Queen Gāndhārī’s Mapping the Battlefield through the “Divine Eye:”
Shifting the Gaze from Masculine Virility to Feminine Vulnerability
Within the Mahābhārata, the reader encounters the battlefield through three characters, and in each instance, it is through their Divine Eyes (divya chakṣus). Primary access to the account of the battlefield and the war is through Saṁjaya, who was bestowed the divine eye by Vyasa. The post-war view of the field is by Queen Gāndhārī at the end of the fierce eighteen-day battle. She is the mother of a hundred sons, the Kauravas, all of whom have been killed in the war. Intriguingly, Queen Gāndhārī acquires the power to see the battlefield because of the power of her severe penance. Though sitting far from the site of the great battle, by means of her divine eye, Gāndhārī surveys the battlefield of Kurukṣetra—now reduced to a land filled with the dead bodies of once powerful warriors and preying vultures and jackals—and provides the women’s post-war perspective. Interestingly, Gāndhārī’s visions of the battlefield, Lord Kṛṣṇa is the interlocutor.
Thorough a close reading of the text, this presentation focuses on Queen Gāndhārī’s mapping of the battlefield in the “Book of the Women” (Stri Parva). After providing an overview of narrative placement of this book, I will focus on the following issues that have been overlooked by scholars: first, how Gāndhārī’s divine vision of the battlefield reverses the gaze from the masculine power of the war and callous heroism, to the reality of destruction and pain caused to the survining loved ones; second, Gāndhārī’s lament affirms a wide array of emotions arousing concern and compassion, which apparently contradicts Kṛṣṇa’s message in the Bhagavad-Gītā of rising above emotions; third, I suggest that Yudhisthira’s postwar guilt and the Anu Gītā—the so-called recapitulation of the Gītā by Lord Kṛṣṇna to Arjuna in Book 14 (which neither resembles the original Gītā in structure nor content)—can be read as a text rectifying the machismo ethic of war. Krisna convey wisdom in the both; however, in the Anu Gītā, he narrates the teaching through dialogues between different characters, not as a commanding god figure of the BG. The narrative structure of the Anu Gita and its emphasis on the path of knowledge and non-slaughter can be viewed as a way to corroborating the wisdom of Gāndhāri.
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