Characters of the Mahabharata :Duryodhana

This article is part 4 of 8 in the series Characters of the Mahabharata

Part 2: Duryodhana

IT IS NOT NECESSARY AT THIS JUNCTURE to examine the Duryodhana camp comprising Duśśyāsana, their relatives and friends. Or the Guru camp including Bhishma, Drona, Vidura and others. Likewise, we don’t need to focus on other characters apart from Krishna and Arjuna. The Gita repeatedly says that the Mahabharata war was a war of Dharma. Our purpose here is to recall the nature of the main personalities involved in that great episode of Dharma.

Vyasa says that Duryodhana was an incarnation of Kali-Purusha.

kaleraṃśaḥ samutpanno gāṃdhāryā jaṭhare nṛpa |

amarṣī balavān śūraḥ krodhano duṣprasādhanaḥ || (Stree Parva: 8:30)

Then, this is what is said to Dhritarashtra: “O King! Duryodhana, born out of Gandhari’s womb is an aspect of Kali-Purusha. He has no tolerance. He is strong, valorous, and an obstinate person who listens to no one.”

Vyasa said the same thing to Gandhari as well:

kaliṃ duryodhanaṃ viddhi śakuniṃ dvāparaṃ nṛpaṃ |

dussyāsanādīṃ viddhi tvaṃ rākṣasān śubhadarśane ||  (āśramavāsika Parva 35:10)

Know that Duryodhana is an incarnation of Kali. Shakuni is dvāpara. Dussyāsanā and others are demons.

Embodiment of Jealousy

We have already seen how Kali-Purusha is an embodiment of jealousy in the story of Nala. The chief defect in Duryodhana is spite. Jealousy is at the root of all his thoughts and endeavours. He simply cannot tolerate the rise of the Pandavas, especially Bhima. Hostility and intolerance are his weaknesses. He had all the wealth in the world but was devoid of that magnanimity arising from tolerance.

Except for these, he had no other grave faults. He was not lecherous, miserly, he was not a womaniser or hoarder or cowardly or filthy or tyrannical or disrespectful of the traditions of Dharma. Aside from the mischiefs committed owing to his jealous nature, we do not notice any special blemishes in him. However, his great defect of innate resentment alone was enough to wipe out all of his great power and enormous wealth. That indeed, is the element of Kali.

The Role of Shakuni

His maternal uncle Shakuni, was his minister and advisor. Indeed, Shakuni Mama (Uncle) is a term that has remained immortal. He is the incarnation of Dvāpara-Purusha. Dvāpara means gambling, and deceit is the mindset of gambling, and the implement of gambling is the dice. We have previously seen how Dvāpara directly aided Kali in defeating Nala. And now, the same deity of deceit stood in support of Duryodhana, the embodiment of Kali. This is but natural.

What Sort of Man was Dhritarashtra?

Now we shall briefly understand the nature of Duryodhana’s parents. Dhritarashtra was born blind. The eyes he was bereft of were not merely the physical eyes. He was blind within as well. His emotional fondness and attachment for his son had clouded his intellectual faculty that discerns Dharma. Dhritarashtra was strong and powerful. He was endowed with great powers of reasoning. He was interested in the affairs of the world. He did not feel sad for being born blind. He had married ten sisters of Gandhari, his wife. These apart, he also maintained a harem. Yuyutsu was born to one such lady of the harem. Dhritarashtra had great affection for his younger brother, Pandu. With gratitude, he repeatedly reminisced about the favours that Pandu had done him. He was also proud of Pandu’s sons—except in one matter. Unable to bear the encomiums showered on the Pandavas by the citizens, Duryodhana would frequently complain to his father whose reply was:

yathā na vācyatāṃ putra gacchāmaḥ kuru tattathā ||

My son, conduct yourself in a manner whereby people do not object.

It is noteworthy that Dhritarashtra did not advise his son to conduct himself according to Dharma. On the other hand, his advice was: “avoid public blame.” Indeed, Dhritarashtra had fully grasped the power and impact of public opinion. In the realm of political propaganda, we can easily call Dhritarashtra the progenitor of our contemporary propagandists like Hitler and Goebbels. It is said that he originally hatched the plot of dispatching the Pandavas from Hastinapura to Vāraṇāvata. To implement this, he made Duryodhana to offer bribes to prominent people in the kingdom.

tato duryodhano rājan sarvāstu prakṛtīśśnaihi |

arthamānapradānena sa jagrāha sahānujaḥ || 

dhṛtarāṣṭraprayuktāstu kecitkuśalamantriṇaḥ |

kathayāñcakrire ramyaṃ nagaraṃ vāraṇāvataṃ ||

ayaṃ samājassumahān ramanīyataro bhuvi |

upasthitaḥ paśupateḥ nagare vāraṇāvate ||

sarvaratna samākīrṇe puṇyadeśe manorame |

ityevaṃ dhṛtarāṣṭrasya vacanāñcakrire kathāḥ|| 

Accordingly, Duryodhana and his brothers and ministers distributed money to those wanted money. Those who wanted awards, prestigious jewellery, medals and shawls got those as well. After all this, the propaganda was set in motion. Vāraṇāvata was the very abode of Shiva himself. Its people were pious and eminent. The propaganda was meant to deliberately induce the Pandavas to go there on their own and to create the same favourable impression in people’s minds about the city. The whole plot was masterminded by the eyeless Dhritarashtra.

Excessive Filial Love

Now we will consider the final scene.

The Kurukshetra war has ended. Duryodhana and others have been killed. In the aftermath, everyone is drowned in sorrow. Yudhishtira and all the Pandavas have come to meet their uncle Dhritarashtra. They have prostrated to him and are now standing before him. Then Dhritarashtra embraces Yudhishtira and asks him where Bhima is. Sri Krishna who watches this scenes signals to keep Bhima away. In his stead, he places an iron idol of Bhima before Dhritarashtra.

upaguhyaiva pāṇibhyāṃ bhīmasenamayasmayam।
babhañja balavānrājā manyamāno vṛkodaram।।

Assuming the idol to be the real Bhima, Dhritarashtra feigns excessive love and embraced the idol with extraordinary strength. It shattered into a million pieces.

Only Krishna had understood what was really concealed in Dhritarashtra’s heart and said:

prāgeva tu mahābuddhirbuddhvā tasyeṅgitaṃ hariḥ।
saṃvidhānaṃ mahāprājñastatra cakre janārdanaḥ।।

Where is the father who does not love his son? Vyasa himself wept loudly when his son left for the forest.

yaṃ pravrajantamanupetamapetakṛtyaṃ
dvaipāyano virahakātara ājuhāva ||  (Bhagavata, Skanda 1-1) 

What kind of a father is he who does not love his son? But when that love becomes blind, what a sorry fate befalls the father! After crushing Bhima’s iron idol, Dhritarashtra loudly lamented his hasty and cruel action and began to repent. Then, Krishna revealed his strategy of the iron idol (and conveyed that Bhima was indeed alive). He said that Dhritarashtra’s thoughts were highly unbecoming and pointed out that it was Dhritarashtra’s fault to not rectify his son’s errant ways in a timely fashion. Finally, he turned Dhritarashtra’s mind in the direction of wisdom saying that none can escape the fruits of Karma. In the end, Dhritarashtra agreed.

putrasnehastu balavān dharmānmāṃ samacālayat  ||

Filial love intensified and made me stray from Dharma.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...