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Epigenetics and the birth of Duryodhana

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In the Vedic tradition, two types of texts convey knowledge in the form of stories. They are the Purana and the Ithihasa classes of text. Descriptions of historical incidents however dominate only in the latter. The Mahabharatha is a popular Ithihasa texts. In it, we find the the story of the birth of hundred sons of queen Gandhari. The eldest among these hundred sons was Duryodhana. Let us consider the incidence of the birth of Duryodhana in the context of the biology literature of today.

Queen Gandhari prematurely forced her own delivery. Secondly, she could only deliver a hard ball of flesh. However, she her anticipation was deliver one hundred sons. She was confident about this because of an earlier boon from a sage. Sage Vyasa separated this ball of flesh into individual fetuses. Besides, each fetus was 1-2 inches long. Subsequently, the queen’s servants placed the fetuses in a dark cool place in fluids within individual containers. They remained so until maturing into Duryodhana and his brothers. In summary, the fetuses grew in the queen’s womb for two years and another two more years in incubation chambers. The birth of Duryodhana took place four years after conception.


Incidents of multiple births have increased since 1970. This is due to the advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF) methods. Besides, IVF has yielded pregnancies of up to fifteen fetuses. However, the chances of the survival decreases beyond six fetuses. Certainly, over the years, physicians have developed and refined methods to prevent preterm deliveries. They administer Betamimetics class of drugs to delay preterm deliveries. Did ancient medicine men and sages know about such alternate ways? Was the administration of herbal Betamimetics involved in the birth of Duryodhana?

Generally, the size of a fetus towards the second month is 1-2 inches long, Mahabharata text says that queen Gandhari delivered after the gestation period of two years. Normally, cartilage begins to turn into bones by the second month of gestation. Mahabharatha text clearly refers to hardened cartilages. It describes Gandhari’s delivery to be a lump of flesh (māṁsapeśī). In addition, the text says that this lump was an assembly of hard aṣṭhīla. This Sanskrit word is interesting. It is formed by asthi+ la, meaning something resembling a bone.

Vedic texts on Pregnancy

The royal physician likely prescribed herbs to prolong Gandhari’s pregnancy. The queen’s hundred fetuses had to grow to a minimum size of 1-2 inches, in two years. They had eighteen extra months compared to a normal pregnancy. However, how did Gandhari take care of herself? Ayurvedic texts cover comprehensive healthcare regimen for pregnant women. In addition, Rishis wrote texts such as the Garbhopanishad (knowledge about the embryo). These men of wisdom therefore must have known of ways to protect a preterm fetus into full term maturity.

tāṁ māṁsapeśīṁ bhagavānsvayameva mahātapāḥ॥ 1-130-6(5773)śītābhiradbhirāsicya bhāgaṁ bhāgamakalpayat।yo yathā kalpito bhāgastaṁta dhātryā tathā nr̥pa॥ 1-130-7(5774)ghr̥tapūrṇeṣu kuṇḍeṣu ekaikaṁ prākṣipattadā।

kauravasyāparijñātaṁ yatnena mahatā svayam।udaraṁ ghātayāmāsa gāndhārī śokamūrchitā॥ 1-129-27(5705)tato jajñe māṁsapeśī lohāṣṭhīleva saṁhatā।dvivarṣasaṁbhr̥tā kukṣau tāmutsraṣṭuṁ pracakrame॥ 1-129-28(5706)

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