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 have a hundred sons?
As a young woman, Gandhari pleases Lord Shiva with her severe penance. She procures a boon from him that she will have a hundred sons. Later, after her marriage to Dhritarashtra, she gives birth to the Kaurava brothers after carrying them in the womb for two full years.
Read on to discover more about how Gandhari had a hundred sons.
(For answers to all Gandhari-related questions, see: Gandhari: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Little is known about Gandhari’s childhood and youth. She is the princess of the far northwestern kingdom of Gandhara. (Some speculate that this is none other than modern-day Kandahar.)
Of the scraps of information we are given about the young woman, we do know that:
- Her father’s name is Subala.
- She has a brother (younger or older, we do not know) called Shakuni. He will later play a big part in the unfolding history of Hastinapur.
- She is renowned for the purity of her penances. Her chief deity is Lord Shiva. From him, she has a boon that she will give birth to a ‘hundred heroic sons’.
Shiva’s word does come true. After she gets married to Dhritarashtra, in due course of time, Gandhari becomes pregnant.
A Long Pregnancy
But her pregnancy turns out to be suspiciously long. For a whole two years, she carries a heavy burden in her womb that refuses to detach from her body.
At the end of the two years, she hears that Kunti – who is at the time living with Pandu and Madri at the Gandhamadana mountains – has given birth to her firstborn.
(This child will grow up to be Yudhishthir. Kunti becomes pregnant a full year after Gandhari, and yet gives birth before her. This drives Gandhari to frustration.)
Consumed by envy and sense of betrayal by fate, Gandhari rails against the elements and beats upon her stomach violently. This causes the ‘foetus’ inside her womb to detach. It slips out of her and falls to the ground, much to her shock.
To make matters worse, the foetus that has fallen out of her does not resemble a human being in any way. It is just a large mass of brown flesh that is nevertheless throbbing with life.
The Arrival of Vyasa
As Gandhari is desperately wondering what she must do with the mass of flesh that has come out of her, Vyasa arrives on the scene and calms things down.
He first sprinkles holy water on the pulsing blob and chants some mantras at it. Then he commands Gandhari’s waiting women to arrange for a hundred jars of clarified butter.
As the servants are getting things ready, Vyasa sets about breaking the flesh into a hundred thumb-sized portions. He places each one of them into a jar.
At the end of it all, a smaller piece of flesh is left over. Vyasa calls for yet another jar of butter to be brought to accommodate it.
‘Keep a careful eye on these jars for a period of ten months, O Queen,’ he tells Gandhari. ‘Out of the first hundred jars will spring your hundred sons. The last jar with the smaller piece will give birth to a baby girl.’
Vyasa goes on his way after passing on these instructions.
The Birth of Duryodhana
True to Vyasa’s word, about ten months after Gandhari’s ‘delivery’, the first of the jars begins to crack. And out of it comes – wailing and angry – a baby boy that will grow up to be Duryodhana.
Incidentally, on the same day, at the foothills of the Gandhamadana, Kunti gives birth to Bhima.
Duryodhana’s birth is accompanied by many ill omens: we’re told that jackals prowl the streets; vultures shriek hungrily for their prey, and plenty of cows refuse to give milk.
At the appearance of these signs, Dhritarashtra’s courtiers advise him that the boy must be killed for the good of the kingdom. Dhritarashtra, understandably, is reluctant to give up his firstborn on the say-so of astrologers.
By and by, each of the jars breaks open and gives birth to a baby boy. At the end of it all, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra are parents to a hundred sons.
These brothers are collectively called the Kauravas.
The last baby to emerge from one of Vyasa’s pots is Dusshala, the baby girl who has developed from the leftover piece of flesh.
Dusshala has a fairly nondescript life in the royal hall, but there is evidence that she is well-loved by the Kauravas and Pandavas alike. She does not seem to share in the intense dislike that Duryodhana has for his cousins.
As a maiden, Dusshala is given in marriage to Jayadratha, the king of the Sindhus. It is this relationship that makes Jayadratha an ally of Duryodhana.
Jayadratha abducts Draupadi during the Pandavas’ exile, and is spared from death because Yudhishthir is reluctant to harm the husband of their ‘sister’.
Jayadratha then procures a boon from Shiva and uses it effectively on the thirteenth day of battle to kill Abhimanyu.
Dusshala, therefore, by merely existing, becomes one of the indirect causes of Abhimanyu’s death.
More Realistic Theories
Needless to say, this tale of Gandhari’s pregnancy, Vyasa’s intervention, and the Kauravas’ eventual births reads like a fantasy tale. Some modern commentators have even opined that this is evidence that Vedic India had access to in vitro fertilization technology.
While there’s nothing wrong with this belief, a more realistic sequence of events would have been that the birth of the Kauravas happened naturally – and the story was then spun out of the imagination of a bard in Dhritarashtra’s employ.
What might have happened in reality, then?
One possibility is that only a small number of Kauravas are biological offspring of Gandhari. In fact, save for Duryodhana (and perhaps Dusshala), Gandhari may have given birth to none of the other brothers.
The other ninety nine might easily have been sired by Dhritarashtra with any number of Vaishya and Sudra women that were available at the royal palace.
Adopted Sons of Gandhari?
This is by no means a rare occurrence. We know that Yuyutsu is a son of Dhritarashtra fathered with the help of a Vaishya woman. So Dhritarashtra (unlike Pandu) definitely had the necessary virility.
After the birth of Duryodhana, Dhritarashtra could have easily impregnated ninety nine women over the course of a few months. And in a year after that, all ninety nine of them would have given birth.
(Maybe they made allowances for miscarriages and such.)
At the end, Gandhari would have then adopted them all as her own sons.
This is the only naturalistic explanation that covers the facts. There is no other way that Dhritarashtra could have had a hundred sons within a year.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered