The Other Duryodhana in Classical Mahabharata

Continued from "Mahabharata: Why Krishna Red-Carded Duryodhana out of Dharma-Raajya?"

Now we need a brief examination of the Classical Mahabharata to find whether Bhaasa, Bhaaravi, and Gadvaalii Folk Mahabharata’s portrayal of Duryodhana has any basis in the Classical Mahabharata itself.

I will here list a few references from the Classical Text - I would call them Alternative Narratives because they have been marginalized and almost obscured by the power of Dominant Narrative of Mahabharata, and Popular Myth / Text Myth on Classical Mahabharata.

2.1. Vyasa sings Duryodhana’s glory too

Vyasa tells Dhritarashtra that he would compose a Kaavya to sing the glory of Bhaaratas:

“As regards myself, O bull of Bharata’s race, the fame of these Kurus, as also of all the Pandavas, I will spread. Do not grieve. This is destiny, O tiger among men. It behoveth thee not to give way to grief. It is not capable of being prevented. As regards victory, it is there where righteousness is.”

paaNDavaanaam.ca.sarveSaam.prathayiSyaami.maam.zucah.// (CE- 6.2.13)

Now, Bhaaratas include Duryodhana; thus, Vyasa’s Kaavya is to sing the glory of Duryodhana too. If Vyasa sings Duryodhana’s glory, who are we to call him villain?

I suggest, even later poets retained this tradition.

One explanation of the title Mahabharata is: ‘The history of the exalted birth of the Bhaarata princes is called the Mahabharata.’ –

bhaarataanaam mahaj janma Mahabharatam ucyate / (1.56.31)

The same information is again found in the Svargaarohana Parvan (18.5)-

‘The high race of the Bhaaratas is its topic. Hence it is called Bhaarata. And because of its grave import, as also of the Bhaaratas being its topic, it is called Mahabharata.’

However, none of these explanations occur in Vyasa’s voice.

What is evident is that, the purpose of Mahabharata is to sing the glory of Bhaarata race and not of any single person at the cost of another.

Janamejaya, on hearing the Anukramani tells Vaishampaayana –

Thou hast, indeed, told me, in brief, the history, called Mahabharata, of the great acts of the Kurus
mahaa.bhaaratam.aakhyaanam.kuruuNaam.caritam.mahat (CE-1.56.1)

Thus, what Janamejaya has heard is the Akhyaana of Kurus, not Pandavas only; and he certainly has no illusion that he has heard praises of his grandfathers only! If Vaishampaayana is the father of the pro-Pandava version of Mahabharata, the obvious motive being appeasing Janamejaya; this historic King could certainly keep his head balanced.

Vaishampaayana also tells Janamejaya – Mahabharata is about Bharata’s great birth.

na.asti.vyaadhi.bhayam.teSaam.para.loka.bhayam.kutah.// (CE- 1.56.24)

Yet again, Vaishampaayana says –

anyeSaam.kSatriyaaNaam.ca.bhuuri.draviNa.tejasaam.// (CE- 1.56.26)

Mahabharata is for the Kiirti of Parthas and other Kshatriyas.

Doesn’t this “Kshatriya” include the so-called villains of Mahabharata?

2.2. Vyasa’s eulogy

After Bhima smashes Duryodhana’s thighs in mace-fight, Vyasa eulogizes Duryodhana.

When Duryodhana falls, the Gods shower him with flowers and worship him.

Though this part is well known, let us read this part from KMG’s translation once again:

‘Sanjaya continued, 'Upon the conclusion of these words of the intelligent king of the Kurus, a thick shower of fragrant flowers fell from the sky. The Gandharvas played upon many charming musical instruments. The Apsaras in a chorus sang the glory of king Duryodhana. The Siddhas uttered loud sound to the effect, "Praise be to king Duryodhana!" Fragrant and delicious breezes mildly blew on every side. All the quarters became clear and the firmament looked blue as the lapis lazuli. Beholding these exceedingly wonderful things and this worship offered to Duryodhana, the Pandavas headed by Vasudeva became ashamed. Hearing (invisible beings cry out) that Bhishma and Drona and Karna and Bhurishrava were slain unrighteously, they became afflicted with grief and wept in sorrow.’

Duryodhana-haters have always felt discomfort with this eulogy. Certainly Vyasa never signed any contract with them to appease their wretched polarized mentality.

