reated by Jijith Nadumuri at 08 Jun 2010 15:05 and updated at 13 Jun 2010 17:34

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Gandhari and Kunti


The 7th episode of Mahabharata we see that Dhritarashtra marries Gandhari and Pandu marries Kunti. As Dhritarashtra is blind, Gandhari binds up her eyes with a piece of silk and becomes blind like her husband. Kunti was raised as a child by king Kuntibhoja. She obtains a son when she was yet a maiden by the grace of a sage named Durvasa. She drops here baby into a river, protected in a basket fearing about bad name. After marrying Kunti, king Pandu sets for territorial expansion.

References in Mahabharata Wiki


Research and Analysis

Gandhari's blindness

Strangeness of Gandhari's blindness

One of the strange aspect of Gandhari is her portreyal in the epic as a women who chose to close her eyes because her husband was blind. Many researchers had written at length about the reasons behind this decision of Gandhari. BR Chopra's version of televised Mahabharata considers this as a voluntary decision of Gandhari, the moment she knew that Bhishma is proposing her as bride for the blind Dhritarashtra, even before her own father Suvala and brother Sakuni accepted this proposal. I could not find any logic in this explanation. How can Gandhari become so compassionate about someone whom she had no former knowledge? If Gandhari was some how in love relationship with Dhritarashtra before Bhishma's visit with the marriage proposal, this is possible. Mahabharata mentions about a pre-marital love relationship between Kasi princess Amva and Salwa king. But we find nothing in Mahabharata to support a pre-marital love relationship between Gandhari and Dhritarashtra.

Another important observation is, if Gandhari felt such strong compassion to Dhritarashta, just by knowing from Bhishma that he is blind, she should have chosen to open her eyes wider, rather than shutting them for ever! That is how she should have supported her blind husband.

References about the condition of Gandhari's eyes

Let us see what the original epic says about it:-

Mbh.1.110:- Soon after Bhishma heard from the Brahmanas that Gandhari, the amiable daughter of Suvala, having worshipped Hara had obtained from the deity the boon that she should have a century of sons. Bhishma, the grandfather of the Kurus, having heard this, sent messengers unto the king of Gandhara. King Suvala at first hesitated on account of the blindness of the bridegroom, but taking into consideration the blood of the Kurus, their fame and behaviour, he gave his virtuous daughter unto Dhritarashtra and the chaste Gandhari hearing that Dhritarashtra was blind and that her parents had consented to marry her to him, from love and respect for her future husband, blindfolded her own eyes. Sakuni, the son of Suvala, bringing unto the Kurus his sister endued with youth and beauty, formally gave her away unto Dhritarashtra.

Here we see that Gandhari, chose to blindfold her eyes, after knowing that her parents had already consented to marry her to a blind man. Thus Gandhari chose to be blind, when she understood that her future is going to be with a blind husband. It is hard to believe that a wife will choose to remain blind because of love and respect for her blind husband. It makes no sense. If she loved and respected her husband she should have kept her eyes open.

After searching the whole of Mahabharata, there is only one more reference other than the one mentioned above, where the condition of Gandhari's eyes are mentioned. Mbh.15.29:-Queen Gandhari, with bandaged eyes, joining her hands, addressed her father-in-law. We also see at Mbh.15.37:-The faultless Pritha became the eye of Gandhari.

Thus the portrayal of Gandhari, as a lady with eyesight but living her whole life blindfolded with a piece of cloth, is based on a single statement of Mbh1.110. Another statement in Mbh.15.29 indicate that Gandhari's eyes were bandaged. And the statement in Mbh.15.31 mentions that Pritha (Kunti) became the eyes of Gandhari. This was towards the end of Gandhari's life.

