1.1. Yes; Gandhari, the wife of Dhritharastra and mother of the Kauravas, is one of the unsung heroes of the Mahabharata. Gandhari was a remarkable woman; very brave and rooted in her own convictions. She did try frantically, but in vain, to exert her influence and to change the course of events that eventually catapulted her family into the abyss of calamity. She, sadly, lacked the strength or the persuasive power to drive sense and reason into the hearts of her sons and her blind husband smoldering with envy and hate. Unlike Kunti, she could not command from her sons the obedience and respect that was due to a Mother. She, eventually, could neither be an adviser nor a protector of her wayward sons. She in lone desperation, in silent grief, watched helplessly her hundred and more sons and grandsons driven to death and destruction.
At the end, she no longer was the queen sharing a throne; she was just an old, lonely weeping mother; an embittered, blindfolded woman burdened with memories of her dead sons, mourning their loss along with a hundred or more young widows. And, the blind old couple spent the evening of their lives grieving the loss of their sons destroyed in the fire of their own malice and hate.
1.2. Gandhari’s anguish, pain, sorrow in consoling scores of her widowed young daughters-in-laws is heartbreaking, beyond words. The final retreat into the forest along with her heartbroken , disillusioned husband ; the co-sufferer Kunti ; and, the trusted caretakers (King’s companion Vidura and the minister Sanjaya) came as a much needed relief from the bewildering mêlée of sorrow, fear , hatred and helplessness . The sense of defeat and the incisive guilt that kept gnawing at her soul let her no peace.
2.1. Gandhari, just as the other kula-vadhus of the Bharatha clan, had to endure more than her share of pain, sorrow, neglect and betrayal. Her father Subala the ruler of Gandhara, was coerced by the fearsome warlord Bhishma into giving her away in marriage to a prince of a distant land. She was, then, unaware that her husband-to-be was neither wise nor trustworthy; and , could never be a king in his own right. Little did she know he would ever be a puppet swayed by the winds of anger, deceit and lust. She was devastated when she learnt her newlywed husband was born blind; and never in his life had he known the delight of colors; and , never would he experience the radiance of light.
2.2. The manner in which she expressed her empathy with her blind husband was indeed extraordinary. She willingly chose to be as sightless as her husband was. She, of her own accord, stepped into the dark and lonely world of the blind where the only realities are sound , smell and touch. She blindfolded herself. And, she, for all purposes, lived as a blind woman , for the rest of her long and tortured life, sharing the pain, prejudices and darkness of her husband. It was indeed a supreme sacrifice; an act of intense love for her husband.
2.3. Much has been written and said about Gandhari’s choice of turning herself into a blind woman. It truly was an intense emotional identification with her husband’s disability. Her identification was not symbolic; it was indeed actual. She denied herself the sights and experiences that her husband was deprived by the cruelty of his fate. She made sure that she did not exceed him in any manner; and, that in all conditions she would follow her husband. That was her way of expressing her solidarity with her husband: by sharing his dark life.
[Some say, Gandhari’s voluntary blindfolding was an act of protest and a rebellion against the injustice meted out to her. She was forced to marry a blind man much against her will. Her pride as a woman was hurt and violated. She chose to register her protest in a manner that no other woman had done in the past. She inflicted upon herself the very injustice she rebelled against. It was her way of saying: If they thought that a blind husband was fine for me, then a blindfolded wife is good enough for him. This reveals a side of her character that one does not often come across in the Epic. This spotlights her indomitable will, her singular ability to stand alone, and, to take swift and agonizing decisions unmindful of the consequences. ]
3.1. In either case, it meant that she was now as disabled and as helpless as her husband. Each was unable to help, to guide or to support the other. And, both had to depend on external help. Therefore, there had to be always, by necessity, a third person in their married life. This surely was not the best way to be husband and wife, especially when other choices were open.
3.2. Gandhari, unlike most other women in the Epic, was a completely devoted and a faithful wife. But, her devious husband was not faithful to her; he routinely took palace maids to his bed. There was an inherent strife in their conjugal life. Gandhari was disappointed in love as also in marriage. Some say, Gandhari was cold to her husband. But, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra had to be physically together by necessity; clustered together by the quirk of fate as also by her self-inflicted punishment. Else, they remained emotionally apart. And, at the very end, it was only the unbearable agony and grief of losing all their sons and grandsons that brought them closer.
[ It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages
– Friedrich Nietzsche }
4.1. At the same time, Dhritarashtra was himself struggling with many complexes, disappointments and frustrations. He never could come to terms with the bitter fact that Kingship was taken away from him merely because he was blind. It was totally unjust, he felt. He blamed the fate for the cruel trick it played on him. The denial of kingship kept gnawing at his heart. Dhritarashtra was ever a disgruntled grumpy person. The unexpected death of Pandu, his brother, opened his way to the throne.
And, when Gandhari’s huge womb produced one hundred sons, a new ray of hope dawned in Dhritarashtra’s heart. He fondly came to believe that his eldest son Duryodhana would surely and rightfully succeed him as the King of Hastinapur. Since he was the king, he strongly believed, his sons should, naturally, be the heir to the throne. He doted on his eldest son; and, supported his every cunning scheme, covertly or otherwise.
4.2. Gandhari the good woman was surrounded all her life by a weak and an ambitious husband; a treacherous and scheming brother Shakuni; and, hate filled misguided sons. And, none of them paid heed to her words; and , much less cared for her feelings. Gandhari the Queen, the mother of hundred sons was indeed a very lonely woman.
4.3. As Gandhari helplessly watched her family drift on the path to self destruction, she was torn apart in many directions: by her maternal affections, her duty to her husband and by her sense of justice. But, her agony, loneliness and her predicaments were neither shared nor appreciated by her husband.
There was within her a simmering volcano of frustration and rage born out of a sense of betrayal, pain, loneliness and neglect; and, above all, of the injustice meted out to her.
Was it prudent?
5.1. Gandhari’s act of opting to be sightless raises questions about the essence of married life. Should one attempt to be a replica of his or her spouse? Or, should the partners in a marriage mutually compliment; support each other’s abilities; and, also try to make up for the other’s shortcomings ; dovetail each other’s strengths and weaknesses (just as Sukanya of yore helped her blind husband Chavyana) ? Which is of greater value in a marriage: sameness or compatibility?
5.2. When Gandhari turned herself blind just to be like her husband, she became a female counterpart of the blind king. There were , at that time , other options open to her. She, for instance, could have tried to be the eyes and the wisdom of her husband (since he lacked both). That surely would have been more purposeful. Had Gandhari stepped into the foray of administering the kingdom on behalf of the blind king; and, taken charge of the affairs of the State as also that of the Royal family, the tale of Mahabharata would have been a far different one. It surely would not have been a listless account of internecine fratricide. It would have been more forthright and challenging, since Gandhari was a courageous, ambitious woman good at heart.
But, she seemed to have surrendered her initiative rather too easily and too quickly without a thought. She drifted through the vagaries of life blindfolded, helpless and uncared.
The other question that comes up is about Gandhari’s motherhood.
6.1. As Gandhari stepped into the royal household at Hastinapur, it became evident that her blind prince would never be a King. But, soon thereafter, things did change, for better, with the sudden and untimely death of Pandu the King. There was some cheer in her life when Dhritarashtra was placed on the throne and she became the Queen. However, to her chagrin, Gandhari soon realized that her blind husband was in fact merely an interim figurehead; and, it was the overbearing patriarch Bhishma who wielded all the power and authority. Further, Gandhari’s position was getting increasingly insecure with Kunti, her rival queen, delivering to a wondrous looking boy, while she remained childless. And, her annoyance was exacerbated as it generally came to be assumed that Kunti’s eldest son would, eventually, inherit the throne of Hastinapur.
6.2. Gandhari was now desperate to become a mother. She desired to be a mother of one hundred powerful sons; and, in particular the mother of kings. Her frustration over the foetus growing in her for an unduly long period of two years was getting unbearable. She no longer could carry the long overdue womb that was getting heavier with each passing day. Her patience was running out; and, she could wait no longer. In the fury of frustration , she strikes hard at her womb; and, delivers to an immature ball of iron-hard flesh. Gandhari was devastated; and , was about to throwaway that horrifying ball of flesh. But, Vyasa, the biological father of her husband, intervened; and, arranged to cut the flesh into one hundred pieces. And, since Gandhari desired for a daughter he cut one more piece. Vyasa arranged to incubate each piece in a separate jar filled with ghee, for another two years. Those pieces of flesh, at last, developed into one hundred sons that Gandhari so desperately yearned for; and , into a daughter that she desired. The Kuru clan was thus born out of envy and frustration.
7.1. And, as a mother Gandhari had to pay a terrible price for her self-inflicted sightlessness. She could neither experience the delight of looking at the faces of her children *, nor could she fulfil her duty as a mother in bringing up and guiding her children along the right path. All her children, deprived of mother’s true love and care , were nursed by maid servants. As her sons grew up to fine young lads, Gandhari could neither discipline, nor control and nor could mold her children as only a mother can. The seeds of their undisciplined growth bore bitter fruit years later when loveless Duryodhana and his coterie brushed aside her sane advice to see reason and to behave as virtuous men would do. By then, her sons had gone too far in their ways; and, scarcely had the will or the patience to walk beside their mother. Their fate had been usurped by their scheming and devious uncle Shakuni who, for his own reasons, kept them chained to hate and envy.
She was powerless to wean her thoughtless sons away from her dark hearted brother. She was also unable to bring around Dhritarashtra blinded by his misplaced fondness for his sons. Gandhari’s self-induced blindness took a heavy toll on her motherhood. Gandhari, all her life, had to be a helpless bystander.
[ * The only time Gandhari saw all her sons together was about seventeen years after they were all killed in the war. More of that, a little later.]
7.2. Here, Gandhari stands in sharp contrast to Kunti who devoted herself, entirely, to protecting and guiding her children through their good and bad days. Kunti’s children in turn looked up to their mother for advice; and, never did they disobey or disregarded her. They invariably consulted her on all important matters. The only occasion they failed to do so landed them in a disastrous situation. That was when they set forth for the ill-fated dice-game , without informing their mother.
7.3. It is not the motherhood that distinguishes Gandhari; but, it is her indomitable will, the ability to take decisions and to speak out clearly; and above all , her sense of justice and righteousness .
Sense of righteousness
8.1. Gandhari comes across as an articulate person endowed with an innate sense of justice and righteousness. She is clear in her speech; not afraid to speak out her mind even if it was to be harsh. Gandhari was a woman of substance, of strong will and of passionate nature, which she generally kept under check. Her sense of righteousness simmers through her sharp speech.
8.2. Gandhari was not blind to the conspiracies, covert schemes and injustices that went on in the royal courts. Gandhari sensed with dismay the growing ill-will between her first born son Duryodhana and his cousins the Pandavas. She was aware of the crooked designs and plots hatched by the ‘wicked-Quartet’ (dushta chatushtaya): Duryodhana, Dussasana, Karna, and Shakuni. She was particularly unhappy about Duryodhana’s association with Shakuni. She also pleaded with Shakuni to stop interfering in her sons’ lives; and to stop leading them down the crooked ways.
8.3. Gandhari often criticized Dhritarashtra, enslaved by excessive fondness for his sons, for losing control over them. She went against her husband, asking him, firmly, not to support Duryodhana who was being led astray by Shakuni. She pointed out that Dhritarashtra made a huge mistake by putting the affairs of the Kingdom entirely into the hands of Duryodhana and his coterie. She warned the blind King that his escapist and irresponsible acts would reap him a bitter harvest. Gandhari snidely remarks ‘even your enemies are laughing at your family feuds’. She urged him to be firm and judicious in dealing with his sons.
8.4. Gandhari counselled Dhritharastra not to lose perspective of things; and not to confuse the illusion for reality. She tells him not to harbour false hopes that Duryodhana would win against Pandavas because veteran warriors like Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and others are with him. “They might fight for Duryodhana because of a sense of loyalty to him for having been in his service (rajapinda bhayat); and, they might even give up their lives for him. But, it would be foolish of Duryodhana to depend on these men to secure him a victory in the final war. He should be beware of these old fighters who well know in their hearts what is right (dharma), and who will therefore bring no serious harm to the Pandavas”.
9.1. Her unusual ability to speak the bitter truth to her husband surfaces quite often in Sabha Parva and in Udyoga Parva. In the Sabha Parva, She advised her husband to stop the (first) game of dice. Then again, after the second dice game, Gandhari chides Dhritarastra for allowing Duryodhana to humiliate Draupadi in the open court. This reprehensible act, she said, would surely ‘rekindle a dead fire, topple a bridge re-built ‘and destroy his whole dynasty. Dhritarastra blinded by his fondness for his sons did not have enough sense to heed to her words of wisdom and caution.
9.2. In the Udyoga Parva, after Krishna’s failed attempts to bring about peace between the warring groups of cousins, the King Dhritarastra asks Gandhari to be brought into the court. He was hoping that his mother’s words of love and wisdom might help Duryodhana to see reason and give up the belligerent path. She did try honestly to counsel her angry son; pleaded with him to eschew the needless war. But, of course, she too fails to convince him. Duryodhana, raging with anger, storms out of the court.
When Dhritarastra laments over his son’s bad behavior, Gandhari rebukes him saying that it was all the result of grafting his own greed to grow upon Duryodhana and kindling in him the hunger for the sole possession of the kingdom. She blames Dhritarastra for undue fondness for his sons and for not disciplining them despite being aware of their unrighteous desires and thoughtless methods. ‘It is too late now for force,’ she says.
Krishna too appreciates her efforts: “I am aware; you have, in the open court, repeatedly and rightly spoken words of wisdom and justice for the welfare of both the sides thirsting for war”(Mbh. IX.62.57)
jānāmi ca yathā rājñi sabhāyāṃ mama saṃnidhau / dharmārtha-sahitaṃ vākyam ubhayoḥ pakṣayor hitam / uktavaty asi kalyāṇi na ca te tanayaiḥ śrutam
Before going into the battle on the final day , Duryodhana seeks the blessings of his mother . She does bless him heartily. But , she also remarks ” Listen to my words , O fool , where there is righteousness there is victory”. In the later times, Her remarkable utterance gained universal acceptance; and , was much quoted.
(Srunu mudha vacho myaham yato dharmas tato jayah – Salya Parva – 09.62.58c).
Krishna again lauds Gandhari ” O the gracious Lady , there is none comparable to you in the whole world”
(tat samam nasti loke asmin adya simantini shubhe – Salya Parva 62.56c)
10.1. Gandhari may have disapproved Duryodhana’s ambitions, associations and his methods, but she does not give up on her dearest son. She loves him much and wants him to succeed. And, when war became imminent, she decides to support his efforts fully. She desired her son Duryodhana to become stronger, virtually unbreakable particularly since she was aware that, physically, he was not as strong as his enemy Bhīma, tough more skilful. Gandhari determined to ensure her son’s success asked him “Before you go into battle, son, come before me without any clothes. When I look upon your body, each part that I see will become hard as a diamond, unyielding to weapons.”
10.2. Duryodhana felt shy and uncomfortable to appear tally naked before his mother. He, therefore, covered his groin and hips with a leaf tied at the waist. As Gandhari removed her blindfold, she for the first time in her life, saw to her great delight her wonderful looking son standing before her. But, her joy was soon cut short as she noticed the leaf around his waist. Gandhari shrieked in horror: “Oh my son, what have you done? Now, that covered part of your body will be vulnerable to weapons. Your enemies will not fail to strike you there.” An ominous fear came over her that Duryodhana was destined to fall, which meant the end of Kuru clan. She wept bitterly and lamented at cruelty of fate which spares none. Gandhari’s fears did come true, very sadly for her.
The horrors of war and heartbreaking plight of the women
11.1. The eighteen days of war grew more intense and gruesome with each passing day until the night of the seventeen day. On the eighteenth and the final day, as the horrors of the war ebbed out, Duryodhana, in despair, fled from the field and hid himself in a lake. Thereafter, that night, his three surviving warriors, in a vengeful night raid, slaughtered Drustaduymna, brother of Draupadi and her five young sons while they were asleep in their beds. They even killed the unborn in the womb of Uttara, boy Abhimanyu’s widow. On that fateful night, Duryodhana was struck down fatally by Bhīma; and, he breathed his last thereafter. Relentless slaughter and mayhem littered the earth with the blood and guts of millions of men, horses, elephants, while countless dogs, wolves, eagles and vultures feasted on the carcasses.
11.2. As the news of Duryodhana’s fall and death reached the royal court, Gandhari, her husband and her daughters-in-law were devastated by the calamity that befell them all. The sorrow of the wailing women is described in Stree Parva.
12.1. Stree Parva of Mahabharata is an overwhelming, horrific and moving depiction of the devastation that war brings upon women who lost their men folk. It focuses upon the dichotomy of the male and female elements of war. It vividly portrays the dreadful consequences of war on the society, particularly on its women. In a way of speaking; it highlights the cruel irony of life where the self-serving men pursue their hate at the expense of the women whom they love and vowed to protect. But, at the same time there is a wicked parody. The sights of women wailing over death and devastation of war are in sharp contrast to scenes, just a few weeks prior, where women, with pride, bid farewell to their men marching smartly into the battle as heroes.
12.2. Virtually all of the accounts of the heartbreaking scenes depicted in the Stree Parva are narrated by Gandhari who was then endowed with ‘divine eye’ (divya chakshu). She can see things at a distance as if they were very near. Gandhari then noticed her fallen son Duryodhana and fainted. When revived , this heroic mother , ambivalent in many ways ; brooded upon her sons spoilt life; rued on the evil influence of her brother Shakuni’s ; grieved for the fate of her blind husband; cried for wife of Duryodhana (Bhanumathi ) and his son Lakshmana . She then wept over her other sons. Gandhari then moved on to lament on her distraught daughters-in-law and the horrors beset upon them.
