Why did Gandhari curse Krishna?

Why did Gandhari curse Krishna - Featured Image - Picture of a circular chain representing causality

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 curse Krishna?

Gandhari curses Krishna for the ostensible reason of being able to prevent the Kurukshetra war but choosing not to do so. However, her hidden motivation could also be that this is her way of exacting revenge on Krishna for being the indirect cause of her sons’ deaths. Gandhari’s words come true during the Mausala Parva.

Read on to discover more about why Gandhari cursed Krishna.

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

After the War

After the war of Kurukshetra comes to a close, the Pandavas and Krishna approach Gandhari and Dhritarashtra to take their blessings.

This is a meeting fraught with conflict: after all, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari know that their sons have just been killed by the Pandavas. At the same time, they also want to do the ‘right’ thing by their nephews.

During this meeting, Gandhari exercises her power of divine sight to visit the battered battlefield of Kurukshetra. She floats over the rotting corpses, and sheds tears over the bodies of her sons.

Accompanying her on this journey of mourning are all the other ladies of the court, each weeping at her son or brother or kinsman who had died in the fight.

At the end of the ordeal, Gandhari recovers enough from her grief to pronounce a curse on Krishna.

‘Because you had the power to prevent this carnage and chose not to,’ she says to him, ‘the race of Vrishnis – and the city of Dwaraka that you built so painstakingly – will perish the same way by infighting.’

Gandhari’s Mistake

The reason that Gandhari states for placing the curse on Krishna is an assumption that Krishna had the ability to prevent the Kurukshetra war and still chose not to do so.

But this is not true. Krishna’s motivation is to end the reign of evil and usher in an era of peace and good. His ambit is not restricted to give the throne of Hastinapur to the Pandavas.

If that were the case, he could have easily killed (or otherwise taken care of) Duryodhana – and the conflict surrounding the Kuru dynasty would be instantly resolved.

Instead, by the end of the Dwapara Yuga, the forces of evil have become so strong that a number of kings and kingdoms littered around the world are ruled by men who can potentially become the next Duryodhana.

In other words, if Krishna had restricted himself to give the throne of Hastinapur to the Pandavas, another pocket of evil would have risen in due course which would have needed another intervention.

The Only Solution

The most efficient solution, therefore, Krishna decides, is to have one major cleansing event that eliminates all evil and establishes the forces of good as supremely powerful in the world.

If this is to happen, the war of Kurukshetra is inevitable. It is necessary.

Despite his powers, Krishna does not have the ability to bring together all the evil elements of the world and to destroy them in one fell swoop. He needs the ‘good’ forces to assemble against the bad ones.

So Gandhari’s assessment that ‘Krishna could have prevented the way if he wanted’ is incorrect. What is true is that after surveying all possible methods of destroying evil, Krishna has chosen this path as the most efficient.

Gandhari’s Revenge

While Gandhari couches her anger toward Krishna in general terms (i.e.: ‘a lot of lives have been lost’), a big part of her must know that she also bears responsibility for causing the war.

Her rage toward Krishna, then, is probably motivated by a need for revenge. Because she cannot single out any of the Pandavas for avenging the deaths of her sons, she lashes out at Krishna and curses him instead.

It is interesting to note that Gandhari holds Krishna responsible for the war – and by extension, for the deaths of her sons. Like Dhritarashtra, she absolves herself of all blame.

Did Gandhari regret cursing Krishna?

A school of thought may propose that Gandhari was consumed by grief at the moment of placing the curse on Krishna, and that she may have regretted her action later, in her calmer moments.

But this is not borne out by the evidence. Gandhari lives for seventeen years after she curses Krishna, fifteen of those in relative luxury at the Hastinapur royal palace.

During those seventeen years, if Gandhari feels any regret for having cursed the Vrishni race, she does not show it. She makes no attempt to amend her curse or to take it back.

This only leads us to conclude that the curse is not something that emerged from Gandhari during an emotional moment. She truly meant for the Vrishni race to be destroyed.

Krishna’ Response

On some level, Krishna also seems to know that the actions he committed during the war are deserving of punishment. So when Gandhari makes her pronouncement, he makes no attempt to defend himself.

On previous occasions, during conversations with Dhritarashtra and Bhishma, we see Krishna holding forth on matters such as ethics and morality. But here, he merely bows to Gandhari and accepts her verdict.

It is also possible that Krishna, with his wisdom, knows that the good of today will erode gradually into the evil of tomorrow: while Dwaraka and Anarta are undoubtedly ‘good’ at the time of the war’s end, over time, they will both become symbols of evil.

And at that time, whenever it happens, they must be destroyed too.

Krishna would probably not have known just how long this cycle will take to play itself out. But he would have understood its inevitability.

Thirty Six Years Later

As it happens, the moral degradation of the Vrishni race happens over the next thirty six years. It is indeed ironic that Gandhari does not live to see the downfall of the Vrishnis: the events of the Mausala Parva succeed her death by nineteen years.

The signal that the Vrishnis have turned evil is borne out by the way in which Samba, one of the sons of Krishna, treats the three sages when they visit Dwaraka.

Once the three sages curse Dwaraka and depart, the countdown begins. Natural and unnatural omens begin to appear. People of Anarta begin to lose their characters. They become wanton.

They begin to resemble the very forces of evil against which Krishna fought on Kurukshetra thirty six years ago.

Seeing this happen, Krishna does what he needs to do. He fights them – not minding that these are his people, that this city is one that he built.

He destroys his life’s work, knowing that it has turned into something that deserves to be destroyed.

Gandhari as Helper

Seen this way, Gandhari is yet another cog in Krishna’s cosmic wheel of time. By placing a curse on him, she enables Krishna’s role in destroying evil when it rises a second time during the Mausala Parva.

Throughout his life, Krishna fights evil over and over again – with Kamsa, with Jarasandha, with Shishupala, with Duryodhana, and finally with Dwaraka and the Vrishnis.

When placing the curse, Gandhari thinks that it will cause Krishna to suffer. But in the thirty six years that it takes for the cycle to repeat itself, Krishna is primed. He is ready to fight evil again, wherever it crops up.

So at the end, when he kills his own kinsmen, he does so with the same relish that he displayed during the extermination of the Kurus.

Unknown to Gandhari, what she thinks of as a curse is merely an act of help for Krishna to finish what he must do.

Further Reading

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