Yudhishthira & Duryodhana's Rule

- Study in Contrast & Lessons for Common People

Dhrtarashtra could not be king because he was blind; so, Pandu got the throne. [1] However, Pandu was ever respectful to his eldest brother. He did not rule alone. He shared the power of King with Dhrtarashtra.

Joint-Rule has always been in Bharatavarsha-tradition. If on one hand, we have Mitra-Varuna in Vedas, we have the Chola brothers in ‘recent’ times. Rajadhiraja Chola I nominated his younger brother Rajendra Chola II as his heir apparent and shared King’s power with him. When Rajadhiraja died on battlefield, Rajendra crowned himself on spot and defeated the Chalukyas at Koppam (1053–54 AD) without letting the battle loose.

Bhishma had brought up Dhrtarashtra-Pandu-Vidura equally. The three brothers had received equal training in Vedas, sports, art of war. [2]

Pandu devised a system of joint rule with Dhrtarashtra and Vidura, and never ruled alone. He shared power with Dhrtarashtra and Vidura. Dhrtarashtra was perhaps the head of the Rashtra and Pandu was the ‘executive king.’

This is understandable from the fact that when Pandu set out for Digvijaya, he took Dhrtarashtra’s permission along with other Kuru elders, [3] on his return, he took Dhrtarashtra’s command for distributing wealth to Bhishma, Satyavati, Ambika and Ambalika; and Dhrtarashtra performed five great sacrifices that were equal unto a hundred great horse-sacrifices. [4]
Later Vyasa mentions that while ruling Hastinapura Pandu revered Dhrtarashtra as a disciple reverences his preceptor, and Dhrtarashtra ‘adored the gods in many great sacrifices with profuse gifts consisting of hills of wealth and jewels, and ruled the Earth and protected his subjects wisely and well. [5]

Dhrtarashtra admitted: ‘'Dharmika Pandu, always behaved dutifully towards all his relatives but particularly towards me. He cared very little for the enjoyments of the world, but devotedly gave everything unto me, even the kingdom.” [6]

So, what happened in the next generation? Duryodhana’s envy, the spoilsport.

Yudhishthira and Duryodhana both being Kings’ sons had right to the throne. They could rule jointly like their fathers.

Well, it is like lamenting over many ‘not-happened’ historic events: What would have happened had the axis power won the World War II? What would have happened had India not been partitioned? What would have happened had Netaji Subhash Candra Bose returned with INA marching to Delhi? We are not supposed to have any answer.

Bhishma found lasting conciliation impossible after Duryodhana, Duhsasana, Karna and Sakuni attempted to murder Pandavas and Kunti in Varanavata; so, when they married Draupadi, Bhishma divided the kingdom – Hastinapura remained in place, and a new Rajya Indraprastha had to be created. The Pandavas did that with Vyasa’s blessings and Krshna’s help. Soon, Yudhishthira’s brothers set out for Dharma VijayaDigvijaya, and Indraprastha prospered more than Hastinapura after Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya Yajna.

Even then, Yudhishthira honoured Dhrtarashtra as the superior Samrat.

We know what happened next till everything culminated into the Kurukshetra War. I shall not go into that details here, but discuss on an important issue not so discussed.

That Dhrtarashtra-Duryodhana had been ruling well after sending Pandavas and Draupadi to Forest Exile is a well-attested fact in Mbh. and interpretative literature like Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya (c. 6th century AD or earlier).

Yet the fact that Vyasa and Krshna chose Yudhishthira for dharmasamsthapana (Gita-4.8) and not Dhrtarashtra-Duryodhana points to the fact that their ‘ruling well’ had problems that did not qualify as Dharma to Vyasa and Krshna.

What ‘problems’? Let us understand …

First, Yudhishthira and Duryodhana’s perception of the world widely differed.

