Mahabharata Characters 15 – Dhritarashtra 01 – The blindness of attachment begins
This talk is a part of the “Fascinating Mahabharata Characters” series. To know more about this course, please visit: bhakticourses.com
Transcribed by : Sadananda Das
Today we will discuss the next generation characters. We have discussed Bhisma and Drona from the oldest generations. Then from the next generation we will discuss Dhritarastra. Then we will discuss Vidura and we will discuss Kunti. Of course Dhritarastra, Vidura and Pandu were half-brothers, but Pandu doesn’t have much role because he passes away. We will discuss about Kunti and while discussing about Kunti we will discuss about Pandu. Of course we will discuss about Pandu at other times also when we are discussing about Dhritarastra and Vidura.
Dhritarastra is the son of Vicitravirya. Going back to the hierarchy, Maharaj Santanu had one son Bhisma who chose not to marry. Then he had other son’s. His sons were Chitrangada who died before marrying, Vicitravirya who married to Ambika and Ambalika but he died before begetting any progeny. So, at the order of Santanu’s wife who is their mother-in-law, Satyavati Ambika and Ambalika united with Vyasa. Now the union of Ambika with Vyasadev produced Dhritrastra and Ambalika with Vyasadev produced Pandu, and through a maidservant the union produced Vidura.
Dhritarastra is the son of Ambika and when Vyasadev came to unite with Ambika, Ambika was expecting Bhisma because she thought that he was her brother in law, and when she saw Vyasadev she was mortified because Vyasadev was a sage who was returning from the forest after conducting a lot of austerities and moreover he was in a disheveled state and was not physically attractive. Because of the revulsion that she felt she closed her eyes, and because she closed her eyes at the time of union it is said that that’s how Dhritarastra was born blind. Now we may wonder how can this happen? Just the mother doing a particular thing is alone not the cause, but that is a significant factor at the material level.
There is an emerging field in science called as Pre-natal impressions. The way the mother behaves or what all activities the mother does when she is carrying the child has a tremendous effect on the child itself. So, the Pre-natal impressions can act in various ways. For example, there have been scientifically documented studies that there are many children who are born with birth marks and birth defects. What causes the birth marks and birth defects is very difficult to say. Generally one of the major causes has to be genetic, but when the genetic causes are there, that time the parents or the grandparents should also have that defect and that is how it will come to the next generation. But if there is no genetic cause, then what is the cause of the birth defect or
birth mark? One could be the prenatal impressions, and there have been several documented studies to show that the mother when she was carrying a child, if she sees some very ghastly sight, if she is at the sight of arson where there is big blazing fire and that scene gets burned in her mind, “Oh how brutal and deadly the fire is.” That impression gets burned in the mind and then when the child is born; sometimes the child is born with a burned scar and that becomes a birth mark right from the birth itself. There have been documented cases like this of prenatal impressions. Prenatal means before birth in the womb; the impressions that go from the mothers psyche to the child’s body. At a literal level the closing of the eyes of the mother doesn’t have anything to do with the eyes of the child, but impressions are conveyed, and how the impressions are conveyed? That is a whole subtle field which science as we know it is only beginning to recognize. That way the reactions of both the sisters Ambika and Amabalika on seeing Vyasadeva had affects. The reaction of Ambika on seeing Vyasadeva was that she closed her eyes and that is why Dhritarastra was born blind, and for Ambalika she turned pale. She knew what to except and that is why she did not close her eyes. She was the younger sister and Vyasadev had already told Satyavati that because Ambika closed her eyes the child will be born blind and Ambalika did not want that fate for her child. So, she did not close her eyes, but still she turned pale. That also had an effect. Thr effect was that the child was born with a pale complexion, and that’s why he was known as Pandu. These are prenatal impressions which have affects. Now we will see a significant characteristic of Dhritarastra which is also signified through his name. In Dhritarastra Rastra is country; dhrita is hold on to. So, Dhritarastra can have a positive connotation and a negative connotation as well. At a positive connotation Dhritarastra can mean, one who maintains the kingdom. In a negative sense it can mean, one who is very attached to the kingdom and one who doesn’t want to leave the kingdom. In many of the characters they have names which are symbolic of their activities in the future. How does this work out? Actually the names are given with a positive intention, but the names also have a negative connotation which may not be implied when the birth takes place and the name giving ceremony is conducted, but those characters act in that particular way. How does this work out? We understand that ultimately whatever happens in the pastimes of the Lord is orchestrated by the Lord. The Lord orchestrates the characters who are involved so that they get names or they are given names appropriate to their actions, and some people say that this indicate that the whole Mahabharat is mythological and everything is symbolic, but now we have to understand that there are other factors involved, and those factors involved are that there is a higher orchestration by a higher force in this case. It is not mythological; it is literal although there are some symbolic explanations of it also.
Moving forward when Dhritarastra was born Vyasa Deva told that because he is born in
a ksatriya family he had ksatriya strength and valor and the strength of ten thousand elephants. And he was so powerful that with just one hand he could crush stones, he had such power. Although he had power as he grew up – in the Vedic culture as well as the other cultures in the past, the principle of Primogeniture was followed. Primo is earlier or first; geniture is taking birth or who is born. So, Primogeniture means the first child that is born or the first son will become the successor. That means that in the lineage of kings the eldest son of the king will become the next king. So, by the principle of Primogeniture Dhritarastra was supposed to be the king and Dhritarastra trained himself as a ksatriya to the best of his capacity. In terms of prowess he had power but in terms of eyes he did not, and the courtiers, soldiers and the generals were apprehensive about the idea of a blind king leading an army. If there has to be a fight how can a blind king lead army? Even if that blind king somehow compensates the lack of vision, with other skills still it is difficult.
Blind people can do many things and to the extent they do things is laudable, but there are certain things like the vital responsibility of ruling a kingdom and leading a war; these are activities which cannot be entrusted to a person without eyes. At an individual level a person may be inspired and a person may be able to do wonderful things, but the citizens and the courtyards felt that having a blind person as the king would be detrimental to the state’s interest; and Dhritrastra had half-brothers. They are called half-brothers because in one sense they are not born from the same mother, they are born of their sisters but they are not cousins because they had the same father. The father in the sense of instrument is Vyasadev but in the actual sense, in the sense of lineage the father is considered to be Vicitravirya although he had passed away. They are not considered to be the descendants of Vyasa, they are considered to be descendants in the Kuru dynasty itself.
Pandu was younger and he was very respectable to Dhritarastra and he expected that Dhritarastra would become the king, but then they had a third brother Vidura who was very wise. Vidura recognized the danger and how the enemies would exploit the weakness that would be created by the presence of a blind king and when he pointed it out, Dhritarastra saw the point. The blind person becoming the king is like an elephant in the room. The elephant in the room metaphor is used when there is something which is so big and very dangerous. Suppose we are sitting and having a discussion in the room and there is giant elephant who also comes and sit at a corner. Everybody in the room will be apprehensive thinking what the elephant will do. That topic is there in everyone’s mind. But suppose nobody talks about it; that is the idea of the metaphor, Elephant in the room. That means a subject that everyone is thinking about but nobody is talking about. Vidura brought out this reference to the elephant in the room; the elephant in the room was the idea of the blind person becoming the king.
When Dhritarastra understood the validity of the point and he abdicated his right to becoming the successor or the next king, then Pandu who was initially reluctant to becoming the king agreed recognizing that it was the need of the duty. Now Vidura had not been born of the queens but he was born of a maidservant. So, he had never any right to the kingdom and he accepted this.
Now in the Mahabharata we will see the contrast between the characters and this contrast we will see between Vidura and Dhritarastra. Both of them were handed out bad set of cards by destiny. Similarly, when we are given a set of cards or certain things which can’t be changed, then it is best to accept that and move forward in life. If we keep hankering and lamenting for that which cannot be done, then we unnecessarily create dissatisfaction, dissention and eventually destruction, and that is what happens with respect to Dhritarastra. He had the dissatisfaction, “Oh why could I not be the king?” We don’t see Vidura lamenting like this. He accepts his lot and he becomes a very competent, principle centered and trustworthy minister and he plays his role well. Dhritrastra unfortunately is not able to accept this and keeps trying, scheming and somehow trying to outdo the cards that he has been given and try to get the kingdom somehow or the other. At this particular point he abdicates the right to the kingdom, but still that craving is there and that’s what causes him to fan the ambition often the evil schemes of son Duryodhana.
Pandu became the king and in this generation when the marriage is supposed to take place. In the absence of the father Vicitravirya their cousin uncle Bhisma decides to arrange for the marriages of everyone, and he arranges for Gandahari who is the daughter of the king of Kandahar or Gandhar which is in the modern day Afganisthan. Hastinapur was Delhi more or less and he gets the daughter or Subala. Subala also has a son named Shakuni and a daughter Gandhari. Gandhari comes along and she is handed over to Dhritarastra. Gandhari is a chaste and a powerful lady. In fact it is the chastity that is the secret of her potency or immense power. We will see later on how her power is so great that she blesses Duryodhana, and she even curses Krishna and Krishna accepts her curse. But here we see again the contrast in the approach of Dhritarastra and Gandhari.
Gandhari could have ranted at her destiny and she would have a lot more right to rant. She was born healthy and why would she be handed over as a wife to a person who had no eyes. But rather than protesting she said, “This is what has been handed to me and I will accept it and I will accept it gracefully.” So, what did she do? She not only accepted a husband who had no eyes, but she chose to become like him. She chose to cover her eyes with a blindfold so that she would also be at the same level as her husband.
Today people talk about empathy. Sympathy means that if somebody else feels distress we feel emotions for that person. That is sympathy. That means that say someone is a beggar and is starving and if a person is heartless, he will say, “If you are starving then starve.” Sympathy means thinking, “O this person is suffering so much. Let me do something for him.” Sympathy is good and better than heartlessness, but generally sympathy is generally offered from a stage of superiority thinking, “This person is suffering. Let me be kind, let me be compassionate and let me help that person to be relieved of the suffering or let me mitigate or console the person.” So, sympathy is offered from a superior position, but empathy means we go down to the level of that person and try to feel as that person is feeling. Gandhari demonstrated such empathy and she accepted whatever fate had handed over to her and she accepted it gracefully, willingly and she wanted to have empathy to her husband. She said, “If my husband has to live in darkness without seeing the world I will also have to live like that.” And that is how she lived throughout her life. It is only one time she opened her eyes and we will discuss that when we talk about Duryodhana; that was to bless Duryodhana.
It was the great fortune of Dhritarastra that he got as chaste and devoted wife as Gandhari. Marriage is such a critical decision and the kind of spouse one gets shapes one’s entire life. Dhritrastra was blind and it was certainly at one level unfortunate, but then he also did things which were good in his life, but he did not take the good. Even we see that Gandhari had several times given him good advice but he neglected those good advices.
Now Dhritarastra was married to Gandhari and Pandu was married to Kunti and Madari, and then Dhritarastra united with Gandhari and he still had the hope that, “If I don’t become the king at least my sons will become the king.” When Dhritarastra and Gandhari united somehow Gandhari’s pregnancy went on for a long time. Gandhari had earlier been blessed by Lord Siva that she would have a hundred sons. Nowadays if somebody is blessed to have a hundred sons people will think that is not a blessing but a curse. How will we maintain hundred sons financially, emotionally and practically? It would seem like a frightening prospect, but in those days people recognized that children are the gift of God and so hundred sons were considered to be a great blessing for her; Lord Siva gave it and she accepted the blessing jubilantly and she was waiting and Vyasadeva also blessed her. So, Gandhari was in her own way virtuous and when she was presented to Vyasadeva, then Vyasadeva blessed her that she will have hundred sons. And she was waiting for the pregnancy.
Pandu lived as a king for some time but he had a mind which was more inclined towards renunciation. He had gone to the forest and when he had gone to the forest, at that time the news came that Kunti had begotten her first child Yudhisthir. When the
news of Kunti already having begotten children came up Gandhari became frustrated because at least her son will be the next king, but now Kunti had already begotten a child. That means that her child will not become the king. She in great frustration hit her womb, “Why is this child not coming out? Why is this delivery not happening?” As she hit the womb by that pressure a lump of flesh came out and that lump of flesh was practically not living and she was horrified and she prayed to Vyasadeva; she called him and Vyasadeva appeared over there. They had mystical powers by which they could connect at the level of the mind. When Vyasadeva came over there she said, “O sage, you promised me that I will have hundred sons but I have got this lump of flesh. How will your word come true? Is it that your word has been falsified?” Vyasadev said, “My word has not been falsified. You take this lump of flesh, cut it into hundred pieces and place it in a proper nutritious environment with oils and other things; place it in a proper pot and it will grow.” Along with this Vyasadeva also blessed that Gandhari will also have a daughter and daughter was named as Dussala.
This lump of flesh which had come out was divided into hundred parts and it stayed in a conducive environment which is similar to a womb. From there the hundred children were born and these hundred children became the hundred Kaurava’s. Now we may wonder how it is possible. We have something like test tube babies and this is just another version of a technology that we are not familiar with, but the technology that we have is not unheard of before. Many of the features of this technology were known in the past and it was used whenever required. Vyasadeva is a sage and sages have powers which come from their devotion to God and their asceticism. By their ascetic powers they can do things which ordinary people can’t do. So, he created something which is similar to what is created by modern technology: a suitable environment for the womb for the growth and the birth of the embryo into a child. In this way the hundred children were born. When the first among them Duryodhana was born, at that time inauspicious omens were heard everywhere. Jackals were howling and dogs were barking, and overall the portends indicated that this child will be very inauspicious. Vidura saw this portends and told Dhritarastra, “Abandon this child. For the good of the world and the good of the dynasty please give up this child. Apart from this son you will have ninety nine sons and those ninety nine sons will do you good. Be satisfied with those ninety nine sons and just give up this one son. Otherwise this one son will spoil all the other ninety nine and he will spoil the dynasty. Dhritarastra unfortunately was attached.
It is peculiar how attachment works that even when there is no connection at this stage; the child has not yet lived with him, the child has done nothing till now to have such a strong attachment to him, but Dhritarastra felt, “How can I give up my own son?” He neglected the good advice of his counselors and he kept the child. And thus began a
tragedy of Dhritarastra repeatedly choosing to act according to his attachments instead of acting according to his intelligence and the guidance of his elders, and this was the cause of the greatest failing of Dhritrastra. And ultimately it became the cause of his fall from grace and the destruction of the whole Kuru dynasty.