Mahabharat Episode 15: The Pandavas Enter Hastinapur
In this Mahabharat episode, the Pandava brothers come to Hastinapur after the death of their father, much to the chagrin of Duryodhana. Meanwhile, we learn the origins of Shakuni’s thirst for revenge, to be fulfilled with a fateful pair of dice.
The Pandavas – At Home in the ForestSadhguru: The five Pandava brothers grew up well in the forest. With the right kind of guidance, being exposed to wilderness is the best education one can get. Sages and seers took care of their education, but above all, Mother Nature brought them wisdom and strength. They grew up strong, patient, wise, and well-versed in the art of weaponry.
Pandu – Desire Seals His Fate
Since their father Pandu was cursed that if he ever approached his wives with the desire of intercourse, he would die, he had arranged for his wives to bear children through other means. For sixteen years, he stayed away from his wives, engaged with sages and saints, pursued knowledge, practiced the sadhana of brahmacharya, and became a powerful being. But one day, when he reached a secluded river in the forest, Madri, his second wife, just came out of the water after bathing. When he saw her naked, he was so drawn to her and beyond himself that after all these years, he lost control and went after her.
Madri, who knew about the curse, offered strong resistance, but destiny pulled him to her, and he died in her arms. She screamed in terror – terror not only because her husband died, but also because it was his desire for her that killed him. Kunti heard the screams, rushed to the place, and when she saw what had happened, she flew into a rage. Emotions between the two wives, which had been suppressed all these years, came to the surface.
After some time, Kunti calmed down for the purpose of securing her children’s destiny. And Madri, out of sheer guilt and despair, decided to enter the funeral pyre, believing that she had to accompany her husband. For a while, Kunti pretended she wanted to go in Madri’s stead, but in her heart, there was cold determination. She ruthlessly did whatever she needed to do as a queen. Then, accompanied by the rishis, Kunti and the five Pandavas walked towards Hastinapur, after a little over sixteen years.
The Pandavas Return to Hastinapur
When the news that these long-lost cousins were coming back reached Hastinapur, the capital of the Kuru kingdom, Duryodhana was overcome by a wave of jealousy and hatred. He had grown up believing that he would be the future king. Since his father was blind of vision and blind with emotion towards him, in a way, he was already the king, and he was used to having things go his way. But suddenly, a competitor appeared who seemed to be the legitimate heir to the throne. He could not tolerate that at all. He started inciting his brothers, who, compared to him, were insipid and lacked the necessary fire to rule a nation. He found the most suitable ally was Dushasana, the number two among the one hundred brothers.
Both of them were in a rage even before the Pandavas arrived. People had loved Pandu, who, though he was not officially crowned as the king, was the king for all practical purposes. He was the one who brought wealth to the nation, who conquered lands for them, and who took care of the administration. For sixteen years, he had been in a self-imposed exile, and now he was dead. The fact that his children, who they had never seen before, were coming back stirred a lot of excitement.
Out of curiosity and love, the whole citizenry gathered. When the Pandavas approached the city along with their mother Kunti, a cry rose from the crowd. The boys had grown up strong in the jungle, stronger than they would have been had they grown up in a palace. The one hundred Kaurava brothers, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Bhishma, Vidura, and all the elders stood at the city gate to welcome them. Dhritarashtra, who, right from his childhood, had heavily depended upon Pandu to see the world and to be helped, who was always treated with compassion by his younger brother, had mixed emotions. He believed that he loved his brother, and he could not understand the emotions that he was going through now that he knew that his children would not be the kings.
Duryodhana – The Rise of Hatred
The Pandavas and Kunti were welcomed. The death rituals for Pandu were performed. And the moment the boys entered the palace, destiny started unfolding itself, particularly between Bhima and Duryodhana, because these two boys were the strongest of the lot. Bhima was built like a giant and Duryodhana pretty well matched him in physical strength. Bhima was excited about being in a palace for the first time in his life. The bubbling, blundering simpleton that he was, he was all over the place, making practical jokes and poking fun at everyone, and at every opportunity, thrashing every one of the Kaurava brothers, including Duryodhana.
Their first official clash occurred when they got into the wrestling ring. Duryodhana absolutely believed that no one could ever knock him down. He was the strongest among the hundred brothers and no one else of his age could rival him in the wrestling ring. When he saw Bhima winning match after match and endearing himself to everyone, Duryodhana thought the best thing to put him in place would be to invite him for a wrestling match at the palace, in the presence of the whole family. It would be a friendly match for others but a fight to death for the two of them. But Bhima knocked him down right away, without a fight. Duryodhana was shattered. The shame of defeat fueled his anger and hatred to a point that he could neither contain nor conceal them anymore.
Duryodhana started plotting against Bhima’s life. In the meantime, Shakuni, his uncle, entered the palace as an advisor. In India, the name Shakuni is synonymous with deceit. Shakuni was Gandhari’s brother. After Gandhari and Dhritarashtra got married, Bhishma realized that Gandhari was technically a widow, and people started talking. She married a goat that then was sacrificed in order to avert the curse that her first husband would die within three months of their marriage. Bhishma got so angry that the Kuru clan had been deceived like this that he put Gandhari’s father and all her brothers under house arrest. It was too much of hospitality – like at the Hotel California – the guests could never leave. And the dharma of the day was that the bride’s family, when coming for the first time to the house into which the girl was married, could not leave, as long as they were being served.
Shakuni – Living for Revenge
Over time, the portions of food became smaller and smaller, to a point that they all started losing weight and becoming weak. Like in today’s luxury hotels, there is a huge amount of tableware in front of you, but when they lift the serving dome, you will find only very little food on the plate. That is the kind of hospitality they received. After some time, the father and the brothers were all skin and bones. It became obvious that their in-laws wanted to starve them to death. But technically, they were still being served, so they could not leave – that was their dharma.
They decided among themselves that all of them except one would fast unto death. They gave all their food to Shakuni, who was the most intelligent one of them, so that he could survive and take revenge on these people who were killing them softly. It is said that as his brothers died one by one, his father encouraged him to eat the organs of his dead brothers, so that he would become strong and able to avenge them. When his father died, he would have to do karma for him in their homeland. At that time, he could leave the place.
So Shakuni sat there, cut open his brothers’ bodies, and ate their livers, kidneys, and hearts. From his deathbed, his father took the walking stick that was lying by his side and whacked Shakuni’s ankle so hard that it cracked. Shakuni screamed in pain and asked, “Why?” His father said, “I broke your ankle so that you will always limp and never forget why you were fed with your brothers’ organs. Every step you take, it will serve you as a reminder that you must live only for revenge.” After his father’s death, Shakuni left with the single purpose of destroying the Kuru House. He came back as their adviser and found appreciation and friendship with Duryodhana, who thought Shakuni was brilliant.
Before his death, his father told Shakuni, “When I die, cut my fingers and make dice out of them. I will use my occult power to make sure these dice always roll the way you want them to. No one can ever beat you in a game of dice – this will come in handy for you one day.” So Shakuni cut the fingers of his father and made dice out of them. He did not have the build of a fighter, but armed with these dice, he believed he could conquer the world.
Shakuni and Duryodhana Conspire
Shakuni found favor with Duryodhana, who was filled with hatred and jealousy, and Shakuni continuously nourished that. Duryodhana himself was not very deceitful, but hot-tempered. He used to speak his mind too often, especially in front of his father. When Shakuni saw this, he told him, “Duryodhana, God gave man speech not to express himself, but to hide what is on his mind.” That is the kind of mindset Shakuni had. Shakuni constantly nurtured the poison in Duryodhana’s heart and made sure that it spread into every cell of his body. Then he told Duryodhana, “If you have an enemy, there is no point in pinching him, abusing him, or spitting at him – it will only make him stronger. Only a fool would do that. The moment you recognize someone as your enemy, kill him.” So Duryodhana asked him, “How do I kill my cousin brother in the palace?” Shakuni suggested various plans.
To be continued...
Editor's Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower, February 2016.