The Princess shuddered at the old sage’s touch. His wizened fingers were callous and coarse. His face was a grotesque visage of lines deepened by years spent in the wild. The matted hair with tendrils escaping from it reminded her of the gnarled roots of a well-lived tree. She could not believe that the Queen Mother had thrust this nightmare upon her. This; when the mourning period for her dead husband was not even over yet. A small but audible sigh escaped her and she shut her eyes tight, willing the ordeal to be over soon.
The aged sage looked down at her. He could well understand the qualms within her. He was no Gandharva to look at, but then this was what his so-called mother willed and therefore he had no choice. It was a harsh but much needed decision of niyoga to ensure that the lineage of Kurus flourished. However, he was apprehensive of breaking the news to the queen mother. He was thinking of what was the best way to break the news to her, when her summons came.
Satyavati looked at her son, born of sage Parashara, standing in front of her. He had an unsure look on his face. She wondered what could have happened that his expression was such. She had heard the screams and protests of anger and agony from her daughter-in-law, however she had chosen to turn a deaf ear to that, her strong-willed mind intent upon the lineage that would be brought forth through her first-born, if not King Shantanu’s children. With a foreboding that belied her usual self, she beckoned Vyasa to her, and asked him of the outcome.
Krishna Dwaipayana, the dark-skinned one replied thus,
“Of your daughter, Ambika shall be born a great and mighty boy, as strong as ten thousand elephants. He will possess inordinate intellect, abundant vitality and will beget a hundred sons. However, since the princess did the grievance of not opening her eyes when I was with her, the boy so born will be blind. He will be named Dhritarashtra – “one who wields the power of the nation and holds it together.”
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Dhritarashtra wandered the castle aimlessly, his thoughts taking him through the murky annals of his life. The strength of a thousand elephants – Bah! Of what good was immense strength when his own kith and kin looked at him with pity. He remembered the day Vidur, his closest friend and stepbrother had expressed what was uppermost in everyone else’s minds. Nobody else had voiced it out in front of him and none would have had the gumption to, but he had heard the whispered murmurs, and felt the sly glances. Over the years, he had developed a keen sense of hearing, and acute perception. As the eldest of the family, he was the rightful heir to the throne. He had not let his blindness get in his way to proving his capabilities. There was none as strong as he was and as experienced as him in combat warfare, blind as he maybe. He had proven himself worthy of the throne in every aspect. Yet, it was not to be.
He had accepted the decision to crown Pandu as king, with his usual calm demeanor and his head held high. He had found himself, cheering along with the family when the coronation took place. He loved Pandu like none else, he was after all he was his younger brother but deep in his heart, he felt the twinge of jealousy raking its head up every now and then. He wished it were he on that high and mighty throne, looking down on his subjects. Holding high the staff of Hastinapura, proving to everyone that he was the rightful possessor of the rule. Except that, it was not to be. For; a king to be blind was unheard of and considered blasphemous.
When Pandu knelt before him for his blessings, he felt a pang of shame for the thoughts flowing within him and blessed him wholeheartedly, that he would succeed as king. However, the injustice still rankled within him rearing its ugly head once every few instances. He vowed immediately that his sons would not undergo the same agony that he was enduring.
It was with this thought that he agreed to get married to Gandhari, the beautiful princess of Gandhar, one of the vassal states of Hastinapura. He believed that his queen would be whatever he could not be. That she would be his sight and ears and his equal in all rights. However, when the queen found out that her husband was blind, she had taken a red cloth and tied it over her eyes, reasoning that she wanted to share the pain her husband was suffering. He had felt cheated, that he had missed yet another chance; that life had thrown its dice against him yet again. Emboldened by the thought that his hundred sons would soothe his suffering, he kept quiet and continued as the regent king when Pandu renounced the kingdom and left for the forests with his two wives.
For a while having enjoyed the monopoly of power, the threat of having to give up the throne, came back to haunt him when Pandu’s sons and his wife Kunti returned from the forests, after the former’s death. From then on, it had been a rollercoaster ride of sibling rivalry, friction, multiple instances of strife, paltry fights and finally the day it had all come to a standstill – The day of the Game of Dice. For him, that was the day his sons’ fates had been sealed.
Dhritarashtra sat on the huge jewel-encrusted throne. His frame looked diminished as opposed to man who was supposedly the strongest of them all. The most recent emissary from the battlefield had only brought more bad tidings. He had already heard the latest reports of the war from his trusted advisor Sanjaya. He cursed himself for having turned an already blind eye to the errant ways of his sons. He lamented the fact that he was losing his sons one by one each day. He blamed himself for not having been sterner with them when the situation demanded. Deep in his heart, he had known that this was to be expected. This war, this carnage, these deaths, they were all inevitable.
He had caught Krishna alone a few days later after the bloodshed and had bemoaned to him about the cursed life he was leading. He sensed a small smile playing at the corners of Krishna’s lips in the answer the latter gave. He reflected upon himself as Krishna had told him to and became aware of his actions as a tyrant king in one of his many past lives. Giving into a passing whim, he had cruelly gouged out the eyes of a swan he had come across in that life and killed its hundred young cygnets, without any remorse. His mind in a swirl, he dejectedly ruminated that the cycle of karma was finally catching up with him.
And so it was, and so it would be, until the all-consuming thoughts burning inside of him, manifested itself as a forest fire, pervading his present being, freeing him of the torment, bringing along with it the peace and calmness he had been craving for.
His mind filled with the appearance he had begged and pleaded Krishna to show him, until the latter had relented relieving him of his blindness temporarily and granting his wish.
That image, of the Lord Supreme, in all his glory, in his Viswaroopa, would forever be imprinted on his mind.
As also, the enormity of the words his nephew had whispered into his ears before he left;
“The tranquility as well as the turmoil that binds a being to his current existence
is defined by the ripples of his actions, good and bad, accumulated over his many lives.
One can neither change it nor will it otherwise.
That what is meant to be, will be.”