Friday, April 14, 2017


One day the Kauravas and the Pandavas were playing a game which, today, we would most likely call “kabaddi”. When there is jealousy, malice and hatred in the mind, a game like this could turn into a mini battlefield. This was precisely what happened that day. Misusing the rules of the game, Dussasana hit Yudhisthira so hard that he vomited blood. In response, Bhima mercilessly thrashed each of the hundred Kaurava brothers and they all passed out. Bhishma and Sanjaya arrived and revived the Kaurava princes.

Dhritarashtra was extremely worried. Most fervently he prayed to Bhagawan Balarama and he arrived. Dhritarashtra told him about what Bhima had done. He was very fearful about his children, he told him. Balarama smiled and said that things like that would happen in a game and that he should not be unduly worried. Dhritarashtra did not feel reassured by these words. So Balarama touched the head of each of his sons and said that from then on, they were his children too and that he himself would protect them. Saying that he left. Dhritarashtra was relieved.

Reaching home in Dwaraka, he told everything to his younger brother. No brother, not just in Sarala Mahabharata, in the entire puranic literature in Odia, was as indulgent to his younger brother as Balarama was to Krishna. He told Krishna that he had assured Dhritarashtra that he would protect his children. He would teach the use of mace to the Kauravas, so that in case the Pandavas fought them, Duryodhana would kill them all and become king.

Now Balarama didn’t know that Arjuna was very dear to Krishna. Krishna was worried. Without telling his brother, that very night he went to Indraprastha and met Arjuna. Since they met outside the palace, no one knew about their meeting - neither Kunti nor Arjuna’s brothers.  Arjuna prostrated himself at his feet again and again. Krishna asked him what had happened during the game. Arjuna told him everything: how Dussasana had hit Yudhisthira maliciously, how Bhima had got angry and beaten up the Kaurava brothers, how Balarama had arrived and assured Dritarashtra that he would henceforth protect his sons.

Krishna told him that Dhritarashtra was trying to exploit Balarama’s naivety, natural kindness and generosity and set him against them. From then on, he warned Arjuna, the Pandavas must never trust not only Dhritarashtra, but also Duryodhana, Karna, Ashwasthama and Shalya. Arjuna was overwhelmed with Krishna’s concern for them. “If you are so concerned for us, O Lord,” said Arjuna, “we will not be defeated even if we are pitted against not just one, but one lakh Balaramas.” Krishna liked his friend’s self-confidence but warmed him again. “Remember, Arjuna”, he told him,” you all must be extremely careful on matters of food and sleep. Often one falls into the enemy’s trap because of one’s lack of attention and other minor lapses. You must convey my message to your brothers and you must find a way of moving away from those who you must not trust.” Saying this, he left.

We might pause a while and reflect on these words of Destiny. Often one’s vulnerability relates to food and sleep. Bhima was given poisonous ladoos (sweets) after this meeting of Krishna and Ajuna and later, attempt was made to burn the Pandavas and their mother to death in a house of lak (wax) during their sleep. Destiny is not unkind; it forewarns, but ordinary mortals do not often understand its language.

To return to Arjuna. He went to Yudhisthira and told him what all Krishna had said. The son of Dharma was unruffled. “He is the Lord of the Universe and is the Soul of the Universe”, Yudhisthira told his brother, “he knows what is in whose mind, who thinks in terms of adharma and who, dharma.” However, there was no reason, he told Arjuna, for them to be worried on account of Dhritarashtra. They had always treated him with utmost respect. They were devoted to him. Why then would he want to harm them, he asked. One who wished ill of others would be consumed by one’s own adharma, he said. Therefore, the one who was ever untouched by anger and who could never look upon any one as his enemy, told Arjuna that the Pandavas must live in accordance with dharma and not worry about Dhritashtra.

One day, soon after his meeting with Balarama, Dhritarashtra told Sanjaya, his trusted advisor, that he was very worried about Bhima. His sons were not safe, he told him. He feared that being extremely wicked and powerful, Bhima might harm them. Sanjaya did not like Dhritarashtra’s attitude. If he was distinguishing between Pandu’s sons and his, then how would he look after the former, he asked him. With suspicion in his heart, how would he trust Pandu’s children and live with them? That very night Dhritarashtra sent for Vidura. 

“You are learned and wise,” said Dhritarashtra, “what do you think of Bhima?” Vidura told him that he must not worry about him. He was a mere child. Children in their innocence would always be like that – sometimes they would be friends, sometimes they would fight among themselves. Besides, he was their father’s elder brother. Their father having died, who, but he, was there to look after them, he counselled Dhritarashtra. The blind king was unimpressed. His sons would be unsafe so long as Bhima was alive, he told Vidura.

If that was in his mind, he must stop living with those five, said Vidura. Dhritarashtra was happy. He had given sensible advice, he told cousin Vidura. On the outskirts of Hastinapura, there was a hilly terrain called Indraprastha and he got a modest palace built there for his brother’s sons. Incidentally, Indraprastha became very prosperous only later – mainly at the time of Yudhisthira’s rajaswiya (alternatively, “rajaswa”) yajna. All that for a different post!

In the meantime, one day the wise elder Bhishma visited Dhritarashtra. He had just witnessed Bhima’s energy and power, he told him. Near Indraprastha there was the hill named Karabira. Bhima flattened that hill with just one hit with his mace and Bhima was a mere child! Knowing the wicked nature of the Kaurava princes, he advised Dhritarashtra to keep his children under control. The king was very nervous and disturbed. At what unfortunate moment had Kunti given birth to that son of hers, he wondered.

Sanjaya was there with him when the Pandavas paid their respects to him the following morning. Dhritarashtra ritually blessed them, sat with them and told Yudhisthira that along with his brothers he should live in Indraprastha. Duryodhana and Bhima could not stand each other. “Your brother, Bhima, is very wicked”, he told Yudhisthira”, “if he stayed in Hastinapura, there would be continuous tension and conflict.” “That was proper”, said the sinless Yudhisthira. He told him that they would happily leave for Indraprastha, in obedience to his wish.  

Kunti was very upset. She blamed Bhishma for having persuaded her to come to Hastinapura. She had settled down at the mountains of Satasringha. That was not very long ago. Now she again had to leave for a new place with her children. All this was unsettling for her.

One day, after they had moved to Indraprastha, Kunti chided Bhima. It was all because of his wickedness, she told him, that such problems arose for them from time to time. King Dhritarashtra was so kind and considerate towards them, and he spoiled everything.

Bhima behaved as though he was completely deaf.    

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Kunti and the Pandavas had just settled down at Indraprastha. Every morning Yudhisthira would pay respects to Kunti and then proceed to Hastinapura to pay respects to bada baapaa (father’s elder brother) Dhritarashtra and bada maa (father’s elder brother’s wife). His brothers would join him, although Bhima did not like it at all. He didn’t like his elder brother treating the evil-minded Dhritarashtra as though he was the Lord of Kashi! Not just that. Yudhisthira would partake of food only after paying respects to that blind scoundrel.

And what did the wicked man do after receiving their respects? Would ask them to attend the Kuru court, where in front of Bhishma, Bhrishrava, Vidura, Kripacharya Karna and Shalya, his eldest son, the wicked Duryodhana, would taunt them, saying, “Please have your seat, the son of Dharma”, “Sit down, you, the son of Pavana”, “Sit down, you, the son of Indra”, etc. Duryodhana’s taunt did not affect Yudhisthira. Dark forces like anger and ill-will did not rule his heart. Even Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva did not mind Duryodhana’s words. But Bhima was not like them. He felt hurt, humiliated and extremely angry, but he knew that he had no option but to control himself.

This happened day after day. That was getting too much to swallow for the son of the wind-god, Pavana, who had in him some of the wild energy of the god. One day after they returned to Indraprastha, Bhima prostrated himself before mother Kunti and asked her what was it all about. He told her that the Kaurava brothers were mocking at him and his brothers and it was becoming very difficult to tolerate the insult.

“You are wicked”, said Kunti, “all the time you look for a cause to fight your brothers”. It was a good thing for the father’s name being taken in front of his son, she told him. Listening to one’s father’s name was nothing short of receiving a blessing, she told him. “Duryodhana takes the name of five different fathers for us, brothers,” said Bhima, “now, isn’t that a humiliation for us?”, Bhima asked her in anger. Those five different gods were the five different forms of the same one, said Kunti and told him not to be dull-witted and understand that truth. Bhima was unmoved. But why wasn’t Pandu’s name ever mentioned in the court? How did she give birth to them? he persisted with her. Kunti told him that Pandu was a mortal, and those five were gods whose “kalaas (attributes)” got embodied in him – kointaae boile pandu atanti manushya / deba kalaae hin se sabu sharire prabesha (Kunti said that Pandu was a human being / it was the attributes of the (that is, those specific) gods that had entered his body). “My son”, said Kunti,” what Duryodhana is saying is good. Do not twist his words and extract a dark meaning.” Bhima was pacified.

Duryodhana continued to address the Pandavas in that offending manner. His brothers would jeer at them. Their mother had violated the code and her sons were the carriers of her failing. One day Bhima found it unbearable. It would be better to die than put up with such insult, he thought. That day, he returned quietly from the court with his brothers, entered his room and closed the door from inside. He did not have his bath and did not take his food. Kunti was worried. Her food-crazy, hungry child had not eaten. It would not be long before the sun would set. She pleaded with him to come out and eat. But Bhima would not respond. He didn’t respond to the requests of his younger brothers. Then came Yudhisthira. “Who are you so angry with? You love to eat. Why are you starving yourself and punishing your body so much?”, he asked him. The sun would soon set and taking food after sunset would harm the body, he told him. Bhima said nothing. The sun set.

No one in the family had eaten anything. No one knew what had troubled Bhima so much. Yudhisthira looked at Arjuna. Arjuna invoked Krishna. And Krishna arrived and paid due respects to Yudhisthira.

Yudhisthira was troubled in the extreme and he narrated to him the story of their sufferings from their birth. Now Bhima’s inexplicable doing had added to the family’s misery, he told Krishna. Krishna asked Bhima to open the door and tell him what had pained him. Bhima didn’t open the door but responded to his call. He poured out to him all the agony he had gone through. He told him how, day after day, he had been humiliated in the Hastinapura court. For his elder brother, that blind man was like the Lord of Kashi and he would not take food before paying his respects to him. In response, the vicious old man would ask them to go to the Kuru court where his eldest son would insult them and his brothers would join him in that wicked act. And the shameless Yudhisthira would tolerate that. Had he asked him – just once - to punish the Kaurava brothers, he would have killed them all. Yudhisthira was not just a disgrace to the Kshatriya community, he was a sinner, he told Krishna. He had decided to end his life, Bhima told him. “Let me not be deprived of your mercy, O Merciful Lord”, he said to him.

“Open the door and I will tell you what to do”, said the avatara to him. Bhima opened the door and Krishna and he met. There was no one else with them. Krishna told him that he must expose Duryodhana in the court. But he didn’t know any secret about Duryodhana, Bhima told him. Next time, said Krishna, when the eldest Kaurava would ask him to take his seat, calling him Pavana’s son, he should just say, “aaho golakaputra mu basuachi (O the son of Golaka, I am sitting”). Duryodhana would feel terribly humiliated, the Supreme Destroyer of conceit and arrogance assured Bhima and disappeared.

Very excited and buoyant, Bhima had his bath. It was already night but that did not deter him from having his food. In fact, that night he ate more than usual. And ever since Krishna left, he had kept muttering “golakaputra, golakaputra”. Everyone in the family was asleep, but he was awake, fighting sleep for fear of forgetting that magic word. However, his best efforts were not enough; at pre-dawn, he fell asleep.

When he woke up, he realized that he had lost that word. He went almost crazy, groping for the word here and there in the room as though it was some tiny material object. It suddenly occurred to him to ask Sahadeva. He was believed to be the knower of the past and the future. Sahadeva told him that Krishna had said ‘golakaputra”. Bhima was ecstatic.

He soon got ready to go to the court. That morning he hurried Yudhisthira. “Let us go and pay our respects to our venerable Lord of Kashi”, he taunted Yudhisthira. As they were going to Hastinapura, Bhima was muttering the magic word. Yudhisthira heard him muttering something he didn’t understand. Feeling uneasy, he asked Bhima what he was repeating with such concentration. It appeared sinister to him, he said. He, for whom the Kaurava brothers were as dear to him as his own brothers, feared that his wicked brother was devising yet another means for creating hostility among them.

That morning Bhima was in real hurry. He was walking way ahead of his brothers, unlike on other days. At times, he would stop and look back. Earlier, Yudhisthira would walk first, then Arjuna, then Nakula, then Sahadeva and Bhima would be the last. Yudhisthira asked him why he was walking ahead and walking so fast. “If it displeases you”, said Bhima, “I will be the last as usual.” That indeed was what he had wanted.

What happened in the Kaurava court that morning has been narrated in the foregoing post.

Let us turn our thoughts to the mothers: Gandhari and Kunti. There will not be a better time than now to reflect on them with pride and joy. They both wanted their children to live together in harmony and sharply upbraided their sons whose ways threatened their children’s togetherness and cordiality. Many sufferings after, came a day when Kunti brayed for the blood of the Kaurava brothers and later, Gandhari became thirsty for Yudhisthira’s. From one point of view, this painful journey of the two mothers captures the terrible tragedy of Mahabharata, be it Vyasa’s version, be it Sarala’s. 

Monday, April 10, 2017


(aho golakaputra mu basuchi) said Bhima to Duryodhana as the latter invited him to take his seat in the Kuru court, saying, “take your seat, O son of Pavana (pabanaputra basa)”. The family elders, Bhishma and Bhurishrava, clapped and laughed loudly. ‘How on earth, did you get to know of this secret?”, they asked Bhima, not expecting an answer and not receiving one. Duryodhana was stung by all these. Before anyone could make sense of what had happened, Duryodhana left the court.  

He entered a room in the palace and closed the door from inside. When the time came for food, the royal cooks looked for him. When they traced him, they entreated him to have his food. But he wouldn’t open the door. Then came Sanjaya and Vidura. They failed to persuade him to open the door. Soon came the venerable elders: Bhishma and Bhurishrava. “What troubles you?”, they asked. “There is a time for food”, they told him; “once the sun sets, having food was prohibited”. So he must come out and dine. Duryodhana was unmoved. His father came. What on earth could he, the lord of the land, want and would not get, asked Dhritarashtra. Then arrived the great Karna, his close friend. “Why are you so upset”, he asked him. Duryodhana said nothing to anyone.

Finally came mother: Gandhari. “You are the one favoured by fortune. You are the lord of the kingdom. You have the authority and the power to destroy anyone who offends you. Then why are you so very upset?”, she asked him. Sleeping on an improper bed brought misfortune, she told him; a bed of grass was not worthy of a kshatriya, certainly not of a kshatriya as powerful and noble as he, she said. Therefore he must abandon it forthwith, she told her son.

Duryodhana responded to his mother’s words. Bhima had insulted him in the court that morning, calling him “golakaputra”, he told her. Bhishma and Bhurishrava had laughed. He had felt very hurt and humiliated. She, the daughter of king Gandharasena, was his mother and Dhritarashtra was his father. Then what was his being golakaputra about, he virtually demanded of her.

Gandhari scolded her son. She told him bluntly that what had happened was all due to his folly and wickedness and he was now reaping what he had sown. Yudhisthira was his elder brother and instead of showing him due respect, he tried to hurt him by addressing him, day after day, as the “son of Dharma”, while asking him to take his seat in the court. Were those five not his own, whom he humiliated every day in the court addressing them as the “son of Dharma”, the “son of Pavana’, etc., she asked him. Dhritarashtra and Pandu were brothers; and whatever was the weakness of one was the weakness of the other. He should have known that whatever would be embarrassing to Yudhisthira would be embarrassing to him too; whatever would shame Yudhisthira would shame him too.

