Shakuni was the prince of Gandhara Kingdom in present-day Gandhara, later to become the King after his father’s death and one of the main villains in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. He was the brother of Gandhari and hence Duryodhana’s maternal uncle. Portrayed as an extremely intelligent but devious man, Shakuni is often credited as the mastermind behind theMahabharata war. Shakuni had two sons named Uluka and Vrikaasur (Bhasmasura).
It is said that in a military campaign by either Bhishma, Pandu, or Shantanu, Gandhara came under attack from Hastinapur. Hastinapur conquered Gandhar, killed the king Achala Suvala, and imprisoned all the male members of his line, saying that line was full of adharma. This included Shakuni and his 100 brothers (in some accounts, “brothers” is literal, in others it represents other family members in what was common usage at the time). 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, the most cunning of them all, so that he could live on to take revenge. Eventually, King Subala, bends the knee to make a permanent mark of the injustice. Considered a man of dharma, his family is allowed to live.
Shakuni was unhappy with his sister Gandhari’s marriage to Kaurava prince Dhritarashtra. He was especially angry with Bhishma for bringing this proposal as he found it insulting and demeaning, not only because Dhritarashtra was blind, but also because the Kurus had destroyed his line years before. He swore to avenge this insult by slowly destroying Bhishma’s clan. He achieved this by poisoning the mind of his volatile nephew Duryodhana into instigating the war with the Pandavas, which destroyed the Kuru line. Thus, he is seen by many as one of the key persons that caused the Kurukshetra War.
Some popular versions of this story focus on Shakuni’s anger over Hastinapur. But that version is not present in the original Mahabharata and is found mostly in modern versions of the epic. Likewise, some versions of the story describe Shakuni using the bones of his dead parents to create dice that will never lose him a game, as Shakuni’s father’s soul enters the dice to make it roll to whatever number Shakuni wanted.
Shakuni is perhaps best known for masterminding the infamous Game of Dice between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. A master of sorcery, Shakuni had his blessed dice which would always follow his will. Unaware of this fact, the Pandavas were defeated in the gambling match. Shakuni encourages Duryodhana, Dushasana, Karna, and the others when they taunt and humiliate the Pandavas.
He mainly worked by inciting hatred between the Kauravas and Pandavas; his plans culminated in the biggest wars in Indian history. Although he was very often not successful, he never lost his faith in his ability to destroy the lineage of Kuru. The story mentions that Shakuni, by staying at Hastinapur, is neglecting his duties as king in Ghandar; Shakuni explains to Uluka that his desire for revenge overruns his concern for Gandhar’s people.