Dhritarashtra

Dhritarashtra (Sanskrit: धृतराष्ट्र, ISO-15919: Dhr̥tarāṣṭra) was a Kuru king who is a major character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata as the King of the Kuru Kingdom with its capital at Hastinapura. He was born to Vichitravirya's first wife, Ambika. Dhritarashtra was born blind.[1] He fathered one hundred sons and one daughter, Dushala, by his wife, Gandhari and a son, Yuyutsu, by his wife's maid. These children, including the eldest son Duryodhana, but not including Yuyutsu and Dushala, came to be known as the Kauravas.

Dhritarashtra
The blind king Dhrtarastra listens as the visionary narrator Sanjaya relates the events of the battle between the Kaurava and the Pandava clans.jpg
The blind king Dhritarashtra listens as the visionary narrator Sanjay relates the events of the battle between the Kaurava and the Pandava clans
Personal Information
AffiliationKuru dynasty
WeaponGada (mace)
FamilyParents see Niyoga
Half-Brothers
SpouseGandhari
ChildrenSons from Gandhari
100 sons including Daughter from Gandhari Sons from Sugadha
RelativesHalf-Cousins see Niyoga

Etymology and historicityEdit

Dhṛtarāṣṭra means "He who supports/bears the nation"[2]

A historical Kuru King named Dhritarashtra Vaichitravirya is mentioned in the Kāṭhaka Saṃhitā of the Yajurveda (c. 1200–900 BCE) as a descendant of the Rigvedic-era King Sudas of the Bharatas. His cattle was reportedly destroyed as a result of the conflict with the vrātya ascetics; however, this Vedic mention does not provide corroboration for the accuracy of the Mahabharata's account of his reign. Dhritarashtra did not accept the vratyas into his territory, and with the aid of rituals, the vratyas destroyed his cattle. The group of vratyas were led by Vaka Dālbhi of Panchala.[3][4]

Birth and early lifeEdit

 
Satyavati requests Vyasa to engage in the Niyoga practice with Ambika

With Vichitravirya having died of sickness, Bhishma unable to take the throne because of his vow, and Bahlika's line unwilling to leave the Bahlika Kingdom, there was a succession crisis in Hastinapura. Satyavati invites her son Vyasa to impregnate the queens Ambika and Ambalika under the Niyoga practice. When Vyasa went to impregnate Ambika, his scary appearance frightened her, so she closed her eyes during their union; hence, her son was born blind.[5]

Dhritarashtra, along with his younger half-brother Pandu, was trained in the military arts by Bhishma and Kripacharya. Hindered by his handicap, Dhritarashtra was unable to wield weapons, but had the strength of one hundred thousand elephants due to boon given by Vyasa, and was said to be so strong that he could crush iron with his bare hands.[6]

When it came time to nominate an heir, Vidura suggested that Pandu would be a better fit because he was not blind. Though bitter about losing his birthright, Dhritarashtra willingly conceded the crown, though this act would seep into the obsession he would have over his crown later in life.[7] Dhritarashtra married Gandhari of Hastinapura's weakened and lowly vassal Gandhara; After their marriage, Gandhari covered her eyes with a blindfold in order to truly experience her husband's blindness.[8] Gandhari and he had one hundred sons, called the Kauravas, and one daughter Dushala. He also had a son named Yuyutsu mothered by a maid.

ReignEdit

 
Sage Sanatsujata teaches Atma vidya to King Dhṛtarāṣṭra

After the incident with Rishi Kindama, Pandu retired to the forest. Hence, Dhritarashtra was offered the crown. Through the blessings of Vyasa, he and Gandhari had one hundred sons and a daughter, with his eldest son, Duryodhana, becoming his heir. Upon Duryodhana's birth, ill omens appeared; many sages and priests advised Dhritarashtra and Gandhari to abandon the baby. But they refused to do so; Duryodhana grew up with a princely education and his parents believed that he would be a great heir.

However, when Pandu passed away, Kunti and her sons returned to Hastinapura, living alongside Dhritarashtra's children. Yudhishthira, Pandu's eldest son, was older than Duryodhana. Given that Pandu was the king and that Yudhishthira was born of the god Dharma, he had a strong claim to the throne. A succession crisis began; though recognising Yudhishthira's merits, Dhritarashtra favoured his own son, blinded by affection. Upon much pressure from the Brahmins, Vidura, and Bhishma, Dhritarashtra reluctantly named Yudhishthira as his heir.[9]

Bifurcation of the Kuru KingdomEdit

After the House of Lac incident, in which the Pandavas are believed to have been immolated, Dhritarashtra mourns, but was able to finally name Duryodhana as his heir. When the Pandavas are revealed to have survived, Duryodhana refuses to cede his title as heir when the sour relations between the Kauravas and the Pandavas simmer. On Bhishma's advice, Dhritarashtra bifurcates the kingdom, giving Hastinapura to Duryodhana and Khandavprastha to Yudhishthira.[10][9]

The game of diceEdit

 
Draupadi disrobed in Dhritarashtra's assembly. Dhritarashtra seated in the centre.

Shakuni, Gandhari's brother, was a master of dice as he could load them without his opponents having a clue. He, along with his nephew Duryodhana, conspired in a game of dice and invited the Pandavas to gamble. The Pandavas eventually lost their kingdom, wealth, and prestige and were exiled for thirteen years. Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, was humiliated in court after Dushasana tried to disrobe her. The blind king only intervened after counselling with Gandhari when Draupadi was going to curse the Kuru dynasty. Though notables like Vikarna and Vidura objected to the sins of Duryodhana, most of the spectators were helpless due to their obligations to Hastinapura; Dhritarashtra could have spoken out, but did not.

