If Mahabharata has a very clear villain, that person is the Shakuni. Even Bheeshma while detailing all the warriors on booth sides, literally considers Shakuni the midwife of the “Ghor Vaimansya” literally the hatred between the grandsons of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa.
Though called Gandhara raja many times in the epic, he was not the oldest son of his father and neither was he the son of the King, Subala being a younger brother to the Nagnajita, the Gandhara king. But due to the structure of that polity, he could call on the resources of Gandhara state which he did on behalf of his nephew, Duryodhana. His several sons and younger brothers paid supreme sacrifice on behalf of their sister’s son.
There is no indication in the Epic that Shakuni hated the Kuru royal family or Hastinapur. He might have like any brother angry at prospect of getting a blind brother-in-law but he would also be proud of his sister Gandhari and niece Samhata for bringing light to the life of the blind prince.
He would be especially proud to call Gandhari his sister after she also took the oath to cover her eyes with cloth, a true sati indeed. She went on to spend her life totally dedicated to her husband and for that some consider her great, (as an aside but when Draupadi does the same, she is an exploited woman, as Salman said “par who kare to character dheela hai!!”)
Shakuni is the avatar of Dwapar Gandharva. The third age of Dharma where only two of four legs of dharmarupi cow are on the earth. Dwapar is a neutral age. Dwapar helps his brother Kali in many situations like when he became the dice and birds who troubled Nala, similarly he was the thrower of dice and strategist who troubled Dharmaraja. But overall his aspect is neutral to Dharma. This is also reflected in the nature of Shakuni.
Shakuni might be totally guiltless in accession of Dhritrashtra to the throne of Hastinapur and he would have also anticipated gleefully having little nephews to spoil. He would have grieved with Gandhari and then would be overjoyed on Vyasa’s intervention. Shakuni also put his stratagems and trickeries to play to ensure succession of his nephew to throne. To help his nephew out, he used his guiles to throw Pandavas out of kingdom and win complete control for Duryodhana. Shakuni was the one worried by acquisition of weapons by Arjuna and plotted to assassinate the brothers Pandava using an excuse of Ghosh Yatra and start a conflict with Pandavas.
Of course, it was not his fault that his dear dear nephews Jatey they japan pahunch gaye Cheen, samjh gaye na?, instead of fighting Pandavas took up cudgels against Gandharvas. The disaster and the subsequent help given by Pandavas and generosity shown by Dharmaraja affected his nephews and Shakuni differently.
Duryodhana decided to pursue euthanasia and commit suicide by giving up food, Shakuni tried to persuade him and following sloka is very-very important in context of who is the cause of war. Karna first stated to Duryodhana that he will become an object of laughter among kings if he dies by this way.
Shakuni stated: “Kurunandan, Karna is indeed right. Why are you so foolishly abandoning this high prosperity that I have won for you? It is silly to kill yourself. Today, I realize that you have never listened to your elders ever. Like a raw earthen vessel in water, you cannot control sudden accession to joy or grief.
A king like you who has no spark of manliness, destitute of courage, addicted to sensual pleasures, acting with indiscretion and is seldom respected by subjects.
You have enjoyed so much in this earth so why are you so aggrieved. By grieving that you have been helped by Pandavas, you are undoing a graceful act done by Kunti’s sons. Their act is the ultimate generosity. Instead of grieving like this, you should be joyfully rewarding them for their behavior. This behavior of yours is so inconsistent to the grace of being a King.
Be cheerful, do not cast your life away, with pleased heart, you should remember the good Pandavas have done.
GIVE THE KINGDOM BACK TO SONS OF PRITHA.
You will win both virtue and renown by such conduct. By acting with gratitude thus, you will grace the office you hold.
ESTABLISH brotherly relations with Pandavas. Be their friend and GIVE THEM their Paternal Kingdom. And you also will be happy then”.
Shakuni literally changed his spots overnight. He was the true Dwapar. He was moved by Yudhishthara’s generosity and suddenly saw his nephew without the rose-tinted glasses of loving uncle but a true friend. And True friends tell the truth. He proposed peace and giving the kingdom back to Pandavas. He asked Duryodhana to end Pandava exile with almost 3 years eight months or so still left. He advised Duryodhana to make peace and live happily and peacefully with the brothers. His message fell on deaf ears.
After this, Shakuni never took lead in opposing the Pandava proposals. He was neutral and non verbal in early part of the Udyoga Parva. He remained part of Kaurava strategy and fought with his cavalry forces as a true Kshatriya and died in battle with his sons and brothers and nephews.
Shakuni was the d(w)apper villain indeed.
by Pranshu B Saxena