Gandhari and the Gambling Episode

This article is part 5 of 8 in the series Characters of the Mahabharata

Gandhari’s Nature

THIS IS THE STORY OF Duryodhana’s father in brief. But what is the innate nature of his mother?

Gandhari Devi is a Dharmic person. She thought that she should not enjoy the pleasure and happiness that her husband could not due to his blindness. Therefore, she tied a band around her eyes. She never endorsed her son’s evil conduct. However, there is a speciality in this. In general, there are two aspects to a person’s speech and actions. One stems from genuine integrity. The other is acquired through sheer effort. We keep rectifying our integrity from the perspective of the larger world. We also keep thinking as to how the world will perceive us if we conduct ourselves according to our inner impulses. Thus, even in our courtesy, if there is one part that is actually genuine, there are two parts motivated by fear of public opinion or conscious intellectual effort. But if we have to understand the truth, we must contemplate on the nature of our behaviour and actions that occur in solitude, in haste or anger. When a person is conscious, everyone attempts to put on their best behaviour. But a person who is well behaved even in a negligent situation is the person who is truly genuine.

Gandhari was born in a good society. She was aware of all the social etiquettes. Her awareness of Dharma worked unfailingly when she was in the glare of the world. However, was this Dharmic nature of Gandhari real or consciously cultivated? When we regard the circumstance of her parturition, the picture reveals itself.

The Seeding of Jealousy

Even after two years of becoming pregnant, Gandhari showed no signs of delivery. On the other side, Kunti had already given birth to a radiant boy—Yudhishtira. When Gandhari heard that news, could she bear her jealousy? With enormous rage, she punched her belly and the foetus inside shattered and fell out. Fortuitously, Vyasa who was present there saw this scene and addressed Gandhari: “What is this you’ve done, my child?” She said:

jyeṣṭhaṃ kuntīsutaṃ jātaṃ śrutvā ravisamaprabham।
duḥkhena parameṇedamudaraṃ ghātitaṃ mayā।।

Thus, when we observe the envy that Gandhari had towards Kunti, it does not surprise us also to observe the jealousy of Gandhari’s son towards Kunti’s son.

We should not laugh at the plight of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. Who can confidently claim that these two characters are not within our own selves? Through their characters, Vyasa has shown to all of us a mental weakness common to all humankind. Our namaskarams to Vyasa.

Duryodhana’s Environment

Duryodhana was born and brought up in an environment of Gurus and elders. He had to inevitably bow down to their diktats even for fulfilling his own objectives. Thus, the real limits to his innate wickedness were those that were imposed by the constraints of this environment, which forced him to exhibit self-restraint to that extent. But if those constraints did not exist, his wickedness would have been boundless. Overall, it was a Dharmic environment. That environment naturally impacted him. Hence his intrinsic evil did not emerge fully. Why? He needed the support of Bhishma, Drona and others to achieve his purposes. He needed the endorsement of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. It was an era which required the ruler to get the approval of the people.

The Gambling Episode

Now we shall consider the gambling episode.

The gambling match has finished. Dharmaraya has lost. All his four brothers have accepted defeat. A menstruating Draupadi has been summoned to the hall. Dusshyasana has attempted to disrobe her. Finding no other help, she has invoked Sri Krishna.

Her entreaties to Dhritarashtra—who was akin to her father—has deeply, genuinely pained him. The actions of his children were truly appalling. We have already seen how he was always caught in a dichotomy. Much earlier, Bhishma, Krishna and others had counselled him not to agree to the gambling match. Even the people had given their verdict that this would only bring danger. Dhritarashtra was thus scared of public opinion and the ensuing calamity.

Thus, when Draupadi, in her state of humiliation entreated him, Dhritarashtra spoke in her favour and in the favour of the Pandavas. She asked: “They call me their prisoner and slave. You must ensure that that state does not befall me.” He agrees. Then she says: “All that my husband has lost must be returned to him.” He agrees again. And so, after regaining everything that he had lost, Pandavas return to Indraprastha.

Rematch

It was at this juncture that Shakuni provoked Duryodhana: “Look what your father has done. He gave away everything because that vile woman asked. A great blunder has occurred.” Duryodhana asked him, “so what should be done?”

“Call him for another gambling match.”

Duryodhana called him for another gambling match.

Gambling was a huge weakness in Dharmaraya, akin to Achilles Foot. Achilles who could never be defeated in any war, had a fatal weakness. If his heel was injured, he would die. Likewise, gambling was the fatal weakness of Dharmaraya, who was a great embodiment of Dharma. It was not merely that. He had a craving for being recognized as a champion dice player. Even worse, he was afraid of earning ill-repute by refusing an invitation to play the dice game.

Bhima and others told him to refuse the invitation. Dharmaraya did not pay heed. Draupadi entreated him. He still refused.

And once again, thanks to Shakuni’s wiles, Dharmaraya lost the gambling match. He lost Draupadi herself. Dusshyasana and others taunted him, “Go inside now, you are a slave of my house.”

Draupadi counter-questioned: “Who lost me? Who has the right to put me as a wager?”

All the elders hung their heads in shame.

Duryodhana directly addressed Dharmaraya:

“You put her up as a wager and lost. Yes or no?”

“Yes,” agreed Dharmaraya.

kṛṣṇaṃ ca viṣṇuṃ ca hariṃ naraṃ ca |
trāṇāya vikrośati yājñaseni ||

tatastu dharmontarito mahātmā |

samāvruṇodvividhairvastrapūgaiḥ ||   (Sabha Parva 61: 48)

Ultimate Evil

Even then, Duryodhana did not relent his obstinacy. He said to Dharmaraya: “Do you really think that Draupadi has not been won (by us)? Come on, tell me!” He mocked further:

evamuktvā sa kaunteyaṃ apohya vasanaṃ svakaṃ |

smayannaikṣata pāñcālīṃ aiśvaryamadamohitaḥ ||

abhyutsmayitvā rādheyaṃ bhīmamādharṣayanniva |

draupadyāḥ prekṣamāṇāyāḥ sāvyamūrumadarśayat || (Sabha Parva 63:28, 30)        

We understand the full extent of Duryodhana’s wickedness from his conduct in that gambling hall. Laughing, he removed his clothes, looked at Draupadi, and as if inviting Bhima to a duel, and to make Karna laugh, he showed his right thigh to Draupadi.

And after all this, why wouldn’t Bhima, Arjuna and others not take a terrible vow of vengeance? How would anybody prevent war?

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

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