Yudhistira approved. The day came and the Pandavas and Kauravas set off to Pramana Koti. Duryodhana had built an outdoor paradise at Pramana Koti. After a day of recreation and leisure, everyone sat down to eat. This is when Shakuni’s deceitful plan came into play. The kheer that Duryodhana fed Bhima had actually been poisoned. Because of the poison, Bhima started feeling weak and he lied down and fainted. Duryodhana tied up Bhima with vines and threw him in the Ganga river. Meanwhile, the Pandavas and Kauravas returned to Hastinapura, assuming that Bhima had went ahead as usual. In the end, Bhima was rescued by Vasuki and the Nagas that lived underwater. In a couple of days, he returned and told Kunti and his brothers what had happened. (For the full story, see Bhima) Shakuni executed many other plots, such as poisoning Bhima’s water, but they were are unsuccessful.
Shakuni then married a woman named Arshi. Not much is known about her. They soon had a son named Uluka, who mostly lived with his father in Hastinapura.
House of Lac- House of Death
The Pandavas and Kauravas went to Kripacharya and then Dronacharya for education. When they came back, they were young adults and Yudhistira was initiated as the crown prince.
Yudhistira was a successful crown prince and the people really liked him. And as usual, this made Dhitrastra and Duryodhana jealous. Duryodhana approached his uncle Shakuni and with Kanika (one of Dhitrastra’s minister), he made an ingenious plan to eliminate the Pandavas. Dhitrastra sent his minister Purochana to build a palace in Varnavrata out of lac, a highly flammable material.
As the first step of the plan, Dhitrastra started talking a lot about Varnavrata in the court. The Pandavas were intrigued by this place called Varnavrata. Sensing their curiosity, Dhitrastra came up to them and invited them to Varnavrata. Yudhistira suspected deceit, but he didn’t want to deny his uncle, so he said yes. But on the way, Vidura told the about the plot and told them to be careful. When the Pandavas arrived, Purochana welcomed them. A couple weeks later, Purochana burned the palace. If not for Vidura’s help, the Pandavas wouldn’t have escaped. Vidura sent a miner to help them dig their way out of the palace. After the Varnavrata incident, the Pandavas decided to stay in exile for a few years.
Meanwhile, at Hastinapura, Duryodhana and Dhitrastra thought the Pandavas had died, so they rejoiced. But Shakuni suspected that they might still be alive. He suspected that Vidura had helped them escape his death trap.
The Infamous Gambling Game
After a couple years, King Drupada, the king of Panchala, was hosting a swayamvara for his daughter. The suitor who could complete an nearly impossible archery challenge would marry his daughter Draupadi. Duryodhana decided to go and Shakuni accompanied him. On that day, Shakuni met Krishna for the first time.
Anyways, Arjuna won Draupadi in the swayamvara, but all five Pandavas married her. Soon, the Pandavas returned from exile and the kingdom was split, with the Pandavas receiving the western half of the kingdom, the bad half. This land hadn’t ever been used, so it was in a bad state. But the Pandavas ended up establishing the marvellous city of Indraprastha on this land. They then subdued all of the kingdoms of Bharata and conducted the Rajasuya yagna, to which the invited everyone, including Duryodhana and Shakuni. Shakuni once again witnessed Krishna’s greatness. Duryodhana was astonished by the immense wealth of the Pandavas. He also suffered a horrible humiliation at Indraprastha when he fell into a concealed pool of water and everyone laughed.
Duryodhana stormed out of the palace in a fit of rage. “Duryodhana, please calm down!” Shakuni said. “I will come up with a plan to defeat the Pandavas forever. Just please, calm down. The Pandavas’ happiness won’t last for long.”
“Uncle, I am filled with envy upon gazing at the immense wealth of the Pandavas. I cannot bear to see the superiority of the Pandavas. I shall kill myself. It is better than living in these conditions,” Duryodhana morosely said.
