Was it love for his sister that drove Shakuni to destroy Hastinapur?

by Varun Prabhu

A fight between Shakuni and Krishna

Stories display many facets of the Kurukshetra War, which forms a great part of the epic widely known as the ‘Mahabharata’. They even say that it was the mark of the end of Dwapara and the beginning of Kaliyuga. It is said that the demon Kali preyed on the weak and the innocent in the end and found ways to creep into people’s minds. However, that demon wasn’t the primary antagonist of the tale. It was rather Shakuni, said to be the incarnation of Dwapara. No matter what the stories say, we all know that in the end, it was a fight between the minds of Shakuni and Krishna.

Shakuni’s mind is an enigma and definitely worth exploring. Nobody has fleshed out his character deeply yet. Yes, he has been shown in many television and film adaptations of the epic and one knows the basic gist of why he did what he did. And the books – well, none of them really explore Shakuni’s character, instead focusing more on the victorious ones. Well, whoever said that history was written by the victors was definitely right.
If I am going to consider Mahabharata as a brilliant GOT-esque story, I would put Shakuni as one of the stellar characters created by its author Ved Vyas. That brilliant mind, that villainy…it just blows your mind.

Related reading: Love in the Mahabharata: An instrument for change and for revenge

A princess from a small kingdom

It all started because of an injustice (which I think is a clichéd start to all villain roles, no? But then, at the time the epic was written, it wasn’t so clichéd, perhaps?). Gandhara was quite a small kingdom beset with dangers of its own. Yet its princess, Gandhari, was beautiful and popular too. Many princes would have vied for her hand if only they didn’t think Gandhara was an obscure kingdom bordering the far reaches of Aryavarta.

The kingdom wasn’t too rich either, like the other kingdoms. It was considered the black sheep and perhaps it was the only other kingdom that was different from the rest. Other kings did not like it and would constantly harry its borders. So when Bhishma of Hastinapura came banging on its doors with an army that would have sent the rats scurrying into their holes and asked for Gandhari’s hand in marriage for Dhritarashtra, my guess would be that they grew afraid and accepted the union heartily. Gandhari had been blessed by Lord Shiva himself that she would bear a hundred sons (which Satyavati, the Empress-Regent of Hastinapura, found attractive, no doubt).

Related reading:Why Gandhari’s decision to blindfold herself was wrong

My sister will be queen

But Shakuni was more hopeful. He figured that according to Aryavarta’s own laws, Dhritarashtra would be king and Gandhari a Queen. And Hastinapura was quite a powerful and strong kingdom. Shakuni had always been tender to his sister. He loved her above everything and would do anything for her. So it was he who actually convinced his father to give Gandhari’s hand in marriage to Dhritarashtra. Oh, he was aware that the elder Kuru Prince was blind! But he knew that Gandhari would lead her husband through everything. She would become a powerful figure, his sister.

All his dreams came to naught when they came to Hastinapura and learned that Pandu would become king instead of Dhritarashtra due to a mere technicality that the latter was blind. Shakuni became infuriated upon this. To add fuel to the already surmounting anger, Gandhari had decided to blindfold herself the remainder of her married life, citing a reason that if she did not share in his blindness, how would she really understand him? (Though it is rumoured that she did it more to punish the Kurus than anything else. This is open to interpretation.) Shakuni felt a well of pity for his sister and guilt gripped his heart for having himself thrown his sister into a snake-pit.

Related reading: Why there is a Kaikeyi in all of us

Promises broken and words not kept

Hastinapura had come to them with their army. They had demanded Gandhari’s hand and promised her marriage to a king, and now they had reneged on their word. Hatred brimmed in his heart. He would not forget the insult to Gandhara by the kingdom that considered itself above all.

He would not forget the insult to Gandhara by the kingdom that considered itself above all.

Though he could not counter Vidura’s arguments, which were solely based on the Shastras, he would have hoped that Bhishma or Satyavati would overlook them and make good on their promises. But they were empty promises. Nay, he would not let his sister suffer the same fate as Amba.

His father and siblings tried to protest and for that, they were thrown into jail. He was imprisoned too. They were made to starve because the jailors gave food only sufficient for one. The others made sure that only he was fed. They all died in front of him, his father making him promise that he would exact vengeance. Taking a knife, Shakuni stabbed himself on his thigh, which would make him limp every time he walked, to remind himself that his vengeance wasn’t complete. And since that day, he worked towards bringing an end to the Kurus. The Kurukshetra War was a result of his evil actions and diabolical games in dividing the Pandavas and the Kauravas and inciting enmity between the cousins.

spirituality and mythology

Is any action for love justifiable despite the outcome?

The choice one makes determines the effect one causes in the future. Shakuni made terrible choices because he felt his sister was insulted. The things he did, he did because of his love for Gandhari. He would do anything for his sister, which is a good emotion. But if it included attempting to burn princes in a lac palace, disrobing a Queen in front of her elders, sending the rightful heirs to exile and trying to get out of his own promises, and then cheating all the way in battle, that emotion is just as bad. I believe the hurt caused by the events in Hastinapura caused him to go psychopathic in the end.

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Ashutosh Singh
Ashutosh Singh July 5, 2018 - 8:06 pm

As closely I have been attached to Mahabharata, I could only say that Shakuni was a complete negative character but his negativity was justified as per basic human norms…

Raksha Bharadia
Raksha Bharadia July 5, 2018 - 11:34 am

So this love was also very harmful! Strange na….an excess of anything is always disastrous! Which other mytho character can we think of?


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