Bhanumathi – The forgotten wife

All of us are well aware of the wives of the Pandava brothers, at least Draupadi for sure and to a lesser extent Bhima’s wife Hidimba [Link to earlier posts with her stories, Link 1, Link 2] and Arjuna’s wife Subhadra, the mother of the ill-fated Abhimanyu [Link to earlier posts with his stories, Link1, Link 2]. But, how many of us have ever spared a thought to whether Duryodhana was married, whether he had a wife. This post shall try and provide a few more details of this forgotten wife of Duryodhana.

BhanumathiDuryodhana was married to Bhanumathi, the daughter of Bhagadatta, the king of Pragjyotishya. While not much more is known about her, some versions of the Mahabharata state that Bhanumathi was one person who raised severe objections to Draupadi’s treatment after the game of dice when Duhshasana tried to disrobe her in the Kaurava court. Legend has it that Draupadi’s temper was ferocious and fearing that this foul temper of hers would cause immediate destruction to Duryodhana and his brothers, Bhanumathi is said to have come running to Draupadi’s aid and requesting Duryodhana to stop this humiliation meted out to her.

Another incident where Bhanumathi finds a mention in this great epic is to provide an example of some of Duryodhana’s positive traits. Apparently in one instance, Bhanumathi and Karna were playing a game of dice where the stakes were substantial materially. As the game progressed, it became evident that Karna was winning.

Just then Duryodhana entered the chamber where Karna had his back to the door and could not see him come in. Seeing her husband come in, Bhanumathi stood up as a mark of respect as was the norm for a married woman. Karna, however, mistook her to be trying to escape the embarrassment of certain defeat in the game, and snatched at her drape which was embedded with pearls.

The thread of the drape snapped and all the pearls fell to the floor. Bhanumathi was quite stunned and did not quite know how to react to the situation. For all practical purposes, Duryodhana had every reason to misunderstand her and Karna’s behavior which looked extremely offensive and insensitive. Sensing her discomfort, Karna turned around to see what she was looking at and immediately noticed his friend walking into the chamber. He was also shocked as he realized what the scene would look like to Duryodhana. He mentally prepared himself for the inevitable consequences knowing fully well that the scene would enrage his friend beyond control.

However, what happened next is mentioned as an example of one of the few positive traits of Duryodhana.

The only question that Duryodhana asked Bhanumathi was “Should I just collect all the beads or should I go ahead and string them as well?

Both his wife and his best friend had misjudged his reaction to the perceived situation. Duryodhana had a lot of implicit trust and faith, both in his queen and in his best friend. Not for one split second did he suspect either of them of doing anything wrong. Such was his faith in his wife and friend.

Duryodhana crowning Karna as the king of Anga
Duryodhana crowning Karna as the king of Anga

This incident is cited every once in a while as an example of how loyal Duryodhana was to his relationships. Not a story we hear very often about the Mahabharata or about the Kaurava prince, do we?

What I personally found very interesting is that despite the fact that this great epic is 100,000 verses long and has been rewritten multiple times by various authors, none of them deemed it necessary to include the character of Duryodhana’s wife. While the epic talks about how Dhritarashtra and Gandhari grieve for all their sons killed in the way, I was left wondering how Bhanumathi reacted when her husband was deceitfully killed by Bhima during the gadhayudha.

Did she resign herself to the fact that her husband begot the rewards of his unjust actions or was there a part of her which was angry at the way the Pandavas bent the rules of warfare to ensure that they defeated her husband comprehensively in the war? This is probably a question that we can debate about, but would never arrive at a satisfactory answer, would we.


Verses for Introspection:4

सुखं हि दु:खाननुभूय शोभते घनांधकारेष्विव दीपदर्शनम्।

Sukham hi duhkhaan-anubhooya shobhathe ghana-andhakaareshviva deepadarshanam

–          Mricchakatikam of Raja Sudraka.


Happiness is more appreciated after one experiences grief over a period in the same way as light is more appreciated by a person in pitch darkness.

Points for Introspection:

Happiness and grief are just temporary effects on the human mind, it is better to treat both of them equally without getting unduly affected by either.

Inspired by Swami Bhoomananda TirthaJi’s talks and satsangs. 

