The rivalry between cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, is depicted in one of the longest documented Hindu epics, the Mahabharata. The author, “the sage Vyasa intended it to be a treatise on life itself, including religion and ethics (dharma sastra), polity and government (artha sastra), philosophy and the pursuit of salvation (moksa sastra)” (Narasimhan XIX). Duryodhana, being the eldest son of king Dhrtarastra and wife Gandhari and thus the eldest of the Kauravas, was regarded with great importance and plays a key role in the events that occurred in the Mahabharata. It is said that during Duryodhana’s time of birth bad ominous noises were heard from crows and beasts of prey. Seeing this Dhrtarastra’s brother Vidura and the present Brahmanas warned the king of his first born to be the exterminator of his race, hence needing to be abandoned. The strong emotions and love for his son forced the king not to adhere to the given advice (Narasimhan 19).

Caught of in the act of jealousy and hatred, Duryodhana hatched a plan of assassinating the Pandavas. Hastinapura’s king Dhrtarastra had convinced the Pandavas to visit the city of Varanavata for the festival of Pasupati (a festival for Siva). That’s when Duryodhana, along with close friend, Karna, and uncle, Sakuni, plotted to create a flammable palace in which the Pandavas would reside. All the arrangements were made and the Pandavas had reached the palace (Narasimhan 28). However, Pandavas brothers Yudhisthira and Bhima had been suspicious from the very beginning, thus not taking them long to figure out the true outcome of their trip. The Pandavas contacted their uncle, Vidura, who sent a close friend that would dig an underground tunnel for the Pandavas and their mother Kunti to use as an escape route during the fire. Duryodhana and his companions believed the Pandavas to be dead (Narasimhan 29). After some time, the Pandavas reencounter Duryodhana at Draupadi’s svayamvara where Arjuna won her as his wife.

Following a series of events in which the Pandavas were given half of the Kingdom, Duryodhana is invited to go to Indraprastha to attend Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya Yajna (an inauguration sacrifice performed by the king to become the emperor of the world). Duryodhana became mesmerized by the palace and had a hard time recognizing the Maya present. A representation of this is when Duryodhana lifted up his clothes to prevent them from getting wet while mistaking land for water and falling in puddles while believing that he was walking on land (Narasimhan 47). Draupadi, laughing and ridiculing him after the series of embarrassing moments, deeply hurt his ego (Mohan 167). “Symbolically when intellect begins to laugh at the failures of a wicked mid, the negative forces get angry. The evil forces never like to be openly observed and ridiculed. So they launch an all out offensive to get the intellect demanded” (Mohan 167).

Duryodhana’s self pride and ego did not let him live these incidents down. The embarrassment made him want to seize everything that Yudhisthira owned, including his property, kingdom, wealth, and pride. Duryodhana let his cunning uncle, Sakuni, create a master plan that would help him fulfill his wishes and take revenge on the Pandavas. Duryodhana and his companions, which included his younger brother Duhsasana, Sakuni, and Karna, planned to invite Yudhisthira to Hastinapura for a “friendly” game of dice, while being well aware of his natural inclination for gambling. “By cleverly suggesting that it is only a harmless pastime of the royalty, a game for the brave and finally prodding his vanity, Sakuni was able to make Yudhisthira agree to play the game. Consequently Yudhisthira loses everything, including his freedom to him self, his siblings, and worst of all, Draupadi also” (Mohan 172).

Soon after Duryodhana orders Duhsasana to bring Draupadi to the great hall. Duhsanana’s efforts of disrobing Draupadi in the middle of the hall were to vain because she prayed to Lord Krsna by repeatedly chanting the word/name Govinda. Individuals other than Duryodhana, Sakuni, Karna and the Kauravas in the great hall felt extreme remorse and pitied Draupadi (Narasimhan 53). Duryodhana invited Draupadi to sit on his lap by removing the cloth of his thigh. Responding to that Draupadi gave the whole Kuru clan a terrible oath, which terrified the kings present to such an extent that they had to offer the Pandavas their kingdom back. Sakuni’s sharp mind intrigued Yudhisthira into playing another game of dice that would direct the Pandavas to a 13-year exile into the forest. During this time period Duryodhana would be in charge of the kingdom and handling the responsibility of hunting the Pandavas in the 13th year (Mohan 172).