2.3. Praise for Duryodhana’s Rule

When Dhritarashtra is about to leave for the forest after war, Duryodhana’s rule is nevertheless praised by the people (though through the medium of a Braahmana representative … and there is good scope of arguing here that the Braahmana is actually Dhritarashtra’s protégé).

Shaamba, the representative, praised Duryodhana’s rule saying, “Thy son never did us the slightest wrong. We lived, relying on that king as trustfully as on our own father.” He praises highly Yudhishthira’s rule, and then blames destiny for all that happened:
“The destruction that has overtaken the Kurus was not brought about by Duryodhana. It was not brought about by thee. Nor was it brought about by Karna and Suvala's son. We know that it was brought about by destiny, and that it was incapable of being counteracted. Verily, destiny is not capable of being resisted by human exertion. … This tremendous carnage, O king, could not happen without the influence of destiny. …We, therefore, in thy presence, absolve thy righteous-souled son -dharmAtmAnamatastubhyamanujAnImahe sutam. Let that king, with all his associates, obtain the regions reserved for heroes. Permitted by foremost of Brahmanas, let him sport blissfully in heaven.” (KMG-Ashramavasika.10/CE-15.16.10).

This must have been one of the best moments of Dhritarashtra’s dark life. He has no cause to retire with sense of guilt.

I would call readers’ attention here to Note two things:

1) Duryodhana regarded as “righteous-souled son –dharmAtmAnam” (reminding Bharavi)
2) “We lived, relying on that king as trustfully as on our own father” (pitariiva suvishvastaas tasminn api naraadhipe, 15.15.21) – the word Father

Duryodhana the Dharma and Duryodhana the Father!

Good; we too call our President Rashtra-Pati, and most of us believe that Pati is a gendered word connoting Husband or Lord. Is it so? I will come to that.

However, Duryodhana the Father raises one question: was the Mother then lacking in Duryodhana? I suggest, this is a very crucial point to understand Duryodhana; and I will come to that.

For now, let us remember here: the Ideal King Indra of RgVeda is both Father and Mother to people. In the 4th Pillar Edict (Delhi-Topra Text) our historic Ashoka, undoubtedly aspiring to be the RgVeda Ideal King Indra, compares his Rajjukas (impliedly himself) with Female nurse.

To clarify: the Ideal King Indra of RgVeda is both Father and Mother; in Ashoka’s re-interpretation of Dharma-King, the King is Father and Nurse. Duryodhana – In-Between the two historic periods is Father and Father only.

2.4. Duryodhana: Shiva’s creation

We know that Shiva plays a crucial role in Mahabharata; and here we find Duryodhana hailed as Shiva’s creation – a fact I stated at the beginning of this essay.

"The Danavas said, 'O Suyodhana, O great king? O perpetuator of the race of Bharata, thou art ever surrounded by heroes and illustrious men. Why hast thou, then, undertaken to do such a rash act as the vow of starvation? The suicide ever sinketh into hell and becometh the subject of calumnious speech. Nor do intelligent persons like thee ever set their hands to acts that are sinful and opposed to their best interests and striking at the very root of their purposes. Restrain this resolve of thine, therefore, O king, which is destructive of morality, profit, and happiness, of fame, prowess, and energy, and which enhanceth the joy of foes O exalted king, know the truth, the celestial origin of thy soul, and the maker of thy body, and then summon thou patience to thy aid. In days of old, O king, we have obtained thee, by ascetic austerities from Maheswara. The upper part of thy body is wholly made of an assemblage of Vajras, and is, therefore, invulnerable to weapons of every description, O sinless one. The lower part of thy body, capable of captivating the female heart by its comeliness was made of flowers by the goddess herself--the wife of Mahadeva. Thy body is thus, O best of kings, the creation of Maheswara himself and his goddess. “(CE-3.240.6-9)

It may be argued: well, what’s novel in this? Isn’t it fit that the Daanavas would regard another “Daanava” as Shiva’s creation?

This argument has definitely some value; however, only if we stick to the polarity Deva = good, and Daanava = evil.

To me, this polarity does not hold.

F.E. Pargiter [Ancient Indian Traditions: A Historical Account of Vedic and Puranic Traditions] suggested that the Daityas, Danavas and Asuras were originally Brahmins – because Indra incurred the sin of brahmanicide by killing Vrtra and Namuchi.

This again brings us to an interesting Duryodhana-Karna study; because both of them are prominent Namuci-Archetypes in Mahabharata. The monotheistic dialogue Vyasa gives in Duryodhana’s voice is verbatim we find in Namuci’s voice too!