12.3. As Gandhari described ( in Book 11 Chapter 9) :
Several groups of hysterical women in their throes of grief ran about as if they were in the girls’ yard; holding on to each others’ arms. They wept uncontrollably for their lost beloveds, sons, brothers and fathers. It was as if they were enacting the destruction of the world at the end of the Age. Babbling and crying, running hither and thither (vilapantyo rudantyaś ca dhāvamānās tatas tataḥ – 11.09.14), they were out of their mind with grief and lost all sense of propriety
– śokenā-bhyāhata-jñānāḥ kartavyaṃ na prajajñire – 11.09.14
Young women who used to be modest even before their friends now appeared shamelessly before their mothers-in-law in simple shifts (tā ekavastrā nirlajjāḥ śvaśrūṇāṃ purato ‘bhavan –11.09.15), their hair disheveled, with their arms up in the air wailing, shrieking incoherently. Women who earlier comforted each other in the most trifling sorrows now ignored other women staggering about in grief :
parasparaṃ susūkṣmeṣu śokeṣv āśvāsayan sma yāḥ..tāḥ śokavihvalā rājann upaikṣanta parasparam. ..11.09.16
They were like beings set on fire at the end of the Age (yugāntakāle saṃprāpte bhūtānāṃ dahyatām iva). These bewildered women were in shock; helpless, having lost the wits – vast was the wretchedness of the women of Kurus. The clamour of all those afflicted women bewailing the destruction of their family became thunderous and shook the worlds :
abhāvaḥ syād ayaṃ prāpta iti bhūtāni menire,bhṛśam udvignamanasas te paurāḥ kurusaṃkṣaye,prākrośanta mahārāja svanuraktās tadā bhṛśam) – [Mbh. Stree Parva – 11,009.20c to 11,009.021 c]
12.4. Gandhari addresses Krishna emptying her heart:
The earth is so muddy with flesh and blood, one can scarcely move upon it. The earth seems to be crammed with fallen heads, hands, every sort of limbs mixed with every other piled in heaps. On seeing the horror of heaps of body less limbs and limbless bodies, those women beyond reproach, unaccustomed to such miseries, now sink into the bloody mire littered with slaughtered pieces of their husbands, sons, brothers and fathers. Many shriek and wail upon seeing the bodies; and others beat their heads with their delicate palms. These women, after grasping, wailing and weeping uncontrollably for a long while, shivering in their pain are quitting their life.
12.5. O Janardhana, look at the woeful throngs of Dhritarashtra’s daughters-in-law, like herds of fillies with beautiful manes. The best of the women tormented in grief and pain mourn their dear ones wretchedly. What could be more painful to me than this, Keshava that all these women present themselves in such extreme distressful forms? This is all the results of the evils I did in my past births; I see now my slain sons, grandsons and my brother
yā paśyāmi hatān putrān pautrān bhrātṝṃś ca keśava, evam ārtā vilapatī dadarśa nihataṃ sutam [Mbh. Stree Parva; 11.16.59]
Gandhari’s sorrow extends to Uttara the widowed young and beautiful girl carrying the child of the boy hero Abhimanyu. She is particularly devastated by the terrible wrong done to her valiant young husband by the very persons who were supposed to love him and protect him.
Gandhari’s vision and curses
13.1. Gandhari is regarded a very virtuous woman; a completely devoted and a faithful wife. Her fidelity as a sadhwi undergoing austerities; her voluntarily endured suffering (tapas); and her internal purity bring in her a sort of accumulated power. That is one of the sub-themes of Mahabharata. Her power to turn Duryodhana’s body strong and unbreakable, like a diamond; her occasional ability to see despite the bandage wrapped on her eyes; and, power to curse are all illustrations of her internal strength.
13.2. When after the war, the Pandavas meet their grieving uncle and aunt, they are at first resentful and apprehensive. Gandhari explains that grief alone is the cause of her anger. “I do not hate them. I do not want them to perish. But, with the pain I feel for the loss of my sons, my mind almost reels out of control”. And says, she harbours no grudge against Pandavas, except for being enraged at Bheema’s unfair blow on Duryodhana’s thigh, below the navel.
She asks a pointed question at Bheema and demands to know “how can brave men, for the sake of their lives, abandon in battle the dharma prescribed by wise men? How can they?”
katham nu dharmam dharmajnais samuddishtam mahaatmabhih I tyajeyur aahave shooraah pranahetoh katham chana? (Stree parva 11,013.019)
[Amazingly, this question comes up again and again in the epic.]
Then, Bheema with remarkable restraint, skill and wisdom convinces Gandhari that it was necessary to put an end to Duryodhana. He speaks with reason in a courteous and polite tone; and yet is resolute in his stand. Bhīma promptly admits to fighting unfairly with Duryodhana; and, he pleads he had to do that out of necessity and out of fear in order to save himself. He begs for Gandhari’s mercy and pardon. His intentions are clear: he wants to appease mother Gandhari not wanting to hurt her anymore; and yet to impress on her that he was left with no other choice. He says , he had a duty to to safeguard Dharma.
kṣatradharmāc cyuto rājñi bhaveyaṃ śāsvatīḥ samāḥ I pratijñāṃ tām anistīrya tatas tat kṛtavān aham/ na mām arhasi gāndhāri doṣeṇa pariśaṅkitum ( Stree parva 11,014.018 )
If I hadn’t fulfilled that vow, oh queen, I would have for all eternity fallen from the dharma of the kshatriyas; and that is why i did that.
Gandhari apparently accepts his argument and falls silent.
But, he lies to Gandhari about his grotesque drinking Dushyasana’s blood after killing him; and, lamely says that ‘his blood did not go beyond my lips’. Gandhari, the mother with a great heart, pardons Bhīma. Bhīma then, quietly, blames Gandhari for failing to restrain her sons’ wickedness.
As soon as Bheema finished his explanation, Yudhistira (in sharp contrast to Bheema) needlessly blames himself, his brothers , Krishna and even Abhimanyu. He calls himself and all those men who fought on his side as sinners and begs Gandhari to punish him for following them.
putra-hantaa nrshamso’ham tava devi yudhishthirah I shaapaarhah prthiveenaashe hetubhootas shapasva maam -11.15.03
“I am that despicable brute, Yudhistira who killed your sons. I am the cause of the destruction of the earth. i deserve to be cursed, oh Devi. Curse me now.”
[The commentators explain; this , perhaps, was his way of showing that he was more righteous than anyone else around.]
Yudhistira is about to collapse at Gandhari’s feet in terror. And, Gandhari with tearful eyes sighs deeply again and again; not a word escapes her lips. From within her blindfold, her sight falls on Yudhistira’s toenails; and the fire in her sight scorches his toenail, burning them black and ugly.
Gandhari, the Mother with a great heart, pardons the man who killed her one hundred sons and even appeals for his mercy. She however, scorches into black the toenails of the man who did not kill even one of her sons. Did she see through Yudhistira?
13.3. By then, the pent up anger was swelling up within Gandhari. She could scarcely contain herself. Breathing in quick gasps, she was about to hurl a curse on Yudhistira. But, Vyasa prevailed upon her to desist from doing so. However, some rays of her sight that pierced through the cloth covering her eyes burnt and blackened the toes of Yudhistira as he bent low to touch her feet, in fear and reverence. When Arjuna saw that, he, in fright, took cover behind Krishna. Gandhari’s anger, by then, was gone; and, like a mother she consoled the Pandavas who were’ fidgeting and shifting this way and that’. Gandhari , the brave mother (Vira-mata) looked upon Pandavas as her own
– tayā te samanujñātā mātaraṃ vīra mātaram. [Mbh. 11.15.7-9a]
13.4. Gandhari and Draupadi had both suffered grievously; each more than the other. The older woman tried to console Draupadi; counselled her against grieving, saying ‘it was all inevitable, the turn of time’. Gandhari blamed herself for all the suffering that befell both the families. But , her mood changed suddenly : ’ It is the same as it is for you. But, who will comfort me, as they have been doing to you? ‘
14.1. Gandhari tells Krishna that the fate had favoured him and his friends. The Pandavas were lucky to escape death from the hands of her son ‘the bull strong enough to kill the gods’. Then Gandhari collapsed in grief. ‘Her body shivering in the grip of anger, overwhelmed with grief for her dead sons, her senses reeling ‘she took Krishna to task. She in her rage blamed Krishna for conspiring to destroy her family. Had he been sincere he could have prevented the war; and saved everyone.
She blames Krishna for his devious ways that brought death and destruction upon the Kuru clan.
“Oh Madhusudana, You purposely destroyed the Kurus; made pretense of carrying out peace-talks (icchatopekṣito nāśaḥ kurūṇāṃ madhusūdana- 11.25.38).