Theory of natural blindness

One possibility is that Gandhari was really blind like Dhritarashtra by birth or became blind as she grew up due to some illness affecting the eye like cataract. This could be the reason why Bhishma chose her as a match for Dhritarashtra. When a person is blind, sometimes their eyes look ugly or awkward for others. So they (especially women) would like to cover their eyes. In our modern age, blind people wear spectacles to cover their eyes. In those days it was not possible. So Gandhari would have blindfolded her eyes. She might have done this since the time she became blind. But the people of Hastinapura, when they saw Gandhari for the first time as she arrived, might have thought, "she did it to show solidarity with her husband". This rumor might have spread wide, which the bards noted down, and the Vyasa who authored Mahabharata might have added it to his description about Gandhari, that she chose to blindfold her eyes knowing her husband to be blind.

Theory of self-inflicted blindness

Another possibility which is not very likely is that Gandhari did injury to her own eyes and made it blind as a kind of revenge for forcing her to marry a blind man, just before her marriage, and came to Hastinapura with a blindfolded eye. Bhishma had the history of abducting maidens against their will and the will of their parents. Gandhara king Suvala might have under tremendous pressure from Bhishma to send her daughter to Hastinapura as bride for Dhritarashtra. Had he resisted, Bhishma would have waged a battle and forcefully taken away Gandhari. Knowing about her certain fate, Gandhari might have impulsively damaged her eyes.

Theory of Partial Blindness

Third possibility is that Gandhari blindfolded her eyes only on certain occasions like her marriage, but after that used her eyes freely and there was no problem for her eye sight. Then question comes on the reference of her bandaged eyes at 15.29. It is possible that Gandhari had bad-looking eyes which she hid when appearing in public. Reference at Mbh.1.110 was on the occasion of her marriage where she will be seen by the public. Reference at Mbh.15.29 too was a public appearance of Gandhari. The bad-looking eyes could be due to squint-eyes, ill-formed eyes, blackness surrounding the eyes etc. She might have chosen a blind husband because he will never complain about her bad-looking eyes. But during public appearances, she chose to blindfold her eyes. Then question comes about reference at Mbh.15.37 about Kunti becoming the eye of Gandhari. This occurred towards the fag end of Gandhari's life. By this time she might have become really blind or her mild illness in the eyes have completely taken away her eye-sight. Thus she might have needed the help of Kunti to move around.

Gandhari's boon to have hundred sons

At Mbh1.110 another interesting point we find is that Gandhari got a boon from Siva (Hara). As per this boon she will have hundred sons! At Mbh.1.95 we see that the boon-giver is not Siva but Vyasa:- King Dhritarashtra had a hundred sons by his wife, Gandhari in consequence of the boon granted by Dwaipayana. Thus it is clear that this is just a fable. How the hundred sons of Gandhari were born will be discussed in another article.

Kunti's pre-marital life

Significance of Father's sister's son

Kunti's maiden name was Pritha. Krishna's father Vasudeva was her brother. Kunti was the first born daughter of a Yadava chief named Sura. Sura had made a promise to his friend and cousin (father's sister's son) Kuntibhoja. As per this he had to give his fist born child to Kuntibhoja, who was childless. Hence when Pritha was born, Sura gave her to Kuntibhoja. The relationship of Sura to Kuntibhoja needs some investigation. There was a system of inheritance especially followed in kingdoms like Madra, Gandhara and other Bahlika kingdoms (kingdoms in the banks of Indus river and north west of it). Interestingly it was also followed in South Indian traditions especially in Kerala. This was followed in Travencore princely-state in Kerala. As per this, inheritance is not from father to son, but from father's sister's son. We see that Krishna too was highly attached to his father's (Vasudeva's) sister's (Kunti's) son viz the Pandavas, exactly like Sura was to Kuntibhoja. Krishna also was highly concerned about his sister's (Subhadra's) son viz. Abhimanyu. After the rule of the Pandavas, it was Abhimanyu's son Parikshit who became king of Hastinapura. Along with Parikshit, Krishna's grandson Vajra became king of Indraprastha. Thus Krishna's nephew's line and his son's line, both became royal lineages. Similar was the attachment of Madra king Shalya to his sister's (Madri's) sons viz. Nakula and Sahadeva and Gandhara chief Sakuni to his sister's (Gandhari's) son Duryodhana. Sakuni's struggled a lot to make his nephew Duryodhana the king of Hastinapura. Probably the people of Gandhara, Madra and the Vrishni-Yadavas followed the practice of inheritance and kingship through sister's son than own son? Perhaps there was a subtle mix of both kind of inheritence?