Let us also not forget Mayadanava's construction of Indraprashtha Sabhaa.

That Danava was originally a positive term is attested by the fact that the Maruts and other Vedic Gods are regarded as Su-Danavas (good Danus).

Let our European lovers also remember that Daanava has his European counterpart. We have river names in Eastern Europe (Danube, Dnjestr, Dnjepr), as also name of two people: Tuatha de Danaan in Ireland and the Danaos in Greece.

Back to Motherland, Bhima as Vaayu’s son or Amsha has his share of Daanava (Vaayu = Maarut).

Daanava-worshipped Duryodhana killed by Daanava-Amsha Bhima – what to say? Tit for tat?

On a serious vein, I consider Vyasa’s portrayal of Duryodhana a great reflection of the principles of Relativity. Every person has quality, whether Society at large accept that or not; acknowledge that or not. And wherever there is quality, there has to be admirers; whether you or they or I like it or not. Both Bhakta and Bhakti cannot be caged.

Many a times we think about our enemies: “Why is that person liked by this person?”

Well, the flaw is not in the enemy; the flaw is in us to think thus. Quality is no body’s Baaper Sampatti (i.e. father’s property). Baaper Sampatti is a Bengali slang – (Yeah! Lacking the Mother!)

2.5. Duryodhana compared with Shiva

Duryodhana is compared with Shiva when he rises from Dvaipaayana Lake to fight the Pandavas –
“Beholding him armed with mace and resembling a crested mountain or the trident-wielding Rudra himself casting angry glances on living creatures, they observed that Bharata chief shedding effulgence around like the scorching sun himself in the sky. Indeed, all creatures then regarded that mighty-armed chastiser of foes, as he stood shouldering his mace after rising from the waters, looking like the Destroyer himself armed with his bludgeon. Indeed, all the Pancalas then saw thy royal son to look like the thunder-wielding Shakra or the trident-bearing Hara.” (CE-9.31.38-40)

Would Vyasa (or later poet) compare Duryodhana with Shiva, Rudra, Shakra and Suurya at this crucial moment if he/they wanted to portray him as a villain?

2.6. Blessings of God-incarnations

It is also to be remembered that most Father-characters to Kuru-Pandavas, the great Patriarchs, either sided with Duryodhana, or wanted to side with him.

Let us Note - Patriarchs siding with Father Duryodhana. And all these Patriarchs have serious deficit of Feminine. Bhisma's biological Mother is unknown – and he can have no woman in his arms too; Drona and Kripa have no Mother; Karna has two mothers, yet he is motherless. Asvatthama does not marry. All these Patriarchs are silent witness to Draupadii’s humiliation. Some sort of misogyny is definitely there in their psychological make-up.

Isn’t it natural then that they would side with and bless Father Duryodhana?

If that resolves the Father dilemma to some extent; the Dharma matter becomes complexer.

Had Duryodhana been really so Adhaarmik, could this have happened? Let us remember that all these Patriarchs have prominent God-associations, or are hailed as God-Amshas. So, here we have Gods too taking Duryodhana’s side!

Other than Bhisma (Amsha or Avataara of Vaasus), Drona (Amsha of Agni), Karna (Suurya’s son), the most prominent of the great Patriarch is Baladeva, Krishna’s elder brother.

Baladeva’s favour for Duryodhana is well known; and certainly Duryodhana-haters cannot explain why Baladeva the Other Godhead cherished Duryodhana to the point of even alienating his own dear younger brother Krishna.

Baladeva’s love for Duryodhana is indeed one great enigma of Mahabharata. To explain it in terms of something like – “Baladeva was simple-minded and Duryodhana easily duped him” – is not only absurd, but absurdity to the power “n”.

Despit Krishna’s plan of matrimonial alliance, Subhadraa was not enough to earn support of majority of the Yaadava clans for the Pandavas. Krtavarmaa, the powerful King of Andhakas and Bhojas, not only joined Duryodhana, but was also one of the protagonists in wiping out the next generation Pandavas – Abhimanyu and Draupadi's sons.

Draupadi surely had great power to generate misogyny.

2.7. “God” Duryodhana

A recension adds that all Kshatriyas are Devas – and the Devas came to ‘sport (kriidaam)’ on earth (18.5.34, 34x*30_1). Mahabharata finally resolves the Deva-Asura dichotomy saying that all Kshatriyas were Gods (12.47.30d@6_41-42; 18.5.34). Earlier, at Draupadi Svayamvaraam too all Kshatriyas have been compared with Gods (1.178.4).