“Oh Duryodhana, look at your power. You have great men like Bhishma, Drona, Karna, and Kripa by your side. You are allied with the great kingdoms of Bahalika. But don’t be rash and attack the Pandavas. With Krishna by their side, the Pandavas are invincible. But there is one way in which you can defeat them. I have identified Yudhistira’s weakness: his love for gambling. This hobby of his will now bring his downfall. As you know, I am a master at the game of dice. I will make him lose everything of his and get rid of him forever!” Shakuni stated.
Duryodhana, Dushasana, and Karna were delighted by the plan. They went to ask permission from their father. Dhitrastra approached Vidura for advice. Vidura strongly disapproved of the gambling game and cautioned that this game could bring about a war. Dhitrastra also opposed the plan and all of the enmity, but he was helpless in front of his son. Reluctantly and consumed by blind love for his son, Dhitrastra approved of the plan. Thus, the Kauravas invited the Pandavas to Hastinapura for a gambling game.
In the beginning, Yudhistira refused to participate in the game of dice. But Shakuni played a simple mind game and said, “If you are afraid, then don’t play.” Yudhistira looked at the Kuru elders, but nobody said anything. Duryodhana declared that he challenged Yudhistira, but Shakuni would play on his behalf. Yudhistira was swayed by Shakuni’s mind games and he reluctantly agreed.
Yudhistira first bet his priceless necklace and he quickly lost it. He then started losing his gold, jewels, and his cattle. But by this point, Yudhistira realized that the game was rigged, but he had become gripped by the game and kept waging more and more. He soon lost all of his wealth and army. Vidura appealed to Dhitrastra and told him to stop the game, but Dhitrastra didn’t respond. Finally, Yudhistira bet his own kingdom and lost that as well.
Yudhistira then bet his younger brother Nakula and lost him. Soon, Yudhistira had lost all 4 of his brothers and himself. They had all become slaves of Duryodhana. “You have now lost everything: except one. Draupadi, your wife, is still yours. You may bet her and win,” Shakuni cunningly said.
Yudhistira was appalled. How could he bet his own wife in the gambling game! But in the end, he put Draupadi for stake. The entire assembly gasped and protested. And with a couple moves, Shakuni won and Draupadi was lost. Duryodhana and Karna cheered as Shakuni announced his victory.
Duryodhana then sent his servant Pratikami to bring Draupadi to the court. Draupadi was upstairs in one of the chambers. After Pratikami failed twice, Duryodhana sent Dushasana. Dushasana dragged Draupadi by her hair and threw her in the court. Shakuni, Duryodhana, Karna, and Dushasana shouted,”Servant! Servant!” The entire assembly was horrified. With bloodshot eyes, Draupadi arose and questioned everyone in the court. She asked them how they could witness this and not object! But none of the Kuru elders answered her.
Karna then suggested that they should disrobe Draupadi. Dushasana began to disrobe her, and Draupadi began to pray to Krishna. Hearing her prayer, Krishna made it so that the cloth around her was endless. Dushasana kept pulling of cloth, but there was always more left. Finally, the exhausted Dushasana gave up. By the time, the Pandavas were enraged. Bhima and Arjuna started taking vows to destroy the Kauravas. Sahadeva also took a vow, a very important vow in our story. Sahadeva vowed to kill Shakuni. But at that time, Shakuni disregarded the vow and thought it wouldn’t come true.
Dhitrastra, who feared the Pandavas’ wrath, gave Draupadi three boons. Draupadi used the first two boons to free her husbands and their weapons. She declined the third boon. But Dhitrastra, who was still scared for his sons’ lives, ended up returning all of the Pandavas’ possessions to them. Draupadi and the Pandavas then went back to Indraprastha.
Gambling Round 2
Shakuni was devastated. He couldn’t believe that the blind king had foiled his conspiracy. Duryodhana, Karna, and Dushasana were also enraged and frustrated. They knew that the Pandavas would now attack them and crush them. They realized that the only way to defeat the Pandavas was another gambling game. Thus, Shakuni crafted another plan to defeat the Pandavas.
Duryodhana approached his father and said, “Oh Father, we have inflicted so many injustices upon the Pandavas today. They will never forget and they will take revenge. They have very powerful allies. We won’t be able to defeat them when they attack. We have to send them away and Uncle Shakuni has plan to do this. His plan is to host another gambling game. This time the condition will be that the loser must go into an exile of 13 years. The first 12 years must be spent in the forests and the 13th year must be spent in incognito. If they are discovered in the 13th year, then they must repeat the exile.”
