Gandhari (Mahabharata)

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Mahabharata character
Gandhari sitting on a throne.
In-universe information
FamilySubala (father)
Sudharma (mother)
Shakuni (brother)
Children101 Kauravas including Duryodhana, Dushasana, Vikarna (sons) and Duhsala (daughter)

Gandhari (Sanskrit: गांधारी, lit. A girl from Gandhara) is a prominent character in the Indian epic the Mahabharata. She was a princess of Gandhara and the wife of Dhritrashtra, the blind king of Hastinapura, and the mother of a hundred sons and a daughter, the Kauravas.[1]

Early life and marriage[edit]

Gandhari was born to Subala, the king of Gandhara. As a maiden, Gandhari was noted for her piety and virtuous nature. Gandhari is regarded as an incarnation of the goddess Mati.[2] She was the sister of Shakuni.

During her maiden days, she is said to have impressed Lord Shiva through penance and received a boon to bear 100 children. However, the reason for her penance and her receiving such boon is unknown. In alternative versions, she is said to have impressed Veda Vyasa with her gracious and generous nature. One of the main reasons of Bhishma choosing Gandhari to be the elder daughter-in-law of the Kuru kingdom is said to be this boon, which would put an end to his worry of the throne remaining vacant.

Gandhari's marriage was arranged to Dhritarashtra, the eldest prince of the Kuru kingdom, a region in Delhi and Haryana region. The Mahabharata depicted her as a beautiful and virtuous woman and a very dedicated wife. Their marriage was arranged by Bhishma. When she found out that her would-be husband was born blind, she decided to blindfold herself in order to be like her husband. What went through the young girl's mind when she found out that she was to marry a blind man is not depicted in the epic. Popular narration said that the act of blindfolding herself was a sign of dedication and love. On the contrary, Irawati Karve and many modern scholars debated that the act of blindfolding was an act of protest against Bhishma, as he intimidated her father into giving away her hand in marriage to the blind prince of Hastinapur.[3]

The Mahabharata depicts her marriage as 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.[4][5]

Her husband Dhritarashtra was denied the throne because of his blindness, despite being eldest son. The throne went to Pandu, the younger brother of Dhritarashtra. After being cursed by Sage Kindama, Pandu renounced his kingdom in order to repent. After that, her husband was crowned King of Hastinapur and she became the de facto Queen.[6]

Pregnancy and birth of her children[edit]

Gandhari receiving boon from Vyasa

Once, an exhausted Veda Vyasa came to Gandhari's palace. Vyasa was impressed by Gandhari's hospitality and gave her a boon which she desired that "she should have century of sons each equal unto her lord in strength and accomplishments".[7] She became pregnant but carried the child for an unusually long period of two years. Later, when she hears that Kunti (queen of king Pandu, younger brother of Dhritarashtra) has given birth to the eldest of the Pandavas, she struck on her stomach in frustration only to result in the birth of a "hard mass of flesh" like an "iron ball,” not a child.[7]

Just as she was about to throw away the mass of flesh, Veda Vyasa arrived (knowing every occurrence with his spiritual power.) Before Vyasa, she admitted her jealousy of Kunti and complained about the boon he had given her. Veda Vyasa assures her that he has never spoken "untruth" and ordered that a "hundred pots full of clarified butter be brought instantly, and let them be placed at a concealed spot. In the meantime, let cool water be sprinkled over this ball of flesh".[7] During this process, Gandhari professed her wish of having a daughter to the ascetic; the daughter, Dushala, would be youngest of her all children. The lump of flesh was originally cut into one hundred parts, but when Gandhari revealed she wanted a daughter the mass was cut once more to make one hundred and one parts. Then, Vyasa "brought another pot full of clarified butter, and put the part intended for a daughter into it." These cuts of flesh "sprinkled over with water" developed to become a hundred and one children; from which after two years, her hundred sons and only daughter were born in a month.[8]

After the birth of her first son Duryodhana, many ill omens occurred: the child "began to cry and bray like an ass” and caused "violent winds" and "fires in various directions." A frightened Dhritarashtra summoned Vidura, Bhishma and all other Kurus and countless Brahmanas regarding his firstborn's possibility of succession to the throne. Observing ill omens, Vidura and the other brahmanas suggested the king forsake his first born, since the child might cause destruction to the Kuru clan, but out of paternal love for his first child he ignored the advice.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

Kunti leading Dhritarashtra and Gandhari as she goes to the forest in exile

After the Mahabharata War, Gandhari cursed Krishna that his clan, the Yadavas, would perish the way her children perished. Krishna gladly accepted the curse and it came true 36 years after the war, when the Yadavas were drinking and enjoying life. They started teasing rishis, who cursed Krishna’s son into birthing an iron club. The iron club was broken down, thrown in the ocean, but found its way back onto land and into the weapons that destroyed every member of the clan— including Krishna.