The Gadvaalii Folk Mahabharata has thus its good justification in Classical Mahabharata itself. May the good Someshvara worshippers take heart from this, and restore their Duryodhana.

If Duryodhana loses his only bastion in Gadvaal, it would indeed be a great cultural loss for India. The land of Unity in Diversity would then turn as flat as West Bengal Bidhan Sabhaa – microscopic existence of opposition as a perpetual state in last 40 years.

2.8. Duryodhana as Indra

“Indra” is not Pandavas’ monopoly! Even Duryodhana is compared with Indra.

One example here.

After Sanjaya returns from the Pandavas from emissary, the Kauravas enter the court hall to meet him and hear him. The narrative goes:

‘And Dussasana and Chitrasena, and Sakuni, the son of Suvala, and Durmukha and Dussaha, Karna and Uluka and Vivingsati,--these also, with Duryodhana, the wrathful king of the Kurus, at their head, entered that hall, O monarch, like the celestials forming the train of Sakra himself. (KMG.Udyoga.47)’

Though I cite here only one example; I suggest, understanding Duryodhana as Indra would give us the most significant clue on why Krishna red-carded him from Dharma-Raajya. This would be the Major part of my discussion in the later part of this essay.

2.9. Duryodhana’s Rational Mind

While sending Uluuka as messenger to the Pandavas before war, Duryodhana tells him to say to Krishna, ‘Assuming once more that form which thou hadst assumed before in the Kuru Court (sabhaamadhye ca yad ruupam maayayaa krtavaan asi), rush thou with Arjuna against me (on the field)! A conjuror's tricks or illusions may (sometimes) inspire fright (indrajaalam ca maayaam vai kuhakaa vaapi bhiishanaa). But as regards the person that stands armed for fight, such deceptions (instead of inspiring fight) only provoke anger! (05,157.005f@009_0088-92).’ Uluuka reports the same words (5.158.34-36).

Krishna-lovers would certainly be offended that Duryodhana dared to regard Krishna’s Vishvaruupa in Kuru Sabhaa as Maayaa; that is, Performance.

Personally I believe Krishna’s Vishvaruupa is Metaphor for his greatness; and even without Vishvaruupa, Krishna is Krishna. In other words, the Show of Vishvaruupa is not causa necessitates to Krishna’s greatness.

Kautilya’s Arthashaastra gives us ample idea how Maayaa was an essential part of Politics.

Duryodhana was clearly cynical about the Pandavas’ God-father Myth - “Gods do not engage in Kaama, Lobha and Dvesha like men (naiva maanushavad devaah pravartante kadaa cana); if Agni, or Vayu, or Dharma, or Indra, or the Ashvins had ever engaged themselves in Kaama (kaamayogaat pravarteran), then the sons of Prthaa could never have fallen into distress (5.60.5-6).” During the Astra-Pariikshaa, he told Bhima, ‘Your own births, ye Pandava princes, are known to me - bhavataam ca yathaa janma tad apy aagamitam nrpaih (1.127.14).’

At least once, Duryodhana mentions Arjuna as Paandu’s biological son. Once he challenges Arjuna saying, ‘if you are born of Paandu… (tad darshaya mayi kshipram yadi jaato 'si paandunaa 7.77.36)’. I have already discussed these elsewhere.

Now, I do not intend to say that Duryodhana’s Rational mind means he was some sort of Yuktivaadii reformer (self-professed or whatever, despite his Monotheistic affinity with Bengal/Indian Renaissance Thinkers) of his time. By Rational Mind I mean, he had a clear vision into Myth-Propaganda; and certainly that is so owing to his being a part of it.

It is the same Rational Mind that finds its way to serve the Self. Thus, we have a good lot of Yuktivaadii Reformers of our time who have established a Guru-centric institution of their own. In similar vein, Duryodhana knew too well how to harness the power of Myth.

That his Body was Vajra-like or that his Body became Vajra owing to his mother Gandhari’s boon; that he could hide in the waters of Dvaipaayana-Lake by Maayaa – are some instances of his Political Rational Mind. And indeed Krishna too calls him Maayaavii on the eve of Bhima-Duryodhana mace-fight.

As a sidelight, how do we explain the myth of Duryodhana’s hiding in Dvaipaayana-Lake with Maayaa?

