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 marry Dhritarashtra?
Dhritarashtra’s blindness was common knowledge. Gandhari must have known about it. What is not clear is whether she knew that Bhishma did not intend to make Dhritarashtra king. If it is true that Bhishma hid this information, Gandhari would have been happy to marry Dhritarashtra despite his blindness.
Read on to discover more about why Gandhari married Dhritarashtra.
(For answers to all Gandhari-related questions, see: Gandhari: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Did Bhishma lie?
At the time of Bhishma’s search for a bride for Dhritarashtra, it is already common knowledge among the kingdoms of Aryavarta that the Kuru prince was born blind.
However, it is worth asking just how widespread this knowledge was. Did Bhishma have to go all the way to Gandhara in order to find a city that did not know about Dhritarashtra’s blindness?
Or did he choose Gandhara because of some other (more strategic) reasons?
We will never know the answers to these questions, because the Mahabharata does not give us any explicit hints on the topic. But we do know for certain that Bhishma gives a hefty bride-price in order to procure Gandhari for Dhritarashtra.
Contrast this with the way in which Bhishma abducts the princesses of Kasi for Vichitraveerya a few years ago. He did not offer any bride-price then.
This suggests that Bhishma must have at least told Subala (the father of Gandhari) about Dhritarashtra’s affliction.
What did Bhishma lie about?
Even if we concede that Bhishma told Subala about Dhritarashtra’s blindness, it is still possible that he did not divulge the fact that Dhritarashtra will not be ascending the throne of Hastinapur.
In short, there are two important truths here that Bhishma should have told Subala:
- Dhritarashtra is a blind man. He was born blind. And he will never regain his sight.
- Dhritarashtra, despite being the firstborn, will not be made king.
If we give Bhishma the benefit of the doubt, we will of course imagine that he made a clean breast of the situation to Subala – and then offered the bride-price as compensation for what is clearly a less-than-ideal match.
On the other hand, Bhishma is a rather crafty diplomat. He could easily have told Subala the less significant truth (that Dhritarashtra is blind) while hiding the fact that Gandhari – if married to Dhritarashtra – will never be queen.
How much did Gandhari know?
Now of course, we come to the point of how much Gandhari was told by Subala about the whole matter.
One school of thought is that Gandhari knew everything about Dhritarashtra and the internal politics of the Kuru house beforehand, and that she conceded to marry Dhritarashtra despite this.
If we accept this theory, we must ask: why? Gandhari is the princess of a Great Kingdom. She would definitely have suitors that are higher-status than Dhritarashtra.
Was Bhishma’s bride-price high enough to mitigate this lifelong loss of stature? Perhaps. Perhaps Bhishma threw in other inducements in the form of trade and military support to sweeten the deal.
But then, there is the other – more likely – school of thought that Gandhari was kept in the dark about at least some aspects of what marrying Dhritarashtra would entail.
An act of protest?
Soon after marriage to Dhritarashtra, Gandhari takes the vow of blindfolding herself.
Her stated reason is that she wishes to support her husband in his blindness, and that she does not want to enjoy the benefits of sight when they are denied to her lord.
This logic feels a little specious. If she really wished to support her husband, it would seem more sensible to remain sighted and to become his companion in all affairs.
Adopting blindness herself has the exact opposite effect: now a third person will have to take care of both husband and wife.
While it is not supported explicitly by the text, some commentators have argued that Gandhari’s act of blindfolding herself is driven by a sense of rage at being betrayed.
Betrayed about what? My guess is that while Gandhari probably knew about Dhritarashtra’s blindness beforehand, she did not know that the throne of Hastinapur had already been promised to Pandu.
Hints from Shakuni
Shakuni accompanies Gandhari to Hastinapur after her wedding. There are indications that the siblings are not completely satisfied with what they find in Hastinapur.
The most likely explanation for this is that the ground reality at Hastinapur is not quite like the picture Bhishma painted for them in Gandhara.
For instance, they may have realized that Dhritarashtra has far less power that they thought. But by this time, the wedding has already happened. It is too late to do anything.
(This, incidentally, would have been exactly Bhishma’s plan all along: to bend the truth sufficiently so that Gandhari can be trapped in marriage to Dhritarashtra.)
Part of Shakuni’s antagonism toward the Kuru family would have arisen from this incident alone. Knowing that Gandhara has been deceived by Hastinapur in this respect, Shakuni takes a vow to pay Bhishma back in kind.
Overall, there are three distinct possibilities surrounding Gandhari’s marriage to Dhritarashtra.
One: Gandhari knew both that Dhritarashtra was blind and that he was not going to be king. She still consents to marry him, either out of compassion or because of the favourable terms that Bhishma offers Subala for her hand.
Two: Gandhari knew about Dhritarashtra’s blindness but not about his removal from the throne. In this case, she would be filled with resentment that Bhishma did not tell them the entire truth.
Three: Gandhari did not know about the blindness or the decision to snub Dhritarashtra. She was told nothing. She blindly said yes to what Subala asked her to do. In this case, Gandhari’s decision to blindfold herself is just meek surrender, not an act of protest.
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