Shakuni was born in Gandhara in modern-day Afghanistan to King Subala. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. It is believed that Shakuni was unhappy with his sister Gandhari’s marriage with blind Kuru prince Dhritarashtra. He was more so ever angry with Bhishma for bringing this proposal as he found it insulting and demeaning. He swore to avenge this insult by slowly destroying Bhishma’s clan. He achieved this by poisoning the mind of his volatile nephew, and influenced Duryodhana into instigating the war with the Pandavas, which resulted in the destruction of the Kauravas. Thus, he is seen by many as one of the key persons that caused the Kurukshetra War. His hatred for Bhishma became even deeper when Bhishma chose the eldest Pandava Yudhisthira as the next successor to the throne. He felt that that was an unfair decision and believed that Duryodhana his nephew should have been the rightful heir to the throne.

It is also believed that he was deceitful and misleading and on the whole he was the person responsible for initiating the Mahabharata war.

Shakuni was the brother of Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra and mother of Kauravas. It was believed that Gandhari was married to a goat (without the knowledge of Dhritarashtra) before being married to Dhritarashtra, according to Sooth Sayers advice. Later on, when Dhritarashtra and Pandu came to know about this, Pandu got angry and imprisoned all members of Gandhari’s family. Shakuni was the youngest brother of Gandhari among 100 other brothers. Since all of them were sparsely fed (with one grain of rice each per day) in the prison, the family decided that at least one of them could survive and gave all the rice to Shakuni so that he could live on to take revenge.

Shakuni not only survived, but became very close to Kauravas and especially Duryodhana. From there on, he wielded his influence on Duryodhana and master-minded the great battle of Mahabharat. He played a key part in inciting the Pandavas to play the game of dice and made them lose their kingdom and everything else to Kauravas. The dice was made of bone belonging to Shakuni’s father and would listen to Shakuni’s command. Shakuni’s father’s soul is said to have entered the dice and it would roll to whatever number Shakuni wanted.

During the Game of Dice episode in the Mahabharata, the youngest of the Pandava brothers Sahadeva had taken an oath to avenge Draupadi’s insult and sworn to kill Shakuni, the mastermind of the episode. As sworn, Shakuni was killed by Sahadeva on the seventeenth day of the Kurukshetra war.

Temple dedicated to Shakuni at Pavithreswaram in Kollam District, Kerala

Even though Shakuni’s name is associated with villainy, Hinduism sees a person in terms of Gunas. It is true that Tamasic characteristics were dominant in Shakuni but he too had Sattvic elements and this was recognized by a community in Kerala. There is an ancient temple dedicated to Shakuni at Pavithreswaram in Kollam District of Kerala. A throne believed to have been used by Shakuni is found in this ancient temple. No Puja or tantric rituals are performed at the temple. Offerings to the temple include tender coconut, silk, toddy, etc. The temple is maintained by the Kuravar community.

It is believed that during the Mahabharata battle, Shakuni traveled across the country along with his nephews, the Kauravas. When they reached the place where the temple is situated, the Kaurava’s divided their weapons among them. Since then, the place came to be known as ‘Pakutheswaram’, which later became Pavithreswaram. The Kuravar’s believe that Shakuni returned to this place after the battle and attained Moksha with the blessings of Lord Shiva and became Lord Shakuni. The subdeities of the temple include Devi Bhuvaneshvari, Kiratha Moorthi and Nagaraja. The festival of the temple, popularly known as Malakkuda Maholsavam, is observed in the Makaram month in the Malayalam calendar. Nearby the Shakuni Temple, there is also a temple dedicated to Duryodhana.

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