Samjaya tells Dhritarashtra that Duryodhana entered Dvaipaayana-Lake with Maayaa

evam uktvaa mahaaraaja praavishat tam hradam nrpah /
astambhayata toyam ca maayayaa manujaadhipah (CE-9.28.52)

We find the explanation in our good old Kautilya again!

Kautilya speaks of various ways by which kings proclaim association with Gods (daivata.samyoga, 13.1.1), that includes Hiding in water, “spies who rise up from water and pretend to be the gods and goddesses of Nágas (snakes),” implying secret tunnels or hiding places in water, magical performances in water, “using the sack of abdomen or womb of water animals to hide the head and the nose” in water (Kautilya’s Arthashaastra- 13.1.3-6).

Gotcha Duryodhana!

2.10. Duryodhana – the Believer

Now, Rational Mind does not necessarily mean Naastika!

This is the great problem with people who like to think themselves “believers”.

To believe in God is one thing; and to believe in supernatural hotchpotch is another!

That Duryodhana’s friend was Caarvaaka does not make him a Caarvaaka.

Duryodhana’s Monotheism is evident:

“There is only one Controller, no second. He controlleth even the child that is in the mother's womb. I am controlled by Him. Like water that always floweth in a downward course, I am acting precisely in the way in which He is directing me.

ekah shaastaa na dvitiiyo 'sti shaastaa; garbhe shayaanam purusham shaasti shaastaa /
tenaanushishtah pravanaad ivaambho; yathaa niyukto 'smi tathaa vahaami // (2.57.8)

Shrii Ramakrishna of course with his unique sense of humour, saw deeper into Duryodhana’s Monotheistic Beliefs.

Once a Brahmo devotee asked him: “If everything is really being done by Him, you’re not responsible for your sins.”

Shrii Ramakrishna replied smilingly: ‘“Duryodhana said: ‘O Hrishikesh, I act as You, seated within my heart, make me act.’

“If you have the right kind of faith – that God alone is the Doer and you do nothing, you can’t commit a sin. The person who knows how to dance well never takes a wrong step.

“But unless you’re pure in heart, you don’t even have the faith that God exists.”’

Shrii Ramakrishna had obviously in mind Duryodhana’s words that I mentioned before. In matters of Dharma he finds differences in degree only between Yudhishthira and Duryodhana – that Swami Vivekananda too implies.

If to be learned in Vedas is a mark of Dharma, many a time in Mahabharata, Duryodhana is hailed as a learned man in Vedas.

Seeing Duryodhana’s plightful state with broken thighs, Ashvatthaamaa laments. And what is Duryodhana’s reaction to Ashvatthaamaa’s lament?

‘He wiped his eyes with his hands and shed tears of grief anew. The king then addressed all those heroes headed by Kripa and said, "This liability to death (of all living creatures) is said to have been ordained by the Creator himself. Death comes to all beings in course of time. That death hath now come to me, before the eyes of you all!” (KMG)

Even at this moment of terrible physical and mental agony, Duryodhana remembers God. Is this the way of a villain?

We cannot even regard Duryodhana a Tragic Hero in Greek terms. The Hubris, the Hamartia – everything is there; however, Duryodhana has Acceptance and Surrender too.

The man with broken thighs and broken heart is not broken in spirit:

‘I who reigned over the whole earth have now been reduced to this plight! By good luck, I never turned back from battle whatever calamities overtook me. By good luck, I have been slain by those sinful men, by the aid particularly of deception. By good luck, while engaged in hostilities, I always displayed courage and perseverance. By good luck, I am slain in battle, along with all my kinsmen and friends. By good luck, I behold you escaped with life from this great slaughter, and safe and sound. This is highly agreeable to me. Do not, from affection, grieve for my death. If the Vedas are any authority, I have certainly acquired many eternal regions! I am not ignorant of the glory of Krishna of immeasurable energy. He hath not caused me to fall off from the proper observance of Kshatriya duties. I have obtained him. On no account should anybody grieve from me. Ye have done what persons like ye should do. Ye have always striven for my success. Destiny, however, is incapable of being frustrated." Having said this much, the king, with eyes laved with tears, became silent, O monarch, agitated as he was with agony.’

Let us take Note of the utterances –

1) “If the Vedas are any authority, I have certainly acquired many eternal regions!”
2) “I am not ignorant of the glory of Krishna of immeasurable energy. He hath not caused me to fall off from the proper observance of Kshatriya duties. I have obtained him.”

Yes, Duryodhana has been a Vedajnaa – and the Dharma vs Dharma fight now assumes the proportion of fight between Duryodhana’s Sakaama Dharma and Krishna’s Nishkaama Dharma.

