The mastermind of the Kurukshetra war, Shakuni mama of the Hindu epic Mahabharata was the prince of Gandhara but later ascended to the throne after the death of his father, Subala. He was also the maternal uncle of the Kauravas and the brother of the Gandhari. He was mentioned to be an incarnation of part of Dwapar yuga (Adi Parva, Chapter 27).
Other Names: Saubala, Subalaputra, Subalraja, and Saubaleya
Names as a royal family member: Gāndara, Gandharnaresh, Gandhararaja, and Gandharapati
Titles: Parvatiya (he who is from the mountains) and Kitava (gambler)
Name shared: Divine-serpent, a rishi, a son of King Ikshvaku, and an asura son of Hiranyaksha
Sakuni was the son of King Subala, the king of Gandhara whose capital was Takshashila. He had 99 brothers and one sister Gandhari. He was married to Arshi whose son later ruled Gandhara after the Kurukshetra war. The most notable son of Sakuni was Uluka, who served as a messenger during the Kurukshetra war.
Why did Shakuni hate Kurus?
His association with the Kuru clan is linked with his sister Gandhari. King Subala arranged his daughter’s marriage with blind prince Dhritarashtra of the Kuru Kingdom. The high reputation of Kurus despite Dhitarastra’s disabilities was enough for him to be an appropriate spouse for the Gandhari princess. There are various tales regarding Shakuni’s hatred.
Manglik Dosh of Gandhari
Harivamsa Purana states the story of Gandhari being Mangalik. The astrologers predicted that her husband will have a short life. To remove Mangal dosh, her father King Subala married her to a goat and then sacrificed it to nullify the defect before her marriage to Dhritarashtra.
When Bhishma finds out about this, he becomes angry and punishes Subala and his family. They are captured and imprisoned, and only one grain of rice is given to each captive. The prisoner decided that even though they die, one of them should stay alive to take their revenge.
Shakuni, being the wisest and most capable of taking revenge, was given all the rice to eat. Shakuni saw his father and his brothers die in front of his eyes, eventually, he survived and got released, but with a most horrific revenge plan in his mind.
Refusal of Subala
Bhishma captured and killed Subala and his sons because they refused to give Gandhari in marriage to the blind Dhritarashtra.
Reputation of Gandhara
Shakuni was unhappy with his beloved sister’s marriage to a blind person, which he considered an insult to his family.
Angry towards Deva
Mahabharata does not mention any of these incidents, as Subhala and his sons attended Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya yajna and Shakuni’s brothers aided Kauravas in Kurukshetra. Adi Parva Chapter 63 mentions him being born due to anger towards Devas to destroy righteousness.
Role in Epic Mahabharata
Sakuni was the sole mastermind of the Kurukshetra war. Without his presence along with Duryodhan’s jealousy, Yudhisthira’s gambling habits, and the indecisive nature of Dhritarashtra, the war would not have happened.
Planning Downfall of Kurus
Shakuni vows to avenge his family by destroying Hastinapura, which he does by poisoning the mind of his nephew Duryodhana and instigating the war with the Pandavas. Shakuni knew the weakness of Kurus is gambling so he prepared the dice from the bones of his dead family members. To make sure he would never lose in a game, his father’s soul entered the dice to make it roll to whatever number Shakuni wanted.
The Poisoned Cake
Source: Mahabharata, Adi Parva Chapter 7
During the Pandavas and Kauravas’ childhood, Shakuni always sided with Duryodhana in their minor arguments, blowing them out of proportion. Whenever the Pandavas won in their games, Duryodhana became angry. Later, Shakuni advised Duryodhana to feed the poisoned cake to Bheema, which he did twice, but he was saved by the Nagas.
Source: Mahabharata, Adi Parva Chapter 12
When the poisoning plot failed, Shakuni continued to instigate Duryodhana and suggested another plan to burn down the Pandavas. As per the plan, they lured Pandavas into the palace made of wax and hired the architect and Duryodhana’s trustworthy ally Purochana to set it on fire. The plan failed as Pandavas luckily discovered an escape route.
Jealousy Towards Pandavas
Source: Mahabharata, Sabha Parva Chapter 45
After being separated as Kauravas and Pandavas, Yudhishthira performed the Rajasuya yajna to achieve imperial status. Shakuni Mama and Duryodhana who attained the Yajna became jealous of the Pandavas’ wealth and prosperity. Shakuni suggested organizing a game of dice to snatch everything that Pandavas had.
Dice game between Duryodhan and Yudhisthir
Source: Mahabharata, Sabha Parva Chapter 49
Upon repeated urging from Duryodhana and Shakuni, Dhritarashtra agreed to the game, and Yudhishthira agreed to participate. Shakuni represented Duryodhana in the game, and with each round, the stakes rose higher. Duryodhana with Shakuni’s dice won all of Yudhishthira’s treasures, kingdom, and his wife Draupadi. Ultimately, he bided his freedom and Pandavas got exiled for 13 years.
The Vow of Sahadeva
Source: Mahabharata, Sabha Parva Chapter 60
The youngest of the Pandava brothers, Sahadeva, was too furious with Shakuni Mama after the incident. He vowed to take revenge for Draupadi’s insult by killing mastermind Shakuni.
War of Kurukshetra
Source: Mahabharata, Drona Parva 30, 37 and 96, Karna Parva chapter 85
Shakuni was a strategist for the Kaurava army in the Kurukshetra War. He was even proposed to be commander of the chief but he suggested Shalya be a better option as chief. In war, Shakuni aided Duryodhana, and Dushasana in nearly killing Yudhisthira on the very first day.
Shakuni was a skillful warrior and illusionist. Drona Parva of the Mahabharata states that Shakuni created 100 different illusions against Arjuna and Krishna, including weapons, animals, creatures, and birds. He killed Nakula’s son Shrutasena, King of Magadha, and Jayadev during the war.
His course of stopping Arjuna to reach Bhisma, and planning a midnight battle acted as a great obstacle for Pandhavas on the battlefield. On the 13th day, he successfully managed to trap Abhumanyu in Chakravyuh and aided other Maharathis to kill him.
Death of Shakuni Mama
Source: Mahabharata, Shalya Parva Chapter 28
On the 18th day, Sahadeva engaged in combat with Shakuni and Uluka. He managed to defeat and kill Uluka, which angered Shakuni. In retaliation, Shakuni attacked Sahadeva and destroyed his chariot and bow. However, undeterred, Sahadeva climbed onto another chariot and continued fighting Shakuni with great intensity.
The two warriors eventually descended from their chariots and engaged in a duel to settle the matter. Sahadeva delivered a fatal blow to Shakuni by piercing his axe into Shakuni’s chest, thereby fulfilling his oath and avenging his friends and family.
Malanada Maladeva (Shakuni) Temple
Located in Pavithreswaram near Kottarakkara in Kerala’s Kollam district, the Mayamkottu Malancharuvu Malanada Temple is the only temple in the world dedicated to Shakuni.
This temple is home to a granite stone that serves as the seat of Shakuni, who is depicted meditating with Lord Shiva in a posture. The Kauravas are believed to have divided their weapons at this location and sought refuge here after traveling for miles in search of the Pandavas.
Lessons to be learned from Shakuni’s life
No matter how Itihasa depicts him, a negative character or villainous character, seeing the death of a family in prison due to starvation will have disastrous effects on anyone’s mind. A blindfolded sister continuously serving for blind king, how can a brother watch such injustice?
His actions were what a moral human would have done. Here are some lessons to be learned from Sakuni Mama’s life:
The power of determination: Shakuni was determined to avenge his father’s death and achieve his goal, which led him to manipulate and scheme against the Pandavas. His unwavering determination teaches us the power of having a clear goal and working towards it with persistence.
The dangers of greed: Shakuni’s greed for power and revenge blinded him to the consequences of his actions. He manipulated the Kauravas into starting a war, which caused immense destruction and loss of life. His story serves as a warning about the dangers of unchecked greed.
The importance of self-control: Shakuni’s anger and rage towards Sahadeva led to his downfall. Despite his intelligence and strategic prowess, he was defeated in battle because he let his emotions control him. His story teaches us the importance of self-control and the dangers of letting our emotions get the better of us.
The consequences of our choices: Shakuni’s choices and actions had far-reaching consequences, not just for him but for the entire kingdom of Hastinapur. His story teaches us that our choices have consequences and that we must be mindful of the impact of our decisions.