You let the two warring kinsmen devastate each other. Now, take the result of that. I curse you. If I have been a devoted and faithful wife, may my curse come true. Krishna, mark my words, you will slay your own kinsmen. Just as Pandavas and Kurus were killing each other, your kinsmen too will kill each other. As your cousins, their sons and grandsons slay each other; you will wander about in the woods in desolation and die a lonely and ignominious death at the hands of a stranger. And your wives, having lost their sons, grandsons, brothers and dear ones shall run around the woods in desperation and grief, just as the Bharatha women are now doing
tavāpy evaṃ hatasutā nihata -jñāti-bāndhavāḥ, striyaḥ paripatiṣyanti yathaitā bharatastriyaḥ [Mbh. 11.25. 38-42]
14.2. Vyasa calls Gandhari’s curse as a ‘horrible speech’ (vacanaṃ ghoraṃ). But, Krishna heard it calmly (vāsudevo mahāmanāḥ) and remarked with a smile ‘your curse is preordained by fate. As none can destroy the Vrisni Yadavas, they slay and kill each other; and, they will all come to destruction at each other’s hands.” [Mbh. 11.25. 43-44]
tac chrutvā vacanaṃ ghoraṃ vāsudevo mahāmanāḥ/uvāca devīṃ gāndhārīm īṣad abhyutsmayann iva
devīṃ gāndhārīm īṣad abhyutsmayann iva saṃhartā vṛṣṇicakrasya nānyo mad vidyate śubhe jāne ‘ham etad apy evaṃ cīrṇaṃ carasi kṣatriye
Years after the war
15.1. After the war, Draupadi looked after Gandhari and Dhritarastra with affection and respect, even though their sons had wronged her in many ways. It is said; the other Pandava wives such as Nakula’s wife Karenumati of Chedi ; Sahadeva’s wife Vijaya of Magadha ; Bhima’s wife Balandhara of Kashi ; Yudhistira’s wife Devika of Shibi ; and , Arjuna’s three wives , all diligently served the old couple. Gandhari and Dhritarastra did lead a comfortable life. But, Bhīma alone, it is said, would occasionally make nasty remarks within the earshot of Dhritarastra sarcastically wondering how the fat old guy could sit there the whole day lording over others and eating nonstop without an iota of shame.
15.2. After they lived thus for about fifteen years, Vyasa suggests to Gandhari and Dhritarastra to leave the palace and retire into the forest. Kunti, Vidura and Sanjaya also desire to join the couple. Finally, after much debate, fifteen years after the war, Gandhari leaning upon Kunti, leading her blind-old husband and in the company of ever faithful Vidura and Sanjaya retires into forest to await death.
15.3. A year hence, Vyasa visits Gandhari, Dhritharastra and Kunti in the forest. He is moved by Gandhari’s sorrow grieving over her dead sons; lamenting and cursing her fate that never let her set sight on the faces of her sons. Vyasa as a favour to Gandhari offers to let her see, meet and talk to all her dead sons and grandsons, just for a night. He then extends that favour of seeing, meeting and greeting their dead loved ones to all the surviving relatives of the dead. All are, of course, greatly overjoyed at this wondrous prospect and the rarest privilege of seeing their dead relatives slain in the Great War. As the news reaches Hastinapur, Pandavas and all the widowed daughters-in-law of Gandhari along with others reach the hermitage of Gandhari in the forest, to partake in the spectacle.
Meeting her dead sons
16.1. The Putra-darshana Parva embedded in the Asramavasa Parva (Book 15) of Mahabharata presents a most astounding spectacle where all the warriors slain in the war come back to life ; and , after spending a whole night with their beloved ones the dead return to their world.
16.2. The great ascetic Vyasa then leads them all to the banks of the Bhagirathi (Ganga) –
sarve bhavanto gacchantu nadīṃ bhāgīrathīṃ prati tatra drakṣyatha tān sarvān ye hatāsmin raṇājir (15.039.018).
And, there the radiant Vyasa( vyāso mahātejāḥ) summoned all the warriors slain in the great battle – ‘those that had fought on the side of the Pandavas, those that had fought for the Kauravas, including highly blessed kings belonging to diverse realms ‘. At that time, Vyasa granted Dhritarashtra divine vision (prapaśyāmo nṛpate divyacakṣuṣā).
17.1. Vaisampayana narrates (vaiśaṃpāyana uvāca – 15.39.19) :
|19||iti vyāsasya vacanaṃ śrutvā sarvo janas tadā
mahatā siṃhanādena gaṅgām abhimukho yayau
|20||dhṛtarāṣṭraś ca sāmātyaḥ prayayau saha pāṇḍavaiḥ
sahito muniśārdūlair gandharvaiś ca samāgataiḥ
|21||tato gaṅgāṃ samāsādya krameṇa sa janārṇavaḥ
nivāsam akarot sarvo yathāprīti yathāsukham
|22||rājā ca pāṇḍavaiḥ sārdham iṣṭe deśe sahānugaḥ
nivāsam akarod dhīmān sastrīvṛddhapuraḥsaraḥ
|23||jagāma tad ahaś cāpi teṣāṃ varṣaśataṃ yathā
niśāṃ pratīkṣamāṇānāṃ didṛkṣūṇāṃ mṛtān nṛpān
|24||atha puṇyaṃ girivaram astam abhyagamad raviḥ
tataḥ kṛtābhiṣekās te naiśaṃ karma samācaran
|1||tato niśāyāṃ prāptāyāṃ kṛtasāyāhnikakriyāḥ
vyāsam abhyagaman sarve ye tatrāsan samāgatāḥ
|2||dhṛtarāṣṭras tu dharmātmā pāṇḍavaiḥ sahitas tadā
śucir ekamanāḥ sārdham ṛṣibhis tair upāviśat
|3||gāndhāryā saha nāryas tu sahitāḥ samupāviśan
paurajānapadaś cāpi janaḥ sarvo yathāvayaḥ
|4||tato vyāso mahātejāḥ puṇyaṃ bhāgīrathījalam
avagāhyājuhāvātha sarvāṃl lokān mahāmuniḥ
|5||pāṇḍavānāṃ ca ye yodhāḥ kauravāṇāṃ ca sarvaśaḥ
rājānaś ca mahābhāgā nānādeśanivāsinaḥ
|6||tataḥ sutumulaḥ śabdo jalāntar janamejaya
prādurāsīd yathā pūrvaṃ kurupāṇḍavasenayoḥ
|7||tatas te pārthivāḥ sarve bhīṣmadroṇapurogamāḥ
sasainyāḥ salilāt tasmāt samuttasthuḥ sahasraśaḥ
|8||virāṭadrupadau cobhau saputrau sahasainikau
draupadeyāś ca saubhadro rākṣasaś ca ghaṭotkacaḥ
|9||karṇaduryodhanau cobhau śakuniś ca mahārathaḥ
duḥśāsanādayaś caiva dhārtarāṣṭrā mahārathāḥ
|10||jārāsaṃdhir bhagadatto jalasaṃdhaś ca pārthivaḥ
bhūriśravāḥ śalaḥ śalyo vṛṣasenaś ca sānujaḥ
|11||lakṣmaṇo rājaputraś ca dhṛṣṭadyumnasya cātmajāḥ
śikhaṇḍiputrāḥ sarve ca dhṛṣṭaketuś ca sānujaḥ
|12||acalo vṛṣakaś caiva rākṣasaś cāpy alāyudhaḥ
bāhlīkaḥ somadattaś ca cekitānaś ca pārthivaḥ
|13||ete cānye ca bahavo bahutvād ye na kīrtitāḥ
sarve bhāsuradehās te samuttasthur jalāt tataḥ
|14||yasya vīrasya yo veṣo yo dhvajo yac ca vāhanam
tena tena vyadṛśyanta samupetā narādhipāḥ
|15||divyāmbaradharāḥ sarve sarve bhrājiṣṇukuṇḍalāḥ
nirvairā nirahaṃkārā vigatakrodhamanyavaḥ
|16||gandharvair upagīyantaḥ stūyamānāś ca bandibhiḥ
divyamālyāmbaradharā vṛtāś cāpsarasāṃ gaṇaiḥ
|17||dhṛtarāṣṭrasya ca tadā divyaṃ cakṣur narādhipa
muniḥ satyavatīputraḥ prītaḥ prādāt tapobalāt
|18||divyajñānabalopetā gāndhārī ca yaśasvinī
dadarśa putrāṃs tān sarvān ye cānye ‘pi raṇe hatāḥ
|19||tad adbhutam acintyaṃ ca sumahad romaharṣaṇam
vismitaḥ sa janaḥ sarvo dadarśānimiṣekṣaṇaḥ
|20||tad utsavamadodagraṃ hṛṣṭanārīnarākulam
dadṛśe balam āyāntaṃ citraṃ paṭagataṃ yathā
|21||dhṛtarāṣṭras tu tān sarvān paśyan divyena cakṣuṣā
mumude bharataśreṣṭha prasādāt tasya vai muneḥ
“then those kings, headed by Bhishma and Drona, with all their troops, arose by thousands from the life-giving waters of the holy Bhagirathi. All those dead warriors came alive from the depths of the Bhagirathi, with resplendent bodies. Those kings appeared, each clad in that dress and equipped with that standard and that vehicle which he had while fighting on the field. All of them were now robed in celestial vestments and all had brilliant ear-rings. They were free from animosity and pride, and divested of wrath and jealousy. Gandharvas sang their praises and bards waited on them, chanting their deeds. Robed in celestial vestments and wearing celestial garlands, each of them was waited upon by bands of Apsaras.
17.2. Gandhari of great fame saw all her children as also all that had been slain in battle. All persons assembled there beheld with steadfast gaze and hearts filled with wonder that amazing and unbelievable phenomenon which made the hair on their bodies stand on its end. It looked like a high carnival of gladdened men and women. That wondrous scene looked like a picture painted on the canvas. Dhritarastra, beholding all those heroes, with his celestial vision obtained through the grace of that sage, became full of joy, O chief of Bharata’s race.”
17.3. ‘Then those men divested of wrath and jealousy, and cleansed of every sin, met with one another. All of them were happy of hearts and looked like gods moving in Heaven. There was no grief, no fear, no suspicion, no discontent, and no reproach in that region. Son met with sire or mother, wives with husbands, brother with brother and sister, and friend with friend, O king. The Pandavas, full of joy, met with the mighty bowman Karna as also with the son of Subhadra, and the children of Draupadi. With happy hearts the sons of Pandu approached Karna, O monarch, and became reconciled with him.
