Just as in writing, every word gains identity because of its surrounding blank space, yet the role and the contribution of the space is often overlooked or missed, similarly in Mahabharata, narratives or events narrated are surrounded by silence or silencing. Therefore, to understand the import of a narrative and event, it is necessary to understand what or who remains in silence or what is suppressed or what is not stated.
A Theory, in any case, is tentative and promotes further learning. However, applying above mode of reading and methodology of exploring silence to close textual reading of Classical Mahabharata, we can indeed throw light on some nagging questions –
1. What was happening in Hastinapura when Duryodhana et al. were in Gandhari’s womb for 2 years as meatball and thereafter 2 more years as thumbsized flesh in pot? In other words, what was happening in Hastinapura during that “4 YEARS ‘VOID’”?
2. After Duryodhana’s birth, how could Vidura and some Brahmanas openly propose abandonment of the child, the ‘firstborn’ to the king and queen?
3. When the Duryodhana-Duhshasana-Karna-Shakuni alliance made repeated attempts on Pandavas’ life during their childhood days, why were Bhishma-Drona-Krpa-Vidura silent over the matter? Though Vidura helped the Pandavas, why was he not vocal (rather he chose to help the Pandavas surreptitiously as if he was hiding his help from Bhishma too), as we find him in Dice-Game Sabha years after? The silence is noticed even during Varanavata incident.
4. Shakuni was Gandhara Raja, yet we never find him ruling Gandhara; Karna was Anga Raja, so we believe, yet we never find him ruling Anga. We have information however, that they had wives and children, and in fact, Karna’s children were born in timely interval; so, it appears that they sometimes found time to have a sexual trip to their kingdom only to return to Hastinapura after successfully planting seed. So much for their Rajadharma, and their eagerness to see Duryodhana settled in Rajadharma.Why this concentration on Hastinapura? What Madhu?
5. Why did Shakuni and Karna wield such power in Hastinapura? Why couldn’t Bhishma or Kuru elders like Bahlika and Somadatta shake them off despite realizing their evil effect on Duryodhana? When exactly did Shakuni find a safe perching in Hastinapura? What was the secret of their power? What prevented or thwarted Bhishma from meting out Danda?
The findings in this article seek to answer those and many such questions. On the evidence of common sense and experience we understand that the like of Bhishma’s powerlessness manifests in the face of unbridled powerful and organized blackmail.
1. Problems with Duryodhana’s Birth-Myth
To start from a base, our base must be rational because Mahabharata is Itihasa of Human Beings. We cannot have Double-Standard here. If we say, Mahabharata is Itihasa, then we have to accept it is human Itihasa which follows human rules and there is no place for supernatural. To think that “those supernatural things” happened in “those days” is childish fantasy and the mother of illogicality and superstition. [See - Mahabharata: Rational Reading In The Light Of Kautilya’s Arthasastra] If we read Rgveda we find human condition has remained constant; therefore, to think of a midterm aberration in Mahabharatan times is absolutely bogus.
Duryodhana’s Birth-Myth is the first problem we encounter. Even before that, the Birth-Myth itself is questionable because Duryodhana’s birth is not described in either Sauti’s or Vaishampayana’s ‘Mahabharata-Briefs’. Even the brief Parvan descriptions do not mention the Kuru-Pandavas’ birth. The beginning of Adi Parvan briefing begins as: “In the Adi parva are contained Paushya, Pauloma, Astika, Adivansavatara, Sambhava,” and then goes straight to “the burning of the house of lac, etc.” (1.2.34-36)
The narrative goes that Bhishma was interested in marrying Gandhari to Dhrtarashtra because he had heard from Brahmanas that Gandhari had Shiva’s boon of a 100 sons (1.103.9-10). We never know who these Brahmins or vipra were. In light of Kautilya’s Arthashastra, we can infer they were spies or Propaganda Machinery of then Rashtras. But Mahabharata would not let us be in peace so easily, because to every narrative there is an Alternative Narrative. Just a few lines back we have already been informed that Bhishma had already mooted marriage of Vidura, Dhrtarashtra and Pandu with three princesses including Gandhari (1.103.5-6), and here is no mention that Bhishma’s choice of Gandhari had anything to do with Shiva’s boon.
In the 2nd history of Kuru Vamsha, instead of Shiva’s boon we have Vyasa’s boon (1,90.61A: tatra dhrtarashtrasya rajnah putrashatam babhuva gandharyam varadanad dvaipayanasya); and same information is corroborated sometime after (1.107.7-8).
So, Shiva’s boon or Vyasa’s boon? Since we do not find Gandhari’s encounter with Shiva elsewhere in Mahabharata, we would go by the narrative of Vyasa’s “boon”, and take the narrative of Shiva’s boon as Political Propaganda of the Gandhara king, Suvala. But to think of Vyasa’s ‘boon’ literally would still be problematic. Vyasa was impartial to his three sons. So, why would he give such a boon to Gandhari, and not to Kunti or Madri?
The point to note is: here, Gandhari sought 100 sons, implying, at least till that time after marriage, Gandhari was still not pregnant. The ambiguity remains, because we have no way knowing when exactly Krshnadvaipayana Vyasa visited Gandhari. (In any case, Vyasa had this peculiar habit of arriving in Hastinapura without notice and then vanishing then and there!)
The next problem with Duryodhana’s birth is the absurdity of myth in it. Gandhari is said to have borne the womb for two years: “Some time after Gandhari conceived and she bore the burden in her womb for two long years without being delivered. And she was greatly afflicted at this.” (1.107.9). This is non-realistic; certainly Gandhari was no exceptional human woman to have such capability. At the onset we can reject this narrative as irrational but not without query: why was such a myth invented? In Mahabharata, as we shall see, we have several other narratives of longterm pregnancy, and almost similar Birth-Myth.
But Gandhari’s case is different. She became impatient on hearing that Kunti had brought forth a son whose splendor was like unto the morning sun. Was it jealousy for Kunti’s son’s birth only, or jealousy for that son’s sun-aspect? Impatient of the period of gestation which had prolonged so long, and deprived of reason by grief, she struck her womb with great violence without the knowledge of her husband. (10-11)
Why this suicidal feat? How could Gandhari do that? Rather, how could a mother do that? If jealousy for Kunti could take her to that extent, this is obviously abnormal and psychotic. However, elsewhere in Mahabharata, Gandhari appears as a wise and poised lady. The logical conclusion: Gandhari was obviously not happy with the conjugal relation with Dhrtarashtra.
The result of Gandhari’s striking her own womb is even fantastic.
1. A hard mass of flesh like an iron ball came out Gandhari’s womb
2. She was about to throw it away, but Vyasa came in time and asked her why she had done this
3. Gandhari admitted her jealousy and reminded Vyasa of his boon
4. Vyasa arranged that a hundred pots full of clarified butter be brought instantly, and placed at a concealed spot. Then cool water was sprinkled over this ball of flesh…and in time, the flesh divided into a hundred and one parts, each about the size of the thumb. These were then put into those pots full of clarified butter that had been placed at a concealed spot and were watched with care. Vyasa instructed Gandhari that she should open the covers of the pots after full two years. And having said this Vyasa went away.
Thus, after the meatball grew in Gandhari’s womb for 2 years, its 101 parts again grew in covered pots for 2 years at a concealed spot under careful watch (21). We do not know however, who kept the “careful watch”? Where was the “concealed spot”? How could a “concealed spot” be available in royal palace teeming with servants? How many people knew the matter? To how many people of the royal household, the matter could be kept secret?
It is to be noted that no character in the whole of Mahabharata ever refers to this strange birth, not even Gandhari or Duryodhana himself. During the princes’ weapon-skill examination, Duryodhana referred to various Birth-Myths but not his own (and none spoke about his too):
“The foremost of all wielders of weapons, the preceptor Drona hath been born in a waterpot and Kripa of the race of Gotama hath sprung from a clump of heath. Your own births, ye Pandava princes, are known to me.” (1.127.14)
Duryodhana’s two year stay in Gandhari’s womb also problematizes the chronology of Pandavas’ birth. We know elsewhere that Pandavas were born with one years gap, and that Duryodhana and Bhima were born on same day. That is not possible if Duryodhana had been born after 4 years of conception (2 years in Gandhari’s womb as meatball and 2 years as thumb-sized flesh in a pot). This would make Duryodhana same in age to Nakula-Sahadeva.
When we read Duryodhana’s Birth-Myth, our attention freezes time, and concentration limits to two characters only – Vyasa and Gandhari, and we forget about other characters whom the narrative keeps in silence. This is the illusion created by the narrative style and the grasping Birth-Myth. What were other characters doing during these four years? It is as if the 4 years create an unquestionable void. But this is non-realistic even in textual terms. 4 years span is no whisker, particularly in the life of Rashtra and people important to Rashtra. Besides we already have the simultaneous Pandavas’ birth in distant Himalaya, though narrated before.
I would call this “4 YEARS ‘VOID’”! Indeed it is the most pregnant void that holds all the Keys to unlock Kuru Vamsha history of the time.
The silence of other characters is in fact a pointer to silencing – a power that only the author possesses. Something was going on in the royal palace for these 4 years that needed to be hushed up. And surely, Vyasa as Kavi and Vyasa as ‘character’ had active role in it.
Now, in Vedic literature from Rgveda onwards, “pot” is a well-known metaphor for Womb, and “clarified butter” is well-known metaphor for Sperm. So, Duryodhana et al.’s Birth-Myth can easily be taken as allegory of mass impregnation.
2. Duryodhana et al.’s birth and Vidura’s proposal of abandoning Duryodhana
Duryodhana was born from among those pieces of the ball of flesh that had been deposited in those pots. Bhima was born on same day. The narrator emphasizes here that “According to the order of birth, king Yudhishthira was the oldest.” The news of Duryodhana's birth was carried to Bhishma and Vidura.
As soon as Duryodhana was born, he began to cry and bray, like an ass. And hearing that sound, the asses, vultures, jackals and crows uttered their respective cries responsively. Violent winds began to blow, and there were fires in various directions.
Dhrtarashtra was frightened and summoned Bhishma, Vidura, other well-wishers and all the
Kurus, and numberless Brahmanas. To them, Dhrtarashtra admitted the seniority of Yudhishthira, and wanted to know whether there was any chance for Duryodhana’s becoming king. The conflict over the throne had already begun on the stage of blind Dhrtarashtra’s mind, the same mind where Krshna’s Gita would unfold.
What we note here, Dhrtarashtra was more concerned than happy with the new born baby. His first reaction was fear at the omens. Could a biological father be so indifferent to new born son? This is a strong pointer that Duryodhana was not Dhrtarashtra’s biological son but “engineered” to be contestant to Yudhishthira’s claim to the throne.Irony of fate that the project failed, like an engineered bridge collapsing owing to “act of God”.
Dhrtarashtra’s words of concern invited more omen; jackals and other carnivorous animals began to howl ominously. And marking those frightful omens all around, the assembled Brahmanas and Vidura replied, “O king, O bull among men, when these frightful omens are noticeable at the birth of thy eldest son, it is evident that he shall be the exterminator of thy race. The prosperity of all dependeth on his abandonment. Calamity there must be in keeping him. O king, if thou abandonest him, there remain yet thy nine and ninetysons. If thou desirest the good of thy race, abandon him, O Bharata! O king, do good to the world and thy own race by casting off this one child of thine.”
From the fact that Vidura and the Brahmanas knew about the 100 sons (because Dhrtarashtra or anyone did not tell them the number, yet they knew), it is evident that at least they were not in dark during the “4 YEARS ‘VOID’”. And if “numberless Brahmanas” already knew it, we can hardly believe in secrecy.That the identities of these Brahmanas are not stated or even hinted, makes us suspect that their identity needed to be hidden. But the fact that these “numberless Brahmanas” were against Duryodhana since his birth, points to their anger against the “4 YEARS” Project. Obviously, these Brahmanas were not those who were part of the project.
Dhrtarashtra, of course, “out of affection for his son”, refused to follow Vidura and the Brahmanas’ advice of child abandonment. Then, within a month, were born a full hundred sons and a daughter also in excess of this hundred.
Let us emphatically register: all 101 were born within one month span, giving us the very important information that they had been conceived too within one month (more or less), that is, their mothers were impregnated simultaneously within span of one month.
We have already been informed that even Vyasa, despite his and Shiva’s boon of 100, had no idea of the outcome. Vyasa had spoken of arranging hundred pots full of clarified butter, but when cool water was sprinkled over the meatball of flesh, it divided into a hundred and one parts.
In my opinion, the subtle suggestion here of Shiva’s and Vyasa’s ‘failure’ to foresee the exact number (101) is actually a poetic trope to suggest that the ‘engineered’ mass impregnation of Dhrtarashtra’s wives was a hurried matter, and so much secrecy and uncertainty was involved in it that even the God or the Rshi could not have known it. I will be coming to this.
Here the narrator informs us that during the time when Gandhari was in a state of advanced pregnancy, there was a Vaishya maid servant who used to attend on Dhritarashtra. During that year, Dhrtarashtra begot upon her Yuyutsu. Since Yuyutsu’s birth is normal, it is clear evidence that Yuyutsu was the eldest of Dhrtarashtra’s children.
Now, Gandhari’s “advanced state of pregnancy” would mean the 1st year of her conception, as also the 1st year in the “4 YEARS ‘VOID’”. We can be certain at least that Dhrtarashtra was potent during the 1st year in the “4 YEARS ‘VOID’”. If Duryodhana et al. were born in the 4th year, then the 2nd and 3rd year are the Void-within-Void of the “4 YEARS ‘VOID’”. These two years are therefore, the most crucial for our discussion.
3. Duryodhana’s Birth-Myth significance and Political Propaganda
The significance of the number 101 can be understood with reference to the Tuladhara-Jajali Narrative in Shanti-Parvan (in Bhishma’s Discourse to Pandavas). Nahusha here finds mention as inadvertent slayer of Cow. Speaking of unslayability of Cow, Tuladhara mentions Nahusha as having unintentionally killed Cow and Bull – equated with Mother and Prajapati respectively (gam mataram capy avadhir vrshabham ca prajapatim, 12.254.46c). The Rshis told Nahusha, “We shall not be able to pour libations in thy sacrifice (bhrunaham nahusham tv ahur na te hoshyamahe havih, 47e).” Later, “For cleansing Nahusha, they divided that sin into a hundred and one parts and converting the fragments into diseases cast them among all creatures (shatam caikam ca roganam sarvabhuteshv apatayan, 12.254.47).”
Significantly, the Narrative ends with a Discourse on Eye that brings Dhrtarashtra’s blindness and Gandhari’s artificial blindness in stark contrast: “The righteous always observe it with eyes possessed of improved vision (12.254.51-2).”
This may be one poetic and philosophic significance why Vyasa mentions 101 children only, however, the political dimension is unmistakable as it appears to connect with Birth-Myths of foremost of Rshis – Vashishtha and Bhrgu. The Bhrgu Aurva is said to have 100 sons with Jamadagni as the eldest (aurvasyasit putrashatam jamadagnipurogamam, 1.60.48a).
And regarding longterm pregnancy, the myth goes that Vyasa’s father Parashara was in mother’s womb for 12 years (1.167.14c). Similar myth is among Ikshvakus too and again connected with Vashishthas. King Kalmashapada transformed into Rakshasa and ate up Parashara’s father and Vashishtha’s son Shakti. After being freed from Rakshasa form by Vashishtha, he requested Vashishtha for Niyoga to his wife, and after Vashishtha consented, “The queen bore the embryo in her womb for a long time. When she saw that she did not bring forth anything, she tore open her womb by a piece of stone. It was then that at the twelfth year (of the conception) was born Asmaka, that bull amongst men, that royal sage who founded (the city of) Paudanya.” (1.168.24-25)
4. Dhrtarashtra’s many wives, many daughters and Yudhishthira’s concern
That Gandhari was the mother of 100 sons and a daughter is a myth arising out of the mythical narrative as also careless reading of the text, and also to emphasize Dhrtarashtra’s potency and Gandhari’s fertility, however, it is evident from the text that Dhrtarashtra had more than one wife or rather concubines, and they were mostly the Gandhara women who had accompanied her during her marriage (thus, they are Gandharis too; so “Gandhari” indeed is mother of all)-
1. In Adi-Parva (1.117.14), when the Rshis brought Pandavas to Hastinapura, Gandhari came out surrounded by wives of the king (rajadaraih parivrta)
2. When the weapon-skill examination or show was about to begin, Kunti, Gandhari and other wives go there (striyash ca sarva ya rajnah sapreshyah saparicchadah, 1.124.14c)
3. When the Pandavas set out for Varanavata, they circumbulated all their mothers (sarva matris tathaprshtva krtva caiva pradakshinam, 1.133.4a), implying many mothers, or rather Pandavas’ regarding Dhrtarashtra’s concubines as mothers (- a mark of Pandava liberality)
4. In Sabha Parvan (2.5.1), Dhrtarashtra told Duryodhana, “you are my eldest son of my eldest wife (tvam vai jyeshtho jyaishthineyah putra, 2.50.1a)”, implying existence of Dhrtarashtra’s junior wives (- Duryodhana as Gandhari’s adopted son does not preclude such a statement)
5. In Sabha Parvan (2.60.21c), when Duhshasana went to bring Draupadi, she helplessly ran to the quarter of Dhrtarashtra’s wives (arta pradudrava yatah striyas ta; vrddhasya rajnah kurupumgavasya)
6. Remembering Draupadi's humiliation in Dice-Game Sabha, “The wives of the Bharatas, uniting with Gandhari (bharatanam striyah sarva gandharya saha samgatah) upon beholding virtuous Krshna, the wedded wife of the Pandavas, endued with beauty and youth, dragged into the court, set up frightful wail.” (2.72.19)
7. On the eve of war, Yudhishthira asked Sanjaya about the well-being of the Bharata mothers (striyo vrddha bharatanam jananyo, 5.23.14a)
8. Yudhishthira told Sanjaya: “Thou must also salute all the aged dames and those who are known to be possessed of merit, and those who are like mothers to us, meeting them gathered together in one place.” (5.30.30)
9. Yudhishthira further told Sanjaya: “Thou must tell them, O Sanjaya, these words at first,--Ye mothers of living sons, I hope, your sons comfort themselves towards you in a kindly, considerate, and worthy way.--Thou must then tell them that Yudhishthira is doing well with his sons.” (5.30.31)
Throughout we find that these marginalized women had better sense of ethics, and they had no rivalry with Pandavas or among themselves. Vyasa portrays a strange world that men rivalries lead to suffering of women but in insecure circumstances the women have the capability to remain together and united by bond of common feelings and mutual feelings.
Now, here is a textual reference that Kuru-Pandavas had more sisters (other than Duhshala) in the Kuru household.Yudhishthira told Sanjaya, “I hope, the aged ladies, the mothers of the Bharata race, and the kitchen-maidens, the bond-maids, the daughters-in-law, the boys, the sister's sons, and 'the sisters, and the daughters' sons of Dhritarashtra's house are all free from trouble” (KMG, Udyoga-33; CE 5.23.14). “Sister’s sons …the sisters” – indeed Duhshala was not alone.
5. Dhrtarashtra’s impotency, Gandhari’s artificial blindness and no conjugal life
A slight political trouble has already been hinted in Gandhari’s marriage because we find Suvala hesitated at first – a quite normal and natural reaction of a father. However, the prospect of matrimonial alliance with the Kuru Vamsha finally attracted him more (1.103.11-13). This was indeed a political “eastward ho” for him, and Shakuni would be his agent of that mission.
Why Gandhari would blindfold herself does not appear normal. Jijith Nadumuri Ravi suggests three probable reasons behind this narrative, and I agree that these are strongly probable -
1. Gandhari was naturally blind or became blind as she grew up due to some illness affecting the eye like cataract. Gandhari blindfolded her eyes “to show solidarity with her husband".
2. Gandhari’s blindness might be self-inflicted (- Jijith does not consider this very likely). She injured “her own eyes and made it blind as a kind of revenge for forcing her to marry a blind man, just before her marriage, and came to Hastinapura with a blindfolded eye.”
3. Gandhari was partially blind. It might be that she had bad-looking eyes which she hid when appearing in public.
As we read from Mahabharata, Gandhari blindfolded herself, and tradition has considered this her sacrifice. She made this choice consciously to set herself at par with her blind husband. However, have we ever considered the matter from Dhrtarashtra’s perspective? Would a self-respecting blind husband need an artificially blind wife? Would a husband like the pity in Gandhari’s act? Would a self-respecting husband like the fact that his wife would never look at his naked body or blind eyes? Isn’t it that Gandhari’s self-sacrifice actually emphasized Dhrtarashtra’s disability? Would Dhrtarashtra like to be pitied in that way? Does a blind man like to be pitied or does he like to be respected as a human being? Wasn’t wise Dhrtarashtra aware that Gandhari’s act would burden him too with responsibility of her fate? Gandhari’s blindfolding herself meant, she would not be looking after her children; in fact, the act was Gandhari’s declaration of her reluctance for a normal conjugal, sexual and family life.
After a brief spell of conjugal life that saw Duhshala’s birth (and I agree with Jijith that Duhshala was the eldest of the “101”), I suggest, that there was no conjugal and sexual life between Dhrtarashtra and Gandhari. I am aware this would sound surprising because Dhrtarashtra has often been considered the opposite – virile, lusty, and engaging in sexual dalliance with Dasis.
But what is proof of Dhrtarashtra’s lust? The only proof offered is Dhrtarashtra’s liaison with a Vaishya woman that resulted in Yuyutsu’s birth and the myth of 101 children. But that cannot be any proof because there is no consistency. Why? Let’s see …
First of all, the myth of Gandhari’s 101 children creates an illusion that Dhrtarashtra had been continuously engaging in sex year after year. The illusion of consecutive birth thickens the illusion of “continuous sex.” But that is not the fact because we already know that the 101 were born almost simultaneously.