Dhitrastra was once again hesitant. But like always, he succumbed to his son’s wishes and approved. Everyone in the palace, including Gandhari, criticized the king for approving this evil plan, but Dhitrastra ignored them. A message was sent to the Pandavas and once again, Yudhistira foolishly accepted the proposal and arrived at Hastinapura.
The second gambling game commenced. As Shakuni rolled his ivory dice, everyone in the hall carefully watched. But everyone knew that the victor had already been decided. Everyone knew that Shakuni would easily beat Yudhistira. And that is what happened. Shakuni declared his victory and Duryodhana, Dushasana, and Karna applauded. Everyone in the hall criticized Duryodhana for the deceitful gambling game, but Duryodhana didn’t care. Duryodhana gave the Pandavas deerskin cloth and they put them on in place of their royal garments. Sorrowfully and yelling insults at the Kauravas, the Pandavas left the palace for the forest.
The War: Shakuni’s Death
When the Pandavas’ exile ended successfully, war was declared between the Pandavas and Kauravas. All of the kingdoms of Bharata joined one of the sides. Shakuni brought all of his Gandhara forces along with his son Uluka. He also brought his brothers.
Mythbusting: Contrary to popular belief, Shakuni greatly despised the idea of large-scale war. Modern renderings have stated that Shakuni wanted a huge war to wipe out the Kuru dynasty. But in reality, Shakuni didn’t want a war. The gambling game was an effort the stop the war. In accurate versions of the Mahabharata (KMG and BORI CE), Shakuni tried to stop Duryodhana from waging the Kurukshetra War. Shakuni knew that Krishna and the Pandavas would win in a war. He wanted to use his wits to win the crown for Duryodhana, but his rash nephew declared a war. This is yet another example of the self-centered Duryodhana using someone to his advantage and then throwing them away. Duryodhana went to Shakuni when he wanted help plotting, but when Shakuni opposed war, Duryodhana completely disregarded him.
As I said previously, Shakuni wasn’t a very potent warrior, so he didn’t kill many people in the Mahabharata War. But Shakuni was a master illusionist and sorcerer. He often used magical illusions to counter attacks.
The 10th day, the day that Bhishma was subdued and laid on a bed of arrows, was one of the happiest days of Shakuni’s life. His mortal enemy, Bhishma, had been finally subdued and he would soon decide to pass away.
Shakuni’s brothers were all killed by Iravana, Bhima, Abhimanyu, and Arjuna on the 12th, 8th, 13th, and 14th days. Finally, on the 18th day, the last day of war, Sahadeva rushed against Shakuni, remembering his vow. Sahadeva started assailing Shakuni with his arrows. Seeing his father’s plight, Uluka rushed at Sahadeva. Instantly, Sahadeva turned around and shot a crescent-pointed arrow, beheading Uluka.
Shakuni looked at his beheaded son and screamed. Tears flooded his eyes. He remembered Vidura’s advice to Dhitrastra: don’t foster enmity with the Pandavas, it will lead to your doom. That day, Shakuni realized that Vidura had always been correct. Vidura wasn’t supporting the Pandavas, he was just trying to prevent death. But he always been driven by attachment for his sister and nephew and had crossed limits. He was no suffering the consequences of his actions.
But Shakuni remembered his identity as a warrior and he decided to fight. He threw many weapons at Sahadeva, but he cut them all down with his arrows. Afraid, Shakuni dismounted his chariot and started running. Sahadeva ran after him and told him to fight. Shakuni turned back to fight and Sahadeva discharged a sharp arrow. It flew the air and found its mark: Shakuni’s head. The great Shakuni, the master conspirator, had fallen.
Note: One of the sources for some portions of this post was Ashutosh Nadkar’s Shakuni- Master of the Game. This book is a factual, but dramatized, retelling of the Mahabharata from Shakuni’s perspective. It gives readers a new perspective on this iconic character. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
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