Gandhari Ki Atmakatha, Ah Mahabharat again! This time as a story of Gandhari, only focusing on what she knew, what she saw and her dilemmas. Gandhari is a character present throughout the story as the mother of the hundred sons who were the reason for the Great War. But she never comes in the foreground in the story that is usually told from the Pandavas perspective. Amongst the women of Mahabharat also the more powerful characters of Draupadi and Kunti overshadow her throughout the story. Gandhari the name means the one who comes from Gandhar, which was the present day Afghanistan. We do not even know her given name, which was Shubha.
The first part of the book Gandhari Ki Atmakatha tells the story of her family in Gandhar. Her childhood, her relationship with her brother Shakuni. And the root of evil in him. Her engagement to the prince of Purushpur (current day Peshawar). And her capture by Bheeshma with the help of her evil brother is something that is not usually a part of the main story. I do not know how much of this has a historical or literary base. And how much of this is author’s imagination? But it does put a lot of things in perspective, especially about Shakuni.
An interesting episode about her blindfolding herself after she saw her fiancés eyes looking at her as she was being brought to Hastinapur, which Bheeshma then announced as her resolve to not see the world as her future husband cannot see it and became her destiny, a resolve she was more or less forced to live with. The element of evil in her family that came to Shakuni, his accompanying her to her in-law’s house much against her own wishes. And then never returning back as he found more acceptance in Hastinapur than in his own father’s kingdom. There are moments when he realizes he is not family. But then most of the times he manages to be the confidante of his brother-in-law and becomes a permanent fixture.
He then groomed his hundred nephews to win the throne of Hastinapur from their cousins. It is obvious that he wanted this to ensure his own position in the state. Nothing is mentioned about his own family. If he married or not, did he have any children? It would be interesting hear the story from his angle sometimes as the prime architect of the war.
The story talks about the women that Gandhari was. She was a princess of a small hill kingdom that never fought any wars. She wanted to marry someone but was captured by another to be married to a blind man from a more prosperous state. And she had the boon of being the mother of hundred sons that became a reason for her capture for a kingdom that was deprived of natural heirs. In her urgency to give birth to the eldest son in the generation who can then claim the kingdom of Hastinapur, she almost loses the child who is then revived by a Rishi. And instead of one, they become 100, thus fulfilling the boon. She also had a daughter. But the book Gandhari Ki Atmakatha does not talk about her at all till her husband dies in the battle and as a mother, Gandhari mourns.
There are a few incidents that were left out like her opening her eyes for protecting Duryodhana. The naming of her sons as Duryodhana and Dushasan rather than Suyodhan and Susashan as it should have been. The book dwells more on her dilemmas at every step. She is witness to the conspiracies that her husband, brother, and sons do to unfairly eliminate the Pandavas. She also has a motherly affection for the Pandavas. And she has to constantly choose one over the other. Bound by her duties she has to be on the side of her family. She can see that the path they are taking will lead to disaster. But there is nothing much that she can do even as the main queen of the kingdom.
As a woman, she feels guilty that it is her envy that has passed on to her sons. She feels affection and envy at the same time for Kunti, two women who console each other in sorrow, who seek solace in each other but are always on two different sides of the fence. Her dependence on her assistants for her everyday existence is very nicely brought out. At every point you know she is not living a normal queen’s life. Her initial reaction and then acceptance of the fact that her husband has interest in many other women makes you feel sorry for her.
She eventually comes across a life full of dilemmas. In the end, she goes to the place of battle where all the dead bodies are lying and she summarizes the life of key players. She joins the dots of their destiny and their karma. And ends up cursing Krishna who she thinks is the reason for her family losing the battle. Author has skipped the last days of her life.
As always, Mahabharat stories make you think about the dilemmas that are so much a part of our lives. Some decisions that we have to take every day choosing our dharma and the choice is not always black and white. Most of the times we have to choose between various shades of grey.
Read Gandhari Ki Atmakatha to know the human nature that it seems does not change. Read to understand your own Dharma. And to hear the complete story from a different angle.