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Mahabharata repeatedly talks about "deceit" in a dice game where Yudhistira lost. The Ganguly translation quotes Yudhistira saying "Thou hast won this stake of me by unfair means" (section SECTION LX; Book 2). But there aren't any more details on unfair/deceit by Kauravas. After the game, there is constant mention of deceit but no further details.

Or, are there any other references/details on the "deceit" by Shakuni in that game? I am looking for details of the unfair means/deceit.

The only reference, in Vana Parva, is where Yudhistira says he did not have knowledge of the game of dice (and Shakuni was skilled). Is this considered deceit if the opponent is not skilled?

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  • Shakuni knew that Yudhisthira was addicted to dice-game but was weak in it & exploited that weakness to his advantage. This is similar to how in the 18th century, white Americans would incapacitate native American cheiftains with alcohol, & then make them sign treaties in their drunken state, handing over their ancestral lands to the white settlers without any compensation or rehabilitation. If the latter is considered deceit, then the former isn't much different from that.
    – অনু
    Sep 27, 2023 at 15:51
  • @অনু can I get a source on the tactics of white americans because my instincts tell me there’s a false equivalence lying here somewhere. Sep 28, 2023 at 3:26
  • @vishwamitras100aunts There is a Wikipedia article named 'Alcohol & Native Americans'. It describes how thre white settlers deliberately promoted alcohol addiction amongst the native Americans as a part of their sustained campaign for dominance in the Americas. Christian missionaries also used to liberally distribute alcohol in order to gain converts. Swami Vivekananda, while countering the jingoistic justification of British misrule in India at a talk in London, famously stated that the British had 'civilised' India with 3 B's - Bible, Brandy & Bayonet.
    – অনু
    Sep 30, 2023 at 15:11

4 Answers 4

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The deceit is explained by Yudhiṣṭhira in Śrimad Vyāsa Mahābhārat 3.35.3-4 (BORI) :

महामायः शकुनिः पार्वतीयः सदा सभायां प्रवपन्नक्षपूगान् । अमायिनं मायया प्रत्यदेवी त्ततोऽपश्यं वृजिनं भीमसेन ॥ अक्षान्हि दृष्ट्वा शकुनेर्यथाव त्कामानुलोमानयुजो युजश्च । शक्यं नियन्तुमभविष्यदात्मा मन्युस्तु हन्ति पुरुषस्य धैर्यम् ॥

~ Bhimasena! Shakuni, the dweller of the mountains, is knowledgeable in great maya. He hurled out the dice in the middle of the sabha. He used maya against me, who did not know any maya. It is then that I saw the deceit. I saw that the dice would always follow the wishes of Shakuni and favour him in odds and evens.

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The dice game was considered as unfair and deceit because Yudhistira was not skilled to play.

Krishna says this in Karna parva when Karna asks for time to lift his car wheels and reminds as it is unfair to shoot on unarmed. Similarly, Krishna repeats again Shalya parva [1], while responding to Duryodana's claim that his warriors were slain unfairly.

Thou hadst, through Subala's son well-versed in dice, unfairly vanquished the virtuous Yudhishthira who was unskilled in gambling!

So, it's unfair and deceitful to gamble with someone unskilled.

[1] https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m09/m09061.htm

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  • Doesn’t the fact that they agreed to a dharmayudhdha before the war began make the two scenarios different? Sep 28, 2023 at 3:21
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We need to know the exact meaning of deceit before concluding whether the act of Sakuni is deceit or not.

According to Cambridge dictionary

deceit: (an act of) keeping the truth hidden, especially to get an advantage

So, if Sakuni knows a truth and still hiding it for a benefit, then we can call it as a deceit.

Now, the truth that Sakuni is hiding for benefit is clear from the following words of Sakuni

"Sakuni said,--'The son of Kunti is very fond of dice-play although he doth not know how to play. That king if asked to play, is ill able to refuse. I am skillful at dice. There is none equal to me in this respect on earth, no, not even in the three worlds, O son of Kuru. Therefore, ask him to play at dice. Skilled at dice, I will win his kingdom, and that splendid prosperity of his for thee, O bull among men. But, O Duryodhana, represent all this unto the king (Dhritarashtra). Commanded by thy father I will win without doubt the whole of Yudhishthira's possessions.'

[Section 47, Sisupala-badha Parva, Sabha Parva, The Mahabharata]

Shakuni knows the truth that no one can defeat him in a game of dice and hided it for helping Duryodhana with bad intentions. Thus the act of Sakuni is clearly a deceit and unfair(one-sided) also.

The nature of vidya possessed by Sakuni is immaterial here.

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It was deceitful because the dice were of magic. The dice were made of Shakuni's father's finger bones and used to roll the number he wants. It was a boon to Shakuni from his dying father.

Before his death, his father told Shakuni, “When I die, cut my fingers and make dice out of them. I will use my occult power to make sure these dice always roll the way you want them to. No one can ever beat you in a game of dice – this will come in handy for you one day.” So Shakuni cut the fingers of his father and made dice out of them. He did not have the build of a fighter, but armed with these dice, he believed he could conquer the world.

Source

Being aware of this, he used this as deceit to defeat Pandavas in the dice game.

Shakuni said, “What you cannot do with the sword, you could do with guile. You are a foolish Kshatriya, always thinking about the sword, always thinking about poison, always thinking about killing. There are other ways to do things.” And he pulled out his dice, saying, “These are my father’s bones. They will roll as I want. Ask me for any number – I will get it for you.”

Source: Sadhguru

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    thanks but it's not reputable source. I also read about this legend of using his father's bones but couldn't find anything in Mahabharata or Puranas. Isha is also not quoting the scriptures. Hence, I can not accept this as answer.
    – Kanthri
    Feb 17, 2021 at 9:24
  • @SHebbar That is fine. I tried looking into Mahabharata on sacred-texts and couldn't find this. As I know this story, this is the only closest valid source I could find other than multiple news articles.
    – Mr_Green
    Feb 17, 2021 at 9:27
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    The dice made from Father's bones are generally attributed to local legends and aren't to be found in any of the reputable accepted sources of compiled Mahabharata.
    – Vivikta
    Feb 17, 2021 at 14:33

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