After Yuyutsu’s birth, all 101 brothers and sisters were born at the end of that “4-YEARS VOID”, and within a month (masamatrena samjajne kanya caika shatadhika; 1.107.34c). Even if we believe that Dhrtarashtra fathered them all normally, then, going back in time, we have to believe that Dhrtarashtra’s sexual life, after the spell with the Vaishya woman, lasted for 1 month only during which he impregnated the mothers of those sons. A one month lusty spell!
Had Dhrtarashtra really been a lusty man, why do we not find him engaging in sex (and fathering children) either with Gandhari or other wives or concubines or Dasis outside that “Vaishya-period” and “one-month period in that 4-YEARS VOID”? Where did his potency go?
After Gandhari gave birth to the meatball, and the split thumb-sized entities were put in pot, why didn’t Gandhari conceive again in the next 2 years? Why didn’t Dhrtarashtra’s other wives and concubines conceive? So, even going by the 4 year myth, the only logical answer is, Dhrtarashtra lost interest in sex or lost potency after birth of Duhshala and Yuyutsu.
The image of a lusty blind man has become deep-rooted in most minds (and re-emphasized by Dhrtarashtra’s one time affair with the Vaishya woman) because of prejudice towards blind man, and we tend to sacrifice logic despite textual evidence. Other than the 101+1 sons and daughters attributed to Dhrtarashtra, there is no evidence of Dhrtarashtra having conjugal life or sexual life with other wives and concubines. But these 101 were growing in pots at the same time and for the same duration. So, it is further illogical to think that Dhrtarashtra had all sex simultaneously to produce these 101 and thereafter abstained for the rest of his life.
Gandhari’s 2 years pregnancy and thereafter 2 year “pot-pregnancy” makes it evident that Dhrtarashtra and Gandhari never had a normal conjugal life. It is evident from the text that they had no sex for these 4 years. Even if we concede the 2 years pregnancy, why didn’t Dhrtarashtra and Gandhari have children after that?
I would suggest, despite Gandhari’s reluctance, the conjugal life lasted to see Duhshala’s birth (and this reluctance took Dhrtarashtra to the Vaishya woman’s arms), and then ended as it began with Gandhari’s self-inflicted damage to the womb that brought an end to their conjugal life as well as Gandhari’s procreative power.
But a king losing fertility or sexual power is no good news for subjects. Most of them would associate that with a “bad king”; the mass logic is something like this: a king unable to produce his own children and be a father, cannot be father to subjects and look upon subjects as children.
So, it had to be hushed up, and for finesse some political spice had to be added. Thus, the infertility and impotency was attributed to Pandu to contrast-highlight Dhrtarashtra’s sexual prowess. Pandu’s absence from the scene made it easier to project the impotency-myth on him. Projecting Dhrtarashtra’s sexless self to Pandu was a safe game because Pandu had abdicated the throne and had no intention to return.
That Kunti later upturned the applecart is a different story; and yes, Pandu fathered the Pandavas (see- Pandava Birth Mystery Reconsidered). The story is thus the exact opposite. Pandu was virile but Dhrtarashtra lost potency. The political propaganda however, succeeded to some extent because when Kunti returned, some subjects doubted the Pandavas’ parentage.
6. Why Duryodhana et al. cannot be Dhrtarashtra and Gandhari’s biological sons
The strongest proof that Duryodhana et al. could not be Dhrtarashtra-Gandhari’s biological son is the clear narrative that they were not born directly from Gandhari’s womb.
Secondly, Vidura’s proposal to abandon Duryodhana reinforces our first proof. Had Dhrtarashtra been Dhrtarashtra and Gandhari’s biological son, Vidura could not have proposed abandoning him on the basis of ill omen that he alone or some Brahmins perceived. A child born to royal family is always a matter of great celebration to the family and subjects. Vidura’s proposal would mean going against the whole Rashtra (the nation and its people).
Thirdly, the nature and character that Duryodhana inherited is absolutely discordant to his previous generation. Duryodhana took juvenile delinquency to new heights which had been hitherto unknown and unthought of in the history of Kuru Vamsha. The Kuru royal family had entered the Kali Yuga of lies and scandals, of chaos and meanness. But Kali Yuga per se cannot be justification to the new meanness and depravity that Duryodhana had imported in his attempts to kill the Pandavas, particularly Bhima. This is no mere juvenile delinquency, but crime matured before prime.
Fourthly, Duryodhana’s alienated birth left its traces in his psyche, which is detectable. He constantly doubted others’ birth too without evidence, or rather, he was in search of mystery in others’ birth. The poignancy of irony is a different matter because his doubts about Karna’s birth proved to be true.
Fifthly, through the Mystic Number “101”, Vyasa gives us clue of the reality. We have seen in the Tuladhara-Jajali Narrative in Shanti-Parvan (12.254) that the munber “101” represents Sin. Duryodhana and his brothers and sisters are also “101” – bearing the message that their birth involves Sin. In other words, the mass impregnation of Dhrtarashtra’s wives (excluding Gandhari) was Sin. Why Sin? – Because the impregnation did not happen as per injunctions of Dharma (Social Law, in this case); the impregnation was neither through marriage nor through sanctioned Niyoga-Pratha. It was a hurried matter. And here, it followed precedence of Vyasa – how he fathered Vidura, Dhrtarashtra and Pandu. This might be one reason why Duryodhana et al.’s Birth-Myth is attributed to Vyasa by later pro-Kaurava poets and why they sought to connect the Birth-Myth with those of Vashishtha and Bhrgu.
Sixthly, Duryodhana et al. are legacy of Nahusha’s sin of slaying Cow, and one significance of Cow is Vac-Sarasvati (e.g. 14.21.15-18). As the birth of Duryodhana suggests, he was indeed dispossessed of Vak from his birth because he began to cry and bray like an ass or discordantly like Jackal (gomayuvad; 2.55.2a) at birthtime. Rationally there is no merit in the narrative, but symbolically, it means, Duryodhana was anti-Vak. Since the Kuru Vamsha traced their bloodline to Sarasvati, Duryodhana’s being symbolic anti-Vak is Vyasa’s poetic clue that Duryodhana’s biological bloodline was different. This symbolic meaning is reinforced by the meatball myth. Meatball has no Foot. Foot is a pun and applicable to Vak. So, Footless is anti-Vak.
Tuladhara explanation of various imagery is also significant – “The horse is Surya. Earth is the deity Virat. The cow and the calf are Soma - ajo 'gnir varuno meshah suryo 'shvah prthivi virat (12.254.41b*704_1).Since Cow is Soma, and Cow is Vak, then Duryodhana’s being Anti-Vak suggests that he was not biologically a Soma-Vamshi.
Seventhly, Duryodhana is called incarnation of Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga represents sexual depravity, immorality and promiscuousness. Therefore, this incarnation myth itself is a strong hint to the reality of Duryodhana et al.’s birth.
7. Who fathered Duryodhana et al.?
So, who fathered Duryodhana et al.? How were they born?
There is resemblance between Duryodhana’s Birth-Myth and Birth-Myth of that of Karna’s mythical father Surya or Martanda. Just as the Kauravas were born as meatball, as hard like iron (thus, connecting with Kali Yuga) (mamsapeshi lohashthileva samhata, 1.107.12a), indicating Duryodhana et al. were Footless and Ball-like like Vrtra (SHatapatha Brahmana-188.8.131.52), similarly, Martanda was born Footless as a mere lump of bodily matter (SHatapatha Brahmana- 3:1:3:2-4). This resemblance, I consider, is a pointer to the identity of Duryodhana’s biological father and Karna’s biological father.There is even a significant hint in the resemblance.
In the Shatapatha Brahmana myth, Aditi’s other sons fashioned the Martanda-meatball, and the flesh which was cut off him, and thrown down in a lump, became the elephant. The significant link is: Duryodhana was born in the “City of Elephant” – Hastinapura.
The link suggests to me that Duryodhana’s and Karna’s biological father was the same person. In other words, Karna was Duryodhana’s elder brother from his father’s side and the Pandavas’ elder brother from his mother’s side.
I have discussed before that Karna was fathered by a Brahmin known as Durvasa. This Durvasa is not that Atri’s son Durvasa of yore. Our Mahabharatan ‘Durvasa’ was most probably Anga-based or Magadha-based Brahmin of Angira family, of Bharadvaja Angira Gotra (See – Karna’s Father Found). The Mahabharatan Durvasa and his band of disciples or brothers-in-arm go by the name of Rshis, but their behavior is not Rshi-like; most often we find them oppressing the royal families with sadistic pleasure. We always find them seeking food or luxury from kings, cursing now and then, bearing grudge against all and sundry, but no spiritual output contributing to culture. In the light of political discourses in Mahabharata and Kautilya’s Arthashastra, my understanding is that this Durvasa and his band were political ascetics and acted as spies.
The inevitable question: what was the secret of their power? Why were they given indulgence?
In my opinion, the secret of their power was their access to royal secrets, and often times they themselves were mastermind of the secrets as in Kunti’s case, and as I would now discuss, in Dhrtarashtra’s case.