All those warriors, O chief of Bharata’s race, meeting with one another through the grace of the great ascetic, became reconciled with one another. Casting off all unfriendliness, they became established on amity and peace. It was even thus that all those foremost of men, viz., the Kauravas and other kings became united with the Kurus rid other kinsmen of theirs as also with their children. The whole of that night they passed in great happiness.
17.4. “Meeting with their sires and brothers and husbands and sons, the ladies cast off all grief and felt great raptures of delight. Having sported with one another thus for one night, those heroes and those ladies, embracing one another and taking one another’s leave returned to the places they had come from. Within the twinkling of an eye that large crowd disappeared in the very sight of all those (living) persons”.
Thereafter, many of the widows, given leave by Vyasa, jumped into the river and entered the world of their dead husbands.
Death of Gandhari and others
18.1. About two years after Gandhari thus met her sons, Sage Narada informs Yudhistira that Dhritarastra along with Gandhari and Kunti was burnt to death in a forest fire. And, that Sanjaya wandered over to the Himalayas and died there. Yudhistira and Yuyutsu the only surviving son of Dhritarastra perform the funeral obsequies at Gangadwar.
During this visit, Yudhistira comes upon Vidura roaming in the forest naked smeared with ashes. Vidura infuses his spirit into Yudhistira; and thereafter gives up his life.
Thus, eighteen years after the war, the senior characters depart from the scene.
18.2. And eighteen years thereafter, that is thirty-six years after the Great War, the Vrisnis and Yadavas did destroy themselves just as Gandhari had cursed them to die. Krishna too dies soon after at the hands of a hunter as cursed by Gandhari.
18.3. Pandavas also depart to their heavenly abode rather disillusioned. Their victory had turned out meaningless, devoid of joy. Curiously, about thirty-six years ago, before the war, Karna had narrated to Krishna a grotesque dream he witnessed in which “Powerful Yudhistira climbed a hill of human bones, smiled and ate sweet ghee-curd from a golden cup.” Vyasa too ends the Fifteenth Book of the Epic on a sad note: “Without his relatives and friends, king Yudhistira, afflicted with mental unease, ruled the kingdom, somehow.”
Kunti and Gandhari
19.1. Before ending this lengthy post it would be interesting to quickly place together the lives of the two rival Queens.
[ please read : The Three Women In Mahabharata (2 Of 3) – Kunti ]
Up to a certain point, their lives ran dissimilar in a peculiar way. The good-days of the one were the not-so-good days of the other. When one was comfortable and secure, the other was miserable. It was towards the very end of their life they came closer. It was the empathy with each other’s sorrow and suffering that forged a bond between the two. After retiring into the forest, fifteen years after the war, the two shared common grief, became good friends and came to terms with the realities of life. And, the two died together in the forest fire.
19.2. At the beginning and for a long time thereafter, the relation between Kunti and Gandhari was rather lukewarm – neither too friendly nor explicitly hostile. A sort of silent feud ran between the two. Their fortunes too contrasted in a dramatic manner.
19.3. When Gandhari entered the royal household at Hastinapur, Kunti, also a recent entrant, was the Queen of the Kingdom. Gandhari was the wife of a blind prince who was denied the throne, and would never be a king. Gandhari’s position in the royal family was therefore low and insecure, comparatively. Her status worsened after Kunti give birth to great looking healthy sons who would inherit the Kingdom. While at the same time, Gandhari remained childless; troubled by envy and fear of losing out.
19.4. The death of Pandu and Madri totally destabilized Kunti. And, she now had to live under the mercy of Gandhari the Queen. She had to look up to Gandhari for survival and protection of her sons. Gandhari, in the meantime, had become the mother of one hundred sons and a daughter. She was in complete control of the royal courts.
19.5. Later, after Kunti and her sons escaped from the arson at the lac-house, they had to live incognito, moving from town to town, dwelling among the humblest. For a short period, from marriage with Draupadi until the ill-fated dice-game, Kunti and her sons lived comfortably in their newly built palace at Indraparastha.
19.6. During the fourteen years of Pandava’s exile Kunti took shelter in the rather humble house of Vidura. Gandhari, of course, lived in Queen’s palace. During this period they do not seem to have called upon each other or helped each other in dealing with their problems.
19.7. After the disastrous war, Gandhari and blind husband having lost all their hundred sons were utterly defeated and heartbroken. Gandhari was no longer the Queen, while Kunti had become the Queen Mother. Gandhari in her old age had to live under the shade and mercy of Kunti’s sons. Her plight, to say the least, had become agonizing and humiliating.
20.1. It was after the war, the lives of Kunti and Gandhari seemed to converge. The victory of her sons did not bring much cheer to Kunti. She seemed subdued and distracted. She had grown softer towards Gandhari. She shared with her the pain and sorrow of losing sons and grandsons. Kunti never forgave herself for deserting her eldest son Karna who eventually was killed by his younger brother. She grieved his loss silently. She also mourned for her valiant grandsons Abhimanyu and Ghatodkacha who were slain by their own uncles and kinsmen. A bond had grown between the two women.
20.2. When Gandhari chose to retreat into the forest, Kunti willingly bid farewell to her sons and gave up their palace; and joined Gandhari. She felt no joy in the palace; instead she found it miserable. While in the forest, she served Gandhari and her husband lovingly. Both the women had experienced the pleasures and pains of the world, in full measure; and had matured in the oven of life. The sorrows of life, the agony of disappointments and the futility of deluded notions brought the two women closer. In the end, Kunti and Gandhari ended their life together in the forest fire.
The Mahabharata by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Stri Parva – Book 11 (Stri-vilapa-parva)
Asramavasa Parva (Book 15)
Enigmas in Mahabharata by Shri Pradip Bhattacharya
The pictures are from Internet
March 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm
Dear Shri Krishna Rao , thanks for the visit and the appreciation.
1) Regarding Gandhara Region: . Gandhara was very much a part of the ancient Indian polity; and was included under the Greater Uttara-patha, the Northern Region. Its area is generally identified with the whole of the districts of Peshawar and Rawalpindi, as also parts of Kashmir. Gandhara was a renowned centre for education, art, culture, religion and politics. Teachers and students came from all parts of India , even from Varanasi, to teach and study there .For instance, Uddalaka Aruni ( of Chandogya Upanishad) who hailed from Kuru- Panchala region (Sat.Brh.11. 4, 1, 2) – (roughly the present districts of Bareilly, Badaun and Farrukhabad), travelled about 2,000 leagues for his studies the Gandhara. In his later years, he referred to Gandhara as a seat of learning; and compared a man who attains liberation to “a blind-folded person who reaches at last the country of Gandhara” (Ch.Up.4.14). It is said; Pushkalavathi (city of lotus) on the banks of the Jinde, a channel of the Swat River, was the capital of Gandhara. According to Ramayana, Gandhara was conquered by Bharata, the son of Kaikayi, who founded the city of Pushkalavati and installed his son Pushkala as its ruler. In Mahabharata, Janamejaya is said to have captured the Gandhara which then included Kashmir and the Takshashila region. In the Buddhist texts cite Gandhara as one of the Maha-janapadas. The importance of Puskhalavathi started declining when emperor Kanishka shifted the capital to Purushapura (Peshawar) around AD 78.
2) As regards the uncomfortable reation between Bhishma and Jarasandha : It is said, At that time when Bhishma served as the Regent (care-taker) of the kingdom at Hastinapur, the entire north India as also the Yadava country was in turmoil. The yadavas were under repeated attacks by Jarasandha of Magadha (Bihar) who formed a confederation consisting Dantavakra of Karusha and Sishupala of Chedi in central India, Bhishmaka of Vidarbha in the south-west, Kalayavana beyond the western borders, the ruler of Kashi (Benares), Paundraka Vasudeva of Pundra (Bengal) in the east, Naraka of Pragjyotishapura (Assam) in the north east. Jarasandha thus established a tyrannical supremacy over the other regions.
For fear of Jarasandha and his hordes, the king of the Salwayana tribe with their brethren and followers such as the southern Panchalas and the eastern Kosalas all fled to the country of the Kuntis. Similarly, the Matsyas (Rajasthan area) and the Sannyastapadas, overcome with fear, fled into the southern country. And so did the others, alarmed at the power of Jarasandha, left their kingdoms and fled in all directions.
Jarasandha was particularly angry with the establishment at Mathura and the Yadavas in general, because his son-in-law Kamsa had been slain by Yadava Krishna. Jarasandha, in rage and retaliation, attacked and imprisoned as many as eighty-six princes, it is said.
Krishna in order to save the Yadavas from being enslaved persuaded his clan leaders to abandon Mathura, and to re-establish themselves in the fortified city of Dwaraka on the western seashore. It is said;the eighteen tribes of Yadavas including the Bhojas, with the Surasenas, the Bhadrakas, the Yodhas, the Salwas, the Patachchavas, the Susthalas, the Mukuttas, and the Kulindas, along with the Kuntis, all fled towards the west for fear of jarasandha.
