This is the third topic of discussion in the Parents Corner Initiative. Do share your thoughts in the comments section of this post. It helps to understand your perspective and how you think that this topic can be best explained to a young reader. The first topic was “The game of dice” and how Yudhishtira shaped the events that were to follow. The second topic was about Kunti’s decision to ask Draupadi to take all the Pandavas as her husbands. In this third topic, we circle back to King Dhritarashtra’s choices and how they shaped the course of events of the great Bharata war.
One of the silently important characters of Mahabharata is King Dhritarashtra. Admittedly, he is the King of Hastinapura for much of the story but Bheeshma ends up playing a much more prominent role. And Pandu, while being absent for much of the proceedings has an oversized impact on it by virtue of his actions. Dhritarashtra initially earns the reader’s pity for being born blind for no fault of his. As he grows up, he continues to get the reader’s sympathy when Pandu gets picked over him for the same reason. It is almost as if everything is being set up in time for Dhritarashtra to have his huge impact on the future of the empire.
When Duryodhana and Yudhishtira are ready to be Kings, favoring his son, Dhritarashtra sends the Pandavas to the town of Varanavata. Fully knowing that Yudhishtira was the rightful heir to the throne of Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra shows nepotism and gives it to Duryodhana. More importantly, he sows the seeds of distrust among the cousins that would slowly but steadily grow to engulf the entire nation. Could the war have been averted if he had done what was fair and made Yudhishtira, the King of Hastinapura?
When the Pandavas return back to the kingdom, Dhritarashtra has a second opportunity to fix things. But he does not. Instead, he gives Pandavas a desolate and arid region at the fringes of the kingdom. Little does he realise that with the help of Maya and Krishna, the Pandavas turn the desolate land into a city of untold mysteries, Indraprastha. The very same Indraprastha then excites Duryodhana leading to the game of dice. From the time the game of dice is proposed, Dhritarashtra has a bad feeling about it and he echoes that to Duryodhana. But he refuses to override his son and Shakuni.
All this brings us to the game of dice. Duryodhana and Dushasana with the help of Shakuni and Karna make a mockery of the Pandavas eventually resulting in the disrobing of Draupadi in the court in front of Dhritarashtra. As a King, Dhritarashtra stays mute as the rightful queen of the empire is insulted and disrobed in front of the audience. He demonstrates his inability to be a ruler and a good father at that critical juncture. This event, more than any other, triggers the chain reaction resulting in the great war. And Dhritarashtra is a silent spectator when he could and should have changed the course of events.
One last chance
The Pandavas finish their 13 years in exile and are itching to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Yudhishtira wants to avert a war with his cousins and uncles and sends Krishna as a peace envoy to Hastinapura. Duryodhana wants war and is unwilling to listen to the advice of anyone else. As his father, Dhritarashtra has the one last opportunity to fix things. But he refuses to impose his will on his son. And the stage is set for the war.
So did Dhritarashtra fail his people because he was blinded by the love for his son? Should he have intervened in the many opportunities he had to avert the impending crisis? Did he put his son in front of the lives of the sons of the hundreds of thousands of citizens of the country? And is that really wrong?