Vyasa’s Mahabharata – the ‘Vedaan Pancamaan’ – represents Vyasa’s own struggle to move out of Vedic Sakaama Dharma in search of the Fifth.

Why Fifth?

Because the Fifth is Kshatrasya Kshatram Dharma – the Dharma who is Beyond the Four Varnas or Varna-Gunas (see Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad – 1.4.14).  Dharma is the entity that is Beyond Varna-Gunas yet part of Varna-Gunas – much like the Fisherman in relation to Maatsyanyaaya-System.

Thus, we may be sure about one thing. Even if we cannot be sure whether Bhaasa, Bhaaravi and Gadvaalii Folk Mahabharata got their heroic Duryodhana from parallel sources of Classical Mahabharata, or other sources (it’s a good possibility keeping Kautilya’s Arthashaastra in mind), we may be sure that there is enough resource in Classical Mahabharata itself that could have provided them their interpretative source, or act as Source Text to Folk Mahabharata with prominent pro-Kuru or pro-Duryodhana bias.

The German Indologists’ – the Holtzmanns – “Inversion Theory” has thus a strong base in Classical Mahabharata; and Prof. Adluri and Bagchee may give a thought to this.

2.11. Duryodhana: The Emotional Man

If Rational comes, can Emotional be far behind?

Duryodhana’s love and attachment for his brother and family is undoubted.

Once, after the failed “Pandava-Draupadi Humiliation Mission”, Duryodhana loses all interest in life. He tells Duhshaasana: “O Dussasana, listen to these words of mine, O thou of the Bharata race! Accepting this installation that I offer thee, be thou king in my place. Rule thou the wide earth protected by Karna and Suvala's sons. Like Indra himself looking after the Maruts, cherish thou thy brothers in such a way that they may all confide in thee. Let the friends and relatives depend on thee like the gods depending on him of a hundred sacrifices.” (CE-3.238)


Duryodhana wants to give away his Kingdom to his brother; he compares him with Indra. Then? Note the advice he offers his brother. Could a villain do it?

Continue …

“Always shouldst thou bestow pensions on Brahmanas, without idleness, and be thou ever the refuge of thy friends and relatives. Like Vishnu looking after the celestials, thou shouldst always look after all consanguineous relatives. Thou shouldst also ever cherish thy superiors. Go, rule thou the earth gladdening thy friends and reproving thy foes.' And clasping his neck, Duryodhana said, 'Go!'” (CE-3.238)

Remarkable Vyasa!

Duryodhana now compares Duhshaasana with Vishnu!

Draupadi-disrobers ….. errrrr ….. I mean, those who believe in Draupadi-disrobing, think of this. The most demonized villain Duhshaasana compared with both Indra and Vishnu!

Continue ...

“Hearing these words of his, Dussasana in perfect cheerlessness and overwhelmed with great sorrow, his voice choked in tears, said, with joined hands and bending his head unto his eldest brother, 'Relent!' And saying this he fell down on earth with heavy heart. And afflicted with grief that tiger among men, shedding his tears on the feet of his brother again said, 'This will never be! The earth may split, the vault of heaven may break in pieces, the sun may cast off his splendour, the moon may abandon his coolness, the wind may forsake its speed, the Himavat may be moved from its site, the waters of the ocean may dry up, and fire may abandon its heat, yet I, O king, may never rule the earth without thee.' And Dussasana repeatedly said, 'Relent, O king! Thou alone shall be king in our race for a hundred years.' And having spoken thus unto the king, Dussasana began to weep melodiously catching, O Bharata, the feet of his eldest brother deserving of worship from him.” (CE-3.238)


If we do not doubt Draupadi’s tears, why would we doubt Duhshaasana’s?

Whatever shortcoming Duryodhana and Duhshaasana had in their nature, their love for each other is genuine.

We have seen Krishna’s conflict with Baladeva; we have seen Yudhishthira’s conflict with Bhima (he wanted to burn his elder brother’s arms); Yudhishthira’s conflict with Arjuna (he wanted to kill him for insulting his Gaandiiva).

Have we ever seen Duryodhana’s conflict with Duhshaasana?

2.12. Duryodhana the Leader

Let us think over this a bit.

One mark of leadership is the Power to command respect and loyalty. The leader is also able to generate powerful sympathy for him which is no different from motivating admiration.