Kunti's encounter with Durvasa

Kunti's life in the palace of his foster father Kuntibhoja doesn't seems to be a good one. Kuntibhoja engaged her in looking after the duties of hospitality to Brahmanas and other guests. This doesn't seem to be a good occupation for a women especially a young girl. Another reference worth noting is the description of one of her guest Durvasa. At Mbh.3.258 Durvasa is mentioned as having space alone for his covering (Digambara:- practically naked) and his accoutrements worn like that of maniac, and his head bare of hair (a maniac with bald-head). Durvasa is mentioned as well-acquainted with the hidden truths of morality. What were those hidden truths of morality? The answer may lie in the boon he gave to Kunti when he was pleased with her. Durvasa imparted to her a formula of invocation to summon any one she liked to give her children. So this was the hidden truths of morality and the formula that Durvasa imparted to Kunti:- the license to summon anyone to give her children.

This interaction of Durvasa with Kunti is also mentioned at Mbh.1.67:- Kunti became, in the house of her adoptive father, engaged in attending upon Brahmanas and guests. One day she had to wait upon the wrathful ascetic of rigid vows, Durvasa by name, acquainted with truth and fully conversant with the mysteries of religion. And Pritha with all possible care gratified the wrathful Rishi with soul under complete control. The holy one, gratified with the attentions bestowed on him by the maiden, told her, I am satisfied, O fortunate one, with thee! By this mantra that I am about to give thee, thou shall be able to summon to thy side whatever celestials thou likest. And, by their grace, shall thou also obtain children'

Krishna's encounter with Durvasa

At Mbh.13.159, there is a strange passage of Durvasa's encounter with Krishna and his wife Rukmini. Here Durvasa is mentioned as abusing Krishna and his wife Rukmini, in a blatant display of superiority. Since this passage comes in Parva 13 (Anusasana Parva) there is a high possibility that these were later additions. However, here the description of the physical appearance of Durvasa is worth noting:-

Durvasa's complexion was green and tawny. Clad in rags, he had a stick made of the Vilwa tree His beard was long and he was exceedingly emaciated. He was taller in stature than the tallest man on earth.

Similarly the description of his character also is worth mentioning. Below is how Krishna himself describe Durvasa:-

On certain days he would eat the food sufficient for the needs of thousands of persons. On certain other days he would eat very little. On some days he would go out of my house and would not return. He would sometimes laugh without any ostensible reason and sometimes cry as causelessly. At that time there was nobody on earth that was equal to him in years. One day, entering the quarters assigned to him he burnt all the beds and coverlets and all the well-adorned damsels that were there for serving him. Doing this, he went out. Of highly praiseworthy vows, he met me shortly after this and addressing me, said, O Krishna, I wish to eat frumenty without delay' Having understood his mind previously, I had set my servants to prepare every kind of food and drink. Indeed, many excellent viands had been kept ready.

As soon as I was asked, I caused hot frumenty to be brought and offered to the ascetic. Having eaten some, he quickly said unto me, Do thou, O Krishna, take some of this frumenty and smear all thy limbs with it' Without any scruple I did as directed. Indeed, with the remnant of that frumenty I smeared my body and head. The ascetic at that time saw thy mother of sweet face standing near. Laughing the while, he smeared her body also with that frumenty. The ascetic then caused thy mother, whose body was smeared over with frumenty, to be yoked unto a car without any delay. Ascending that car he set out of my house. Endued with great intelligence, that Brahmana blazed with effulgence like fire, and struck, in my presence, my Rukmini endued with youth, as if she were an animal destined to drag the cars of human beings. Beholding this, I did not feel the slightest grief born of malice or the desire to injure the Rishi.

