Was Gandhari good or bad?

Was Gandhari good or bad - Featured Image - Picture of duality

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 channeled toward this one wish.

In this post, we will answer the question: Was Gandhari good or bad?

Like most characters in the Mahabharata, Gandhari is an ethically grey character. She is a dutiful wife to Dhritarashtra. She is devoted to Kunti and the Pandavas. But ultimately, her ‘sin’ lies in being unable to stop her son Duryodhana – and her brother Shakuni – from performing wicked acts.

Read on to discover more about whether Gandhari was good or bad.

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

Gandhari’s Likeability

The character of Gandhari comes across – more than anything – as likeable. She does not possess the fiery resoluteness that Kunti displays at different parts of the story.

One cannot go as far as to call her meek, but she does get close to that.

Despite being wronged by the people around her (Bhishma and Subala do not tell her the whole truth about Dhritarashtra’s situation before she marries him), Gandhari does not openly rail against any of them.

She does not throw tantrums, nor does she make demands of Bhishma. She accepts whatever Bhishma and Vidura have decided with respect to Dhritarashtra’s kingship.

She even goes the extra mile and blindfolds herself to support her husband. If this is her way of protesting, it is a self-sacrificing, passive way of doing so.

Other Options

Gandhari certainly has other options at the time of discovering the truth about Dhritarashtra – that he is not going to be made king.

She could have used methods of persuasion and trickery to influence Bhishma into making Dhritarashtra king. She could have offered to be Dhritarashtra’s ‘eyes and ears’, thus sharing in the king’s power.

She could have done what Duryodhana successfully does later on: influence Dhritarashtra into resenting the unfair treatment meted out to him. Through him, she would have succeeded eventually in making herself heard.

She could have openly challenged Bhishma’s decision, and called for a public hearing where she can present Dhritarashtra’s case. At the very least, she might have succeeded in securing the rights of her future children if not her husband.

But Gandhari does not consider any of these options. Instead, she chooses the meek form of protest by blindfolding herself.

In doing this, she surrenders what little power she does possess. Instead of becoming a tool with which Dhritarashtra might be pulled out of his mire, she joins him in it.

As Wife and Mother

Gandhari’s record as wife is exemplary. Dhritarashtra never has reason to complain about her. Even Bhishma – who might have had misgivings about her at the beginning – is entirely satisfied with her conduct.

As mother to the Kauravas too, she does nothing wrong. Whether she could have done more to thwart Duryodhana’s ambitions from a young age is debatable.

Neither Kunti nor Gandhari is to blame for the Pandavas and Kauravas growing up with an eye on the throne. Neither woman is given clear guidance by Bhishma or Vidura as to what they can expect.

And both Kunti and Gandhari legitimately believe that their sons are the rightful heirs. In this scenario, when each believes the other to be the usurper, why would either woman discourage her children from dreaming?

To the extent that this is an error in judgement, Kunti is as guilty of it as Gandhari is. But most of all, blame for the Pandava-Kaurava conflict lies squarely on the shoulders of Bhishma.

As Sister and Queen

Where Gandhari’s character truly shines is when she comes into power. A lesser woman would have used this opportunity to squash all threats and challengers.

But Gandhari remains kind to Pandu and Kunti even after she becomes queen. This is true of Dhritarashtra as well. The couple does not misuse the power that Pandu has placed in their hands.

After Pandu’s death, Gandhari could have easily put her foot down and said that Kunti and her children are not allowed inside the royal palace. This would not even have perceived as cruel.

Consider: the fact that Pandu was impotent is well-known. The fact that the Pandavas are not biological sons of Pandu is also clear to everyone. Now that Pandu himself is no more, what link do the supposed sons of Pandu have with the Kuru house?

This is a logical argument. And as the king and queen of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari could have easily made it.

They could have suggested that Kunti should go and live at her father’s place. They might have set her up with a well-furnished cottage within Hastinapur but outside the palace grounds.

But Gandhari does not do any of this. Perhaps naively, she welcomes Kunti back home with open arms.

As Aunt to the Pandavas

After allowing Kunti and the Pandavas back into the palace, Gandhari does not impose any of her power onto them. She treats Kunti as an equal.

Of course, there is the obvious difference in title between the two women, but Gandhari is not heavy-fisted about it.

By all accounts, the Pandava receive equal standing to their cousins as they grow up. They are not discriminated against, as natural as that would have been.

This is not an insignificant point. If Gandhari had been a little clearer about who is the power-holder in the palace, Kunti may not have dared to think of her sons as future kings.

But because Gandhari treats Kunti so nicely, the latter thinks that her children are deserving of the throne.

Of course, aiding this whole process is Bhishma himself, who makes it a tacit rule in the household that the Pandava and Kauravas must be considered ‘equals’.

All in all, Gandhari exhibits loving and caring behaviour toward the Pandavas. If anything, she must have been surprised to note that Kunti and the Pandavas – instead of expressing gratitude toward her – begin to consider the Kuru throne theirs.

After the War

It is a testament to Gandhari’s innate goodness that even after the Pandavas had killed all of her sons, and even though she’s capable of cursing the Pandavas with ruin, Gandhari restrains herself.

She saves much of her ire for Krishna, whom she curses with the fate of having to watch the Vrishnis fight amongst themselves and die.

With the Pandavas she remonstrates, she expresses grief, and there is a brief moment of rage directed at Yudhishthir’s toenail, but overall, she resigns herself to what has happened.

She and Dhritarashtra live with the Pandavas for a period of fifteen years after the Kurukshetra war. During this time, the Pandavas care for them as if they were their parents.

Gandhari is not only able to swallow the terrible loss of her children, but is also able to love their killers the Pandavas.

All of this shows that she is an unnaturally good human being, perhaps better than any of the other major characters we find in the Mahabharata.

Further Reading

If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also: