Monday, August 10, 2009

Dhritarashtra

In the Mahabharata, Dhritarashtra was the son born to Vichitravirya's first wife Ambika. He was fathered by Vyasa. This blind king of Hastinapura was father to a hundred children by his wife Gandhari. These children came to be known as the Kauravas. Duryodhana and Dushasana were the first two sons.

After Vichitravirya's death his mother Satyavati sent for her first born, Vyasa. According to his mother's wishes, he visited both the wives of Vichitravirya to grant them a son with his yogic powers. When Vyasa visited Ambika, she saw his dreadful and forbidding appearance with burning eyes. In her frightened state, she closed her eyes and dared not open it. Hence her son, Dhritarashtra was born blind. His brother Pandu, ruled the kingdom for him due to his blindness. After Pandu's death, he became king of Hastinapura.

At the birth of his first son Duryodhana, Dhritarashtra was advised by Vidura and Bhishma to abandon the child due to bad omens surrounding the child but his love for him stopped him. Dhritarashtra was advised by his elders to be fair to the Pandavas, who were returning from the forest with their mother, Kunti.

Duryodhana was focused on making sure that the he would be the next heir for the kingdom. The king himself wanted his son to be his heir but he was also forced to consider the eldest Pandava, Yudhisthira who was older then Duryodhana.

Against his will, he named Yudhisthira his heir which left Duryodhana frustrated. As a solution Bhishma suggested the partition of Hastinapur. Trying to maintain peace, Dhritarashtra gave Yudhisthira half the Kuru kingdom, albeit the lands which were arid, unprosperous and scantily populated, known as Khandavaprastha. He purposely kept the better half of the kingdom for himself so that his son may one day rule his half of the kingdom.

Dhritarashtra was one of the many men present when Yudhisthira lost the dice game against Shakuni, Duryodhana, Dushasana and Karna. With each throw, the king lost everything gambling away his kingdom, his wealth, his brothers and finally his wife. Dhritarashtra was silent when Dushasana tried to disrobe Draupadi (the Pandavas wife) in front of the court. Finally, the blind monarch conscience was stirred, in part fearing the wrath of Pandavas against his sons. Fearing retribution from the five brothers he returned all the things they lost in the dice game.

However, Shakuni challenged Yudhisthira one more time, and Yudhisthira once more lost. This time, he, his brothers and his wife were forced to discharge the debt by spending fourteen years in exile in the forest before they could reclaim their kingdom. Dhritarashtra was warned by many that the Pandavas will not forget their humiliation. He was constantly told by many that he needed to remember that his responsibilities as king must be placed before his affection as a father.

Sanjaya, DhritrashtraĆ¢€™s charioteer was blessed by Sage Vyasa with the ability to see the past,present and the future, narrated important events of the Kurukshetra war, a war fought between the Kauravas (the sons of Dhritarashtra) and the Pandavas, to the blind king. Dhritarashtra's sorrow increased day by day as an ever increasing number of his sons were slain by Bhima. He frequently bemoaned his ineffectiveness in preventing Duryodhana from going to war. Sanjaya often consoled the bereaved king but reminded him every time that dharma was on the Pandava side and a war against Krishna and Arjuna could not be humanly won regardless of the strength of the opposing force.

At the end of the great battle, Dhritarashtra was overcome with grief and rage at the loss of his hundred sons. When the blind king met the Pandavas who had come to seek his blessing prior to ascending the throne, he embraced all of them. When it was Bhima's turn, Krishna knew that the king was blind and possessed the strength of a hundred thousand elephants from the boon granted by Vyasa. He was quick to move Bhima aside and push an iron figure of Bhima into Dhritarashtra's embrace. When the thought entered Dhritarashtra's mind that the man in his embrace had killed every one of his hundred sons without mercy, his anger rose to such a pitch that the metal statue was crushed into powder. Thus, Bhima was saved and Dhritarashtra composed himself and gave the Pandavas his blessing.

Yudhisthira was crowned king of both Indraprastha and Hastinapura. The war had killed many great warriors and millions of soldiers were killed on each side. Yudhisthira once again showed his kindness when he decided that the king of the city of Hastinapura should be Dhristarashtra. He offered the blind king complete respect and deference as an elder, despite his misdeeds and the evil of his dead sons. After many years as the ruler of Hastinapura, Dhristarashtra along with Ghandhari, Kunti and Vidura left for their final journey into the forest. They died in a forest fire in the Himalayas.

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