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 give birth?
Gandhari gives birth to her hundred and one children (hundred sons, one daughter) by enduring a two-year pregnancy that delivers a grotesque mass of throbbing flesh. Vyasa then breaks the flesh into a hundred and one pieces, and places each one in a jar of clarified butter. After ten months, the Kauravas are born.
Read on to discover more about how Gandhari gave birth.
(For answers to all Gandhari-related questions, see: Gandhari: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Decision to Favour Pandu
When Pandu and Dhritarashtra come of age, Bhishma consults with Vidura and takes a decision that would prove to have far-reaching consequences.
He installs Pandu on the throne and sidelines Dhritarashtra.
Though it will be referred to again and again later in the story, at the time the choice is made, there doesn’t seem to be much opposition to it. It is mentioned in passing without due fuss, as if it were a matter of course.
Nor does Bhishma give any explanation as to why Dhritarashtra cannot make a good king just because he is blind.
On the one hand, it is admittedly true that a blind king gives the appearance of weakness. But on the other, Dhritarashtra will have ample support from Bhishma and his younger brothers. So Bhishma’s fears are likely overblown.
Nonetheless, Bhishma does not have the benefit of hindsight, so for good or bad, he makes the decision.
Marriages of the Kuru Princes
Pandu gets married twice, first to Pritha – whose boon from Durvasa would later play an important role in birthing the Pandavas – and then to Madri, the princess of the Madra kingdom, sister to a king called Shalya.
After the wedding, Pandu sets out almost immediately on an expedition of conquest, thus establishing himself as the supreme ruler of Aryavarta.
Upon his return to Hastinapur, he retires into the woods with his two wives, with the express intention of having children and extending his dynasty.
Dhritarashtra gets married once, to a princess of Gandhara called Gandhari, the daughter of a king by name Suvala.
At the wedding ceremony to the prince, Gandhari chooses to voluntarily blind herself by tying around her eyes a band of silk, reasoning that a wife should never see more than her husband could.
While the Mahabharata portrays this act as one of sacrifice, later retellings have speculated on whether there was a bit of rebellion on Gandhari’s part.
Vidura gets married too, to a woman named Sulabha, who is the daughter of King Devaka by a Sudra wife.
At this point in the story, all three of the Kuru princes are married, and the stage is set for the birth of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Also note that there are multiple strands of conflict within this setup. For example:
- Pritha and Madri will compete with each other for Pandu’s affection, because the first of them to bear a son will become the Queen Mother, and the other will be relegated to the lesser status of ‘second wife’.
- Gandhari has to find her own place in the royal palace despite misgivings that her husband, the firstborn of his generation, has been denied the throne that was rightfully his.
- There is a cloud of discontent over the relationship between Dhritarashtra and Pandu over who is the rightful heir to the throne.
- During this time, there must also have been a puzzle in the head of Bhishma as to what would happen if Gandhari gave birth to the first son of the next generation. As it turns out, that does not happen, but if it did, would the resultant child have an automatic right to the throne?
- Amid all of this, there is the thorny issue of Pandu’s suspected impotence.
So the Pandavas and the Kauravas come into the world amid significant political and personal turmoil involving all the main characters.
Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra, serves Dwaipayana over a period of time on one of his visits to the court of Hastinapur. In return for her hospitality, Dwaipayana blesses her that she will give birth to a hundred sons that are equal to Dhritarashtra in valour.
She gets pregnant before Pritha does, which fills her with joy, because that means that she would give birth to the oldest son, who might grow up with a claim to the throne.
But for two full years she does not deliver, and her stomach grows heavier and harder with each passing day. In the meantime she also hears that Pritha – in the forest with Pandu and Madri – has given birth to a son.
‘Woe upon me,’ she cries out, ‘and woe upon the sage who gave me a false boon.’ Saying this, she beats herself on the stomach with such strength that the mass of flesh growing inside of her slips out and falls to the ground.
Before panic could set in, Dwaipayana arrives and consoles the queen. ‘My words never go in vain, my lady,’ he tells her. ‘Ask your servants to fetch a hundred pots filled with clarified butter.’
He then divides the ball of flesh – after first sprinkling holy water over it – into hundred equal parts, each the size of a thumb, and drops them into a pot each, immersed in butter and infused with his magic.
‘Wait for two full years before you open these pots,’ he instructs Gandhari. ‘And you shall have your hundred sons.’
(We must note here that though Vyasa says ‘two years’, we are later told that Duryodhana and Bhima are born on the same day, and that Bhima is born one year after Yudhishthir. So we must assume that the pots begin to break after one year, not two.)
So in due course of time, the foetuses inside the pots of butter grow into human babies, and the first of them, Duryodhana, is born.
Birth of Duryodhana
It is said that on the occasion of Duryodhana’s birth, all the world’s bad omens make themselves heard to Dhritarashtra, and his priests warn him that this son would bring much dishonour to the family name.
‘If we were to cast away this child, Your Majesty,’ they advise him, ‘you will still be left with ninety nine sons who will bring you much honour.’
But Dhritarashtra cannot find it in his heart to kill his firstborn.
(Incidentally, on the same day, out in the forest, Pritha gives birth to Bhimasena, the second of the Pandavas.)
Yuyutsu and Dusshala
Dhritarashtra also has a son by an unnamed Vaishya woman. His name is Yuyutsu. He is usually considered one among the Kaurava brothers, and is mentioned among the maharathas. In age he is the second-oldest of them all, younger to only Duryodhana.
There is one other addition to the Kuru line that deserves mention. While he is dividing the mass of flesh into parts to be left immersed in butter, a small bit is left over after the hundred pieces have been confined to their respective pots.
This grows in time to become Dusshala, the sole sister of the Kauravas, the only daughter of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. She is given in marriage later to Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu.
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