(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 golakaputraabout, 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 Mahabharatanothing 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.