When war composes glorious ballads of the winners, history is written and re-written several times. Winners deserve the fame, and all virtues are imposed on them. Their faults and fallacies are forgotten in the extreme spirits of victory. Who want to listen to the tragic stories of the defeated? We always appraise the voice of victory. We seldom bother whether truth is covered with something or whether righteousness is justified with a hidden mask of divinity. We are the helpless spectators; and we will be, always!

Mahabharata, the famous Indian epic, tells us about the story of a battle that happened thousands of years ago between Kauravas and Pandavas, the sons of two brothers, for kingdom and domination. When unrighteousness surrendered before righteousness, there were too many heroes; but there was only one anti-hero; nay, he was considered as the villain of this Indian epic. He was Duryodhana. He was a villain because he always tried to cheat and destroy Pandavas and he also tried to humiliate their wife Draupadi. When heroes failed in some occasions, this villain outshined most of the times. He was a good Kshatriya with excellent traits such as friendship, loyalty, honorable warfare, efficient rule, boldness, power, wealth and confidence that represent Kshatriya Dharma to the utmost.

The Background

There were two brothers, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, in the kingdom of Hastinapura. The elder one Dhritarashtra was blind and hence the younger brother Pandu became the king of Hastinapura. Due to a curse, Pandu renounced the throne and left for forest with his wives Kunti and Madri, to lead an ascetic life. Duryodhana was the eldest among the hundred sons of the blind king Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari. After the death of Pandu, Kunti returned to Hastinapura with five children and claimed that they were Pandavas, the sons of different Gods. Pandavas and Kauravas grew up in Hastinapura, and when their education was finished, Yudhistira, the eldest son of Pandu, was named to sit on the throne of his father, thus denying the chance of Duryodhana.

Being the son of the elder brother, Duryodhana had the genuine right for the throne.  Moreover, Pandavas were not the sons of Pandu, because he was unable to become a father due to some curse. When Kunti claimed that the Pandavas were the sons of different gods, Duryodhana was the only person to question her. The so called Gods have no lineage connected to Hastinapura. He believed that Kunti was trying to seize the inheritance away from him, hiding the illegitimate birth of Pandavas. And, of course, that was the root cause of the great catastrophe and bloodshed that happened in the Indian soil.

Attempts to Destroy Pandavas

Due to losing his legal right as heir to the throne of Hastinapura, Duryodhana developed hatred and jealousy with the Pandavas and tried to destroy them by all means. Duryodhana’s maternal uncle Shakuni was the mastermind behind Duryodhana’s cruel actions against Pandavas. They built an inflammable house specially designed and built with wax, ghee, lac and other highly inflammable materials, accommodated Pandavas there during a festival celebration at Varnavata, and set it on fire. But, due to the timely warning of Vidura, the step brother of Dhritharashtra, Pandavas escaped from the plot. They lived in a forest as Brahmins and meanwhile possessed Draupadi as their common wife.

Kingdom Shared

To avoid further tensions, Dhritarashtra after consulting with other elders invited Pandavas back to home and gave them half the kingdom. Yudhishtira was made the king of Indraprastha. Duryodhana remained as the prince of Hastinapura, but was acting as an efficient ruler with full control of the administration, because his father, king Dhritarashtra was blind. Meanwhile Yudhishtira conducted Rajasuya Yaga, became authority of several kingdoms and was crowned as Emperor.

Draupadi’s Taunt

When Yudhishtira’s fame increased, Duryodhana’s hatred and jealousy also increased progressively. After Yudhishtira’s Rajasuya Yaga, Duryodhana was invited to the Indraprastha. The illusions of the palace befooled him several times and the Pandavas made fun of him. Duryodhana fell in a pool of water when he stepped in mistaking it as a floor. Draupadi laughed loudly and commented, “A blind man’s son is also blind”. Draupadi’s taunt insulted Duryodhana very badly and he vowed to take revenge on Draupadi.

Dice Game

With jealousy and intensified anger against the Pandavas, Duryodhana discussed with his uncle Shakuni to find a way to defeat Pandavas and possess their complete wealth and kingdom. From the Shakuni’s cunning mind developed a master plot and that was the dice game. Duryodhana challenged king Yudhistira to play dice, and Shakuni, with his special dice, played an undefeatable game, on behalf of Duryodhana. Yudhistira lost everything – his kingdom, wealth, his four brothers and wife. The most shameful incident of Indian mythology delineated when Draupadi was disrobed by Dushasana as per the instruction of Duryodhana. Finally, the Pandavas began their thirteen years exile.

Vaishnava Sacrifice

While Pandavas were in exile, Duryodhana was captured by Gandharva king Chitrasena due to a conflict and it happened that Arjuna and Bhima rescued Duryodhana from the Gandharvas. To redeem the reputation, Duryodhana decided to conduct a Vaishnava yaga to become the Emperor of the World. Karna started the Digvijaya yatra alone and conquered all the kings who opposed Duryodhana, enforcing Duryodhana’s authority over them; and the Emperor’s fame spread everywhere.

