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: Why did Gandhari cover her eyes?
The often-quoted reason for Gandhari covering her eyes is that she wished to support Dhritarashtra in his blindness. Some commentators have speculated that this may have been an act of rebellion. There is also the possibility that Gandhari wished to strengthen her divine sight, and therefore suppressed her physical sight.
Read on to discover more about why Gandhari covered her eyes.
(For answers to all Gandhari-related questions, see: Gandhari: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
During the Wedding
Gandhari chooses her wedding ceremony to make the announcement that she is going to take the vow of blindness. Her stated reason is that she wishes to support her blind husband in his lived experience.
In other words, she thinks she is unworthy of possessing the gift of sight while her husband is unable to see.
A number of questions might arise in the reader’s mind at this point. Chiefly: just how much of the truth did Bhishma reveal to Subala, the king of Gandhara, when he went to ask for Gandhari’s hand?
Did he tell the king that Dhritarashtra was blind? (This, one would assume, was common knowledge.) Did he disclose the fact that the Kuru leadership had already decided to sideline Dhritarashtra from the throne?
While saying yes, did Gandhari know that (a) she will be marrying a blind man, and (b) she will not become queen despite being married to the rightful heir?
An Act of Protest
Of the two truths that Bhishma might have hidden from Subala, the more significant one is the second. Being married to a blind man is not the end of the world, but being deceived as to the succession plan of the throne is much more serious.
Of course, we do not know for certain that Bhishma hid anything at all from Subala. For all we know, he was the very picture of transparency and laid bare all his cards.
But if that is the case, why does Gandhari wait until the wedding ceremony to make her announcement? Why is there a sense of grandstanding in her gesture?
It is entirely possible therefore that Gandhari only came to know too late that Dhritarashtra was not going to be king. And as an act of protest, she takes the vow of voluntary blindness to smite Bhishma.
Extent of Gandhari’s Blindness
As an aside, we must also acknowledge that the text does not enlighten us about the extent of Gandhari’s blindness. Yes, she covers her eyes with a piece of cloth.
But does she remove the blindfold when she is bathing, or when she is sleeping, or when she has to swap a dirty blindfold for a clean one? Does she remove the covering in solitude or during private moments?
If a person’s eyes are kept closed for long enough, they actually become blind. How does Gandhari prevent that from happening to her? Or does it happen to her?
In short, does Gandhari actually become blind over the years? Or does she retain her sense of sight?
If it is the former, then she would not need the blindfold after she becomes blind. If it is the latter, then her vow of blindness is not as stringent as it first appears.
A Realistic View
Speaking from a realist’s perspective, since we know that Gandhari’s eyes do not stop working, it must be that she uses them on a regular basis when no one’s looking.
Notice that Gandhari does not choose a permanent form of blindness – for instance, she does not wish to be blinded by having her eye gouged out – to support her husband. She deliberately chooses a form of blindness that she can control.
With a blindfold, she can regulate the extent to which she wishes to be blind. Whenever she is in public and accompanying her husband, she will have the blindfold on. Whenever she wishes to see, she can simply remove the covering.
This is why it is likely that Gandhari – unlike Dhritarashtra – knew what her children looked like, and saw much more in general with her eyes than Dhritarashtra did.
Finally, we know that Gandhari is endued with plenty of spiritual merit, and that she has the gift of divine sight.
She uses this gift at the very end – after the war – to magically view the battlefield and all the corpses scattered over it. With her blindfold on, she is able to train her mind’s eye to focus on a given scene elsewhere.
Throughout the course of her life, Gandhari develops this ability, bit by bit.
It is possible that in order to give oneself the best chance to strengthen one’s mind’s eye, one has to loosen one’s enslavement to the physical sense of sight.
This is not unlike the meditating sage who shuts down his senses one by one in order to open up his spiritual vastness.
Gandhari may have decided to undertake the punishment of voluntary blindness (even if it is not permanent, and even if it is only for a few hours a day) with the hope that it would help her sharpen her ascetic practices.
And through her asceticism, she is able to see into worlds that are invisible to you and me.
She also uses her asceticism, incidentally, to place a curse on Krishna that would bring the Vrishni race to an end.
One Final Possibility
Having speculated freely in all directions thus far, it would be remiss of us if we did not admit that one final possibility exists for why Gandhari chose to cover her eyes.
And that is this: she truly believes that by adopting a vow of blindness to support her husband, she is behaving in a manner befitting a dutiful wife.
There is no protest or anger in her choice. She has not been lied to by Bhishma. She goes into the whole thing knowing fully well that she is not going to be queen.
She chooses the wedding ceremony as the stage for her announcement because that is the moment that she truly becomes Dhritarashtra’s. So it is logical that her vow as a wife begins then.
In this frame, we take all the characters and events on face value, and ascribe nothing but the best intentions to everyone.
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