As for golakaputra, she told him that she would tell him everything, but he must first have his food. Duryodhana told her that she must first tell him about that dark, shameful secret encapsulated in that word and only then would he have his meal. Gandhari then began the story.

She was born on the moonless day in the month of Jyestha during the ascendancy of the nakshatra called “Krutika”. That was a very inauspicious time for a girl to be born. Such a girl was called “Uansi” and she being an uansi”, no one dared to marry her for fear of death. Her father tried to arrange her marriage but the prince would die even as the engagement took place. Twenty-two times had her father tried to arrange her marriage and twenty-two princes had died. Then her father sought sage Vyasa’s help.

The celebrated sage advised king Gandharasena to marry her to a golaka (commonly known as “sahada”) tree. There was a big golaka tree in the palace itself. The sage dressed the tree as a bridegroom. He himself conducted the wedding. The ceremony was performed in utmost secrecy. He tied the bride’s hand to a branch of that tree. The king performed the necessary rituals as the bride’s father. As soon as the wedding took place, the huge tree died.

Gandhari told her son how, then, Vyasa arranged her marriage with Dhritarashtra, who was also born in an inauspicious moment. One hundred and eight princesses had died after engagement with him. No father was willing to marry his daughter to him. It was a very embarrassing situation for the great Kuru family but they could do nothing. At the behest of the venerable sage, Dhritarashtra came to Gandhara and the sage himself performed her marriage with him, said Gandhari. The computational linguist and scholar, brahmachari Vineet Chaitanya, asks what the poet Sarala says about why Gandhari did not die. Sarala says nothing but, keeping in view the spirit of the narrative, one can surmise that a sage like Vyasa, with such great spiritual attainment had the yogic power to neutralize the effect of malignant constellations. Later the sage played a significant role in Dhritarashtra’s having a hundred sons whereas Gandhari and he were destined to have just one daughter.  

The circumstances of her marriage were a secret in the Kuru family. Outside the family, only Vasudeva knew, Gandhari told Duryodhana. The poet does not tell us how Krishna knew. But the reader of course knows how - in Sarala Mahabharata nothing happened without Krishna’s knowledge. He didn’t have to be told. Because he was the doer of all that was done. Unaware of this, others deluded themselves to be doers. And Krishna would sometimes help them nourish such illusions about themselves. Such was his lila.

To return to Gandhari and Duryodhana. Gandhari told him that it was only his misdemeanour that let that secret of the family out. Duryodhana was dismayed. He was extremely sad. Not because of the attitude of his mother. Not because of her blaming him for what had come to pass. What was killing him was his knowing that what Bhima had said was true and that henceforth in the court, day after day, he would taunt him calling him golakaputra. He wondered how he knew. But he was not the kind to trouble himself at that traumatic moment of self-discovery about discovering the source of Bhima’s information!

All the bitterness, frustration and anger of Duryodhana now found a target in his maternal grandfather, king Gandharasena. How could that wretched person dare to marry her to his father, he shouted at his mother. “If you were born so unlucky, why didn’t you stay in your father’s house and die there?’, he said to her. He knew that there was nothing he could do now to undo what had happened. He calmed himself, quietly left the place, bathed and performed the daily rituals.

When they returned from the court that day, Yudhisthira chided Bhima. What he had done was unethical, he told him. Why did he call Duryodhana golakaputra, he asked him. Bhima said that he had done no wrong. Duryodhana had been taunting them every day and his brothers were mocking at them, as he named their different fathers. They had to swallow that humiliation day after day. The son of Dharma was unmoved. His father’s name was Dhritarashtra and his mother’s, Gandhari. Knowing this, why did he call him the son of golaka, he asked gain. All Bhima said was that if that were indeed the case, then why was Duryodhana so upset?

His words left Yudhisthira stunned. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017


 The The maternal uncle or manu in Odia culture is someone who is very affectionate and caring towards his nephew (or niece) and mamu ghara (maternal uncle’s house) is a place where the nephew spends a happy time, where he eats dudha bhata (rice with milk), which stands for delicious food in the language. But whatever be the cultural norms, reality sometimes presents for us surprises of all kinds. Thus there are maternal uncles who are deviant from the norm in varying degrees. The mamu who is dangerously or even aggressively unfond of his nephew is called “kansa mamu”; everyone knows that the phrase embodies the relationship between Krishna and his maternal uncle, Kansa and everyone knows what all the uncle did to get rid of his nephew. The phrase is used to condemn a nasty maternal uncle. In Odia, “pulis (police man)” is called “mamu” and “jail” is called “mamu ghara” (uncle’s house) because of the association of both these expressions with punishment. There are two hills called mamu – bhanaja parbata (maternal uncle- nephew) in Balugaon in Khurda district and there is a saying about them: bhanaja parbata badhe, mamu parbata chide (the nephew mountain grows and the uncle mountain shrinks.

       There are other popular expressions about the maternal uncle and his nephew, which conform to the cultural stereotype, where the mamu is benevolent and protective. These are “jahna mamu” (The Moon uncle - Mother Earth’s brother) and “bagha mamu” (The Tiger uncle), in which the protector of the forest becomes the protector of children as well. However, bagha mamu is also used to frighten children: dudha pi de nahele bagha mamu asiba (drink the milk, otherwise Tiger uncle will come.). “Kana mamu (uncle who is blind in one eye)”, created by the novelist Lakshmikanta Mohapatra, is a very lovable character in Odia literature. An accomplished wrestler, he was the common mamu of all those young persons in the village who came to train under him. He loved them and was loved by them.

Now, what is interesting is that there is no phrase “sakuni mamu” (Sakuni uncle); if the language  
has “kansa mamu”, how come it does not have “sakuni mamu”?

The word “sakuni” is used in the language as a metaphor for a person who is treacherous
and uses low cunning to achieve his purpose. As Supriya Prashant tells me, a brother who meddles with matters his sister’s family, taking advantage of their vulnerability or trust, and exploits them, is referred to as a sakuni. One of the characters in Surendra Mohanty’s classic, Neela Saila, refers to the treacherous commander-in-chief of King Ramachandra Deva as ‘nirghata sakuni (an out and out Sakuni)”. But there is no expression in the language that condemns Sakuni as maternal uncle.

So, then, is Sakuni not popularly viewed as a harmful and dangerous uncle? It doesn’t seem he is. On the contrary, he is thought of as an aggressively caring uncle who was more worried than anyone else about the welfare of his nephew, Duryodhana and by implication, all the Kaurava princes. Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kaurava princes, was blind and for all practical purposes their mother, Gandhari, was blind too. The Kuru elders did not distinguish between the children of Dhritarashtra, the king and those of his deceased younger brother, the virtuous Pandu, who was the king before him. He gave up kingship after he was unfortunately cursed. Now the Kuru elders were favourably inclined towards Pandu’s children and wanted the Yudhisthira to inherit the throne of Hastinapura. Sakuni would not let this happen; he openly worked for his sister, Gandhari’s eldest born, Duryodhana, to become the future king. It was another matter that he failed in this mission and was instrumental in leading his nephews to a war with their cousins, which turned out to be a disaster for the former. But at the same time one can hardly say that he was a bad mamu, who was hostile towards his nephews.

Some think that Sakuni was actually a kansa mamu in the guise of a jahna mamu and that he was indeed much worse. He had left his kingdom and had stayed with his sister, not to look after his sister’s children, but to take revenge against the Kurus. When the incomparable Bhishma went to the king of Gandhar to seek his daughter Gandhari’s hand for Dhritarashta the king and his family were not pleased. Gandhari was beautiful and well-groomed and Dhritarashtra was blind from birth.  But no one had the courage to reject the proposal for fear of Bhishma, who, everybody knew, had no equal in the battlefield.

