Birth of Kauravas and their early life
One of the most famous character of Mahabharata epic is Gandhari, mother of 100 sons (Kauravas) who hails from Gandhara kingdom (modern day northern parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan). She is the only daughter of King Subala, who too had 100 sons including Shakuni. Gandhari was one of the beautiful and virtuous woman, but was a mangalik (person with Mars defect. If mangalik person marries non mangalik then, it is believed that it leads to non-mangalik spouse’s early death). According to one version, she was married to a goat to nullify mangalik effect. The goat was then sacrificed, after doing this ritual, the fault of being widowed in the horoscope of Gandhari was removed. Gandhari was a Lord Shiva devotee who had given her a boon of having 100 children. The boon from Lord Shiva was the main reason Bhishma brought the proposal of Dhritarashtra to Gandhari, to end the worry of the throne being vacant of Hastinapur.
Bhishma had brought the proposal of Dhritarashtra to marry Gandhari. King Subala and all of Gandhari’s brothers were not happy with this proposal as Dhritarashtra was blind. Bhishma was not happy with rejection as Gandhar was a subordinate kingdom of Hastinapur, so he imprisoned king Subala and all his 100 sons including Shakuni for saying no to this proposal. During their time in prison, they were given one-grain rice each day as food. Knowing that they all are going to die, Subala gives all their food to his wittiest son Shakuni so that he can stay alive and take revenge for them. Subala begged for mercy to free Shakuni but, Bhishma was very well aware of Shakuni’s intention. So he arranged marriage between Gandhari and Dhritarashtra before setting Shakuni free. It is believed that Shakuni utilized the thigh bone of his dead father to mould a dice that enabled him to win every game of dice. The story also goes that Shakuni’s father’s soul enters the dice when he rolled the dice and Shakuni would get whatever number he wanted. Before dying, King Subala stabbed Shakuni’s leg so that he didn’t forget their revenge and also blessed him to be a great politician.
Gandhari marriage to Dhritarashtra was a great event for the entire kingdom which was conducted with great grandeur and pomp. After marriage, when she discovered that her husband was blind, she decided to blindfold herself throughout her life so she too can share her husband’s lack of vision. Gandhari’s marriage to Dhritarashtra was the main reason for the conflict between two kingdoms (Hastinapur and Gandhar). Shakuni felt humiliated as he lost Gandhar to Hastinapur, he also had lost all his brothers and his only sister was married to the blind prince of Hastinapur. Shakuni swore to destroy the Kuru kingdom which was the main reason for conflict between the cousins. Later Shakuni permanently stayed at Hastinapur to fulfill his mission.
In the meanwhile, the throne of Hastinapura went to Dhritarashtra’s half brother Pandu due to Dhritarashtra’s physical disability. After Kindama’s curse, Pandu handed the throne of Hastinapur to his blind brother Dhritarashtra and retired to the forest out of guilt for the sin of killing a rishi unknowingly. He renounced everything, and he lived as an ascetic with his wives. Thus, Dhritarashtra even though not competent became the king of Hastinapur and Gandhari became the queen.
Later Gandhari becomes pregnant and carried the child for more than two years. Meanwhile, Kunti gives birth to eldest Pandava Yudhishthira. When the news arrived at Hastinapur about Yudhishthira’s birth, Gandhari out of frustration assaulted her womb. As a result, she gives birth to the hardened mass of grey-colored flesh. When she was going to throw away the mass of flesh, Veda Vyasa arrived and stopped her from doing so. Gandhari says Vyasa about Lord Shiva’s blessing and also confesses that out of jealousy towards Kunti (since Yudhishthira was born before her sons) she struck her stomach. Veda Vyasa saw still life in the embryo so he ordered 100 containers. Then Gandhari expressed her desire of having a daughter. Vyasa then divided single embryo into 101 and placed in different containers filled with ghee. Vyasa sprinkled some water and kept these jars in a secret place which was carefully monitored. Vyasa told Gandhari not to open the jars for two years. Thus the birth of Kauravas is termed as a sophisticated method of artificial fertilization or what we call today test tube baby.
Duryodhana was the first one to emerge when they opened first jar after two years. Duryodhana was the first son of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. The name Duryodhana means “someone who is extremely difficult to defeat”. Duryodhana is the crown prince of Kuru Kingdom. He was one day older than Bhima, but younger than Yudhishthira. Upon Duryodhana’s birth, many bad omens occurred, like fire, wind and even newborn child started braying like a donkey. Dhritarashtra contacted many sages and advisors of the royal court. All the learned men, including Vidura, advised Dhritarashtra to abandon the first child, as the child would lead to the destruction of the Kuru clan. But out of fatherly love, Dhritarashtra ignored all their suggestions. Duryodhana went on to become one of the key antagonists of the Mahabharata epic. Dushasana was the second born. Within a month of Duryodhana’s birth, rest 99 Kauravas and one daughter (Dushala) emerged from jars.
Apart from 100 sons, Dhritarashtra had one more son from maidservant called Sughada of the Vaishya class. Sughada was a maid who was serving Gandhari. Gandhari had advance state of pregnancy, which continued for almost two years. In these 2 years, Gandhari feared she had a problem giving birth so she made Dhritarashtra have a son called Yuyutsu from Sughada. Yuyutsu was of the same age as other Kauravas. Thus, Dhritarashtra had 102 children. Yuyutsu fought on the Pandavas side during the battle of Kurukshetra and he was the only Kaurava to survive the war.
After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti returns to Hastinapur along with her children. Kauravas and Pandavas grew up together in Hastinapur but Duryodhana hated them, fearing they want to take the throne which belongs to him after his father. They all got their early education from Kripacharya royal guru of Hastinapur.