After the vain efforts of finding the Pandavas in their 13th year of exile Duryodhana refused to give them their half kingdom according to their deal. This ultimately destroyed any last chances of settlement and amendment. At this stage, war was inevitable (Duckworth 90). The following task for both groups was to retrieve as many allies as possible, for this both Duryodhana and Arjuna rushed to meet Krsna. Duryodhana reached before Arjuna and sat behind Krsna as he was sleeping. Arjuna, walking in later sat at Krsna’s feet. Waking up Krsna laid eyes on Arjuna first thus giving him the first choice on whether he would like to attain “his army of ten million gopas, each of whom is capable of slaying [him]” (Narasimhan 91). The other alternative was to choose Krsna himself, unarmed. “Arjuna unhesitatingly chose Krsna, who was not to fight the battle. And Duryodhana for his part choose the whole of that army” (Narasimhan 92).

During the war great warriors fell on either side. A time came when the Pandavas had to kill Duryodhana in order to win the war. Duryodhana seeing the empty battlefield filled decided to flee to a near by lake and use his power of wizardry to hide him self from the Pandavas. The Pandavas not being able to locate Duryodhana them selves sent out spies and quickly learned of his where about. Yudhisthira ultimately gave him an option to which he could still win the battle. All he would have to do is defeat one of the Pandavas brothers in a one on one battle with a weapon of his choice. Duryodhana chose to use the mace as his weapon and Bhima as his opponent (Narasimhan 171-172). “The duel then began. Duryodhana and Bhima fought like two bulls attacking each other with their horns. The clash of their maces produces loud peals like those of thunderbolts” (Narasimhan 172). The close battle worried Arjuna, he discussed the probability of Bhima winning with Krsna who stated that Bhima would not be able to win by battling fairly as Duryodhana is much more skilled than he is. Arjuna than striking his left signaled Bhima to hit Duryodhana below the belt (Narasimhan 172-173). “The mace, hurled by Bhima, broke the thighs of Duryodhana, and he fell down, so that the earth resounded” (Narasimhan 173). Balarama, Krsna’s elder brother, seeing the unfair attack approached the warriors and acknowledged Bhima as an unfair fighter and stated that the righteous Duryodhana will receive eternal blessedness (Narasimhan 173).

Later that night when the Pandavas were at peace and slept in their camps expecting no attacks form the opposition Asvatthaman promised Duryodhana to take revenge from the Pandavas by killing all of their remaining children. Duryodhana appointed Asvatthaman as the general for the remaining Kauravas army. Asvatthaman along with his companion slaughtered them that very night. Only one charioteer managed to escape and was able to report the incident to the Pandavas (Mehendale 3). Duryodhana was able to die with contentment; while the Pandavas felt like they had lost the war even thought they had won it (Mehendale 3).

This article was written by: Raina Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

References and related articles:

Mohan, S.Ram (2005) “Delineation of Evil in the “Mahabharata” and ‘the Gang of

Four'” Indian Literature 49, no. 1 (225): 162-72. 

MEHENDALE, M.A. (2000) “MESSAGE OF THE MAHĀBHĀRATA.” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute 60/61: 3-13. Accessed March 28th, 2017

Narasimhan, C.V., and de Bary William Theodore. (1998) The Mahabharata: an English version based on selected verses. New York: Columbia University Press.

Duckworth, George E. (1961) “Turnus and Duryodhana.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 92 : 81-127. doi:10.2307/283804. Accessed Mrch 28th, 2017.

Mohanty, Prafulla Kumar. (2005) “The “Mahabharata”: A Reading in Political Structuring.” Indian Literature 49, no. 1 (225): 146-51

This article was written by Raina Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.