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Gandhari (Sanskrit: गांधारी) is a character in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. In the epic, she was an incarnation of Mati, the Goddess of Intelligence, as the daughter of Subala, the king of Gandhara, or the modern Kandahar (a region spanning northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan) from which her name is derived. Gandhari is also known as Gandhararajaduhita, Saubaleyi, Saubali, Subalaja, Subalaputri, Subalatmaja in the Mahabharata. Gandhari's marriage was arranged to Dhritarashtra, the eldest prince of the Kuru kingdom, a region in Delhi and Haryana region.
Gandhari voluntarily blindfolded herself throughout her married life. Her husband Dhritarashtra was born blind, and on realizing this, she decided to share the pain of her blind husband. Gandhari, after an unusually long period of pregnancy, bore a hundred sons, (collectively known as the Kauravas), and one daughter, Dushala, who married Jayadratha. The Kauravas, principally Duryodhana, were the villains of the Mahabharata. When the first son, Duryodhana, was born, he began braying like a jackal, and evil omens appeared during his birth year. Kripacharya and Vidura counseled the king and queen to kill the baby, but they refused.
Gandhari made a single exception to her blindfolded state, when she removed her blindfold to see her eldest son, Duryodhana. She poured all her power into that one glance, rendering Duryodhana's entire body, except his loins as strong as iron. Krishna foiled Gandhari's plan by meeting Duryodhana and asking him to cover up his privates before meeting his mother. On their decisive encounter on the eighteenth day of the Kurukshetra battle, Bhima smashed Duryodhana's thighs, a move both literally and figuratively below the belt.
All of Gandhari's sons were killed in the war against their cousins, the Pandavas, at Kurukshetra, specifically at the hands of Bhima. Upon hearing the news, it is said that through a small gap in the blindfold, her gaze fell on Yudhisthira's toe. His clean toe was charred black due to her wrath and power. Her wrath extinguished, she embraced the Pandavas and consoled them for their losses.
Portrayal in the Mahabharatha
The Mahabharata attributes high moral standards to Gandhari, although Gandhari's sons were portrayed as villains. She repeatedly exhorted her sons to follow dharma and make peace with the Pandavas. Gandhari fostered a big-little sister relationship with Kunti. Famously, when Duryodhana would ask for her blessing of victory during the Kurukshetra war, Gandhari would only say "may victory find the side of righteousness".
Gandhari was an ardent worshipper of Lord Shiva and a student of Durvasa and various versions of the Mahabharatha state that she was blessed by the lord himself to have 100 children. Gandhari's sacrifice of her eyesight and her austere life granted her great spiritual power, allowing her to grant powers and make curses.
Gandhari's major flaw was her love for her sons, especially her first born, Duryodhana, which often blinded her to his flaws. Unknown to her, Gandhari's marriage was a major reason for the story's central conflict. Her brother, Shakuni, was enraged that Hastinapur, already having humiliated Gandhar in a war of conquest where all of Shakuni's brothers were killed, would offer for his prized sister a blind man. Shakuni swore to destroy the Kuru dynasty, and played an instrumental role in fueling the flames of conflict between the cousins.
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