55 thoughts on “Bhanumathi – The forgotten wife

  1. Hi

    I only know of Tamil actress Bhanumathi. This was entirely new to me. Thanks for all that info. Duryodana is said to have had many positive traits which is rarely mentioned except by those who do an in depth neutral analysis of the entire epic.

    • @jaishvats, yes, Duryodhana had very many positive traits all of which were probably overshadowed by his envy for his Pandava cousins. And it takes guts to think beyond the normal narrative that our villains from the epics and try and see things from their perspective, doesn’t it?

  2. A very informative read… I didn’t know about her at all. What do you think about the novel ‘Ajaya’- mahabharat from the kauravas’ it a good read?

    • @pratikshya, I personally haven’t yet read the book Ajaya, but the same author wrote ‘Asura’ a retelling of the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. That was a good retelling although he did take quite a few liberties in the form of fiction as well. So I am assuming that Ajaya also will be a good book, and as far as I know it is the first in a series of two or three books on the Mahabharata as told from Duryodhana’s perspective.

  3. As usual, we focus on the ‘heroes’! Thanks for this piece, informing us that Duryodhana was married, and about Bhanumathi. I wonder how many people who named their daughters Bhanumathi knew that Duryodhana’s wife’s name was Bhanumathi!

    Enjoyed the ‘Moral Science’ mini-class as well!

  4. Nice story, this one as well!

    I agree with you, how many would’ve really thought how she must’ve felt when her husband died in the battlefield? Thanks for this piece of information.

    • @Kajal, most retellings of the Mahabharat focus only on Gandhari, Draupadi and Kunti’s emotions and reactions after the war, all of them conveniently forget the lives of the millions of soldiers’ wives, mothers and sisters’ plight after the great war, don’t they?

  5. Shakuni mama wanted Duryodhana and Krishna’s sister to be married but she married Arjuna.

    Duryodhana’s positive trait of being true and loyal to both his and friend ,Karna , is praise-worthy.
    Yes both happiness and sadness are temporary and should be treated as equal but we humans feel that happiness vanishes quickly from our lives while the days of sadness stretch longer. nice post Jairam.

    • @Kalpana, glad you liked the post, and yes, Subhadra was initially poised to marry Duryodhana, but got married to Arjuna instead, like you say.

      Regarding the whole point about all of us feeling that sorrow lasts longer than happiness, that is precisely the frame of mind that we need to get out of. If we really and truly learn to treat both happiness and sorrow alike, then we will indeed be liberated from these emotional bonds, won’t we?

  6. I know this story, thanks to Vidur. And Duryodhana’s ““Should I just collect all the beads or should I go ahead and string them as well?” is one of our home-quotes. 😀

    In fact, this is a great example of how everyone is endowed with good and bad sides. And my son takes great pains to enlighten us about each character in mythology. I will never forget his argument when someone slighted Ravana for his abduction of Sita. He went on to extol his virtues.

    Thank you Jairam. I love these posts.And the Mahabharata is a university in itself in terms of teaching human nature.

    • @Vidya, my pleasure in being with wise company such as Vidur, I mean, for someone so young, to know Bhanumathi’s story and to quote Ravana’s virtues in an argument is something else. Glad you enjoy these posts as that means that I will always at least one happy reader for all my mythological posts 😀

  7. A very valid point. I too was totally unaware of any details of this character. Also, the anecdote on Duryodhana is telling – were we so obsessed with painting him evil that we chose to deliberately ignore that he did have good qualities within him?

    • @Roshan, yes, I do try and highlight some of the relatively unknown parts of our mythological stories. After all, people do deserve to know more about these stories than what has been presented in popular media so far, right. After all, we bloggers are the ‘new alternative media’ aren’t we 😀 Glad you liked the post itself 🙂

  8. This was really informative Jairam…Duryodhana’s expression highlights the fact that there is a good and bad side to each one…pity that this great epic focuses not on all equally…

    • @Aditi, the epic does focus on all its characters equally. It’s just that our popular mass media such as TV serials, and our grandmothers who told us these stories when we were young, didn’t focus on the good side of the bad guys or the bad side of the good guys as well 😀 And that precisely shall be my endeavor through some of these mythological posts 😀

  9. Duryodhana was actually a good guy. Didn’t he share the same ancestry as the Pandavas.. But Shakunis teachings and Dhritharashta’s ambitions marred his upbringing. Aren’t we all the victim of circumstances
    Beautiful shloka. Light can be appreciated when we have exprecienced darkness, happiness can be enjoyed when we have seen distress.