Indeed, having yoked Rukmini to the car, he went out, desirous of proceeding along the high road of the city. Seeing that extraordinary sight, some Dasarhas, filled with wrath, addressed one another and began to converse in this way, Who else is there on earth that would draw breath after having yoked Rukmini to a car! Verily, let the world be filled with Brahmanas only! Let no other orders take birth here. The poison of a virulent snake is exceedingly keen. Keener than poison is a Brahmana. There is no physician for a person that has been bitten or burnt by the virulent snake of a Brahmana, As the irresistible Durvasa proceeded on the car, Rukmini tottered on the road and frequently fell down. At this the regenerate Rishi became angry and began to urge Rukmini on by striking her with the whip. At last, filled with a towering passion, the Brahmana leapt down from the car, and fled towards the south, running on foot, over a pathless ground. Beholding that foremost of Brahmanas flying along the pathless ground, we followed him, although we were smeared with frumenty, exclaiming behind him, Be gratified with us, O holy one!

This passage is probably added to Mahabharata in response for Krishna's redefinition of caste system, based on ones nature (Guna) and actions (Karma) and his disregard for the caste system based on birth. This can also be a real incident happened to Krishna, which would have made him to revolt against the caste system. This assumption is strengthened by the following incidents mentioned at Mbh.3.260, Mbh.3.261. As per this Durvasa sided with Duryodhana and Karna to cause harm to the Pandavas. It was then Krishna who (in a manner fictional or otherwise) rescued the Pandavas from the wrath of Durvasa.

Kunti's first son

Here are two interesting articles written by Indraajeet Bandyopadhyay, that describes similar topic:- Part 1, Part 2

If we follow the passage after Kunti's encounter with Durvasa, the epic will make us believe that Kunti tried the "boon" she got from Durvasa upon the morning sun, that she begot a child from that astronomical entity and that the child was none other than the famous Karna. What a wonderful tale to cover up all the wrongs committed to an innocent girl in her teens! We saw in episode3 that Satyavati was a teen-aged girl when she bore the child of Parasara. Kunti was of the same age when she bore her first child, probably of 15 years old. Durvasa might have taught Kunti some technique of seduction which might have involved physical display of body or some body-position (Tantra) and some invocation consisting of mantras. AtharvaVeda have several such invocation mantras used for seduction of men by women and for seduction of women by men. She might have rehearsed what ever was taught by the sage and inadvertently seduced or attracted someone. Following the narration, we also see that Kunti tried to resist the advances of the man ((Surya: somebody belonging to the solar race?) who wanted to unite with her.

Here I am, O black-eyed girl! Tell me what I am to do for thee' Hearing this, Kunti said, O slayer of foes, a certain Brahamana gave me this formula of invocation as a boon, and, O lord, I have summoned thee only to test its efficacy. For this offence I bow to thee. A woman, whatever be her offence, always deserveth pardon' Surya Sun replied, I know that Durvasa hath granted this boon. But cast off thy fears, timid maiden, and grant me thy embraces.
Amiable one, my approach cannot be futile; it must bear fruit. Thou hast summoned me, and if it be for nothing, it shall certainly be regarded as thy transgression' Vaisampayana continued, Vivaswat thus spoke unto her many things with a view to allay her fears, but, O Bharata, the amiable maiden, from modesty and fear of her relatives, consented not to grant his request. And, O bull of Bharata's race, Arka addressed her again and said, O princess, for my sake, it shall not be sinful for thee to grant my wish' Thus speaking unto the daughter of Kuntibhoja, the illustrious Tapana, the illuminator of the universe, gratified his wish.