Why would the majority of Rashtras of then Bhaaratavarsha join Duryodhana’s side, and not Yudhishthira’s? Why would Krishna’s own elder brother take side with Duryodhana? Why would Krishna’s own sons stay away from the war under the pretext of Tiirtha-Yaatraa with Baladeva? Why would Krtavarmaa risk the great Yaadava solidarity and join Duryodhana? Why would Nakula-Sahadeva’s maternal uncle Shalya take Duryodhana’s side?

Surely these people were not idiots!

There is a point of argument here. In Politics, the most exploited figure is Ideology. So, we cannot expect that majority of Rashtras supported Duryodhana out of any Ideological concern only or with the pious motive of seeing him perpetually perched on Hastinaapura throne. Economics or Artha must have been the chief binding force of the alliances.

Yet Ideology cannot be entirely denied. Even if it is Artha, and Artha only, it is Ideology still. To deny this is to deny our own existence in the modern world. Would Barrack Obama rush to India on 26th January and chew gum just to celebrate the Republic Day? Then again, even if he mispronounces Swami Vivekananda as “Vivekanana”, it would be too cynical to say he has no respect for India and Indian Culture or he does not know about Swami Vivekananda.

A leader has both his Impersonal and Personal Self; we cannot deny that. If Mark Antony could not Balance the two and became Cleopatra’s chewing gum, what other consequence do we expect of him?

What I want to say is, the majority of Rashtras, and the Rashtras within the Rashtras (as in case of Yaadavas) surely had their reasons to cherish Duryodhana. And the Rulers of those Rashtras had both Impersonal and Personal reasons.

In a way, the outcome of the Kurukshetra War was the opposite of World War II. Germany Italy and Japan were the Minority and they lost. What would have happened if they had won? No doubt we would have been spoon-fed with some other version of History. Hiroshima-Nagashaki would have been more highlighted than Hitler’s gas-chamber.

Like Ideology, Itihaasa/History is the other sacred scapegoat.

Mahabharata itself is Itihaasa; and Mahabharata is discourse on Itihaasa too. If we carefully study the successive Layers of Kathakas in comparison to preceding Layers, the acquisition of Fat and cosmetics and Alamkaara is evident. Thus, Krishna who is “like Vishnu” transforms into Vishnu himself. And ironically, these transformers were perhaps oblivious that Vishnu has never been a Perfect God to the Rishis. In Shatapatha Braahmana at least in one place, Vishnu does have limitations of Ahamkaara; and in another Narrative, Vishnu’s head is severed courtesy the agency of mere Ants.

In Mahabharata too, there is clear pronouncement of Vishnu’s limitations at times.

How do we look at these Narratives? Why do Vishnu-Bhaktas fear to face these Narratives? If Vishnu has limitations, does it take away Vishnu’s merits? Certainly NOT! The Rishis who created these Narratives were only commenting on Life as it ISmimesis – and they chose Vishnu to deliver their Message on Power more forcefully.

If My God vs. Your God is a problem of our so-called Modern World, the greatest victim is God Himself/Herself/Itself. Good God!

Back to Duryodhana after these sighs … which has, no doubt, by now, already faded into Vaayu…

Taking into account the Political and economical dimensions of Duryodhana’s alliances, would it have been possible if Duryodhana lacked personal charisma, or qualities of leadership?

When Duryodhana languishes with broken thighs, three persons still stand by his side – Ashvatthaamaa, Krpaacharya and Krtavarmaa – and two of them were much revered Braahmanas of the time. Can we doubt their loyalty for Duryodhana? Is this sort of loyalty possible had Duryodhana no merit?

Let us read the scene in which the trio meets fallen Duryodhana (Shalya Parvan-65):

“They beheld there the high-souled son of Dhritarashtra prostrate on the ground like a gigantic Sala tree laid low in the forest by a tempest. They beheld him writhing on the bare ground and covered with blood even like a mighty elephant in the forest laid low by a hunter. They saw him weltering in agony and bathed in profuse streams of blood. Indeed, they saw him lying on the ground like the sun dropped on the earth or like the ocean dried by a mighty wind, or like the full Moon in the firmament with his disc shrouded by a fog. Equal to an elephant in prowess and possessed of long arms, the king lay on the earth, covered with dust. Around him were many terrible creatures and carnivorous animals like wealth-coveting dependants around a monarch in state. His forehead was contracted into furrows of rage and his eyes were rolling in wrath.”

