Did Dhritarashtra love the Pandavas?

Did Dhritarashtra love the Pandavas - Featured Image - Picture of a pentagram star representing the Pandavas

Dhritarashtra is the father of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata. He is the elder brother of Pandu, the father of the Pandavas.

Though he is the rightful heir to the throne as the firstborn son of Vichitraveerya, owing to his blindness, he is sidelined in favour of his younger brother.

However, circumstances conspire to place Dhritarashtra on the throne for many years. During this time, he rules the kingdom well, but ultimately is unable to stop the Pandavas and Kauravas from fighting one another.

The war of Kurukshetra, the climactic event that settles the Pandava-Kaurava conflict in deadly fashion, happens on Dhritarashtra’s watch.

In this post, we will answer the question: Did Dhritarashtra love the Pandavas?

Dhritarashtra did love the Pandavas, but understandably, his love for his own sons – the Kauravas – was greater. Dhritarashtra may also have believed that he and his sons are the true, rightful kings of Hastinapur, and that Pandu and the Pandavas have been made kings only by Bhishma’s unfair decree.

(For answers to more Dhritarashtra-related questions, see Dhritarashtra: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Read on to discover more about whether Dhritarashtra loved the Pandavas.

Duty over Love

While it would be asking too much of Dhritarashtra to love his brother’s sons as deeply as he loves his own, he does act dutifully toward the Pandavas throughout their younger years.

When Kunti and her five young children come back to Hastinapur shortly after the death of Pandu, Dhritarashtra might have thought it expedient to have them housed elsewhere in the city; not at the palace.

He might still have provided for Kunti and the Pandavas, but he might have ensured that the Kauravas received princely privileges while the sons of Pandu are raised as merely prosperous children.

Dhritarashtra may even have taken the extreme step of refusing to do anything to help Kunti’s lot. He may have said: ‘My brother Pandu died without bearing children. These five sons are not his.’

In this scenario, Kunti would have been forced to go back to her father’s kingdom. The Pandavas would have been fostered over there, far away from the Hastinapur throne.

Instead, he does the dutiful thing and raises the Pandavas and Kaurava on equal footing.

Drona’s Services

Later, when Drona’s services are employed, both sets of cousins receive the same training.

(The employment of Drona is a key element of Arjuna’s rise as an archer. It is reasonable to suggest that without Drona’s help, Arjuna may not have become the same warrior as an adult.)

If Drona had not been available for the Pandavas’ formative years, it is unlikely that any of them would have been the warriors they eventually become. This is equally true of Yudhishthir, Nakula, Sahadeva – and even Bhima.

Some may argue that Bhima’s superpower is brute strength, and he would have been strong regardless. But the adult Bhima displays enormous amounts of skill and strategy in battle – both of which he has learned from Drona.

Before Drona enters the picture, Kripa acts as preceptor to the Kuru princes. He, too, treats both the Pandavas and the Kauravas equally.

This may have Bhishma’s hand in it, but it would not have happened – especially over a course of many years – without Dhritarashtra’s approval.

Love for Pandu

Dhritarashtra, in fact, behaves impeccably toward his two younger brothers, Pandu and Vidura. There appears to be a loving relationship between the three.

Despite the fact that Pandu is chosen to be king over him, Dhritarashtra does not allow it to impact how he treats his brothers.

At least part of Pandu’s reluctance to remain king seems to stem from knowing in his heart that the true, rightful king of Hastinapur is actually Dhritarashtra. So he places the kingdom in his elder brother’s hands when he goes away to the forest.

Dhritarashtra, for his part, never behaves as if the transfer of power from Pandu to him is permanent. During the early years, until Pandu’s death, he dutifully performs the role of a stand-in ruler.

Perhaps this love for Pandu spills over onto Kunti and the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra chooses to treat the widowed queen and the orphaned princes with kindness as a gesture of love and goodwill toward his dead brother.

Dhritarashtra’s Expectations

While Dhritarashtra might have chosen to do the ‘right’ thing by Kunti and the Pandavas, he may still have been surprised by their behaviour toward the Kauravas.

Kunti and her sons do not act like orphans who have received a benefactor’s kindness. Instead, they behave as if the royal palace is their birthright and that Dhritarashtra should relinquish the throne in short order.

While Dhritarashtra’s kindness extends to treating the Pandavas and Kauravas equally, in his mind, he may believe that it is Duryodhana who is the rightful heir.

Yudhishthir and his brothers ought to be grateful (in Dhritarashtra’s mind) for being allowed into the palace. Instead, they grow up into young men expecting to be given a share of the kingdom. That would have angered Dhritarashtra.

Imagine giving shelter and status to your dead brother’s wife and adopted sons, thinking that you’re performing a charitable act – only for them to turn around and say, ‘I want your kingdom.’

The Pandavas, it is fair to say, do not live up to Dhritarashtra’s expectations in this bargain.

Two Dhritarashtras

During the course of the story, therefore, we see two Dhritarashtras.

One is the dutiful Dhritarashtra who is beholden to the memory of Pandu. He is consumed by grief at the untimely death of his brother, and to honour him, he forces himself to do the right thing for Kunti and the Pandavas.

The other Dhritarashtra is the one whose expectations have been soundly thwarted. This Dhritarashtra thinks of the Pandavas as ungrateful and vicious. He wants them to be subservient to the Kuru throne – on which of course either he or Duryodhana must sit.

This second Dhritarashtra sometimes surfaces during periods of stress: the house of wax, the dice game, Krishna’s visit before the war – and so on.

But the first Dhritarashtra is also present: he invites the Pandavas back home after their wedding to Draupadi; he calls the dice game to a close and gives the Pandavas their wealth back; he forgives them for killing his sons, and lives with them for years after the war.

The Pandavas Reciprocate

The Pandavas are well aware of Dhritarashtra’s love. Yudhishthir is always quick to point out how kind Dhritarashtra had been toward them when they were children.

However, Bhima, who is ironically only a year younger than Yudhishthir, has an altogether different perception of their uncle. Bhima is more inclined to remember the second Dhritarashtra whereas Yudhishthir focuses on the first.

In any case, the Pandavas together repay this debt after the war, by caring for Dhritarashtra and Gandhari in their old age.

While one cannot peer into another man’s heart, by his actions – especially by his deliberate choice to raise the sons of Pandu with the same facilities and benefits afforded to the Kauravas – Dhritarashtra proves that he loves the Pandavas.

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