Gandhari is the mother of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata. She is the daughter of King Subala, king of Gandhara. She is given in marriage to the blind prince of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra.
Throughout her life, Gandhari is locked in a competition with Kunti with respect to who will have the more heroic children. Like Dhritarashtra, she is torn between love for her own children and duty that compels her to be civil toward the Pandavas.
She does try to ward Duryodhana off his wicked ways, but fails. In the end, she curses Krishna and the Yadavas with death by civil war. All her anger is thus channelled toward this one wish.
In this post, we will answer the question: Did Gandhari love the Pandavas?
Gandhari certainly loved the Pandavas. But she did not love them more than she loved her own children. This is natural. Like any mother in her place would have done, she places the ambitions of her sons above everything. However, once her sons lose the battle, she finds it in her heart to forgive the Pandavas.
Read on to discover more about whether Gandhari loved the Pandavas.
(For answers to all Gandhari-related questions, see: Gandhari: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Gandhari’s Love as Duty
The first thing we should note about Gandhari’s relationship with the Pandavas is that she knows she is duty-bound to care for them. As their aunt – even though by marriage – she is expected to love them.
And by her actions and choices with regards to Dhritarashtra, we know that Gandhari is a person who holds duty as one of her topmost values.
So by virtue of being their aunt alone, Gandhari wills herself to love the Pandavas.
If there was no conflict between the Kauravas and the Pandavas for the throne, if the internal politics of the Kuru family had been a little more prosaic, Gandhari would perhaps even have loved the sons of Pandu and her own sons equally.
But alas, the situation in the Kuru house compels her to constantly choose between the two sets of cousins.
Gandhari’s Love in Practice
In addition to being the Pandavas’ aunt by marriage, Gandhari is also thrown into a situation where she watches – from close proximity – the Pandavas grow into young men at the royal palace.
The circumstances surrounding this are also uncommon. The Pandavas have lost their father, and they have been taken under the protection of Dhritarashtra – who, by the way, would have been well within his rights to turn them away.
If Dhritarashtra had been a bit more ruthless, he could have sent Kunti and the Pandavas away to a separate house in Hastinapur just to let everyone know that they’re not part of the family.
(Maybe Dhritarashtra wanted to do this. Maybe Bhishma and Vidura would not let him. We do not know.)
All said, Gandhari thus ends up being a second mother to the Pandavas for a period of several years. During this time, we hear of no complaints from anyone about her behaviour.
It means that despite the tensions, Gandhari finds it within herself to be noble to the Pandavas.
A Tough Choice
As the princes grow into adulthood, though, Gandhari is torn between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Thanks to Bhishma and Vidura’s lack of leadership in this respect, everyone in the royal house is confused as to who the rightful heir to the throne is.
Is it Duryodhana, the eldest son of the current king – who is also the rightful king of his generation?
Or is it Yudhishthir, the eldest son of the previous king who had temporarily renounced the throne ‘until further notice’?
Both sides have compelling cases to present. At first glance, we may think that power rests with Dhritarashtra, but a closer examination reveals that Bhishma and Vidura have important roles as decision-makers too.
(Until Duryodhana comes of age and takes control of his father’s behaviour, one must assume that Dhritarashtra allowed himself to be swayed by Bhishma – and to a lesser extent, Vidura.)
Presented with such a tough choice – her own sons on one hand and the sons of her brother-in-law on the other – we must forgive Gandhari for choosing to side with the Kauravas.
A Failure of Leadership
This matter of who will succeed to the throne festers for far too long at the Kuru court. From the arrival of the Pandavas as children at the palace, right up to the moment of the graduation ceremony, Bhishma refuses to decide either way.
One can understand Gandhari’s predicament here. She is meant to love and care for Kunti and her sons. Kunti is her co-sister, and the Pandavas are her nephews.
But Bhishma is bent on favouring the Pandavas unfairly over the Kauravas, so much so that he does not even allow an open discussion between all the stakeholders.
Would it have been that difficult to get Kunti, Gandhari, Duryodhana, Yudhishthir and Dhritarashtra into a room and thrash out the various options available to them?
Yes, this conversation would have been a difficult one. But that is one of the tasks of a kingdom’s regent: to nip all internal tensions in the bud.
But because of Bhishma’s failure, Gandhari’s heart becomes harder and harder over time.
What is Gandhari’s role?
It is tough to tell for sure how much of an enabling role Gandhari played in Duryodhana’s life. Did she:
- Actively encourage Duryodhana through his boyhood to vie for the throne?
- Notice Duryodhana’s ambitions and selectively chose not to thwart them?
- Try to curtail his wickedness with all her means and yet fail?
Any of the three above possibilities are equally likely. On the surface, though, Gandhari takes great pains to maintain an appearance of helplessness with respect to Duryodhana.
She stays in the background for much of the story. At the very end, when Duryodhana refuses to countenance the offer of Krishna in giving five villages to the Pandavas, she makes an attempt to sway his mind.
But is this image of her as a helpless mother and wife a true reflection of who she actually is? Or is it a carefully contrived front for a more scheming mind? We can only but guess.
Forgiveness at the End
Whatever Gandhari’s true character is like, at the end, after discovering that her sons had been killed by the Pandavas, she does not react to the news with anger.
She mourns her children, yes – like any other mother would. But she does not turn her grief into rage. She is powerful enough to curse the Pandavas with destruction. But she restrains herself.
Her one moment of fury occurs when Yudhishthir approaches her for blessings and she burns his toenail. She then bundles up all her ill-feeling to pronounce a chilling curse on the Vrishnis, directed at Krishna.
Once these waves of resentment have passed, she reconciles herself to being a loving second mother to the Pandavas once again.
Over the next fifteen years, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra continue to live with the Pandavas at the royal palace. Life comes a full circle for Gandhari here: she began with taking care of the Pandavas as children. Now they take care of her in her old age.
Taking everything into consideration, therefore, it must be said that Gandhari did love the Pandavas. Just not as much she loved her own children.
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