Vyasa profusely compares Duryodhana with the Sun and the Moon. These two celestial beings dominate the whole of Ancient Bhaaratavarsha; therefore, the comparison cannot be taken lightly.

What is the emotional reaction of the trio?

“They beheld the king; that tiger among men, full of rage, like a tiger struck down (by hunters). Those great archers Kripa and others, beholding the monarch laid low on the Earth, became stupefied. Alighting from their cars, they ran towards the king. Seeing Duryodhana, all of them sat on the earth around him. Then Drona's son, O monarch, with tearful eyes and breathing like a snake, said these words unto that chief of Bharata's race, that foremost of all the kings on earth…”

Ashvatthaamaa cries. A man is not supposed to cry easily, no?

Then Ashvatthaamaa laments:

"… Without doubt, the prosperity of all mortals is very unstable, since thou that wert equal unto Shakra himself hast now been reduced to such a sorry plight!"

Note how Ashvatthaamaa compares Duryodhana with Indra. As I will discuss soon: the Kurukshetra War has been Indra vs Indra – not Indra vs Vrtra; the war has been Dharma vs Dharma; not Dharma vs Adharma.

Only the later poets lacking in Vyasa’s profound Insight and Imagination transformed Mahabharata into a simplistic Narrative of Indra vs Vrtra, and Dharma vs Adharma. This might be a good clue to begin with the search for Original Mahabharata – if we choose to.

2.13. Duryodhana’s “Character”

Even going by today’s definition of “Character” (caritra) [courtesy Colonial hangover of Victorian Puritanism, which is often confused with non-interest of a man in woman or sex, or zero sexual interest or zero sexuality of a woman] Duryodhana is sure to pass with high grade.

Except the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode – which is doubtful– can anyone point out a single episode in Mahabharata where Duryodhana oppresses or ravishes women? Can anyone point out a single reference in Mahabharata where Duryodhana is said to oppress his subjects as a king? Can we classify Duryodhana as a Tyrannous Ruler like Kamsa or Jaraasandha or Kichaka?

All of Duryodhana’s infamy is concentrated around Draupadi's humiliation, and Duryodhana’s role in it. So are Duhshaasana and Karna’s.

Question is: if the nature of Draupadi's humiliation is a matter of doubt, how can we defend our Culturally Brain-Programmed Blocks (read ‘allergy’) against Duryodhana?

Well, someone might argue: what about Abhimanyu’s death? Were not the Kauravas cowards to kill a little boy of 16 in that goriest of fashion?

I will put aside this argument in this article not without making just two points:

i) Abhimanyu could not have been 16 years of age at the time of his death? 16 is a Mystic Number; and Abhimanyu’s age is imagined thus. Abhimanyu is considered to be God Soma’s son Varcaa’s incarnate; and the Mystic Number 16 relates to the 16 phases of Moon

ii) Nothing is cowardice in a full-scale war that has to be won; that is, nothing is unfair in war. For those who would like to be content in their dreamy home-front without any actual knowledge or experience of Real war, and therefore, would not be convinced with the argument that Nothing is Unfair in War, let them live in peace. This article is certainly not for them. The very acts of the Pandavas and Krishna in Kurukshetra War contradict the Duryodhana-bashing justification of erecting Abhimanyu as Shikhandi to his villainy.

Now, I pose these questions not to redeem Duryodhana, or to take a pro-Duryodhana stance, but to show that defining a character is not so easy, and particularly so when we are dealing with Mahabharata. It is only a puerile Mind Game to reduce Mahabharata into a simplistic narrative of Good vs. Evil, or Deva vs. Asura and suchlike polarities.



More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

Top | Hinduism

Views: 3703      Comments: 1

Comment Thank you. I enjoyed that article and am amazed at the parallels in my own take on the Mahabharata. I am convinced that it has been altered over the years to try and define a good versus evil conflict which it clearly is not, even with the attempts to make it seem so.
The very essence of freedom from samsara is freedom from both good and evil and it could be said that "god" does not care about good versus evil at all. All he wants is for both to exist in more or less even but fluctuating balance in order to create the appropriate conditions for humans to rise beyond the dualism and discover their original inseparable nature.
I think it is clear enough that all the major players in the Mahabharata were conflicted beings with both good and bad actions and motivations imbedded within each.
The final question. Why did Krishna choose to side with the Pandavas if it was not to side with Dharma against Adharma.
My answer to that is that his real intention, or divine will, if you like, was the onset of the Kali Yuga.

Mac Hawk
13-May-2015 20:48 PM

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