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The term is used in the Mahābhārata with two meanings:
- The wider meaning, is used to represent all the descendants of Kuru. This meaning, which includes the Pandava brothers, is often used in the earlier parts of popular renditions of the Mahābhārata.
- The narrower but more common meaning, is used to represent the elder line of the descendants of King Kuru. This restricts it to the children of King Dhritarashtra, as his line is the older line of descent from Kuru. It excludes the children of the younger brother Pandu, who founds his own line, the Pandava.
The rest of this article deals with the Kaurava in the narrower sense, that is the children of Dhritarashtra by Gandhari. When referring to these children, a more specific term is also used - Dhartarashtra, a derivative of Dhritarashtra.
The Birth of the Kauravas
After Gandhari was married to Dhritarashtra she wrapped a bandage over her eyes and vowed to share the darkness that her husband lived in. Gandhari's brother Shakuni came to live with them to look after the interests of Gandhari. Once Rishi Vyas came to visit Gandhari in Hastinapur. She took great care of the comforts of the great saint and saw that he had a pleasant stay in Hastinapur. The saint was pleased with Gandhari and granted her a boon. Gandhari wished for one hundred sons who would be as powerful as her husband. Vyas granted her the boon and in due course of time Gandhari found herself to be pregnant. But two years passed and still the baby was not born. Meanwhile Kunti received a son from god Yama whom she called Yudhisthira. After two years of pregnancy, Gandhari gave birth to a hard piece of lifeless flesh that was not a baby at all. Gandhari was devastated as she had expected a hundred sons according to the blessing of Rishi Vyas. She was about to throw away the piece of flesh when Rishi Vyas appeared and told her that his blessings could not have been in vain and asked Gandhari to arrange for one hundred jars to be filled with Ghee (oil). He told Gandhari that he would cut the piece of flesh into hundred pieces and place them in the jars, which would then develop into the one hundred sons that she so desired. Gandhari told Vyas then that she also wanted to have a daughter. Vyas agreed and cut the piece of flesh into one hundred and one pieces and placed them each in the jars. After two more years of patient waiting the jars were ready to be opened.
When the first jar was opened the first baby was born and was named "Duryodhana" which means "the unconquerable one" or "difficult to fight with". As soon as the baby started crying all the beasts of the jungle started howling and many signs of ill omen were seen. Vidura spoke then saying that the child would have to be abandoned as the omens at his birth spelt doom for the Kuru clan. He said, "The scriptures clearly state that for the good of the clan an individual can be sacrificed, for the good of the village a clan can be sacrificed, for the good of the country a village can be sacrificed and for the development of the soul, even the earth can be sacrificed." So for the good of the clan and of the country and of humanity, please sacrifice this son of yours. But both Gandhari and Dhritrashtra were adamant that a baby could not cause any harm and much against Vidura's wishes kept the baby. At the same time Bhima was born to Kunti in the forest.Another son of Dhritarashtra was from a Vysya servant Sukhada named Yuyutsu was born on the same day as Bhima and Duryodhana.The other children of Gandhari were taken out of the jars and now Gandhari had one hundred sons and a daughter called Duhsala. All the children grew up to be strong and powerful.
This story should be read in view of the dispute over the succession to the throne of the kingdom. It attributes a late birth to Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhritarashtra, despite his father's early marriage. This legitimises the Yudhisthira's claim to the throne, since he was the eldest of his generation.
The children of Dhritarashtra
The children of Dhritarashtra by Gandhari are also referred by a more specific and frequently encountered term - Dhārtarāṣṭra, a derivative of Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Dhritarashtra).
According to the epic, Gandhari wanted a hundred sons, and Vyasa granted her a boon that she would have these. Another version says that she was unable to have any children for a long time and she eventually became pregnant, but did not deliver for two years, after which she gave birth to a lump of flesh. Vyasa cut this lump into a hundred and one pieces, and these eventually developed into a hundred boys and one girl.
The birth of these children is relevant to the dispute over succession of the kingdom's throne. It attributes the late birth of Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhritarashtra, despite his father's early marriage and legitimizes the case for his cousin Yudhisthira to claim the throne, since he could claim to be the eldest of his generation. All the sons of Dhritarashtra excluding Yuyutsu (born of Dhritarashtra's marriage with a Vaysya woman, thus a step brother of Duryodhana) were killed in the great battle at Kurukshetra.
Quote from Mahabharata, Sambava Parva, Section CXV:
"And during the time when Gandhari was in a state of advanced pregnancy, there was a maid servant of the Vaisy class who used to attend on Dhritarashtra. During that year, O king, was begotten upon her by the illustrious Dhritarashtra a son endued with great intelligence who was afterwards named Yuvutsu. And because he was begotten by a Kshatriya upon a Vaisy woman, he was subject to the constant taunts of the Kaurava.
Thus were born unto the wise Dhritarashtra, a hundred sons who were all heroes and mighty chariot-fighters, and a daughter over and above the hundred, and another son Yuyutsu of great energy and prowess begotten upon a Vaisya woman."
List of Dhritarashtra's children
Although all hundred sons with Ghandari have been named, only the first few are normally mentioned in the Mahābhārata. Their hundred and first child was a daughter named Dushala. Dhritirashtra had another son called Yuyutsu with a Vysya servant, who was born on the same day as Duryodhana. The names of all of Dhritarashtra's 102 children (not according to age) are:
- Puranic Encyclopedia of Vettom Mani. Mahabharata Aadiparvam – chapter 67 Compiled by T.J.Neriamparampil