King Dhritarashtra: The Blind Monarch of the Kuru Dynasty

King Dhritarashtra, a prominent figure in the Mahabharata, belonged to the Kuru dynasty. Born to King Vichitravirya and Queen Ambika, Dhritarashtra faced the challenge of being born blind. His lack of sight would significantly influence his life and decisions.

He was Pandu’s elder brother and Vidura’s half-brother, with whom he shared a complex relationship. Dhritarashtra married Gandhari, and together, they had one hundred sons, known as the Kauravas.

Half BrothersPandu, Vidura
SonsDuryodhana, Dushashan, Vikarna, Chitrasena and 98 others. Yuyutsu (via maidservant)

Birth and Childhood:

Dhritarashtra was the son of King Vichitravirya of the Kuru dynasty and Queen Ambika. However, Vichitravirya died young without leaving an heir. Vichitravirya’s mother, Queen Satyavati, sought a solution to ensure the continuation of the royal lineage. Sage Vyasa, Satyavati’s son from sage Parashar, was called upon to help.

Satyavati requested Vyasa, to father children with Vichitravirya’s widows to carry on the family line. Vyasa was known for his ascetic lifestyle could grant offspring through a unique ritual called Niyoga. Vyasa agrees but sets conditions for the queens to conceive, emphasizing the necessity of maintaining the vow of tolerance towards his appearance.

Seeing the dire situation facing the Bharata lineage, Satyavati approached her daughters-in-law in private and appealed to their sense of duty and welfare. She conveyed Bhishma’s counsel and urged them to accept the responsibility of bearing sons to ensure the continuation of the dynasty.

Satyavati emphasized the importance of their role in preserving the lineage and kingdom. Eventually, she gained their agreement to the proposal, as it aligned with dharma. She hosted a feast for Brahmanas, devarshis, and guests to mark the occasion.

Satyavati instructs her daughter-in-law, Ambika, to await Vyasa’s arrival for conception. On seeing his dark visage, matted hair that was the color of copper, fiery eyes and tawny-brown beard, the queen Ambika closed her eyes but she fulfilled her duty as instructed by her mother-in-law.

Before leaving Vyasa assures Satyavati that Ambika will bear a son with exceptional qualities, but as she closed her eyes out of fear during the union, the child will be born blind. Eventually, Ambika gives birth to a blind son, which will be lattter known as Dhritarashtra, fulfilling Vyasa’s prophecy.

Despite being the elder son, the absence of eyesight raised concerns about Dhritarashtra’s suitability to inherit the throne. However, due to the untimely demise of his younger brother Pandu, Dhritarashtra became the heir to the Kuru kingdom.

Marriage to Gandhari and the Birth of the Kauravas

In an alliance arranged by Bhishma, Dhritarashtra married Gandhari, who chose to blindfold herself voluntarily to share in her husband’s darkness. Via Gandhari, he had 100 sons (Duryodhana, the eldest among them) and a daughter named Duhshala. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari’s union resulted in the birth of one hundred sons, the Kauravas.

When Gandhari was afflicted with her expanding belly, Dhritarashtra used to have a Vaishya maid in attendance. From her, he had a son named Yuyutsu, who was immensely famous and wise.

To find out, how Gandhari gave birth to 100 Kauravas and a daughter, Read HERE

Relationship with Vidura:

Dhritarashtra’s half-brother Vidura played a crucial role in the Kuru court. Dhritarashtra’s blindness prevented him from ascending the throne, leading to the appointment of Pandu as the king. Despite his disability, Dhritarashtra maintained a complex relationship with Vidura, who often served as his wise counselor.

Accession to the Throne:

After Pandu’s untimely death, Dhritarashtra ascended the throne. His reign, however, was marked by challenges, including the rivalry between the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

Offered Khandavaprastha to Pandavas

After returning from Draupadi Swamvara, Duryodhana shared his malicious intentions with his father. He was accompanied by his friend Karna. Dhritarashtra sought counsel from Bhisma and Drona. Both advised giving half the kingdom to the Pandavas as it aligned with righteousness and duty. Dhritarashtra reluctantly agreed and sent Vidura to bring the Pandavas, Kunti, and Draupadi from Panchal.

