The uncle of the Kauravas played a long game...
One of the first things that comes to mind when one says Mahabharata is the epic war at the very end. Indeed, even though it’s just one of the only two epics to have been written in India, Mahabharata is considered by some a book that shouldn’t be kept in one’s home since it’s the story of a family going to war.
For most part, the war gets blamed on Duryodhana’s ambition but also to a great degree Shakuni’s machinations. While Shakuni did indeed play a large part in egging on an influenceable Duryodhana into seeking the throne, he did so because he sought revenge. To know why Shakuni hated the Kuru race so much, we must go back in time when Bhishma was still a young man.
At the time, Dhritarashtra was single and Bhishma was seeking alliances for him. His search led him to Gandhara and asked for the hand of its princess, Gandhari, for the blind Hastinapur prince. At first Subala was hesitant but eventually agreed, in part because he knew he couldn’t afford to anger the great Bhishma. In any case, neither he nor his son Shakuni was particularly happy with the match.
Shakuni was the youngest of Subala’s 100 sons and, by all accounts, also the most intelligent too. He loved his sister Gandhari more than anyone else in the world and was obviously angry with the idea of her marrying a blind prince. When she was a child, Gandhari would be afraid of the dark and hence the Gandhara palace would always be fully lit up on all nights. So when she chose to blindfold herself, it broke Shakuni’s heart to see her spend her entire life in darkness. However, knowing better, Shakuni let his resentment against Bhishma slide and went with the plan.
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During the wedding preparations, Bhishma is said to have discovered that Gandhari was a manglik, which is to say she was born under a sign that would’ve meant an early death to her first husband. As was the practice, Gandhari was first married off to a goat, which was then beheaded and then married off to Dhritarashtra. However, Bhishma was angry that Subala had chosen to keep this a secret and so he imprisoned the king and his 100 sons.
They pleaded that they be fed but Bhishma only granted them a grain each. Together, they agreed that Shakuni, being the most intelligent of them all, must stay alive. So they donated their share of the grains to him. One by one all the Gandhara princes died in prison as did Subala who reached an agreement with Bhishma to let Shakuni live.
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As a result, out of the 100 Gandhara princes, only one survived. And he was filled with vengeance against Bhishma: first for being forced to marry his beloved sister to Dhritarashtra and then for imprisoning and killing his entire family. As he stepped out of the prison, Shakuni promised himself to avenge their death and began plotting a series of elaborate plans to drive a wedge in the empire that had done him wrong.