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|Children||Duryodhana, Dushasana, Vikarna, 97 other sons and Duhsala (daughter)|
Gandhari (Sanskrit: गांधारी) is a prominent character in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. She was the wife of Dhritrashtra, the blind king of Hastinapura, and the mother of a hundred sons, the Kauravas.
As a pativratha (devoted wife) without parallel, Gandhari is regarded as an epitome of virtue, and is among the most respected moral forces in the epic. She not only married a blind man, but at the time of her wedding, she resolved to spend the reminder of her life as a blind woman herself, in order to share the debility and pain of her husband. For the rest of her life, she kept a cloth tied to her eyes and thus deprived herself of the power of sight. At certain critical junctures, she gave advice to her husband which was impeccable from a moral standpoint; she never wavered in her adherence to dharma (righteousness), even to a very bitter end. She was fated to witness the death of all her hundred sons within the space of 18 days, during the Great War between them and their cousins; she then retired with her husband to spend her last days in a forest hermitage.
Gandhari is regarded as an incarnation of Mati, the goddess of wisdom. She was born on earth as the daughter of Subala, king of Gandhara (the Kandahar region, which spans present-day northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), and was named 'Gandhari' by her father in honour of his land. She is also referred to in various places in the epic as Gandhara-raja-duhita (daughter of the Gandhara king), Saubaleyi, Saubali, Subalaja, Subala-putri and Subalatmaja (all meaning 'daughter of Subala'). She had one brother, Shakuni, a man of cunning and evil nature.
Even as a maiden, Gandhari was noted for her piety and virtuous nature. She was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, so much so that after she had completed certain vratas (rituals of prayer, meditation and austerity), the Lord himself appeared before her and granted her a boon. Gandhari asked for herself only the boon for which such vratas are generally kept by women: that she may be blessed with a long and fulfilling married life, and that she may never deviate from the path of womanly virtue. Impressed with a maiden of such strong mettle, God Shiva granted her the boon she wanted, saying that she would be renowned on earth and in heaven as a pati-vratha, a woman devoted to her husband, that she would rank with Arundhati and Anasuya for her merit as an ideal wife, and further that she would be the mother of a hundred sons.
The same blessing was later granted to her by Sage Durvasa, for her piety and charity, and for adding luster to her father's hospitality towards visiting Brahmins, scholars, seers and sadhus with her personal attention to ensure their comfort. A student of Durvasa and various versions of the Mahabharata 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 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. Gandhari was married with Dhritarashtra, king of Hastinapur. Their marriage was arranged by Bhishma. When she found it out that her would-be husband was born blind, she decided to blindfold herself in order to be like her husband. What was going through the young girl's mind when she found it out that she was going 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 other hand Irawati Karve and many modern scholars debated that the act of blindfolding was an act of protest against Bhishma, as he forced her father to give away her hand in marriage with the blind prince of Hastinapur.
Pregnancy and birth of her children
Veda Vyasa is impressed with Gandhari's devotion to her husband and gives her a boon to have a hundred sons. She gets pregnant but carries the child for an unusually long period. Later she hears that Kunti (queen of king Pandu, younger brother of Dhritharashtra) has given birth to Pandavas, and in frustration she pounds on her stomach. A small grey mass comes out of her. Veda Vyasa divides this into 101 parts and keeps them in cool earthen pots to incubate. First Duryodhana comes out, followed by 99 brothers and one sister, Dushala.
During the birth of her first son Duryodhana, many ill omens occur, worrying Vyasa, Bhishma and Vidura. They foresee that this child might cause the great destruction to their kingdom, and advise to kill him. But Dhritarashtra and Gandhari outrightly reject that idea, and in later life they both turn blind to his misdoings.
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 her son's body in one glance, rendering Duryodhana's entire body, except his loins, as strong as iron. Krishna foiled Gandhari's plan by asking Duryodhana 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. This story is not mentioned in the original version of the Mahabharata which was 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.
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. She cursed that he, his city and all his subjects would be destroyed. Lord Krishna knew and wanted this to happen and said "tathastu"(so be it). She tried to take back that curse, but Krishna says that curse was irrevocable and anyhow Yadavas' destruction was fated. 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 disappreance.
Portrayal in the Mahabharata
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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. 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.
Gandhari along with her husband Dhritarashtra, brother-in-law Vidura and sister-in-law Kunti, left Hastinapur about 15 years after war for penance. She was said to have died in the Himalayas in a forest fire and attained moksha.
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