Pandavas were warmly welcomed in Hastinapura by Dhritarashtra and the citizens. Dhritarashtra summoned Yudhisthira and suggested they settle in Khandavaprastha to avoid future conflicts, offering them half the kingdom. The Pandavas accept his proposal and embark on their journey to Khandavaprastha.

Jealousy and Conflict with the Pandavas:

Dhritarashtra’s inability to control the growing animosity between the Kauravas and the Pandavas became a defining aspect of his reign. His son Duryodhana’s envy and rivalry with the Pandavas would eventually lead to the catastrophic Kurukshetra War.

Attempt to Prevent the War:

Despite foreseeing the disastrous consequences of the conflict, Dhritarashtra was torn between familial loyalty and moral duty. He attempted, at times, to prevent the war, but his attachment to his sons often swayed his decisions.

Game of Dice and Exile of the Pandavas:

The infamous game of dice, orchestrated by Duryodhana, resulted in the exile of the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra’s inability to intervene decisively during this pivotal moment contributed to the intensification of hostilities.

Role in Kurukshetra War:

During the Kurukshetra War, Dhritarashtra, though blind, received updates from Sanjaya about the unfolding events. His inner turmoil and conflicting emotions were palpable as he grappled with the impending tragedy.

Loss of Sons and Aftermath:

The war concluded with the defeat of the Kauravas, leading to the loss of Dhritarashtra’s one hundred sons. The grief-stricken king faced the repercussions of his choices and the tragic demise of his family.

Renunciation and End of Days:

In the aftermath of the war, grieving the loss of his sons, Dhritarashtra chose to retire to the forest along with his wife, Gandhari and Vidura. There, he met his end, consumed by a forest fire.

Dhritarashtra’s Major Saying:

Dhritarashtra’s words often reflected his internal conflicts, torn between his duty as a king and his love for his sons. One of his poignant sayings captures the essence of his predicament:

“I am blind by sight, but I can see the truth. The outer eyes may be blind, but the inner eye sees all. It sees the right and the wrong, the good and the bad.”

This saying exemplifies Dhritarashtra’s internal struggle, acknowledging his physical blindness while asserting the clarity of his inner vision, torn between the realities of his son’s actions and his duties as a ruler.

Dhritarashtra’s Virtues and Failings:

Love for His Sons:

Dhritarashtra’s profound love for his sons, especially Duryodhana, was a defining aspect of his character. This paternal affection, however, often clouded his judgment and hindered his ability to make impartial decisions.

Internal Conflict:

The internal conflict within Dhritarashtra, torn between familial loyalty and moral duty, portrayed the complexities of his character. His love for his sons clashed with his awareness of their wrongdoing, leading to a constant struggle.

Attempt at Peaceful Solutions:

At times, Dhritarashtra attempted to prevent the war and find peaceful resolutions. However, his efforts were undermined by his inability to assert authority and make decisive choices.

Blindness as a Metaphor:

Dhritarashtra’s physical blindness served as a metaphor for his inability to see the larger truths and make unbiased decisions. Despite his inner vision, his attachments often clouded his judgment.

Regret and Grief:

The aftermath of the war left Dhritarashtra devastated, mourning the loss of his sons and reflecting on the consequences of his choices. His grief became a poignant symbol of the tragedy that unfolded.

Legacy and Reverence:

Dhritarashtra’s legacy in the Mahabharata is a complex tapestry of love, conflict, and tragedy. His character serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the consequences of being blinded by attachments and the challenges of balancing familial bonds with the duties of a ruler. Dhritarashtra’s internal struggles and ultimate renunciation highlight the intricacies of human nature, making him a figure whose story resonates with profound moral and ethical questions.

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