The War

After the end of the thirteen years exile, Duryodhana refused to return even a needlepoint of land to Pandavas, which was against their agreement. Elders’ advice and Krishna’s interference could not change Duryodhana’s mind. Even the word ‘pandavas’ irritated him badly. There was only one decision to the Kshatriya blood in Duryodhana: War! Thus, war became inevitable.

The war witnessed so many unfair practices from both side. In spite of the great warriors Karna, Bhishma and Drona on his side, Duryodhana lost the war. It was said that dharma was on the other side!

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The Final Moments

On the eighteenth day of the war, only four persons from the Kaurava’s side were alive – Duryodhana, Aswatthama, Kripacharya and Kritvarma. Yudhistira challenged Duryodhana to pick any of the Pandava brothers to fight and the winner shall be declared as the winner of the war. In spite of utilizing the advantage of this proposal, Duryodhana selected Bhima as his rival. At the end of the long and fierce mace fight, Bhima attacked Duryodhana by unfair means, smashing Duryodhana’s thighs. That night, waiting for death, Duryodhana ordered Aswatthama to take revenge on Pandavas. Aswatthama, along with Kripacharya and Kritvarma took revenge attacking the Pandavas camp at night and killed everyone except the Pandava brothers. They rushed to tell Duryodhana about the news, but Duryodhana was already dead by that time.

Good Qualities of Duryodhana

Friendship: One of the best qualities of Duryodhana was his sincere friendship. When Karna was humiliated in an archery competition against Arjuna in the name of low birth, Duryodhana saved him by offering him an entire kingdom, thus removing the stains of inferiority complex from his disturbed mind. Duryodhana’s friendship with Karna was deep and was the strongest in this great epic. Karna’s death crushed him very badly and affected him more than the death of his own brothers.

Good Warfare: Despite his negative traits on the field of life, Duryodhana was referred to as a Fair Warrior, who respected and followed the rules of war that was considered as the good qualities of a Kshatriya. Pandavas violated the rules of war several times, as per the guidance of Krishna, when they killed Bhishma, Drona and Karna. We would doubt whether the rules were not applicable to Krishna, the reason being he was Lord himself.

For his last fight, when Duryodhana was given a choice to select any of the Pandava brothers, he would have taken advantage of the situation. But he chose Bhima, the peer opponent, to make the fight fair and even. But, he was deceived.

Good Ruler: Dhritarashtra was the crowned king of Hastinapura, but since he was blind,  Duryodhana managed the administration, with a great influence over all people, and became a great ruler. On hearing the death of Duryodhana, people in Hastinapura wept with deep grief, because to them he was their favourite king and their protector.

Good Kshatriya: For a Kshatriya, power is a virtue. Duryodhana was attracted by power and wealth. At his last moment, he glorified himself the virtues he had achieved as Kshatriya and blamed Krishna for his trickery. On hearing his words, celestial beings from heaven blessed him by showering flowers and singing the glory of Duryodhana. When Yudhishtira reached heaven he saw Duryodhana seated on a throne, attended by angels and goddesses. When Yudhishtira could not believe it, Narada explained him that Duryodhana attained heaven due to his Kshatriya Dharma.

Negative Traits of Duryodhana

Disrobing of Draupadi: It was the most serious crime committed by Duryodhana. When Yudhistira lost everything in the dice game, Duryodhana encouraged his brother Dushasana to bring Draupadi in the court and disrobe her.

Murder Attempt: He tried to kill Pandavas accommodating them in a house built of wax, ghee, lac and other inflammable materials and setting it fire. He tried to kill Bhima by poisoning and drowning.

Cheating: After the exile of 13 years, Duryodhana did not agree to give even a needlepoint of land to Pandavas, which was against their agreement.

Killing of Abhimanyu: When Abhimanyu killed Duryodana’s son Lakshmana, he ordered all his maharathis to attack Abhimanyu. Thus Abhimanyu was killed by unfair means by seven unequal warriors.

Conclusion

There, in that battlefield, nobody was perfect. There was no perfect hero or perfect villain in Mahabharata. Mistake or unrighteousness was everywhere and nobody was free from that. As Narada said, Duryodhana entered into heaven because of fulfilling Kshatriya Dharma. The negative traits in Duryodhana were against Kshatriya Dharma, but his good qualities as a Kshatriya were far superior that made him distinct from a villainy nature. Rules of war are same for everyone. Nobody is beyond that. Pandavas tried to violate the rules under a divine protection, under the guidance of Krishna, the Lord himself. Duryodhana never accepted the divinity of Krishna, but always defied him, even at his death bed. No doubt, Duryodhana was a real Kshatriya!! ….And I can hear the Gandharvas playing musical instruments and the Apsaras in a chorus singing the glory of King Duryodhana!!

Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duryodhana


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