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Mahabharata character
Shakuni consolating Duryodhana.jpg
Shakuni and Duryodhana
In-universe information
WeaponAxe,Sword,Gada and Bow and Arrow
FamilySubala & Sudarma (parents)
Gandhari (sister)
ChildrenUluka and Vrikaasur and Vriprachitti

Shakuni (Sanskrit: शकुनि, lit. bird) also known as Saubala (Sanskrit: सौबल, lit. son of Subala), Gandhararaja (Sanskrit: गान्धारराज,(lit. king of Gandhara) and Subalraja (Sanskrit): सुबलराज, lit. "King of the Kingdom of Subala" was the prince of Gandhara Kingdom in present-day Gandhara, later to become the King after his father's death. He is the main antagonist in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. He was the brother of Gandhari and hence Duryodhana's maternal uncle.

Portrayed as an extremely intelligent, crafty and devious man, Shakuni is often credited as the mastermind behind the Kurukshetra War. Shakuni was one of the greatest illusionists.

Shakuni had three sons named Uluka and Vrikaasur and Vriprachitti. The original texts of Mahabharata mention Shakuni as personification of Dvapara Yuga.

Early days [1][edit]

Shakuni was born in in Gandhara in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan to its king, Subala.

According to a Jain tradition, that contradicts the Mahabharata, while Shakuni was still a young boy, Gandhara was invaded by a Kuru prince, with (different versions of the story naming the attacker as Pratipa, Shantanu, Devavrata, or Vichitravirya). Shakuni, his father, his brothers, his uncles, and his cousins were imprisoned, with Hastinapur arguing it was to restore dharma to Gandhara, but Shakuni claiming that it was a pure power-grab. When the Gandhara royal family argued that food must be given to prisoners, only one grain of rice is given to each captive. Knowing that Shakuni is the wisest among them (and in some versions the youngest) and most able to take revenge, the prisoners give all their food to Shakuni so that he can survive. Eventually, all of Shakuni's imprisoned family members die. His uncle (or father) begs for mercy and bends the knee to Hastinapur, freeing Shakuni who vows his revenge. Shakuni received a boon from his father that he will be a great politician and will defeat other people with his political genius.

This version of events is contradicted by the Mahabharata, which states only that Bhishma approached King Subala with a marriage proposal for Shakuni's sister Gandhari's, to the blind Kaurava prince Dhritarashtra.

In yet another non-Mahabharata version, it is said that, being a Mangalik, Gandhari was married to a tree (some say a goat) prior to her marriage to Dhritarashtra, in order to nullify the defect. On hearing of this, a disgusted Dhritarashtra ordered the extermination of Gandhara's royal line.

In whatever the case, Shakuni swears to avenge this by slowly destroying Hastinapur[citation needed]. He achieves this by poisoning the mind of his volatile nephew Duryodhana into instigating the war with the Pandavas, which destroyed the Kuru line. Thus, he is seen by many as one of the key persons that caused the Kurukshetra War. He was the mastermind in corrupting the relation between sons of Gandhari and Kunti which led to the great war.

Some popular versions of this story focus on Shakuni's anger over Hastinapur. Some versions of the story describe Shakuni using the bones of his dead parents/family members to create dice that will never lose him a game, as Shakuni's father's soul enters the dice to make it roll to whatever number Shakuni wanted.

Role in the Mahabharata[edit]

Shakuni is also one of the masterminds behind the Kurukshetra War. His intentions include his desire to avenge the insult Bhishma made. Shakuni's main enmity was with Bhishma, who had brought the proposal of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra's marriage and death of his brothers and father .

He mainly worked by inciting hatred between the Kauravas and Pandavas; his plans culminated in the largest war in history. Although he often failed in his tricks against the Pandavas, he never lost faith in his ability to destroy the lineage of Kuru. A far-sighted man, his plan was much bigger than causing plight to the Pandavas; he wanted a full-scaled civil war between the branches of Kuru clan, which would destroy the whole clan, fulfilling his revenge. He feared nobody, except Krishna, whom he considered as an obstacle, since he knew that only Krishna had the power and influence to foil his plan. Krishna was a shrewd diplomat and statesman, the only person who matched Shakuni's cunning and intelligence.

Ways in which Shakuni incited war include:

  • Advising an adolescent Duryodhana to mix poison into Bhima's food twice.
  • Hiring Purochana to kill the Pandavas in the House of Wax.
  • Arranging the game of dice between Kauravas and Pandavas which was responsible for Draupadi's humiliation.
  • Before the war, he advised Duryodhana to feed Shalya's army and put Shalya in his debt, making it compulsory for him to fight on the side of Kauravas.

Shakuni's only saving grace is his extreme love towards his sister Gandhari. Gandhari was petrified of the dark when she was small and preferred to have well-lit places all the time. Being a dutiful wife, she voluntarily blindfolded herself which meant she had to live every second of her life in absolute terror because of the darkness due to blindfold. This does not go down too well with Shakuni, who constantly advises her to take off her blindfold. Time and again, he expresses the anger he felt for the injustice that Gandhari had to go through by leading her entire life with a blindfold.

Role in the War[edit]

1st Day[edit]

On the very first day of war, Shakuni, Duryodhana and Dushasana attacked Yudhishthira.

10th Day[edit]

On the 10th day of war, he stopped Shikhandi from reaching Bhishma.

12th Day[edit]

On the 12th day,he slew king Sahadeva of Magadha.

13th Day[edit]

On the 13th day, Shakuni and other Maharathis attacked and killed Abhimanyu. Shakuni was first one who stabbed him.

14th Day[edit]

On 14th day after Jayadratha's death, he planned Night war.

17th Day[edit]

On 17th day his son Vrikaasur was slained by Nakula.


After the Game of Dice episode in the Mahabharata, the youngest of the[2] Pandava brothers Sahadeva had taken an oath to avenge Draupadi's insult and had sworn to kill Shakuni, the mastermind of the episode.

On the 18th day of the Mahabharata war, Nakula and Sahadeva attacked Shakuni, Uluka and their army. As Duryodhana and his other brothers rushed to protect their uncle, Bhima stepped in and fought the remaining Kauravas and killing many of them (except Duryodhana). Meanwhile, Nakula killed many prominent Gandharan warriors and the bodyguards of Uluka. Sahadeva fought Shakuni and Uluka and, not long afterwards, killed Uluka. Shakuni became furious and attacked Sahadeva. He broke his chariot and bow, Sahadeva ascended another chariot and fought Shakuni ferociously. After much attacks and tackles, both of them descended their chariots to settle things in a duel. Sahadeva was then able to smash an axe into Shakuni's forehead, fulfilling his oath.

Temple dedicated to Shakuni at Pavithreswaram in Kollam District, Kerala


  1. ^ THE MAHABHARATA: A Modern Rendering, Volume 1 By Ramesh Menon shakuni shiva bhakt&f=false
  2. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Dutt, Romesh. "Maha-Bharata, The Epic of Ancient India".
  • Dwaipayana, Vyasa. "The Mahabharata of Krishna".
  • Ganguly, Kisari. "The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa".
  • Menon, Ramesh (20 July 2006). A Modern Rendering, The Mahabharata. ISBN 9780595845644.
  • The Story of Shakuni, Sribd.
  • Was Shakuni Mama’s character in Mahabharat a negative character?, Destination Infinity.
  • The Mahabharata: A Synopsis of the Great Epic of India, R. Vemuri, UC Davis.
  • Mahabharat, Swargarohan.
  • Mahabharata (Veda Vyasa), Hindu Online.