Probably it was some member of Kuntibhoja's royal family? Probably it was someone in the kings office, like his commander-in-chief, who belonged to a Solar (Surya's) race like the Ikshwaku-race? Who ever he was, he somehow knew Kunti's interactions with Durvasa and his secret "boon". Probably it was Durvasa himself? One observation that make Durvasa the father of Kunti's son is the way Durvasa later became associated with Duryodhana and Karna and how he tried to harm the Pandavas. Probably he tried to help Duryodhana knowing that Karna was his son which he never revealed to Karna? Both Karna and Durvasa were supporters of caste system. It is evident from the manner in which Karna rebuked the caste-less society of Madra king Shalya during the Kurukshetra War. Durvasa too as we have seen before supported caste system and the superiority of the Brahmanas. Duryodhana sided with these orthodox beliefs. Krishna's opposition to Karna, Durvasa and Duryodhana was due to their support for the rigid orthodoxy. That is why he chose to annihilate Karna and Duryodhana in the war and sided with the Pandavas who supported a liberal interpretation of caste and religion.

The points that lead us to think that it was somebody else other than Durvasa who impregnated Kunti, is the difference in the description of the man. Kunti mentions her assaulter as the slayer of foes indicating that he was a Kshatriya. Durvasa was a Brahmana. Durvasa was described as a maniac sage where the assaulter was described as youthful and effulgent. The only exception to the description of Durvasa in Mahabharata is at Mbh.13.160 where it says:- The holy and illustrious Durvasa is of the complexion of the celestials. But this seems to be added to negate the narration of his appearance in the previous chapter (Mbh.13.159). Kunti also mentions Durvasa as a second person as a certain Brahmana and the man seem to know all about the interaction between Kunti and Durvasa. Probably Durvasa considered Karna to be his son since he too abused Kunti where as Karna was born to this second unknown person? Or it could be that it is difficult to ascertain who fathered Karna, since Kunti's interaction with Durvasa and the other unknown man took place in quick succession.

Mystery of Karna's coat-of-mail and his ear rings

Many people after reading Mahabharata think that Karna was born with two golden ear-rings in his ears and a coat-of-mail (natural armor). They also think that these were part of his body which he never removed. So did these ear-rings and coat-of-mail grew or enlarge while baby Karna grew up? There is also a fable that Indra came and begged Karna his ear-rings and coat of mail, and that Karna took them off his body, suffering lot of pain, since they were attached to his body like any other organ. All of these make one believe that Karna's coat-of-mail was some sort of body-appendage like a tortoise's shell. What is the truth behind all these?

It could be true that some Brahmana probably employed by the Pandavas, or some assistant of Arjuna might have begged Karna for his ear rings and coat-of-mail. He might have then donated these to the person to increase his fame as a great giver of gifts (Daana-Vira). He might have carelessly pulled his ear-rings from his ear causing injury to his ear. But what about the coat of mail?

It is possible that Kunti while discarding his illegitimate son Karna, into a river, covered the baby with a gold plated coat-of mail, to protect his body from injuries. He might have also kept two golden ear rings for the baby out of affection. The baby might have been three to six months old. Her maid servant might have helped her to hid the baby for a few months and then might have advised her to cast of the baby in water. They might have helped her to float the baby in river, without causing danger to the baby. Some versions of Mahabharata mentions that he was cased in a wooden box. So Kunti might have kept her new born baby in the wooden box, after covering him in a suitable body armor. She might have placed the ear rings too in the box or it might have been already inserted by her into the tip of his ears. Karna's foster parents of Suta caste obtained Karna in this state, covered in a fitting armor and face lit by the golden ear rings. The Sutas might have then spread the rumor that the baby was born with a natural armor and golden ear-rings. Due to the golden armor and the golden ear rings, the baby was named Vasushena meaning the one who is born with wealth. It simply means that Karna's foster parents knew that the baby was from a wealthy family or from a royal family.

The name Karna was given to Vasushena only in later stages, probably some before the Kurukshetra War. Since he cut off his natural armour, he came to be called Karna the cutter or peeler of his own cover. This refers to Karna's act of giving his coat-of-mail to the Brahmana sent by the Pandavas. This coat-of-mail was certainly not the coat-of-mail that was used by Kunti to cover him when he was a baby (which was probably made of gold or coated with gold or made of brass). This seems to be another coat-of-mail or armor he used in battles as he became a great warrior. Probably it was made of cast-iron or mixture of iron with other metals. This technology was available in Anga kingdom which was ruled by Karna. Anga kingdom falls in Bhiar famous for iron-ores. There were several iron ore based industries and occupation since ancient times in and around Anga, especially to the south of Anga. An ancient aboriginal tribe who call themselves as Asuras, dwell in this region and they were engaged in iron ore industries since antiquity. Thus Karna's armor that he used in battles was very special since it was probably reinforced with iron, probably cast iron or steel, where as others had wooden armors reinforced on surfaces by copper or brass. Thus this armor was a crucial defense for Karna against the arrows of archers like Arjuna in the Pandava army. By loosing it to the Brahmana (who either stole it or Karna willingly gave it to him), Karna has thus lost his natural defense.

The name Karna can also be because of the ear-rings he had while his foster parents obtained him from the river.

Kunti's marriage with Pandu

It seems that the rumor of Kunti's premarital life was not completely unknown to the rest of the world. At Mbh.1.112 we learn that:- The large-eyed daughter of Kuntibhoja, Pritha by name, was endued with beauty and every accomplishment. Of rigid vows, she was devoted to virtue and possessed of every good quality. But though endued with beauty and youth and every womanly attribute, yet it so happened that no king asked-for her hand. Thus nobody came to marry Kunti, probably because of rumors about her life in Kuntibhoja's palace. That is also the reason stated for Kunti's self-choice ceremony. Her father Kuntibhoja seeing this, invited, the princes and kings of other countries and desired his daughter to select her husband from among her guests.

It seems that Pandu came to this marriage, ignorant of the rumors about Kunti. At Mbh.1.110 Bhishma mentions addressing Vidura:- It hath been heard by me that there are three maidens worthy of being allied to our race. One is the daughter of Surasena of the Yadava race; the other is the daughter of Suvala; and the third is the princess of Madra. Here it is not clear if Bhishma was referring to Kunti as the daughter of Surasena of the Yadava race; Kunti was the daughter of Sura. Even if Sura and Surasena were same he might be referring to another daughter. There is also a speculation that he was referring her to Vidura and not to Pandu. Bhishma was referring the princess of Madra for Pandu. Bhishma might have thought initially about Kunti as a potential bride. But he might have had second thoughts about it may be knowing about the rumors about Kunti. Pandu however, may be disregarding Bhishma went to the self-choice ceremony of Kunti, probably attracted by her beauty. Kunti, knowing that there won't be any better husband for her, chose Pandu. king Kuntibhoja, after the nuptials were over, presented his son-in-law with much wealth and sent him back to his capital. Then the Kuru prince Pandu, accompanied by a large force bearing various kinds of banners and pennons, and eulogised by Brahmanas and great Rishis pronouncing benedictions, reached his capital. And after arriving at his own palace, he established his queen therein. Here there is no mentioning of the role of Bhishma in this marriage. On the other hand we see Bhishma playing an active role in the marriage of Pandu with Madri and in the marriage of Gandhari with Dhritarashtra. Hence we may conclude that Pandu's marriage with Kunti had no consent of Bhishma, were as his marriage with Madri was arranged by Bhishma. This will be discussed in the next episode.

Pandu leaving for territory expansion

In BR Chopra's televised Mahabharata, we see that episode 7 ends with Pandu leaving his newly wed wife Kunti for his mission of territory expansion. But in the popular version of Mahabharata this is not mentioned. As per this, Pandu leaves for military expeditions only after marrying Kunti and Madri. The sequence of events involving Dhritarashtra's marriage with Gandhari, Pandu's marriage with Kunti and Madria, his military expeditions, birth of Yudhisthira and Duryodhana; all these needs analysis. The sequence as mentioned in Ganguli's version and BR Chopra's televised version, both have problems and affects the birth order of Yudhisthira and Duryodhana. This will be discussed in articles on subsequent episodes.

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