By Swami Harshananda
Dhṛtarāṣṭra literally means ‘One by whom the nation is supported’.
If Dhṛtarāṣṭra had not been born, there would not have been a Mahābhārata nor a Bhagavadgītā.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra was born blind and impervious to the advice of great sages and savants, including his best well-wishers. His infatuation for his arrogant son Duryodhana was matched by his hatred towards the virtuous Pāṇḍavas.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra was the levirate son of Vicitravīrya and Ambikā by Vyāsa. Since he was sightless, he could not be made the king of Hastināpura. His younger brother Pāṇḍu was crowned king. He married the eleven daughters of Subala, the king of Gāndhāra, of whom Gāndhārī, the eldest, was his chief queen.
When Pāṇḍu died prematurely, his children-the five Pāṇḍavas, were still young. Dhṛtarāṣṭra took the reins of the kingdom and arranged for the proper maintenance and education of the Pāṇḍavas along with his hundred sons. When Yudhiṣṭhira, the eldest of the Pāṇḍavas was of proper age he was crowned as the yuvarāja (the crown- prince). Soon, he became extremely popular among his subjects.
Egged on by Duryodhana, Dhṛtarāṣṭra sent the Pāṇḍavas to Vāraṇāvata for a ‘change’. Here Duryodhana had plotted to kill them by arson. Due to the timely help of Vidura, the virtuous minister, the Pāṇḍavas escaped. Later on, they went to Virāṭanagarī and participated in the svayamvara of the princess Draupadī. Arjuna succeeded in marrying her.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra, on the advice of the grandsire Bhīṣma and others, called the Pāṇḍavas back and gave them half of the kingdom. The Pāṇḍavas started ruling it from their newly built capital, Indraprastha. Their prosperity and popularity roused the jealousy of Duryodhana further. He managed to banish them to the forest by the well-planned game of dice for which he got support from his father.
When the Pāṇḍavas had fulfilled all their commitments they sent Śrī Kṛṣṇa as their emissary of peace, requesting for their share of kingdom or at least some means of maintenance. Dhṛtarāṣṭra pleaded his helplessness of being unable to control or influence his son Duryodhana.
On one hand, he was afraid of the impending war and on the other, he was hoping that his sons would be victorious. After the war, when all his sons and their comrades had been killed, his anger, especially for Bhīma, manifested itself in a surreptitious attempt to crush him. Bhīma, however ,was saved by Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Though he was looked after well, by the king Yudhiṣṭhira, problems of old age, repentance about past actions and the advice of the saintly Vidura induced him to take to the life of a Vānaprastha. He later perished in a forest fire.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore