Story of Shakuni - The Mastermind

Shakuni: The Mastermind Behind the Mahabharata


In the rich tapestry of Indian mythology, few characters are as enigmatic and controversial as Shakuni, the brother of Gandhari and the maternal uncle of the Kauravas. Shakuni's role in the Mahabharata is pivotal, not just as an antagonist but as the master manipulator whose machinations led to the catastrophic Kurukshetra war. This narrative delves deep into Shakuni's life, exploring his motives, actions, and the impact he had on the epic's unfolding events.

Early Life and Background

Shakuni was born into the royal family of Gandhara, a kingdom that lies in the region corresponding to modern-day Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. His father, King Subala, was a wise and just ruler, and his sister Gandhari was renowned for her beauty and virtue. The family was respected and held in high esteem throughout the land.

Shakuni, however, was different from the rest of his family. From a young age, he exhibited a sharp intellect and an unparalleled aptitude for strategy and cunning. These traits, while admirable in moderation, would eventually contribute to his dark legacy. As a prince of Gandhara, Shakuni was well-educated and trained in the arts of warfare and statecraft. His life, however, took a drastic turn when his beloved sister, Gandhari, was married off to Dhritarashtra, the blind prince of Hastinapura.

The Marriage of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra

Gandhari’s marriage to Dhritarashtra was arranged by Bhishma, the patriarch of the Kuru dynasty. Despite her reluctance, Gandhari accepted her fate and vowed to live as her husband did, choosing to blindfold herself for the rest of her life as an act of solidarity with her husband. This self-imposed blindness was seen as a mark of her loyalty and virtue but had profound implications for Shakuni and his family.

Shakuni was deeply aggrieved by the treatment of his sister. The marriage alliance, which was supposed to bring prosperity and unity, became a source of resentment. Shakuni perceived this as a great injustice, not only to Gandhari but to the entire Gandhara family. This perceived slight against his family sowed the seeds of hatred in Shakuni’s heart, which would later blossom into a relentless desire for vengeance.

The Imprisonment of Shakuni’s Family

The most significant turning point in Shakuni’s life came when his family was imprisoned by Dhritarashtra. According to some versions of the Mahabharata, this was done on the pretext of a political move to suppress potential threats to his rule. Others suggest that this act was motivated by fear and suspicion towards the powerful and intelligent Gandhara family.

Shakuni's father, King Subala, and his brothers were all held captive, and the conditions of their imprisonment were deplorable. Legend has it that they were given minimal food, just enough to survive, but not enough to live healthily. Subala, foreseeing their grim fate, devised a plan to ensure that at least one member of the family would survive to avenge this injustice. He instructed his sons to give all the food to Shakuni, the youngest and the most capable of them.

Day by day, Shakuni watched his family perish, one by one, their strength sapped away by hunger and despair. This harrowing experience forged his resolve and hardened his heart. Shakuni swore to destroy the Kuru dynasty that had wronged him and his family. Before dying, King Subala made Shakuni swear an oath of vengeance against Hastinapura, and in a final act of defiance, he made a pair of dice from his own bones, imbued with magical properties that would always roll in Shakuni’s favor.

The Return to Hastinapura

After the death of his family, Shakuni was eventually released and returned to Hastinapura under the pretense of supporting his sister. However, his true purpose was far more sinister. Shakuni was determined to sow discord and ensure the downfall of the Kuru dynasty from within. His sharp mind and strategic acumen made him a formidable adversary, and he quickly ingratiated himself with his nephew Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas.

Duryodhana, ambitious and power-hungry, found in Shakuni a mentor who could help him achieve his aspirations. Shakuni fueled Duryodhana’s animosity towards the Pandavas, who were his cousins and rivals for the throne of Hastinapura. Shakuni's influence over Duryodhana grew, and he became the chief architect of the schemes that would eventually lead to the great war.

The Game of Dice

One of Shakuni's most infamous exploits was the game of dice, a pivotal moment in the Mahabharata. Shakuni’s mastery of the dice, made from his father’s bones, ensured that he could manipulate the outcome of the game to his advantage. When Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, was invited to play, Shakuni saw an opportunity to strike a crippling blow to his enemies.

Yudhishthira, known for his unwavering adherence to dharma (righteousness), was drawn into the game despite his reservations. Shakuni played with unparalleled cunning, and Yudhishthira, driven by a combination of pride, duty, and the lure of winning back what he had lost, continued to wager higher stakes. In the end, Yudhishthira lost everything: his kingdom, his wealth, his brothers, and even Draupadi, their wife.

The humiliation of Draupadi in the court of Hastinapura, where she was disrobed and demeaned, marked a point of no return. The Pandavas, humiliated and stripped of their dignity, swore vengeance. This event, orchestrated by Shakuni, set the stage for the inevitable war.

The Kurukshetra War

The Kurukshetra war was the culmination of years of tension, manipulation, and strife. Shakuni, always in the shadows, played his part with precision. His strategies and machinations during the war were aimed at ensuring the destruction of the Pandavas. However, despite his efforts, the tide of the war turned in favor of the Pandavas, thanks to the divine intervention and the unwavering virtue of their cause.

Shakuni’s role in the war was multifaceted. He was not only a strategist but also a warrior. He fought valiantly, but his true weapon was his intellect. Shakuni’s cunning plans, such as the killing of Abhimanyu by deceit, were indicative of his ruthless approach. Yet, despite his best efforts, the Pandavas, guided by Krishna and driven by their righteous cause, proved to be formidable opponents.

The Fall of Shakuni

As the war neared its conclusion, the fate of Shakuni was sealed. He had played his part in the grand drama, but his end was inevitable. Shakuni met his demise at the hands of Sahadeva, the youngest of the Pandavas, who had vowed to avenge the wrongs done to his family. In his dying moments, Shakuni remained defiant, holding on to the belief that he had fulfilled his vow to avenge his family’s suffering.

Shakuni’s death marked the end of an era of deceit and manipulation. His life, filled with cunning and vengeance, serves as a stark reminder of the destructive power of hatred and the lengths to which it can drive a person. Shakuni's actions had far-reaching consequences, leading to the destruction of the Kuru dynasty and the profound transformation of the Indian epic landscape.

Legacy and Interpretation

Shakuni’s legacy is complex and multifaceted. While he is often vilified as the primary antagonist responsible for the catastrophic events of the Mahabharata, some interpretations suggest that his actions were driven by a deep sense of loyalty to his family and a desire to right the wrongs done to them. His character embodies the moral ambiguities and ethical dilemmas that are central to the Mahabharata.

Shakuni’s story is also a reflection on the themes of fate and free will. His actions, while driven by personal vendetta, were also influenced by the larger cosmic order and the unfolding of destiny. The Mahabharata, through the character of Shakuni, explores the interplay between human agency and divine will, questioning the extent to which individuals can shape their own destinies.


Shakuni, the master manipulator of the Mahabharata, remains one of the most intriguing and complex characters in Indian mythology. His life, marked by tragedy, cunning, and relentless pursuit of vengeance, offers profound insights into the darker aspects of human nature. Shakuni’s story is a testament to the enduring power of the Mahabharata, a timeless epic that continues to captivate and inspire, shedding light on the eternal struggle between good and evil, dharma and adharma, and the human capacity for both nobility and deceit.

In the end, Shakuni's legacy is a cautionary tale about the destructive power of hatred and the consequences of letting vengeance consume one's soul. His life serves as a reminder that while the quest for justice is noble, it must be pursued with wisdom and righteousness, lest it leads to one's own downfall and the suffering of many.