Meanwhile, Bhishma who then was the regent of the Kingdom of Hasthinapura found it wiser and safer to appease and to make truce with Jarasandha. Srimad Bhagavatha Purana even mentions that some troops of Hasthinapura assisted Jarasandha and accompanied the Magadha army’s onslaught on Mathura.
3) Please also check the following links :
Please keep reading and talking
March 17, 2015 at 4:52 pm
You have very analytically and grippingly told the story of Gandhari, the lady from modern Kashmir, in fantastic details and in discrete chapters. I am always amazed at your scholarship. The Epic must surely be a mixture of myths and history, but we treat it as sacred and accept it as such. I am also amazed when it is said that one person Veda Vyas (Krishna Dwaipayana) wrote this Epic. It is said that several Vyasas are designated to be born in each Yuga. The events of the Epic probably span 150 years or so (starting from Shantanu and ending with the end of the Yadavs??). Please correct me here. Vyasa was the writer and also a player in this Epic. Can you please throw light if several Vyasas could not have written this?
Gandhari’s character and conduct shine in your account. Her goodness was counterpoised by immense sufferings too on account of her husband and sons.
An admirable blog indeed!
March 17, 2015 at 4:52 pm
Dear Shri Gopal, Yes Sir, I agree. I had , earlier , posted articles on certain characters of Mahabharata , such as : Satyavathi , Kunti , Draupadi , Karna and Bhishma ; as also on Dharma in Mahabharata. The comments/responses thereon brought out a few issues relating to Mahabharata as Itihasa, its language, its structure, its date, its author/s , the Dharma in it etc. I reckon, some of those might be of interest to those who wish to study the text. As you suggested, I could put them, in addition to certain others, in one place so that the readers might have an easier access.
2. As regards the Mahabharata text and its versions, it indeed is a problem of the plenty. Over the centuries several versions of the Mahabharata have evolved in Sanskrit as also in other languages. There are numerous versions available in Tamil, Kashmiri, Sharada, and Nepali; and there is a Javanese edition too. Some of these are in their complete form while in the case of others just a few chapters are available.
The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), Pune took up the task of coming up with a reliable version of Mahabharata, mainly, to aid those who wished to study the text seriously. It proceeded on the basis that older the text nearer it is to the original work. The earliest known manuscript is from the per-Gupta era.
Between the years 1933 and 1966 BORI performed the huge task of studying all the available editions/versions of Mahabharata. It tried to cull out the Slokas that were common to almost all the copies. The idea was to purge the text of the extrapolations / insertions into the original text; and to unify the text across various regional versions. But, it was difficult to define what the ‘original’ is. The scholars, therefore, attempted to come as close as possible to the rendering by Sauti Lomaharshana (but, Sauti’s version is not available in its original form). And, that has been the basic approach to similar other exercises.
A group of scholars including Shri V. S. Sukhtankar, S. K. Belvalkar, S. K. De, and Dr. R. N. Dandekar, went over 1,259 manuscripts over the long years and came up in 1966 the BORI version of Mahabharata . It is called the Bhandarkar Edition or the Poona Edition or simply the Critical Edition (CE). The Critical Edition too has two versions. The first has just the selected Slokas/verses; and the second is more detailed (19 volumes, 13,000 pages) with several regional versions with copious notes. The Critical Edition is in Sanskrit and is consulted mainly by researchers. But, even the Critical Edition has its critics who call it a regression ‘pratiloma’ of the hoary text.
The un-abridged English translation the Mahabharata that is generally referred to is the one by Shri Kisari Mohan Ganguli, published between 1883 and 1896. His translation is available on the net: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/
The University of Chicago has taken up the work of translating the Critical Edition. But, the task is yet not complete.
The Clay Sanskrit Library of the New York University has taken up another translation in 32 volumes. I understand, only about 15 volumes have been completed. This translation, however, is NOT based on the Critical Edition but on Bhāratabhāvadīpa an edition prepared by the commentator Neelakantha Chaturdhara, a scholar who lived in Varanasi in the latter half of the 17th century.
Recently, an Indian economist Bibek Debroy has also begun an unabridged English translation in ten volumes. I think, seven volumes of his translation have been published by Penguin, so far.
Please check the following links for more:
Mahabharata in translation
The Mahabharata – an Annotated Bibliography by P. Lal
3. Gandhara was very much a part of the ancient Indian polity; and was included under the Greater Uttara-patha, the Northern Region. Its area is generally identified with the whole of the districts of Peshawar and Rawalpindi, as also parts of Kashmir. Gandhara was a renowned centre for education, art, culture, religion and politics. Teachers and students came from all parts of India , even from Varanasi, to teach and study there .For instance, Uddalaka Aruni ( of Chandogya Upanishad) who hailed from Kuru- Panchala region (Sat.Brh.11. 4, 1, 2) – (roughly the present districts of Bareilly, Badaun and Farrukhabad), travelled about 2,000 leagues for his studies the Gandhara. In his later years, he referred to Gandhara as a seat of learning; and compared a man who attains liberation to “a blind-folded person who reaches at last the country of Gandhara” (Ch.Up.4.14).
It is said; Pushkalavathi (city of lotus) on the banks of the Jinde, a channel of the Swat River, was the capital of Gandhara. According to Ramayana, Gandhara was conquered by Bharata, the son of Kaikayi, who founded the city of Pushkalavati and installed his son Pushkala as its ruler. In Mahabharata, Janamejaya is said to have captured the Gandhara which then included Kashmir and the Takshashila region. In the Buddhist texts cite Gandhara as one of the Maha-janapadas. The importance of Puskhalavathi started declining when emperor Kanishka shifted the capital to Purushapura (Peshawar) around AD 78.
4. Yes , as you said , Krishna , Kunti , Draupadi and Vyasa were of rather dark complexion. Gandhari, Pandu , Karna and others were of fair complexion. It appears the darker ones prevailed.
5. There are many temples dedicated to Draupadi in South India, as also in the Himachal region. Draupadi Amman in the South is a village goddess. Fire walking ritual is her favourite. In the annual Karaga festival of Bangalore, Draupadi is the goddess of Shakthi. The Karaga carrier dress as a female symbolic of Draupadi.
March 17, 2015 at 4:54 pm
Many thanks for your incisive and elaborate reply. You have covered several basic grounds on the evolution of the epic and on the lessons or morals that one could derive from it. In fact, your reply can be posted as a blog which will elicit reading and queries.
Indeed, that such a massive Epic that exceeds the length of Iliad and Odyssey combined, was eventually written on our land, is a proud thing for us. Taken as stories, the contents of the Epic are fantastic. Fantasies have been pushed into realism. The imaginative skills of the narrator(s) are awesome. A frightened woman closing her eyes during sex giving birth to a blind child! A woman who went pale during sex giving birth to a pale child! A hundred children, almost test-tube babies! Five brothers making do with one wife! Hundreds and thousands of sub-stories, each one self-contained! Mind-boggling!
Krishna, I suppose, is the only character of this Epic, who has temples and worshippers, and none else. But if one takes Ramayana, you have Rama, Sita, Hanuman and even Ravana that are worshipped in temples! Can you add to this?
Panchali (Droupadi) was dark and good-looking. Gandhari must have been very fair, coming from Gandhar (Kashmir). How did they cross Pir Pinjal to go to Hastinapur from Gandhar? Was she beautiful? Can one have a comparative picture of the beauty of these females and other females like Kunti, Subhadra, Amba, Ambalika et al?
Which is the fullest authorised/accepted translation (English) of the Epic? is it available in the market? Should not the Publications Divn of the Miny of I and B, or any similar Public Body bring out the full version, for libraries and interested persons? The Publicaions Divn brought out “Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” in 100 volumes (may be longer than the Epic we are discussing!).
Cheers and regards!
March 17, 2015 at 4:56 pm
Dear Shri Gopal, It is wonderful to see you.
I have to thank Gandhari. For, I had almost given up on Rivr; but, when I saw someone stating that Gandhari was his hero, I thought I could add a bit to buttress his faith in the Grand Lady.
I am glad you read this. Yes; I agree with your comments.
Veda Vyasa is so named because he is said to have classified (Vyasa) the Vedic corpus. It appears to be a title or a designation. It, I reckon, was not a proper (first) name. The Vedas, it appears, were classified several times. For some time, it was a single body of verses. The Yajus, mainly the ritual aspects of the Yajna was formed later. Sama was, of course, the product of selected hymns from Rig-Veda, suitable for recitation arranged in the sequence followed in the conduct of the Yajna. More than ninety percent of the Sama hymns are culled out from Rig-Veda. Vedas were reckoned as three (Trayi) for a long time. Atharva, with its additional inputs, came in later. The process of re-classification of Vedas must have been spread over centuries. Therefore, it appears to me, there was more than one Vyasa. Some say, there were as many as twenty-eight Vyasas. I am not sure.
Further, Veda Vyasa is credited with too many texts. His powers of composition are truly remarkable. Having classified the vast body of Vedas, he composed Mahabharata Epic of 100,000 Slokas, with Hari Vamsha as its appendage. He is also said to have composed eighteen Puranas running into over four hundred thousand Slokas. Obviously, there might have been many Vyasas. Or, all such tasks might have been carried out by scholars at various periods, but all in the name of Vyasa. In the later periods, Sri Sankara too had to suffer a similar fate. Many compositions, even those lacking merit, were hoisted upon him. The rival Vedanta schools criticized Sri Sankara for what was not really his.
Yes; as you said: It is remarkable that Vyasa was not only the author of the Epic but was also the forefather of the principal characters of the Epic. He keeps appearing at crucial times in the story to guide it along a certain course. He appears at the earliest stage of the Epic-story; but outlasts almost every significant character. . No other epic poet is so active an actor in his own composition. He is there even after everyone gone, to tell their stories. As you pointed out he must have lived for nearly two hundred years or more. It might be quite possible!
As regards Mahabharata, its core story must have been in circulation in the oral traditions perhaps for centuries, before it was reduced to writing. Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa (the dark one who was born amidst an island) may have initially composed the core Epic. Yet; we do not hear Vyasa narrating the story. It is Vaishampayana, a disciple of Vyasa who recites it to King Janamejaya the last scion of the Pandava clan at the Sarpa-yajna he conducted (Mbh.1. 55. 2). Then Ugrashravas, a Suti, who herd Vaishampayana’s recital, then narrates the story to Saunaka and other Rishis assembled in the Naimisha forest (Mbh.1.1.23).
Thus, its story was recited, heard and memorised; and passed on over the generations. At each stage, at each recital something was added to it. The text grew in stages stretching over long periods perhaps from 800 BCE to 400 AD. It took diverse forms in various regional languages and dialects. Multiple authors kept adding layers after layers embellishing the text. Therefore, Mahabharata is rather amorphous and unstructured, as compared to Ramayana. The text as it has come down to us is the result of accumulated contributions by several nameless authors over the centuries. Mahabharata is not a uniform artefact composed by a single author or sung in a single tone. It might perhaps be right to refer to the development of the Epic rather than to the time of its writing/ composing.
It is said; the story which originally was known as Jaya was narrated in about eight thousand verses. The events in what is now ‘Bhishma Parva’, it is believed , were at the commencement of its core text. That story was later expanded to twenty-four thousand verses and was called Bharatha. Its final version, expanded further reached about one hundred thousand verses; and, it came to be celebrated as Mahabharata. It is having 100 Parvas grouped under 18 major Parvas. But, actually, only 73,787 verses are available even in the expanded version, as per the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune. A large number of verses are lost, perhaps in transmission.
I have come to see Mahabharata not simply as a tale of family feud of a bygone era. I respect Mahabharata for it argued for a revolution that was significant in several ways. It aim was to establish the Dharma.
The texts that are now in popular circulation are mostly the abridged/distilled versions of the major corpus. Many of its sub-plots are glossed over or sanitized.
Mahabharata is one of the greatest stories ever narrated. It meanders through various plots and sub-plots, digressions and diversions. It s concern is much more than with a quarrel between two sets of cousins over a tract of land. There are number of themes and sub-themes woven into the narration. And, most of them are uncomfortable to deal with. Just to mention a few ; there are problems of impotency, infertility, sex abuse, sexual promiscuous male and females, surrogate father, surrogate mother , polyandry , polygamy. . There are also the evils of gambling, drinking (Yadava men and women drinking excessively), hunting and falsifying facts indulged even by those acknowledged as virtuous. Caste distinctions and prejudices are painfully carried to their extreme.
Besides, there are number of questions that have no answer; and a number of situations that have no explanations. Why was Karna treated so shabbily in life? Why was Krishna partial to Pandavas? Was Krishna really the God? Why did he not prevent war? Was Yudhistira a truly virtuous person? Was he not a cowardly escapist who fell prey to the lure of gambling? Was Bhishma truly noble? Was he not a self-centered escapist? Did not Drona bring disgrace to teachers’ profession? What is the essence of Dharma? Is there a Dharma for the individual and a collective Dharma as well? Is there a higher Dharma?
We often tend to think Kouravas as the ‘bad guys’ of the Epic; and, Pandavas as good. But, since both the groups descended from common a common ancestor Kuru, the Pandava too were, in fact, Kouravas. It is not as if the Kouravas were all bad or that the Pandavas were all perfectly virtuous. It is not black and white; there are a lot of grey areas. While the text is generally pro Pandava and tilted heavily towards them, there some passages that speak well of the Kouravas. There are quotes where the subjects praise Duryodhana’s kingship and the good things he did for them. There are also passages that criticize Krishna .
Yet; the text, generally, proceeds on the premise that Yudhistira was the true heir to the throne. But, it is also possible to put forward Duryodhana’s case quite stoutly because he was the eldest son the King presiding over the throne.
Mahabharata is such a complex text that the good and bad are often mixed up. And, it is not easily possible to demarcate what is purely good and what is utterly bad. Yes, there are degrees along the continuum. But, there are no watertight compartments. There are series of conflicts between the good and also the good. There are no clear normative indications of what is good and what is wrong. Mahabharata also does not provide clear-cut, absolute answers to the riddles and conflicts in life. It only holds up illustrations of the process. Sometimes the boundary between Dharma and Adharma is blurred.
Mahabharata is Itihasa which not only recollects the past events (Iti-vrtta) but also teaches the Dharma. Itihasa is not history as we understand the term.
It perhaps says that so long as our life is not graced by gratefulness, forgiveness we continue to find a pretext to justify our greed and pick up a quarrel.
Vyasa ends, almost, in desperation through five Slokas known as the ‘Bharatasavitri”:
“Urdhva bahurviroumyeshu nacha kaschichrunotime
dharmadharmascha kamascha sadharmata kimnasevyate”
“najatakama nnabhaya nnalobhath
dharmam thyaje jeevitha syapihethoho
nithyo dharmaha sukhadukhethyanithye
jeevo nithyo hethu rasyathvanithyaha”
Vyasa expresses his anxiety by raising both his hands up and shouting aloud as if to convey the agony he felt about not being heard. “With raised hands, I shout at the top of my voice; but alas, no one hears my words which can give them Supreme Peace, Joy and Eternal Bliss. Why do not people practise Dharma? ? One should not abandon Dharma at any cost. Follow dharma and there will be peace in the world. True peace, not peace born by dominating the other”
Pardon me for the length of the response.
And, thank you for your patience.
March 17, 2015 at 4:56 pm
I thank you for the extensive analysis of different approaches by scholars to arrive at the timing of the Kurukshetra war of Mahabharata using linguistic, scriptural as well as scientific verification tools and techniques. I have no doubt that what was originally known as ‘Bharata’ with 24,000 verses passed on to generations by oral tradition of recitations from Gurus to Shishyas, from Parents to Children, on the life and legends of the ‘bharata dynasty’ became the ‘Maha_bharata’ (the great epic) to challenge our imagination, to satiate our hunger for legends of intrigue, valor & bravery, unimaginable sacrifices, deceit & deceptions not to forget fearsome Kurukshetra war in the end to protect Dharma of the land.
I understand that the Mahabharata, the longest Sanskrit epic in written form, now consists of over 100,000 shlokas or over 200,000 individual verse lines (each shloka being a couplet,) and long prose. With about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahabharata is roughly 10 times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, or about 4 times the length of the Ramayana sanscrit works.
Thanks for mentioning how the dating of the epic battle of Kurukshetra based on star configurations described in the Mahabharata texts themselves can vary as much as a half century depending on whether we use astronomical computations of Varahamihira or Aryabhatta, two great mathematicians from our past. Thanks for your research we can say now by Aryabhata math Kurukshetra war happened in 3012 BCE; and if we follow Varahamihira math that event can be placed to 2449 BCE; around the time Kaliyuga had already set in.
Appreciate the time and effort you took to respond to my comment.
March 17, 2015 at 4:58 pm
The geographic coverage you sight from Bhishma Parva (section IX) of historic regions & cities with geographic links to today’s Indian sub-continent along with races and tribes who possibly lived there contributing to legends & anecdotes mentioned in the Mahabharata is fascinating.
I am so glad you covered the present Sindh region too where Hindus, Parsis and Jains still share shrines and saints; many worshiping together in ancient temples. Appreciate the great research you have done here.
When you get the time please visit my blog ‘The other Pakistan reaching out to India’ and comment@
Have a nice day.
March 17, 2015 at 5:00 pm
Dear Shri Sureh Rao, to continue on your comment on the geography of Mahabharata:
The geography of India as described in Mahabharata is much more real than that of Ramayana. Jambu-khanda Nirmana Parva, a sub section within the Bhishma Parva (particularly Section IX ) makes copious references to the geographical features of the then Bharatha. This and the other Sections of the Bhishma Parva list out large numbers of geographic, such as: the rivers, lakes, place-names and names of kingdoms, regions, and sub-continents.
A passage describes Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Kailasa to kanyakumari; while another mentions Bharatha Varsha as the country (varṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains, where the descendants of Bharata dwell.
Shanthi Parva describes the shape of Bharata as that of bow with an arrow just about to be drawn. Here, the Himalaya is like the stretched wood of the bow with the quill of the arrow at the peninsular area of the south. It is said to extend into a triangle with its transverse base in the north.
A famous passage in Bhisma Parva of Mahabharata also describes the shape of Bharatha Varsha. It views Bharatha as a huge equilateral triangle, divided into four smaller equal triangles, the apex of which is Kanya- kumari and the base formed by the line of the Himalaya Mountains. The great historian Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji remarked,” the shape corresponds very well with the general form of the country, if we extend the limits of India to Ghazni on the north-west and fix the other two points of the triangle at Cape Comorin and Sadiya in Assam.”
