The Palace of Hastinapura was decorated to welcome its new Rani. The three Queen mothers, Satyavati, the step mother of Bheeshma and the grandmother of the present King, Ambika, the mother of Dhritarashtra, and Ambalika, the mother of the King, watched the proceedings from the balcony of the Anthahpura which was covered with latticework. Being widows, it was considered inauspicious for them to welcome a new bride. That office fell to Kunti, the Maharani of Hastinapura and the first wife of the King. She was assisted by Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra.
Dhritarashtra, though blind, stood on the right side of Bheeshma. He was a large man, though not as tall as his uncle, but his powerful physique was evident under his uttariya, which was flung carelessly over one shoulder, leaving most of his torso bare. If not for the ornament that covered his chest, none of the dasis would have taken their eyes off his body. Vidura stood next to him, his face as impassive as ever while Dhritarashtra looked serene. A smile of triumph hovered over Bheeshma’s lips. The smile was noticed by Vidura who raised his eye brows slightly in an enquiring manner. It only caused the smile on Bheeshma’s face to change into a smirk. Vidura rolled his eyes and turned his head to look at Kunti.
Bheeshma’s smile was seen by Kunti too, and her fingers clenched around the Thali she held. But her face remained smiling, and her figure remained relaxed. Next to her Gandhari stood ready with a lit lamp, the black silk tied over her eyes emphasizing the fairness of her complexion. Gandhari was a small woman, but she stood straight and her bearing held elegance as well as arrogance. Behind her stood the dasis with flower baskets and other necessities for welcoming the new queen. Kunti saw Vidura look at her with a mocking smile and she stiffened, but only for a moment. She relaxed and turned her head to look at him and raised her eyebrows at him with a mocking smile of her own before turning back to face the doorway.
The large ponderous chariot stopped in front of the palace steps, and grooms came to hold the horses still while servants and attendants went to fetch the footstool and steps to help the queen descend from the chariot. The King’s guard stood in a row, straight and alert. The King alighted from the chariot, looking weary and helped his queen alight.
There was almost a gasp from the assembled crowd at the first sight of Madri. They felt as if an apsara from Swargaloka had deigned to grace their Kingdom. And they could not be blamed for thinking that. The Princess of Madra was perfect in appearance. Her blue black hair was thick and the braids resembled the coils of a serpent, as it hung low down to her ankles. Her complexion was creamy and flawless, and her doe-eyes, lined with kajal were large and luminous. They were fringed with thick lashes, that at the moment lay against her rosy cheeks, the bride having lowered her eyes shyly. Above her eyes, were thick brows in a natural arch. In their centre was a red bindi above which the sindoor at the parting of her hair denoted her wedded status. Her nose was straight and her lips were moulded. Her face was heart-shaped and a small mole graced the right side of her chin.
Her body was equally perfect, the red saree that was draped around her, clung to her form, emphasizing her curves. Her shapely arms were covered upto the elbow with jewelled bangles that caught the light and reflected it as she walked. Jewelled chains adorned her neck and hung down low to her navel. She moved slowly and gracefully. The King held her hand and they shared a smile as they mounted the steps. The smile was not lost on those who stood on top of the steps to welcome the royal couple. Kunti’s smile became fixed, Bheeshma’s smile broadened, and Vidura was as impassive as ever.
The smile was also noticed by the three Queens watching from the balcony, and their glances became worried. Well they knew what dissension could be caused by two queens competing for the King’s affections. The queens Ambika and Ambalika, though married to the same King had never felt the need to compete for his affections, their sisterly affection for each other and the tie of their blood superceding the desire to have the husband’s attention all to themselves. But Kunti and Madri were not sisters, and the same could not be said for them. Well these ladies knew the weakness in Pandu that prevented him from noticing naught other than his own pleasures, and they knew he could not be depended on to quench the flames of the rivalry before they took root in both queens’ hearts.
No such thought or fear affected Bheeshma. He had little knowledge or experience of women, having sworn himself to celibacy at an early age. And if Vidura, with his experience, intelligence and intuition saw the storm about to brew in the royal apartments, he chose not to warn the Patriarch. He was still smarting under the news imparted by Bheeshma that his marriage had been fixed to the Sudra daughter of a King. So, he was to be married to the illegitimate daughter of a King while his brothers both married blue blooded princesses. The injustice of the system that condemned him to a life of servitude to his own brothers, even though he was better than both of them burned him. But there was little he could do, but to bide his time. Pandu was impotent after all, and no matter how many princesses he married, there would be no heir forthcoming for the throne of Hastinapura.
Of course, it was possible that an heir could come from Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, but it was unlikely. Having once been chosen unfit to be King, it was not likely that any child of Dhritarashtra could be considered a suitable heir to the throne. After Pandu, he might get his chance. He just needed to be patient.
None of these thoughts showed on his face as he paid his respects to the King and his new bride. Though Madri was beautiful, she did not attract him in the least. It seemed evident that she was a docile creature, unlike Kunti who was fiery. She managed to rouse the devil in him every time. Pandu was in for a rude shock if he thought his first wife would complacently welcome his second wife.
The formalities complete, the new queen of Hastinapura was led into the bowels of the huge palace by Kunti and Gandhari, the latter being led by a dasi.