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



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