It is believed that Gandhari made a single purposeful exception to her blindfolded state, when she removed her blindfold to see her eldest son Duryodhana. She poured all her power into her son's body in one glance, rendering Duryodhana's entire body, except his loins, as strong as a thunderbolt. Krishna foiled Gandhari's plan by asking Duryodhana to cover up his private part before meeting his mother.[9] 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. Despite its popularity the story is not mentioned in the original version of the Mahabharata written by Veda Vyasa. As per Vyasa's Mahabharata, Duryodhana, while fighting against Bhima, displayed his superior mace skills, due to which Bhima could not defeat him and had to break rules to kill him.[10]

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 Yudhishthira's toe. His clean toe was charred black due to her wrath and power. When she heard the news of the death of all the sons of Pandavas (Upapandavas), she embraced the Pandavas and consoled them for their losses. Later her wrath turned to Krishna for allowing all this destruction to happen.[11] She cursed that he, his city and all his subjects would be destroyed. Krishna accept the curse. Her curse took its course 36 years after the great war when Yadu dynasty perished after a fight broke out between Yadavas at a festival. Lord Krishna ascended to his heavenly abode after living for 126 years. The golden city of Dwarka drowned exactly seven days after his disappearance. Gandhari along with her husband Dhritarashtra, brother-in-law Vidura and sister-in-law Kunti, left Hastinapur about 15 years after the war to seek penance. She is said to have died in the Himalayas in a forest fire along with Dhritarastra, Vidura and Kunti and attained moksha. [12]

Portrayal in the Mahabharata[edit]

Gandhari reprimands Duryodhana

The Mahabharata attributes high moral standards to Gandhari, although her sons are 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's major flaw was her love for her sons, especially her first born, Duryodhana, which often blinded her to his flaws.[13]


In Hebbya village, Nanjangud, Mysore, India there is a temple called Gāndhārī temple dedicated to her. This temple honours her devotion and loyalty as she epitomized the goodness of a mother and a loving wife. The foundation stone of the temple was laid on June 19, 2008. It was expected to cost Rs 2.5 crore (INR 25 million). [14]

Rabindranath Tagore wrote a Bengali poetic play about her, named Gandharir Abedon (Bangla: গান্ধারীর আবেদন, Translation: Supplication of Gandhari). Gandhari, her husband Dhritarashtra and their son Duryodhana are central characters in the play.[15] Aditi Banerjee wrote a novel named The Curse of Gandhari, which depicts the story of the Mahabharata through the perspective of Gandhari.[16]

In media and television[edit]

  • In B.R.Chopra's Mahabharat Gandhari was portrayed by Renuka Israni
  • In Ramanand Sagar's Shri Krishna Gandhari was portrayed by Neela Patel
  • In Star Plus's Mahabharat Gandhari was portrayed by Riya Deepsi
  • In Dharmakshetra (2014) Gandhari was portrayed by Maleeka R. Ghai
  • In Suryaputra Karna (2015 TV Series) Gandhari was portrayed by Smriti Sinha Vatsa


  1. ^ Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Translated into English Prose by Kisari Mohan Ganguli. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.
  2. ^ "Adi Parva Sambhava Parva : Section LXVII". Mahabharata Book 1. p. 139.
  3. ^ Irawati Karve, Yuganta: The End of an Epoch, Chapter:3
  4. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section CX". Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  5. ^ varunthelannister (17 May 2019). "Why Shakuni Wanted To Destroy Hastinapur - Was It Love For His Sister or Something More?". Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  6. ^ Irawati Karve. Yuganta: The End of an Epoch. p. 29.
  7. ^ a b c d The Mahabharata, Book : Adi Parva:Sambhava Parva : Section:CXV.
  8. ^ The Mahabharata, Book : Adi Parva:Sambhava Parva : Section: CXVI.
  9. ^ "Gandhari, the Rebel". 29. Economic and Political Weekly: 1517-1519. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ "60-61". Mahabharata Book 9. Shalya Parva.
  11. ^ Stri Parva The Mahabharata, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, Published by P.C. Roy (1889)
  12. ^ Pattanaik, Devdutt. "Tears of Gandhari". Devdutt.
  13. ^ Kumar, Manisha (15 October 2014). "Kunti And Gandhari - The Two Matriarchs Of Mahabharata". Dolls of India. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  14. ^ "Gandhari temple: a testimony to loyalty and womanhood". The Hindu. 20 June 2008.
  15. ^ Sanchayita by Rabindranath Tagore
  16. ^ Decoding Gandhari, the queen of iron will The Hindu

See also[edit]