Discovering Pakistan

5, 000 years of Civilization & Culture

Lament of Queen Gandhari

Gandhara was the name of an ancient Vedic kingdom, comprising the Peshawar Valley and Potohar Plateau in Pakistan, and the Kabul Valley in Afghanistan. According to the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, Gandhara was ruled by two sons of Bharata (brother of King Rama), Taksha and Pushkala. The former founded Taksha-sila, to the east of the Indus, known now by its Greek appellation Taxila; the latter founded Pushkala-vati, to the west of the Indus, the site of modern-day Charsadda.

Gandhari, a princess of Gandhara, is a character in the Mahabharata, the second of India’s two national epics. A pious woman and devoted wife, Gandhari voluntarily blindfolds herself throughout her married life in empathy with her blind husband, King Dhritarashtra. She also bears him one hundred sons, collectively known as the Kauravas, who are portrayed as villains in the Mahabharata. The Kauravas are ultimately defeated and killed by the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War, generally dated to the 10th century BCE. In the two poems below, taken from an abridged verse translation of the Mahabharata by Romesh C. Dutt, Queen Gandhari surveys the battlefield, strewn with the dead bodies of all her sons.


Stainless Queen and stainless woman, ever righteous ever good,
Stately in her mighty sorrow on the field Gandhari stood!

Strewn with skulls and clotted tresses, darkened by the stream of gore,
With the limbs of countless warriors is the red field covered o’er,

Elephants and steeds of battle, car-borne chiefs untimely slain,
Headless trunks and heads dissevered fill the red and ghastly plain,

And the long-drawn howl of jackals o’er the scene of carnage rings,
And the vulture and the raven flap their dark and loathsome wings,

Feasting on the blood of warriors foul Pisachas fill the air,
Viewless forms of hungry Rakshas limb from limb the corpses tear!

Through this scene of death and carnage was the ancient monarch led,
Kuru dames with faltering footsteps stepped amidst the countless dead,

And a piercing wail of anguish burst upon the echoing plain,
As they saw their sons or fathers, brothers, lords, amidst the slain,

As they saw the wolves of jungle feed upon the destined prey,
Darksome wanderers of the midnight prowling in the light of day!

Shriek of pain and wail of anguish o’er the ghastly field resound,
And their feeble footsteps falter and they sink upon the ground,

Sense and life desert the mourners as they faint in common grief,
Death-like swoon succeeding sorrow yields a moment’s short relief!

Then a mighty sigh of anguish from Gandhari’s bosom broke,
Gazing on her anguished daughters unto Krishna thus she spoke:

“Mark my unconsoléd daughters, widowed queens of Kuru’s house,
Wailing for their dear departed, like the osprey for her spouse!

How each cold and fading feature wakes in them a woman’s love,
How amidst the lifeless warriors still with restless steps they rove,

Mothers hug their slaughtered children all unconscious in their sleep,
Widows bend upon their husbands and in ceaseless sorrow weep,

Mighty Bhishma, hath he fallen, quenched is archer Karna’s pride,
Doth the monarch of Panchala sleep by foeman Drona’s side?

Shining mail and costly jewels, royal bangles strew the plain,
Golden garlands rich and burnished deck the chiefs untimely slain,

Lances hurled by stalwart fighters, clubs of mighty wrestlers killed
Swords and bows of ample measure, quivers still with arrows filled!

Mark the unforgotten heroes, jungle prowlers ‘mid them stray,
On their brow and mailéd bosoms heedless perch the birds of prey,

Mark they great unconquered heroes famed on earth from west to east,
Kankas perch upon their foreheads, hungry wolves upon them feast!

Mark the kings, on softest cushion scarce the needed rest they found,
Now they lie in peaceful slumber on the hard and reddened ground,

Mark the youths who morn and evening listed to the minstrel’s song,
In their ear the loathsome jackal doth his doleful wail prolong!

See the chieftains with their maces and their swords of trusty steel,
Still they grasp their tried weapons,–do they still the life-pulse feel?”

From “The Ramayana and Mahabharata” by Romesh C. Dutt, 1899


Thus to Krishna, Queen Gandhari strove her woeful thoughts to tell,
When, alas, her wandering vision on her son Duryodhan fell,

Sudden anguish smote her bosom and her senses seemed to stray,
Like a tree by tempest shaken senseless on the earth she lay!

Once again she waked in sorrow, once again she cast her eye
Where her son in blood empurpled slept beneath the open sky,

And she clasped her dear Duryodhan, held him close unto her breast,
Sobs convulsive shook her bosom as the lifeless form she prest,

And her tears like rains of summer fell and washed his noble head,
Decked with garlands still untarnished, graced with nishkas bright and red!

“‘Mother!’ said my dear Duryodhan when he went unto the war,
‘Wish me joy and wish me triumph as I mount the battle-car,’

‘Son!’ I said to dear Duryodhan, ‘Heaven avert a cruel fate,
Yato dharma stato jayah! Triumph doth on Virtue wait!’

But he set his heart on battle, by his valour wiped his sins,
Now he dwells in realms celestial which the faithful warrior wins,

And I weep not for Duryodhan, like a prince he fought and fell,
But my sorrow-stricken husband, who can his misfortunes tell!

Ay! my son was brave and princely, all resistless in the war,
Now he sleeps the sleep of warriors, sunk in gloom his glorious star,

Ay! My son ‘mid crownéd monarchs held the first and foremost way,
Now he rests upon the red earth, quenched his bright effulgent ray,

Ay! my son the best of heroes, he hath won the warrior’s sky,
Kshatras nobly conquer, Krishna, when in war they nobly die!

Hark the loathsome cry of jackals, how the wolves their vigils keep,
Maidens rich in song and beauty erst were wont to watch his sleep,

Hark the foul and blood-beaked vultures flap their wings upon the dead,
Maidens waved their feathery pankhas round Duryodhan’s royal bed,

Peerless bowman! mighty monarch! nations still his hests obeyed,
As a lion slays a tiger, Bhima hath Duryodhan slayed!

Thirteen years o’er Kuru’s empire proud Duryodhan held his sway,
Ruled Hastina’s ancient city where fair Ganga’s waters stray,

I have seen his regal splendour with these ancient eyes of mine,
Elephants and battle-chariots, steeds of war and herds of kine,

Kuru owns another master and Duryodhan’s day is fled,
And I five to be a witness! Krishna, O that I were dead!

Mark Duryodhan’s noble widow, mother proud of Lakshman bold,
Queenly in her youth and beauty, like an altar of bright gold,

Torn from husband’s sweet embraces, from her son’s entwining arms,
Doomed to life-long woe and anguish in her youth and in her charms,

Rend my hard and stony bosom crushed beneath this cruel pain,
Should Gandhari live to witness noble son and grandson slain?

Mark again Duryodhan’s widow, how she hugs his gory head,
How with gentle hands and tender softly holds him on his bed,

How from dear departed husband turns she to her dearer son,
And the tear-drops of the mother choke the widow’s bitter groan,

Like the fibre of the lotus tender-golden is her frame,
O my lotus! O my daughter! Bharat’s pride and Kuru’s fame!

If the truth resides in Vedas, brave Duryodhan dwells above,
Wherefore linger we in sadness severed from his cherished love,

If the truth resides in Sastra, dwells in sky my hero son,
Wherefore linger we in sorrow since their earthly task is done?

From “The Ramayana and Mahabharata” by Romesh C. Dutt, 1899

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