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Gandhari (Sanskrit: गांधारी) is a character in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. In the epic, she was an incarnation of Mati, the Goddess of Intelligence, as the daughter of Subala, the king of Gandhara, or the modern Kandahar(a region spanning northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan) from which her name is derived. Gandhari is also known as Gandhararajaduhita, Saubaleyi, Saubali, Subalaja, Subalaputri, Subalatmaja in the Mahabharata. Gandhari's marriage was arranged to Dhritarashtra, the eldest prince of the Kuru kingdom, a region in Delhi and Haryana region.
Gandhari overhears conversation between her parents and Bhishma regarding her proposed marriage with Dhritarashtra. Her parents decide to reject the proposal as Dhritharashtra was a born blind person. She decides to blindfold herself for her entire life to marry him and to prove her devotion. Having no other way, her parents give their consent and marry her to Dhritarashtra, and she comes to Hastinapur along with her husband.
Pregnancy and Birth of her children
Veda Vyasa gets impressed with Gandhari's devotion to her husband and gives her boon to have hundred sons. She gets pregnant but carries it 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. Small grey mass comes out of her and Veda Vyasa divides it 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 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 advice to kill him. But Gandhari rejects that and in later life too she turns a blind eye 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 Mahabharata which was written by Veda Vyasa. As per Vyasa 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 death of all the sons of Pandavas, she embraced the Pandavas and consoled them for their losses. Later her wrath turned to Krishna for letting all this destruction to happen and she cursed that he, his city and all his subjects are going to get destroyed. She tried to take back that curse, but Krishna says that curse was irrevocable and anyhow Yadavas destruction was fated.
Portrayal In The Mahabharata
The Mahabharata attributes high moral standards to Gandhari, although Gandhari's sons were 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 was an ardent worshipper of Lord Shiva and a student of Durvasa and various versions of the Mahabharatha 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 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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