In those days, the kings had multiple wives, numerous concubines and slave girls. The male-female ratio in a typical royal household was always titlted in favour of female; that is, there were more female than male. History is mostly silent about these female, mostly living in harems or as Dasis, and they seldom have voice. Obviously it was not possible for the king to look after their human and sexual need. So what did they do to meet their human demands of life?
Going by law of human life, someone’s voice suppressed or not represented in narrative does not mean that the voice is non-existant. In other words, these non-represented women had their own struggles for survival, and indeed they survived.Sex and Sexuality have always been one prime force of survival for marginalized women, and out of such compulsion, Kama and Artha (economics and material gain) become one.
What were these surplus women doing with their sexual needs? Either the need had to be fulfilled in some way, or there would be sexual frustration and its resultant consequences.One result of sexual frustration, we notice after Yadava Destruction. When Arjuna could not defeat the Dasyus of Pancanada and desisted from fighting, many Yadava women ran away willingly with the Dasyus.
We can logically infer that most of these marginalized women (including the king’s lesser wives, rejected wives and concubines) had to live with sexual dissatisfaction and seek sex elsewhere. When guests visited the royal household, that provided opportunity.
I would postulate, Durvasa and his band wandered about from kingdom to kingdom with one motive of this bonus. Their seeking Food metaphorically applies to SexualFood, Food being one common metaphor for sexual need, and appetite being common metaphor for food and sex.What I am trying to say is, in other words, it is Durvasa’s band who impregnated some or most of Dhrtarashtra’s concubines to produce the 100 sons within a span of one month, and those produced in wombs of slave girls remain obscured. Several other girl children were also born, and we have already seen enough evidence of existence of these Kaurava sisters.
From Durvasa and his 10000 disciples’ (the number could be poetic exaggeration) arrival in Hastinapura and the familiarity with which Duryodhana received him (KMG, Vana Parvan-260), it is evident that it was not the first arrival of Durvasa in Hastinapura. Yet, any previous visit is not recorded or narrated. This silencing is reason to believe that there is method in non-representation of previous visit. The Critical Edition relegates this narrative to appendix - 3,247.47d@25_9 – 154, but the validity of the narrative in Mahabharata tradition is undeniable. While the Pandavas were living in Forest Exile, Duryodhana-Duhshasana-Shakuni-Karna were planning wicked designs to torment and harm them.
When Durvasa and his 10000 disciples arrived in Hastinapura. Duryodhana and his brothers welcomed him with great humility, self-abasement and gentleness. Duryodhana served him humbly and attended to his every whim. When Durvasa found that the king Duryodhana was neither angered, nor annoyed, he became graciously inclined towards him. And then Durvasa told him, “I have power to grant thee boons. Thou mayst ask of me whatever lies nearest to thy heart. May good fortune be thine. Pleased as I am with thee, thou mayst obtain from me anything that is not opposed to religion and morals.”
Hearing these words, Duryodhana felt himself to be inspired with new life. He, Karna and Duhshasana had already discussed before as to what the boon should be. Duryodhana asked:
“The great king Yudhishthira is the eldest and the best of our race. That pious man is now living in the forest with his brothers. Do thou, therefore, once become the guest of that illustrious one even as, O Brahmana, thou hast with thy disciples been mine for some time. If thou art minded to do me a favour, do thou go unto him at a time when that delicate and excellent lady, the celebrated princess of Panchala, after having regaled with food the Brahmanas, her husbands and herself, may lie down to rest.”
Durvasa consented. This is our point.
Just as Durvasa’s curse was illogical, his boon too was. Durvasa was no child not to realize what Duryodhana was actually seeking from him. He understood well that becoming guest of Yudhishthira with thousands of disciples and that too when Draupadi would be taking rest amounts to oppression and torture of the worst kind. Yet Durvasa agreed to do so in the name of granting boon to Duryodhana. And just sometime back, he professed that the boon should not be opposed to Dharma and morality.So, where goes Durvasa’s Dharma?
In my opinion, just as Dhrtarashtra is blamed for compromising Dharma and morality out of blind affection for his son, here we see the actual blind affection in action. In other words, Durvasa agreed to please Duryodhana’s dark humour out of blind paternal instinct.
That Durvasa had to finally show his back and run away with his disciples owing to Draupadi's intelligence and Krshna’s help is a different story which we would not discuss in details here, and discuss only to the extent of the message-content in it. Both boon and curse are absurd things, not only in terms of rationality, but also considering the central philosophy of Mahabharata.
(To be continued …)