Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Krishna accept Gandhari’s curse?
Krishna accepts Gandhari’s curse because of three possible reasons: (1) He is not powerful enough to stop her words from coming true, because Gandhari is a woman of high merit; (2) He thinks that Gandhari’s curse is a fair one; and (3) As someone with foreknowledge of the timeline, he knows that Gandhari’s curse is preordained.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna accepted Gandhari’s curse.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
After the end of the Kurukshetra war, while mourning over the death of her sons, Gandhari turns on Krishna in a moment of anger.
‘You oversaw this destruction while being capable of preventing it, Madhava,’ she says. ‘And you have caused us all great heartbreak. Your own Yadava clan will meet its end in similar fashion, with kinsmen killing one another.’
Krishna responds to these ominous words with a humble bow and says, ‘So be it.’
Gandhari’s curse comes true only thirty six years later, during the events of the Mausala Parva. By this time, Gandhari is long dead. The Kuru dynasty has re-established itself at Indraprastha, and the Kurukshetra war is fading memory in people’s minds.
The Pandavas, Krishna and Balarama – and all the Vrishni warriors – are old men now. Even if Gandhari had not placed her curse, they would have all had to relinquish their lives soon anyway.
(Suggested: 11 Soulful Mahabharata Stories from the Mausala Parva.)
Was Gandhari’s curse fair?
One question we can ask ourselves here is whether or not Gandhari’s anger at Krishna was justified. On the one hand, if we view Krishna as all-powerful, then it follows that he must have been able to prevent the war but has chosen not to do so.
On the other hand, Gandhari may have been mistaken: despite his assurances to the contrary, Krishna may not have possessed divine powers at all. He is simply the most intelligent, wisest and craftiest regent of his time, motivated above all by ensuring the welfare of his kingdom, Anarta.
Even if we assume that Krishna is a small part of Brahman and therefore possesses full and final knowledge of all events that take place during all time, it follows from there that he does not have the ability to change anything.
If it has all happened, and if it can only happen one way, nothing can be changed.
From Gandhari’s point of view, therefore, this curse is justified because she sees Krishna as wilfully cruel. But if we take into account the other two possibilities, Krishna may have simply been misunderstood by her.
A Human Krishna
For this section, we will assume that Krishna is only a human being, without any sort of divine power. At the end of the war, when Gandhari curses him, what are his internal feelings? And why does he accept it without protest?
Gandhari’s curse probably comes as a surprise to Krishna, who has just successfully brought the Kurukshetra war to a close after several twists and turns.
He may have thought that Dhritarashtra and Gandhari would find it difficult to forgive the Pandavas, but that Gandhari would hold him responsible for the destruction would have been an impossible notion.
Indeed, the fact that Gandhari believes that Krishna is powerful enough to stop the war on his own is testament to Krishna’s lifelong attempt to project himself as an all-powerful being.
But in his heart, Krishna knows that the war happened despite his best efforts, not because of them. He has tried his best to bring about a peaceful solution, and the war was fought only as a last resort.
Having said that, Krishna would not have seen the value in arguing against an old, grief-stricken woman. He therefore accepts her words as ‘punishment’, while at the same time resolving in his mind to do all in his power to keep protecting Anarta’s interests.
An Omnipotent Krishna
In this section, we will assume that Krishna is a divine being. First, we will take Gandhari’s view that Krishna is an all-powerful deity. So he did have the power to (a) stop the war, (b) never cause it in the first place, (c) bring about prosperity to the earth without violence.
First, we must be realistic about the extent of Krishna’s powers even if we allow he is a god. He certainly does not have the power to click his fingers and cause all the forces of evil to be destroyed.
He cannot bring about prosperity to the entire world by waving his hand. He cannot eliminate violence completely by just uttering a chant. Not even a god is that powerful.
Gandhari’s anger, therefore, is misplaced and out of proportion because she assumes that Krishna is much more powerful than he actually is. Krishna understands this, and therefore gives Gandhari the freedom to curse him.
Despite knowing that her notions of reality are warped, he also understands that the act of cursing him is fair – in her mind. And he is magnanimous enough to allow the old woman her freedom.
(Suggested: Why did Krishna not stop the Mahabharata?)
An Omniscient Krishna
Another possible view of Krishna is to see him as a ‘man out of time’. We’re told in various parts of the Mahabharata that Brahman, the entity that has created the universe, exists alongside Time, not inside it.
This essentially means that Brahman knows all that has ever happened, and all that ever will. When one universe destroys itself, another one is born and the cycle repeats.
As part of this cosmic being, Krishna is a man who shares that knowledge of the entire timeline. Therefore, he has no free will. The very concept of free will is alien to him.
Free will becomes the illusory property of those who believe that the future is determined by the collective actions and thoughts of beings that permeate the universe. For a man like Krishna, for whom past, present and future are all alike, free will does not exist.
Everything that is yet to happen has already happened. The future is as determinate – and as immutable – as the past.
In this frame, Krishna is a mere tool of Time. He behaves a certain way because that is how he has behaved. All the actions and choices and decisions and debates – they’re moot.
Krishna accepts Gandhari’s curse, therefore, because he knows that he has accepted it. He does not have the power to change the predetermined course of destiny.
One Final Possibility
One final possibility for why Krishna accepts Gandhari’s curse mutely is because he is simply not powerful enough to stop it. Gandhari is a woman of high merit; she has performed several austerities of her own.
Her words, therefore, carry enough weight that the universe adjusts itself to accommodate them. Krishna does not have the ability to render them ineffective.
A part of Krishna may even have foreseen the fact that the curse of Gandhari will only come true long after Dwaraka has fulfilled its destiny, thirty six years in the future. By then, all their lives will have been winding down to a close anyway.
The curse, therefore, will only function as catalyst to bring about the destruction of things that ought to be destroyed. Therefore, Krishna does not mind submitting to it.
Indeed, when the time comes, he actively abets it by helping destroy the Yadava clan himself.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- 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
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story