    • @Bhagyashree, yes, but unfortunately our popular media colors Duryodhana in a bad light almost always and he ends up looking more evil than he really was.

      Regarding the shloka, it is only when we learn to treat both happiness and sorrow equally without getting unnecessarily affected by either, that we truly are in control of ourselves.

  10. There is a saying that history is always written by the victors and it seems true in both Ramayana and Mahabharatha as well. I think we may never know the actual truths about what went on.

    Great write-up. I love the snippet of Duryodhana’s reaction to interrupting their game of dice.

    • @Nish, so true, we all allow ourselves to be swayed and influenced by the victors’ version of events, don’t we, after all, we all want to side with the winning team, don’t we 😀

      And regarding the snippet of Bhanumathi and Karna’s game of dice, believe it or not, I searched high and low for other incidents involving Bhanumathi and couldn’t find any other, and that precisely is the reason that I titled the post “The forgotten wife” 😦

  11. WOW are an encyclopedia on mahabharat it seems… Even for me who knows decently well about the mahabharat stories..even for me this was something new..Loved it…

    • @Shiva, not at all, I am far from being the Mahabharata expert, am just trying to highlight some of the stories I enjoy from this great epic, and other smaller stories that not too many people are aware of 😀

  12. I wasn’t aware of Bhanumati. In fact I never knew Duryodhan was married. I think he was very shrewd. He knew he needed Karna to keep the Pandavas at bay so faithful and loyal I think not – more strategic, shrewd and calculating.

    • @Suzy, yes, that is a good point that you make regarding Duryodhana keeping Karna on his side as a deterrent to the Pandavas 😀 He was known to be very shrewd, cunning and calculating as well 😀

    • @ashreyamom, so true, a little know fact about Duryodhana was that he respected loyalty a lot and loved everybody who was loyal to him very dearly

  13. Hi Jairam, nice post. I knew about the story of Bhanumathi before, I heard about the Karna incident. Coming to Indian Myhology and the texts of Sanatana Dharma, we ought ot observe one thing. If you read Ramayana or MahaBharata in the original text (Valmiki Ramayana or the Originalk Bharata by Veda Vyasa), you would find that there is no character assasination done in eitherplaces. In fact Ramayana does not become judgemental at all about the character of Ravana. It only illustrates on how a man with so much knowledge and so much tapasya and so much of devotion, lost out just because he could not reign a few emotions. It’s not that he died his entire clan died, all because he saw a woman in way she should not been seen. All because a woman cried her heart out for the act he did. Sri Rama gives him multiple opportunities to surrender, he just would not listen and embrce his own death. That’s what happens when the emotions control the decisions. Same is the case with Duryodhana. In Mahabharata he open says “jaanami dhramam nacha me pravruttih, jaanaami adharmam nachame nivruttih” meaning I know Dharma but my mind is not geting interested in it. I know adhrama my mind is simply not leaving it. He was knowledgeful. he knew a lot of things, he did some good things also . When Panadavas are in Aranyavasa , they send a spy to know how Duryodhana was ruling and the spy gives a good account on how good an administrator Duryodhana was. However, this man with all these good qualities could not resist envy. That brought his downfall. He was ruling “Hastina” when Pandavas were ruling “IndraPrastha”, he just could not resist the envy and could not digest Draupadi laughing at him. He committed sin after sin, misbehaved with Draupadi to an extent where she wanted to see the end of the clan, he reneged on the agreements and went till the war and then lost all. We need to learn from these people that no matter how learned we are, how good we are with the people around us , we must try, get disciplined and succed in mastering emotions, (saying is easy but doing is near impossible) else we would meet the same end as Ravana and Duryodhana.

  14. This made for a very interesting read, even though I knew about Bhanumathi, thanks to those umpteen bedtime story telling sessions with my grandmother in the early childhood days. There are a lot of instances in Mahabharata which I dont completely find fair, one of them being, as you rightly pointed, the way Duryodhana was deceitfully killed by Bheema or the unfair manner in which Bhishma was forced to put his weapons down in front of Shikhandi, among others. Yes Duryodhana and Karna’s friendship is one of the most inspiring bits I have found in the epic.

