An excerpt from Illustrated Bhagavatam Stories, Chapter 4

When Dhritarashtra was conceived in the womb of Queen Ambalika by the sage Srila Vyasadeva, whose body was frightfully old, the terrified queen closed her eyes in horror, and thus Dhritarashtra was born blind.

Gandhari was Dhritarashtra's chaste and devoted Vedic wife. Even before meeting her arranged husband, Gandhari did not become discouraged when she heard that he was blind. In fact, she immediately blindfolded herself and permanently remained that way to avoid being more privileged than her husband.

When Yudhisthira's coronation time arrived, his uncle, Dhritarashtra, refused to give up the throne. Thus an ongoing royal dispute over the inheritance of the throne increasingly disrupted the Kuru monarchy for more than a decade.

The two opposing sides were named the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The Kauravas were Dhritarashtra and his one hundred sons, headed by the oldest and most ambitious son, Duryodhana. The Pandavas were Yudhisthira and his four powerful brothers, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva.

The Kauravas tricked and cheated Yudhisthira and his brothers of their rights to the throne. Influenced by greed and lust for royal power and wealth, on several occasions the Kauravas tried in various devious ways to kill the Pandavas.

In order to avoid a violent conflict with the Kauravas, the Pandavas proposed that they would occupy and rule just five small villages. And although Lord Krishna personally requested the Kauravas to accept the generous and peaceful solution offered by the Pandavas, Duryodhana, representing the Kauravas, arrogantly refused. The Pandavas were thus forced to defend themselves against the Kauravas in what turned out to be a horrific war.

The historic battle that followed was fought at Kurukshetra, in India. Heroic kings and their millions of soldiers came from all over the world to fight for the side they believed was right. The victorious side stood to gain the royal throne of Hastinapura (now known as New Delhi) and rule the world. Although the war lasted only eighteen days, it claimed the lives of many millions of soldiers.

In a far distant place, the blind Dhritarashtra heard his noble secretary, Sanjaya, describe the progress of the horrible massacre. Sanjaya could see the war as if looking at a television in his heart. His guru, Srila Vyasadeva, empowered him with special mystic vision.

Much to Dhritarashtra's despair, the Pandavas won the war with the divine blessings of Lord Krishna. Dhritarashtra lost everything: his one hundred sons, his loyal kings, and his millions of soldiers. Only the Pandavas and a few others survived.

After the war, Krishna put Yudhisthira in his rightful position as King of Hastinapura and the world.

Dhritarashtra remained in the royal Hastinapura palace until his dying days. According to his karma, after death he was destined to suffer in hell for causing the Kurukshetra war. To save Dhritarashtra, his learned half-brother, Vidura, vigorously instructed him on how to atone for his sins and go back to the spiritual world.

But Dhritarashtra's sins against the Pandavas were so serious that Lord Krishna would not grant him spiritual liberation. Instead, the Lord allowed Vidura to persuade Dhritarashtra to do astanga-yoga, a Vedic process of atonement that can save one from going to hell. Thus Vidura, Dhritarashtra, and Gandhari left for the Himalayas.

Upon reaching the southern side of the Himalayan Mountains, Vidura said, "Let us stop here. This is Saptastrota. Many great sages perform penance here because this place has a spiritual influence."

Under Vidura's expert guidance, Dhritarashtra carefully followed the process of astanga-yoga. He bathed in the morning, noon, and evening, and ate no food. He drank only water and purified himself by doing the agni-hotra (fire ceremony). Giving up all thoughts of material attachment for his family, he fully controlled his mind and senses and stopped falsely thinking that his material body was his real self. Then, while controlling his breathing process and sitting postures, he concentrated his mind and senses on God, the Supersoul, who resides in every living creature's heart.

Because Dhritarashtra perfected the process of astanga-yoga, a mystic fire burnt his old, useless body to ashes. The administrative demigods then allowed the soul in Dhritarashtra's body to commence its next birth on a higher planet. Just after the fire had consumed Dhritarashtra's body, the devoted Gandhari voluntarily entered that fire and followed her husband to the same elevated planet.

In ancient times a chaste Vedic wife would feel the pain of her husband's separation as greater than the pain of actual fire. Out of love and loyalty she would voluntarily enter her pious husband's cremation fire, seemingly without pain. Even 125 years ago in India, devoted wives still practised this Vedic custom called sati. But now, sati is prohibited not only because some unscrupulous men forced sati onto women to inherit their wealth but because such a high standard of family devotion is extremely rare.

"I feel satisfied with Dhritarashtra's elevation," thought Vidura, "but I regret that he did not attain spiritual liberation."

Vidura left his body while on pilgrimage at Prabhasa, a holy place in India. The highly elevated Vidura was escorted by demigods back to his planet, Pitriloka, where he resumed his duties as Yamaraja. While on Earth, Vidura mostly learnt and taught the spiritual science of self-realization and love of God. The essence of Vidura's learned discourses can be found in the Third and Fourth Cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam.