Mahabharata Characters 16 – Dhritarashtra 02 – How the attached get manipulated
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
We are now discussing about Dhritrastra.
Duryodhana and the Kaurvas were born. Dhritrastra’s blindness has been compounded by the blindness of attachment. This blind attachment to his son, especially to Duyodhana will be the cause of his suffering and the suffering of the whole Kuru dynasty. That begins right from the birth of the Duryodhana when despite being advised to forsake his son he refuses to do so. Now somebody may say, “Isn’t it natural for a parent or a father to be attached to the son? It is a natural affection and how can a father be expected to abandon a son like this? It is natural for a father to be attracted to the son and it is not only natural but it is also necessary.
In all living beings whether it is humans, birds or animals or even aquatics, the affection that the parents have for their offspring’s enables them to care for, protect and nourish the offspring’s and that is how they grow up normally. That is natural. In human society we also have a higher intelligence and that higher intelligence is the capacity for dharmic enquiry, to understand the principles of dharma and live according to dharma. Canakya Pandit describes it and Vidura also talks about this in Vidura Niti long before Canakya. The point is that dharma enables us to understand a higher principle and a lower principle and to recognize that the lower principles can be sacrificed for a higher principle.
It is said that for the sake of the family one member of the family can be sacrificed, for the sake of a village one family can be sacrificed, for the sake of a kingdom one village can be sacrificed and for the world one kingdom can be sacrificed. So, there is a higher interest, and for the higher interest the lower interest can be sacrificed. It is not that Dhritarastra was expected to become heartless and reject Duryodhana, but he also had other ninety nine sons to consider, and he was not just an ordinary person but he was the member of the royal family, those whom much is given and from whom much is expected as well. So, he was also expected to think about the wellbeing of the whole society and act accordingly. But his primary if not exclusive concern was just Duryodhana. How Duryodhana can be pleased? And in a sense he wanted the second hand or the vicarious glory of being the king, being the recipient of royal attention, honor and glory second hand through Duryodhana.
As Duryodhana grew up he was expected to become the heir. Pandu had gone to the forest and at time Pandu had not got any sons. Although eventually the news came that
he got sons, but still he did show any inclination of coming back to the kingdom. Therefore it was expected that Duryodhana will become the next king and so he was the pampered child. He had some demoniac propensities from before also and those propensities became aggravated because of the arrogance that he developed due to the pampering that he got in the royal family and in the kingdom at large. Dhritarastra watched this and he indulged with Duryodhana, and as Duryodhana grew up Dhritarastra’s attachment to him only increased, and when the Pandava’s came back Dhritrastra knew intellectually that actually they are my brother’s sons and they are my cousins, and in the absence of my son Pandu had passed away. Now it is I who have to take the responsibility of their guardianship, and as their guardian it is I who have to make sure that they are cared for properly. He knew this intellectually but emotionally he felt too attached to the Kaurava’s; and of course Bhisma and Vidura were there and they ensured that nothing very serious happened. But as Duryodhana’s hatred grew he would manipulate Dhritarastra and Dhritarastra would let himself get manipulated.
One day Duryodhana came to Dhritarastra and told him, “Father! Can’t you see how everyone is just praising the Pandavas and I can tolerate it no longer. If they continue to stay in the kingdom then they will usurp all our rights to the throne and they will become so popular that we will be neglected.” Dhritarastra didn’t speak anything. He didn’t want to speak anything against the Pandava’s although he was very attached to Duryodhana. Duryodhana had already talked with Sakuni and Sakuni was thinking again of vicariously enjoying the Kaurava kingdom through having his brother’s son becoming the king. So, he also wanted to get back at Bhisma who he saw was affectionate to the Pandava’s and it was Bhisma who had arranged Shakuni’s sisters marriage to a blind man, and Shakuni was incensed by that. And that is why he wanted to cause pain to especially the grandsire and to the remaining Kuru dynasty, except that with which her sister was connected directly. Shakuni had hatched a plot and both Gandhari and Sakuni had come; Sakuni most of the time has stayed with Duryodhana itself and Sakuni became like a self-appointed advisor and Sakuni noticed the animosity which Duryodhana specifically and the Kaurava in general had for the Pandavas, and he fanned and fuelled it. He filled it with evil schemes of what to do.
On the idea given by Shakuni Duryodhana came to Dhritarastra and said, “You send the Pandava’s away to the forest. We can’t send them to the forest. So, we will send them away from the kingdom and we should send them away to some other place.” Then he told, “Send them away to Varnavath.” Dhritrastra said, “Even if they go away their popularity will still remain.” Duryodhana said, “No, we will send them away and then they will never come back.” Dhritarastra was momentarily aghast but he maintained his silence because he had the hope against hope that somehow his son would become the king and he did not speak anything. Duryodhana took that as a consent and then
the next day Duryodhana had arranged that there was a nearby kingdom called the Varnavat; it is part of the Kuru kingdom. It was a nearby city and there in Varnavart there was going to be a great festival for celebrating an occasion centered on Lord Siva and many visitors came and they all started praising that festival; how gorgeous it was, how enjoyable the festivities were and naturally everybody heard about it, and Duyodhana and Dhritarastra noticed that the eyes of the Pandava’s lit up in interest. Of course anyone would be interested to hear about an enjoyable festival. Then Dhritrasatra suggested one day after several days of this sort of glorification and festival had been going on; he said, “Why don’t you all Pandavas go to Varnavat. You can have an enjoyable time over there while the festival was going on and along with that you can make sure that the administration is going on well there, and you will go as a representative of a royal family and those citizens and the administrators will also feel that the royal family is paying some attention to them.” Now Yudhisthir was intelligent and he understood, “If enjoyment was the only plan and desire, then why would the Kauravas not go, they would also want to enjoy.” But Yudhisthir considered this to be the order of his father’s elder also. So, he considered him to be like his father and he did not oppose but he went away accordingly. That story we will discuss later. We are focusing right now on Dhritarastra.
Eventually after one year of staying in Varnavata the Pandava’s house which was made of lac was burned; of course the Pandava’s survived but coincidently it happened that a nishada lady had come there with her five sons in the festival and she was sleeping and the charred remains of her body and her sons body were found and everybody thought that the Pandavas had died and everybody started lamenting. Dhritarastra externally lamented but internally he was happy. He was thinking, “Now my son will become the king.” As this was going on the Pandava’s escaped in the forest and they stayed for a considerable amount of time. Eventually, here because Dhritarastra was still the king and Duryodhana was not coroneted. It was unofficially almost understood that Duryodhana would be the king and for all practical purpose Duryodhana took power. So, he was acting like the king itself. He had assumed the power and as this situation moved forward Dhritrastra came to know that Draupadi’s swambhara was going to be there and Duryodhana said, “I would like to go.” And then Duryodhna went and then in that swambhara the Pandava’s appeared again and Arjuna won the hand of Draupadi, and when the news came back to Dhritarastra, the news came, “Panchali has been won by the Kuru’s” He said, “Wonderful! How wonderful it is that Duryodhana has won the hand of Panchali.” Then the messenger said, “No. It is not Duryodhana. It is Arjuna who has won. Those great five Pandava’s still live.” And Dhritarastra was alarmed internally but he said, “How fortunate I am that the Pandava’s live. Now I am feeling as if my brother Pandu has come back in the form of his sons. We were lamenting so much that
they had passed away in the accidental fire. It is good that that are living.” Duryodhana later on after the assembly got over pounced on him and said, “How can you be happy? It is matter of great disaster that our scheme has failed and the Pandavas still live. And not only do they live but they have become even more powerful because they are now allied with the powerful Drupada. It is a matter of great alarm for us. How can you be so happy?” Dritarastra was wily. He said, “I don’t want Bhisma and Vidura to know about my feelings. That is why spoke like this.” And then after the assembly came out everybody counseled, especially Bhisma, Vidura and others counseled that the Pandava’s were found and they should be welcomed back and they should be given half the kingdom. Dhritrastra understood the truth of the words; not that he was very truth conscious person, but he realized that at this stage there was no alternative for him. He had to do the right thing because if he didn’t, not only would it look very bad, but Bhisma and Vidura told him, “Do you know what the people are talking? Do you know that everybody is blaming the royal family for the death of the Pandava’s? They are saying that there is a conspiracy by which the Pandava’s were killed. And we are already in the bad books of the people. People are criticizing us. At least now we can redeem ourselves by welcoming the Pandava’s back and giving them the kingdom.” Dhritarastra agreed and he had messengers sent to Drupada’s kingdom and the Pandava’s were called back. When the Pandava’s came they all offered their respects to Dhritarastra seeing him as a venerable elder, and Dhritarastra said, “O Yudhisthir! be you happy. I will offer you half the kingdom and he gave half the kingdom. He said, “Go and be the ruler of Khandavaprasta.” Khandava was definitely half the kingdom. It was large but it was utterly barren half. So, it was a very unfair settlement. But though it was unfair and it was obvious to everyone that it was unfair. Yudhisthir did not protest. He accepted the word. Here we see Dhritasrastra’s wiliness. Now at one level Dhritarastra was an attached person who allowed Duryodhana to do evil things, but Dhritrastra himself was not a paragon of virtue. He himself had his wiliness and he here decided to partition the kingdom; it is like a father has company and one company is running very well and the other company is almost to the verge of bankruptcy. And when the father decides to pass on the inheritance to the two sons that he has, he gives one son the flourishing company and another son the bankrupt company. That you would consider a very unfair settlement. It was like that. Yudhisthir did not protest. That was his glory, but that Dhritarastra made such an arrangement shows his partiality. Now of course by Krishna’s arrangement the Khandava Prasta was converted into Indra prasta and the Pandava’s flourished there, and because Dhritarastra was blind he did not travel much. So, he did not go to the Rajasura sacrifice but when Duryodhana came back burning in envy and Sakuni told Dhritarastra, “Your son is so miserable. It is almost as if he will commit suicide.”Dhritarastra was surprised and distressed. He said, “O dear son, what is the matter. What is causing you so much distress?” Duryodhana told him, “The
sacrifice which I saw was so glorious. The prosperity of the Pandavas was so great. What person can be happy on seeing the prosperity of his enemies like this?” Dhiratarastra tried to counsel Duryodhana and he said, “O son, what do you lack. You have magnificent palace, you have queens, you have maidservants, you have servants, you have horses, you have elephants, you have all the luxuries that a king or a prince. Why do you have to lament like this? Be happy. Do not think about the Pandavas, and if at all you want to attain glory as Yudhisthir has attained, then you can also perform a sacrifice and in that sacrifice you can also call the citizens from all over the world, and you will also get tributes and you will also be glorified.” Duryodhana said, “No, the kind of sacrifice that Yudhisthir performs is unparalleled; the amount of tribute that he got from far corners of the world it is not possible to equal that, and we cannot perform that sacrifice as long as he is the king. Normally two kings can fight but we were family members and directly fighting with him is also difficult.”
Duryodhana also acknowledged the military prowess of the Pandava’s. Dhritarastra was distressed and to get Dhritarastra distressed was the intention of Sakuni and Duryodhana, and then they sprung the next plan, and then they said that the only way we can gain wealth greater than that of the Pandava’s is by taking their wealth and making them wealthless. Let us invite us for a gambling match and in that gambling match Sakuni will play on my behalf and Sakuni is a powerful and peerless gambler. He will win the whole kingdom for us. Dhritarastra said, “No, gambling is the cause of dissention. If there is gambling there will be fight. Better don’t do this.” Duryodhana said, “This is the only way that misery can be mitigated. You must agree to this O father.” And Duryodhana started pressurizing Dhritarastra and Dhritarastra could not say no to Duryodhana and he said, “Wait, let me consult Vidura and Bhisma. They are wise people. After consulting them I will decide what to do.” Duryodhana scowled and said, “If you ask them they will definitely tell no and all our plans will come to a not. Do you consider their opinion so important? And what I feel and what I propose is of no value?” He just knew how to push the right buttons and to make Dhritrastra dance like a puppet in his hands.
Dhirtarastra had a dark side and Duryodhana had a darker side still. So, Dhritarastra gave order that a magnificent assembly hall be constructed where the gambling match will be constructed, and after passing the orders for that he retired and Duryodhana and Sakuni marched away jubilantly, and then he called Vidura. He told Vidura, “I would like to see a friendly gambling match between the Pandava’s and the Kaurava’s and there should be magnificent hall for that. Please go and invite the Pandava’s.” The hall was constructed very fast and as the hall was nearing construction, then this meeting took place between Dhritarastra and Duryodhana, and Vidura frowned disapprovingly and he said, “O King! I do not approve of this. Gambling never leads to any good. Gambling is
the root of evil and if the Pandava’s and the Kaurava’s gamble it will lead to such dissention that it will lead to violent conflict afterwards and it will lead to destruction.
Vidura explained the evils of gambling and Dhritrastra heard. Even after hearing he didn’t speak anything. He remained adamant about the decision that the Pandava’s be invited for gambling. And then Vidura accordingly got the Pandava’s and then the dreadful gambling match took place. And here Dhritarastra knew that it was rigged, and although Dhritarastra himself was not himself gambling it was Duryodhana who was gambling, but he arranged the whole thing, and how was it rigged? It was rigged because normally two players should play against each other, but it was Shakuni who was playing on behalf of Duryodhana and that was not according to the rules of gambling. As the stakes were being cast and the stakes were being lost, all the noble people in the assembly were in distress but Dhritarastra was jubiliant. He kept asking, “What has been won now, what has been won now?” and then when finally Panchali was gambled. At that time he called out, “Has Panchali been won?” It was horrible what happened and Dhritarastra as the king presided over it, and eventually when Panchali was attempted to be disrobed and Krishna came to her rescue, then the whole assembly hall was in uproar at that time.
When Dusasana’s attempts were completely foiled and the whole assembly was in uproar praising Draupadi’s virtue by which her chastity was protected miraculously, censuring the Kaurava’s Vidura got up and he said, “Can you not see the inauspicious signs everywhere? Can you not see how the jackals are howling and there are inauspicious birds flying in the sky. There are omens which indicate great destruction. Please stop this. Otherwise there is a fire that will destroy everything.” Dhritarastra also realized that things have gone too far. Bhima especially had taken a vow to kill the Kauravas and to break the thigh of Duryodhana, and to break the hand of Dusasana and kill him. All these fiery vows had been taken, and seeing all these and on being told by Vidura about all the inauspicious omens all around, Dhritrastra realized that things have gone too far now and he said, “Panchali! If you think that I and Queen Gandhari have done any good to you please remember that and please forgive what has happened over here and ask for whatever benediction you want.” He wanted to appeal to the softheartedness of Draupadi, and then he wanted to appear very kind and he said, “Whatever you want you ask.” He gave her three benedictions and in those three benedictions she first asked for the freedom of Yudhisthir. Then she asked for the freedom of everyone else, and then she asked for getting back their weapons. Dhritrastra said, “I will give you your full kingdom back.” Whatever was lost Dhritarastra gave them back. This was one instance where Dhritrarastra acted with some resolution. Of course things had gone too far by this time and what he did was the right thing, but it was too late. The Pandava’s went away and they went away in great anger.
After that Duryodhana in his private chambers came straight to Dhritarastra and said, “What have you done O father. We have already made the Pandava’s into our enemies and now we have given wealth and power back to the enemies. They are quoting 24.10? disaster. The only way we can stay off disaster is by taking away what they have got. Please call them back for another gambling match, and here Duryodhana again gave in to Duryodhana’s pressure and again Vidura was sent when the Pandava’s had not even reached back to their kingdom Indraprasta. When the Pandava’s were halfway Vidura came and asked for a gambling match, and when the gambling match was there, this time the stakes were terrible. The stakes were that whichever party will be defeated will go twelve years into the forest, and after that one year incognito. Again Sakuni cast the dice and when he cast the dice the Pandava’s lost, and they all had to go to forest, and here we see that there is the voice of conscience screaming and begging in Dhritarastra which was saying, “Go and stop it, it is enough now, don’t do wrong anymore, correct it.” One does something to correct oneself but again the force of attachment pulls one back and drags one in the wrong direction and the person gives in. Dhritarstra did something good but then again he ended it and did something far worse by that, and he saw the Pandava’s going to the forest. Yudhisthir ever the respectful person bowed to Dhritrastra and departed to the forest.
Dhritarastra even when he wanted to do something good – there are forces within us; there is a higher side and a lower side. The higher side is noble, selfless, sensitive and it is uplifting, and there is a lower side which is selfish, exploitative, which is grossly materialistic, sinful and it drags us down, and this battle goes on in the heart of everyone, and attachment is such that, when we are attached to something with things connected with that attachment we get dragged down. Even if sometimes some nobler side comes up and we rise up; soon after that the attachments comes back and drags us down. Why does this happen? This happens because it is one thing to have an attachment and it is another thing to hold on to attachment.
Akrura was sent once back to Krishna to give advice to Dhritarastra and Akrura gave good advice and Dhritarastra said, “Your words are true and they are luminous like the light, but for me they are like a lightning.” Light is what illuminates steadily but lightning illuminates for some time and after that everything becomes dark. Attachments create such a dense darkness in our consciousness that even when good advice comes up, whether that advise comes from outside or the counsel comes from the voice of conscience within there is temporary illumination that is there which is fleeting, which is there for a few moments, and then it goes away. That is what happened to Dhritrastra. Does that mean that Dhritrastra had no power? No. We all have attachments but to stay attached to our attachments is a problem. If we understand that this is attachment and this is wrong and this is going to pull me in this direction I will not let myself be pulled.
Dhritrastra unfortunately made terribly wrong choices and those would eventually lead to disastrous consequences.
What those consequences were we will discuss in our next session.