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: How did Dhritarashtra have a hundred sons?
Dhritarashtra has a hundred sons with Gandhari, his wife. But the pregnancy is an unusual one. Gandhari carries the foetus inside her for two years, and then Vyasa helps her deliver it. He cuts a hundred and one pieces off the flesh and incubates them inside jars of clarified butter. From here, the hundred Kauravas and Dusshala are born.
(For answers to more Dhritarashtra-related questions, see Dhritarashtra: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Read on to discover more about how Dhritarashtra had a hundred sons.
The Official Story
The official story of how Dhritarashtra fathers a hundred sons is as follows:
Gandhari gets pregnant a full year before Kunti does. But for some dark and unknown reason, she is forced to carry her pregnancy for two years without result. In this time, Kunti gets pregnant and gives birth to Yudhishthir.
When news of Yudhishthir’s birth reaches Gandhari, she is said to be consumed by envy (or at least despair) and to hit herself on the stomach repeatedly.
This causes the foetus inside her womb to slip out of her and to fall to the ground. As if this is not shocking enough to Gandhari, she also notes with horror that her ‘baby’ is not like a human child at all: it resembles a grotesque mass of grey flesh.
While she is wondering what to do, Vyasa helpfully arrives on the scene. He breaks the mound of flesh into a hundred and one pieces. He places each of them into a jar of clarified butter, and goes about his way.
Around ten months later, the hundred and one jars give ‘birth’ to a hundred baby boys and one baby girl.
The hundred boys grow up to be the Kaurava brothers. The girl grows up to be Dusshala, their only sister.
Dhritarashtra’s Other Sons
Dhritarashtra also has sons from other women, most of them Vaishyas and Sudras. Yuyutsu is the best-known of these ‘other’ sons; he is born of a Vaishya mother and chooses to fight on the Pandavas’ side in the war.
It is entirely possible that Dhritarashtra has several other children too, begotten with attendants and other waiting women of court. These women are often of ‘lower’ birth.
This is fairly common practice, for the king of the land to father children with women that make themselves available to him.
A more realistic explanation of Dhritarashtra’s prolific output in this regard is that he has taken a number of concubines who have given him children.
The Vaishyas and Sudra women he shares his bed with do not have a standing in the court. Their children grow up with no claim to the throne. The best they can hope for is some sort of privileged position within the palace itself.
However, if Dhritarashtra had also taken Kshatriya women as lovers during this period, their sons have a right to be known as Kauravas too.
Duryodhana and Duhsasana – and perhaps Dusshala? – are probably the only children born to Gandhari. All the other Kaurava brothers are likely the progeny of the multitude of other women that Dhritarashtra bedded.
It is also possible that Dhritarashtra and Gandhari have formally adopted all of his children as theirs. If this is true, all of the boys that have emerged from Dhritarashtra’s dalliances would have come to be known as Kauravas after this ritual.
To be fair, this is only a theory with no evidence. But if one is to look for realistic explanations for how a hundred boys and one girl was born to one couple, one has to make speculations of this sort.
This lightens the burden on Gandhari a little bit: we don’t need to go hunting for ways in which one woman might have borne a hundred and one children. It also is quite reasonable to expect the king of Hastinapur to have relationships outside his marriage.
Dhritarashtra’s virility is yet another slap in the face of Bhishma’s opinion of him. While the much-feted Pandu is unable to have even a single child of his own, here is Dhritarashtra, the blind and unfit boy, breaking no sweat in fathering a hundred.
Brothers or Half Brothers?
The Kauravas, if we accept this theory, are strictly speaking half-brothers. They share the same father in Dhritarashtra but do not have the same mothers. Together, they come to be known as the Dhartarashtras (‘sons of Dhritarashtra’).
This does not in any way render their relationship inferior to that of the Pandavas. Since the Pandavas are all also born to different fathers, they are also half-brothers at best.
In fact, only the first three Pandavas are half-brothers to one another, and the last two are half-brothers to each other. Between the first three and the last two, there is absolutely no blood-relationship.
(This is because Nakula and Sahadeva are born to Madri. They share neither a father nor a mother with their elder brothers.)
Despite this fact, the Pandavas are known as ‘sons of Pandu’ by the mere ritual of Pandu adopting them as such. Similarly, regardless of how Dhritarashtra procured his hundred sons, they would be considered brothers as long as Dhritarashtra adopted them.
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