How did Gandhari die?

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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: How did Gandhari die?

The Ashramavasika Parva of the Mahabharata describes the manner of Gandhari’s death. She accompanies Dhritarashtra into the woods a few years after Yudhishthir becomes king. Dhritarashtra dies in a forest fire of his own making. Gandhari immolates herself in her husband’s ‘pyre’.

Read on to discover more about how Gandhari died.

(For answers to all Gandhari-related questions, see: Gandhari: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)

After the War

For fifteen years after the Kurukshetra war ends, Gandhari lives at the royal palace of Hastinapur along with Dhritarashtra. The two of them are stripped of their king-and-queen status, but Yudhishthir grants them high respect and privilege.

The Pandavas treat Gandhari and Dhritarashtra as their own parents. But the exception to that is Bhimasena.

On one occasion, Bhima deliberately brags to a group of courtiers – knowing that Dhritarashtra is within earshot – about how he had killed all the Kauravas with his bare hands.

Hurt by this, Dhritarashtra makes the decision to leave the palace and go into the woods.

He makes the necessary arrangements, gives a farewell address to his citizens, and embarks on his final journey. Gandhari, Kunti, Vidura and Sanjaya accompany him.

Death of Vidura

A few months after the five elders leave for the forest, the Pandavas visit them. A number of significant events happen during this visit:

  • Vidura has a private, silent meeting with Yudhishthir – and then renounces his life.
  • Vyasa explains that Vidura has been the incarnation of Yama on Earth, and as such, Yudhishthir is his surrogate son.
  • Dhritarashtra tells Vyasa that he wishes to see all the dead warriors of Kurukshetra one last time.
  • With his magic, Vyasa brings forth a vision in which all the heroes of the war return on the bank of the Ganga.

The four remaining survivors of the Kuru family urge the Pandavas to return to Hastinapur, and to live life independently. With a heavy heart, Yudhishthir leads his retinue back home.

Two Years Later

For two years, Yudhishthir rules Hastinapur while always missing the presence of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. Then he receives a visit from Narada, who tells him of what has happened to the exiled.

‘After your return to Kurukshetra, O King,’ he says, ‘Dhritarashtra proceeded toward Gangadwara. He took with him his sacred fire, his queen Gandhari, his sister-in-law Kunti, and his minister Sanjaya.

‘Here he subjected himself to many pitiless austerities, and over a period of six months, managed to shrink himself to a mere skeleton.

‘During this time the four of them lived like ascetics, the two women keeping house and the two men wandering over the forest.

‘One day, as the king finished his ablutions in the Ganga and was preparing himself to take a long walk into the woods, a fierce summer wind whipped up a forest fire, which began to burn and twitch in no time.’

Death of Dhritarashtra

Seeing this conflagration, Narada says, Dhritarashtra was not afraid in the least. He addressed Sanjaya and told him that his time had come.

The two women – Kunti and Gandhari – decide to join Dhritarashtra in his moment of death.

They ask Sanjaya to escape to a place where the fire cannot reach, and sit in a meditative pose at the edge of the woods, waiting for the fire to consume them.

The three of them – Kunti, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra – meet their deaths in this fashion.

Sanjaya, meanwhile, sets out further northward to the Himavat mountain and continues his austerities there.

Yudhishthir’s Lament

Yudhishthir says: ‘The one thing that breaks my heart, O Sage, is that Dhritarashtra did not meet his death at the hands of a sacred fire. Indeed, in that forest, there were many fires burning at many hermitages that were sanctioned by mantras.

‘Instead, the king had to give up his life to a lifeless forest fire.’

Narada corrects this assertion by Yudhishthir. ‘The king was not burnt by an unsanctified fire, O Pandava,’ he says.

‘I have heard that when Dhritarashtra entered the woods with his sacrificial fire, he performed various rites in the company of various Brahmins, and after each rite, he would cast off the fire in its live form.

‘It were these small fires that combined and gave rise to a large conflagration. So do not grieve for the deaths of your mothers and uncle, O King, and now think of how you will honour their lives.’

Gandhari’s Curse

Gandhari’s death happens seventeen years (or so) after the Kurukshetra war. She therefore dies without the pleasure of seeing her curse on the Yadavas come true.

Right after the Kurukshetra war ends, Gandhari curses Krishna that the Vrishnis of Anarta will ‘one day’ die through a terrible civil war. ‘Much like the Kurus themselves,’ she says, ‘they will perish by infighting – and you will do nothing but watch.’

Gandhari’s spiritual energy is strong enough to bring forth this incident, but it happens only during the Mausala Parva – thirty six years after the Kurukshetra war.

Anarta and Dwaraka, therefore, are destroyed nineteen years after Gandhari’s death. So while her curse comes true, she is denied the pleasure of witnessing it.

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