    Enjoyed your post, thoroughly!

    • @Deeps, welcome to the blog and thanks for leaving behind your feedback. And yes, if you like mythology then you will surely enjoy my mythology related posts which I publish quite regularly on the blog 🙂

  15. And you bring to us another masterpiece! I am amazed. by the fact that this is the first time we have a factually proved positive trait of duryodhan. And this is what amazes me more… And yes Bhanumathi is forgotten in the mahabharat stories somewhere..


  16. Ah! this is a super interesting post…I had no clue about that incident or about Dhuryodana’s wife. I did know he was married, and like you often wondered how she would have felt after he died because of unfair practices. The Mahabharata is like an onion no? Layer underneath layer of stories

    • @R’s Mom, yes, she is one of the more obscure characters of this great epic, which like you say, has many layers of interpretations like an onion 😀

  17. Duryodhan is truly a complex character, sometimes I feel he was more human that the celestial Pandavas. Pandavas always ridiculed Karna and never considered him anything more than a sutaputra. Duryodhan gave him a status and a kingdom and this proves that he truly respect merit. Karna was his closest friend and ally and Duryodhan had tried to contemplate suicide after his death. He hated the partiality of Drona and bore resentment for Bhim who used to brutally beat his brothers. Sometimes I feel that there is a lot more to his positive side and we are purposely ignoring that just because he is branded as the villain and we were always taught that villains are pure evil.

    About Bhanumati, I read somewhere that she was the Princess of Kalinga and not Pragjyotisha. I also have heard that she was a devotee of Vishnu. Duryodhan and Bhanumati had two children Laxman and Lakshmana. Laxman was killed in Mahabharat War while Lakshmana was married to Samba, Krishna’s son from Jambavati.

    • @Aboli, all the points that you make about Duryodhana are so valid, and yes, I guess most of us have fallen prey to the syndrome where popular media paints all villains with the same color and therefore we chose to ignore the good traits that he had.

      Regarding Bhanumathi, am not really very sure about which land she was princess of but have heard the story about how her daughter went on to get married to Samba, Krishna’s son and there is a separate interesting story about Samba which I will probably put up on my blog sometime 😀

      • Haha, you should! Samba is actually the most notorious and interesting character among Krishna’s sons. Your way of narration and prose is quite appealing 🙂 What I like is that you try to convey your opinions from the perspective of both sides while maintaining a neutral standpoint, something which I find difficult to do since I am more or less a fan of the ‘villain side’ 😀

      • @Aboli, yes, the one story that I have read about Samba was quite something else, and thanks for finding my posts and opinions quite neutral. I do try and present both sides of the coin, so to speak, and am glad that you, as a reader, found that trait 🙂

  18. and also , duruyodhana’s son lakshmana and lord ram’s ragu vamsa’s survinivg prince brihadbala both killed by abhimanyu which drove kaurava’s mad to plot chakravyug.

  19. Nice post. You should read K.M. Munshi’s Krishnavatara. It is a series of 7 books and Bhanumathi is one of the most lovable and fascinating character who appears in the third and fourth part. According to Munshi, Bhanumathi was a good influence on Duryodhana but sadly she dies in childbirth. Her sister Jalandhara, gets married to Bheema, which foils Duryodhana’s plans as he wanted to marry her. Bhanumathi was also supposed to be greatly attached to Krishna. Here is my review of the book -

    • @Sumeetha, welcome to the blog, glad you liked the post and left behind your thoughts on the same 🙂

      The Krishnavatara series by KM Munshi sounds interesting. Maybe I ll pick up the entire series and read them in one go sometime soon 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation. Anything that caters to my interest in Indian mythology is always welcome 😀

  20. i don’t know how i missed out on this post of urs..i generally read all your posts….i often take pride in the fact that I have read the whole of Mahabharata…but I don’t recall reading about Bhanumathi….

    • @confusedhumanity, yes, Bhanumathi is one of those characters which are neglected in this great epic. Of course there are many more such obscure characters that this great epic has and I will try and highlight a few more of them in coming days.

Let me know what you think about this post...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s