Bharatha Varsha was also said to be composed of five zones, namely the Madhya Desha (the Middle Country); Purva Desha (the Eastern region); Daksinapatha (the South); Aparanta or Praticya (the Western region); and Uttarapatha or Udicya (the Northern region). This zonal system was in vogue even in the Maurya period (322 BC to 125 BC).The Maurya Empire was the largest and most powerful Empire of ancient India. It stretched from Assam to Kandahar; and from Himalayas to Tamil Nadu.
Just to put it as briefly as possible the geography of North India during the Mahabharata: If you take Kurukshetra as the centre of happenings, In its east was Panchal divided into the North and South Panchala. The former was above the Ganga; and the latter was between the Ganga and the Yamuna. The capital of the former was Ahicchatra and the capital of the latter was Kampilya and its territory extended up to Chambal. The Kingdom to its East was Kosala divided into Uttara (north) and Dakshina (South) Kosala. Next to it was Mithila the western boundary of which was Sadanira. Mithila kingdom did not extend southwards up to the Ganga. Along the banks of Ganga were two other Kingdoms – Kashi and Vaishali in the East.
The countries of Sindhu, Sauvira, Gandhara and Kashmira are frequently mentioned in the Epic. Gandhara is the country to the west of Peshawar. Sauvira is a part of modern Sindh near the sea coast.
The pilgrimages undertaken by the Pandavas cover sacred places such as : Pushkara; Prabhasa; Dwaravati; Vinashana; Rudrakoti ;Kurukshetra; Mrigadhama; Naimisha; Varanasi; Gaya; Prayaga; Gandhamadana; and Kailasa and others.
In the Mahabharata war those who fought alongside Pandavas were: Yadavas; Panchala; Kashi; Magadha ; Matsya and Chedi. While those with Kauravas were: Pragjyothisha; Anga; Kekeya; Gandhara; Sindhu; Avanti; Shalva; Bahlika and Kambhoja.
Reading Mahabharata, one gets the feeling that the story was based on some real historical events and real places in the very distant past. Places like Kurukshetra, Hastinapura, Indraprasta, Karnal, Mathura, Dwaraka , Girivraja etc are real and can be identified even today.
The scale of the war, the varieties of super weapons deployed, might be exaggerations. But, there such a mass of trivia and disjointed information one wonders why they are there unless they were real life events.
Thank you for your patience and for the comments.
March 17, 2015 at 5:00 pm
My second visit here. When reading section “years after the war” (paras 15.1 to 18.2) what struck me was Gandhari and family were very real persons of Afghanistan region of those days! Some of our secular writers (from JNU school of politics or other vested interest groups) try to distort the time-line of Mahabharata war (… they try to bring it closer in some of their writings to 1500 BCE and even to 800 AD!) just to distort and make our spiritual history in region a non-event!
I have a feeling Bharatvarsha was spread all the way from Afghanistan even upto today’s Sindh (Sind) province of Pakistan. Myopic leftist Indian historians of today never write about such geography-stretch of real history depicted in hindu puranic epics like Mahabharata!
It is time more research is done on real history of Mahabharata. What in your opinion is the real time-line for Mahabharata war?
All this occured to me as I wrote a blog: ‘The other Pakistan reaching out to India’ where Ms. Fatima Butto talks about life of Hindus & Jains in Sind (Sindh) province of Pakistan and numerous ancient temples of Hindu/Jains there still kept in tact with lively activities even today and how Sindh with Sufi Saints share such activities with Hindus and Jains living there.
My blog on that refers @
March 17, 2015 at 5:01 pm
Dear Shri Suresh Rao, Thank you for reading closely.
You have raised two very interesting and much debated subjects: Date of Mahabharata; and, the Geography of Mahabharata.
On the question of date, we have to make a distinction between the date of composition and the date of Epic-events, in particular about the date of the Kurukshetra war.
The story of what we now call Mahabharata was in circulation in the oral traditions perhaps for centuries . It was reduced to writing after a very long time. . Another interesting thing is that, Mahabharata may have been initially composed by Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa; and yet, we do not hear Vyasa narrating the story. It is Vaishampayana , a disciple of Vyasa who recites it to King Janamejaya the last scion of the Pandava clan at the Sarpa-yajna he conducted (Mbh.1. 55. 2) . Then Ugrashravas, a Suti, who herd Vaishampayana’s recital, then narrates the story to Saunaka and other Rishis assembled in the Naimisha forest (Mbh.1.1.23).
The question when Mahabharata text was composed seems somewhat pointless. It surely was not composed in a day or in a year. It grew in stages stretching over long periods perhaps from 800 BCE to 400 AD. It took diverse forms in various regional languages and dialects. Multiple authors kept adding layers after layers embellishing the text. Therefore, Mahabharata is rather amorphous and unstructured, as compared to Ramayana. The text as it has come down to us is the result of accumulated contributions by several nameless authors over the centuries. It might perhaps sound better if we refer to the phases of development of the Epic rather than to the time of it’s writing/composing.
As regards the Dating of Mahabharata Epic –events; well, it is one of the favourite pursuits of the academia. Nearly about 125 plausible dates have been suggested by various scholars and researchers for the Mahabharata War. Various methods, tools and techniques have been employed. But, in the absence of archaeological remains , historical records and other traditional sources, the one method that many of the scholars in the University Circles have relied upon is the astronomical observations, visual phenomena and references provided in the Epic (I am not referring to Astrological interpretations. Most do not seem to give much credence to it, perhaps mainly because there is no standardized approach to its study and to the ‘reading’ of the results it might throw up). The Date of Mahabharata war suggested by the plethora of studies based on astronomical references occurring in the text/s range between 6000 BCE to 1750 BCE.
Some of those who took the approach of Astronomy and employed the theories put forward by the ancient Indian mathematicians/astronomers Varahamihira and Aryabhatta. Following such data, those who followed Aryabhata dated the Kurukshetrra war at around 3012 BCE; while those who followed Varahamihira dated that event at 2449 BCE.
Now coming to the present day scientific minded scholars, they face a different kind of problem. Since the Epic-text has been developed and enlarged over the centuries; and since there are varied versions of it, the astronomical data/references, given in those texts are bound to be inconsistent. The major problem encountered by the modern-day scholars, therefore, is to zero upon an authoritative text that cannot be dismissed flippantly. That is to say; they have to be sure of the Source Book for their study. Therefore, the basic precaution they have to take is to ensure the purity or authenticity of the text they are going to rely upon.
The one edition of Mahabharata that serious researchers follow is the Critical Edition (CE) published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune (BORI). This was prepared by groups of scholars, headed by Shri V S Sukthankar, after meticulously going through a large number of Mahabharata manuscripts obtained from various parts of India; and from Nepal and other countries. The other that is followed is the edition published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur (Hindi). But, these editions too are not above criticism. Therefore, much more research needs to be done here, as you observed.
Among the other methods employed for dating the Epic-events, outside of the text/s, are the geophysical (satellite) surveys carried out to determine the period over which the River Saraswati dried up. This gives a clue not only to the age of the Vedic texts but also to the Mahabharata events.
Some of the computer savvy young scientists have applied the astronomical data collected by NASA through Voyager 4.5 TM to study the astronomical indications given at various places in the Critical Edition. For instance, I recently came upon a Book titled ‘When did the Mahabharata war happen?’ by Nilesh Nilkanth Oak , a Chemical Engineer by training working in USA ( Danphe USA , 2011) . He has tried to study the Mahabharata timeline in a rational scientific way, with particular reference to the position of the star Arundathi, among other astronomical observations provided in the Mahabharata text. He has used NASA data and computer simulation on an astronomy-software (Dynamic Visual Astronomy) for the purpose his study. He has arrived at 5561 BC as the year of the Mahabharata War. As Shri Oak rightly claims; what he has put forward is a theory, a close approximation to the plausible date , and nothing more . It is not the absolute truth. And, It will stand so long as it is not knocked down by a better approximation .
You may read the Preview of the Book on Google . Try the link
We shall talk about the Geography of Mahabharata, a little later, as this response is getting rather lengthy and tedious.
February 28, 2016 at 7:28 am
Hey… Thank you for sharing the information on Draupadi, it was really interesting.. One of the divine shrines of Draupadi is in Kondal, Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu
Draupadi Amman Thunai
Please visit my blog for some more information on Draupadi and the temple, that may interest you…
February 28, 2016 at 4:49 pm
Thanks for the visit
My article on Draupadi is actually at
Please read and let me know
I read your post on Draupadi. It has some very good information.
The annual Karaga festival of Bangalore ( an ancient tradition)
is the celebration of Draupadi. You may mention this also in your post
August 22, 2019 at 6:12 pm
MB has to be read nonliteral to grasp the underlying message. Literal reading makes it yet another fairy tale. All the characters including KR reveal human shortcomings none can be called perfect. MB powerfully portrays the fallacy of word dharma, Gandhari remarks dharma always protects but the epitome of Dharma, Yudishtira fails utterly in the end. Anger and unforgiving are very human at basic level and no matter how Gandhari tries to dharmic by being obedient her husband her human weakness shows up.
August 23, 2019 at 4:08 am
Thanks LOVE for the educative comments