After her marriage, Gandhari chose to cover her eyes and live the rest of her life that way. Whatever she might have said by way of justifying her action, some think that it was her - a helpless woman’s - way of protesting against her destiny. But her brother Sakuni chose to take revenge. He told absolutely no one about it. Not even his sister. He died with it. He was determined to make the Kuru family pay for insulting the king of Gandhar. War with Hastinapura, protected by Bhishma, was not an option; foul means was the only option for him. Chasing his dark dream, he left his kingdom and spent a difficult life in his sister’s house in order to execute his revenge, unsuspected by anyone. His revenge was against Bhishma and the family he represented and if making them pay meant destroying his sister’s children, he let that be. In this reading of the Mahabharata, he still remains the mamu extremely fond of his bhanajas. No one had any suspicion that he didn’t have the welfare of his nephews in mind.

Sarala’s version is no different as far as - only as far as - Sakuni’s uncle-hood is concerned. Duryodhana had implicit trust in him. He had greater trust in him than in his mother who had warned him against her own brother. She had told him clearly and emphatically that Sakuni was no well-wisher of his and that he would ensure the destruction of the Kauravas and take revenge for what he had done to his family.

And what Duryodhana had done to his maternal grandfather’s family, in Sarala's version, was foul beyond description. Before Gandhari was married to Dhritarashtra, she had been married to a sahada tree, which died immediately and with that ended the hindrance to her wedding, in a manner of speaking. Both she and Dhritarashtra were born under inauspicious stars. Once a princess was chosen for Dhritarastra, she would die. Once a prince was chosen for Gandhari, he would die. Dhritarastra was destined to marry a widow, which he did, when Gandhari’s first husband, the sahada tree, died.

When Duryodhana knew this, he was livid and wanted to punish the king of Gandhar and his family and relatives for marrying a widow to his father. He imprisoned his unsuspecting relations and starved them to death. Only Sakuni had survived. His father had instructed him to avenge their death, if he lived and had thereby defined the purpose of his living. Thus Sakuni was condemned to a second imprisonment, from which he freed himself on the battlefield of Kurukshetra on the penultimate day of the War. This story of Sakuni's death occurs in this blog. 

Returning to his first imprisonment, everyone had died and only Sakuni had lived. One day things so happened that Duryodhana came to look upon him as bhuta bhavishya jnata (the knower of the past and the future), set him free, made him his minister and wouldn’t hear anything against him from anyone whatsoever. That made things easier for Sakuni. One kindness he had shown his father’s enemy: he had kept his mission a secret from him. Duryodhana died, after he had died, without knowing the truth about the uncle who he had trusted completely. For the bhanaja, he was the perfect mamu.

Post-script: Our patriarchal cultures are loaded against the mother’s family, observes Sewa Bhattaray, responding to this piece. In real life, father’s brothers can be as bad or even worse - one certainly cannot disagree. But consider there is no phrase in Odia comparable to Kansa Mamu that condemns the wicked and evil brother of the father, who ill-treats his nephew; perhaps the patriarchal culture takes care of this linguistic gap, going by Bhattarai. It's different in the puranic stories though.

In Sarala Mahabharata, as in some other versions of the ancient story, Vidura had pleaded with Dhritarashtra to allow him to kill his first-born, Duryodhana, after the wise man had foretold that he would be the cause of the destruction of the kula (here, “family”). Let that one child die, in order that his ninety-nine siblings live and the family does not suffer annihilation, uncle Vidura had pleaded. As the Great War on the Kurukshetra battlefield was nearing its end, Vidura reminded the helpless, grieving father about his suggestion. He told him that he would not have suffered that pain in his old age had he sacrificed just one child of his.

I have often thought about it. To me, it does not matter that the father did not allow his brother to do this; what does is that with that thought and with those words the virtuous uncle had killed his infant nephew that day. Now, was this a killing any less agonizing than the killing that Duryodhana suffered later on the battlefield?