The Kurukshetra WarEdit

 
Krishna requests Dhritarashtra to avoid war.

Krishna, as a peace emissary of the Pandavas, travelled to Hastinapura to persuade the Kauravas to avoid the bloodshed of their own kin. However, Duryodhana conspired to arrest him, which resulted in the failure of the mission. After Krishna's peace mission failed and a war seemed inevitable, Vyasa approached Dhritarashtra and offered to grant him a divine vision so that Dhritarashtra could see the war. However, not willing to see his kin slaughtered, Dhritarashtra asked that the boon be given to Sanjaya, his charioteer. Sanjaya dutifully narrated the war to his liege, reporting how Bhima killed all his children. Sanjaya would console the blind king while challenging the king with his own viewpoints and morals. When Lord Krishna displayed his Vishvarupa (True form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Dhritarashtra regretted not possessing the divine sight.[6]

 
Vyasa (middle) grants Sanjaya (left) divine vision to narrate the war to Dhritarashtra (right).
 
Dhritrashtra mourns the death of his sons.

Dhritarashtra was confident that Bhishma, Drona, Karna and the other invincible warriors would make the Kaurava camp victorious. He rejoiced whenever the tide of war turned against the Pandavas. However, the results of the war devastated him. All of his sons and grandsons but one were killed in the carnage. Dhritarashtra's only daughter Duhsala was widowed. Yuyutsu had defected to Pandava side at the onset of the war, and was the only son of Dhritrashtra who had managed to survive the Kurukshetra War.[11]

Crushing of Bhima's metal statueEdit

 
Dhritrashtra crushing Bhima's statue.

Dhritarashtra was furious with Bhima for mercilessly slaying all his sons, especially Duryodhana. After the war ended, the victorious Pandavas arrived at Hastinapura for the formal transfer of power. The Pandavas set forth to embrace their uncle and offer him their respects. Dhritarashtra hugged Yudhishthira heartily without a grudge. When Dhritarashtra turned to Bhima, Lord Krishna sensed his intentions and asked Bhima to move Duryodhana's iron statue of Bhima (used by the prince for training) in his place. Dhritarashtra crushed the statue into pieces and then broke down crying, his rage leaving him. Broken and defeated, Dhritarashtra apologised for his folly and wholeheartedly embraced Bhima and the other Pandavas.[12]

Later years and deathEdit

 
Attain of Moksha by Gandhari, Dhritarastra and Kunti and escape of Vidura from fire

After the great war of Mahabharata, the grief-stricken blind king along with his wife Gandhari, sister-in-law Kunti, and half brother Vidura left Hastinapura for penance. It is believed that all of them (except Vidura who predeceased him) perished in a forest fire and attained Moksha.[13]

AssessmentEdit

Throughout his reign as King of Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra was torn between the principles of dharma and his love for his son Duryodhana. He often ended up endorsing his son's actions merely out of fatherly love.[14]

Dhritarashtra is physically strong, yet psychologically weak, easily manipulated by his brother-in-law, Shakuni.[15][16] Dhritarashtra appears in Mahabharata sections that have been circulated as separate scriptures, most notably the Bhagavad Gita, whose dialogue was narrated to him.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide", by Roshen Dalal, p. 230, publisher = Penguin Books India
  2. ^ Apte, Vaman Shivaram (1957). "धृतराष्ट्र". A practical Sianskrit-English Dictionary. Poona: Prasad Prakashan.
  3. ^ Witzel, Michael (1995). "Early Sanskritization: Origin and Development of the Kuru state" (PDF). EJVS. 1 (4): 17, footnote 115. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 June 2007.
  4. ^ Michael Witzel (1990), "On Indian Historical Writing", p.9 of PDF
  5. ^ The Sacred books of the Hindus. Genesis Publications. 2007. p. 94. ISBN 9788130705439.
  6. ^ a b Ganguli, Kisari Mohan. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Translated into English Prose by Kisari Mohan Ganguli. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.
  7. ^ Kalyāṇakara, Bā Ha. Dhr̥tarāshṭra. Nāgapūra: Ākāṅkshā Prakāśana, 2007.
  8. ^ Suri, Chander Kanta. The Life and times of Shakuni. Delhi: for All, 1992. Print
  9. ^ a b Vyas, Ramnarayan (1992). Nature of Indian Culture. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-7022-388-7.
  10. ^ Valmiki; Vyasa (19 May 2018). Delphi Collected Sanskrit Epics (Illustrated). Delphi Classics. ISBN 978-1-78656-128-2.
  11. ^ Yuyutsu was one of the 11 who managed to survive the war.
  12. ^ During the Kurukshetra War
  13. ^ Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti proceed to the forest
  14. ^ "12_chapter 6'". Google Docs. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  15. ^ Nanda, Rishi Nanda, Mehak Mahajan (10 February 2020). Break Your Leadership Chakravyuh: Stories and Learnings from Indian Mythology. Notion Press. ISBN 978-1-64678-700-5.
  16. ^ Guha, Soma (2007). Mahabharata: The Game Vol - 1. Scholastic India. ISBN 978-81-7655-816-7.