Yudhishthira preferred power-sharing even on the eve of war. When Sanjaya came as Dhrtarashtra’s messenger, Yudhishthira told him for telling to Duryodhana:

“The whole of this kingdom, O Sanjaya, is not fit to be owned by one person. Tell him again, from us.--O sire, we wish to live united. Do not suffer thyself to be vanquished by foes.” [7]

However, Duryodhana’s temperament was diametrically opposite:

“Either I, slaying the Pandavas, will sway this Earth, or the sons of Pandu, having slain me, will enjoy this Earth. O king, O thou of unfading glory, I would sacrifice my life, kingdom, wealth, everything, but would not be able to live side by side with the Pandavas. O venerable one, I will not surrender to the Pandavas even that much of land which may be covered by the sharp point of a needle.” [8]

In Duryodhana’s Dharma, there is no place for his opponent and there is no scope for power sharing. Later he told Krishna, Pandavas would not get share as long as he lives, [9]and repeated that he would not yield even a needle-point of earth. [10]

Duryodhana was surely in love with the needle-imagery.

Clear difference: Yudhishthira wanted to live united, Duryodhana wanted to die if he failed to spoil that unity; Yudhishthira wanted to share rights, Duryodhana wanted to inflict wrongs; Yudhishthira knew there is no permanent ‘own’ regarding land, Duryodhana thought land is destined to be ‘won.’

We can, from our contemporary experience, easily link with our world, the world of roaring (or barking) super-powers and murky politics; imperialists calling the other countries so; many political parties peddling ideologies of utopia-carrot.

Secondly, Dhrtarashtra-Duryodhana ruled ‘well’; however, how did the duo view the Praja? Dhrtarashtra viewed his officials as slaves, [11] and subjects as kine and asses – to be exploited. [12]

Read again: subjects viewed as kine and asses; officials viewed as slaves.

So, the ‘wellness’ of Dhrtarashtra-Duryodhana’s ‘ruling well’ was to deal well with the Animal Farm [13] with the ideology of keeping Prajas as Healthy Animals. [14]

In contrast, protection of subjects and social welfare is central to Yudhishthira’s governance; in a soteriological perception where Atma is viewed as the centre and Deha (Body) as the margin, Yudhishthira considered him the margin-Deha and his subjects the centre-Atma. [15]

The implication of this centre-margin deconstruction is huge, and justifies why Yudhishthira is hailed as Dharma-Putra or Dharmaraja. It justifies why Yudhishthira has been hailed as the archetype of Kingship-Ideology that Rulers in Bharatavarsha’s history have tried to emulate.

As evident from literature and epigraphy, great kings like Asoka (ruled c. 268 to 232 BCE), Kharavala (Kharabala) (1st or 2nd century BCE), Rudradaman I (ruled. 130–150 CE), Samudragupta (c. 335/350-375 CE), Chandragupta II (c. 380- 415 CE), Harshavardhana (c. 590-647 AD) – all aspired to be the Dharmaraja.

Today’s Bharata-India [16] is a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, a Social Welfare State, where the underlying ideology is like Yudhishthira’s: common people and working class are the Atma, the governments are Public Servants as Deha.

Thirdly, the difference between Yudhishthira and Duryodhana is actually the difference of two systems of governance at another level.

Yudhishthira’s Rashtra is a system of stability that accepts power as existential reality, but allows no perpetrators and perpetuators of Matsyanyaya (“Law of Fishes”). The “Trivial-Fishes” and Small-Fishes are protected. The Pandavas protect the Matsyanyaya-System and themselves stand out like the Fisherman.

This is the significance of the “Fisherman” King.

Yudhishthira did not want to engage in Matsyanyaya; he wanted to be the “Benign-Fisherman” for protection of Small-Fish. He was even willing to play the Small-Fish role if that prevented Matsyanyaya, and so he wanted only five villages for peace.

In contrast, Duryodhana’s Rashtra was a stable Matsyanyaya where the king would be the perpetual “Big-Fish”.

The difference between Yudhishthira and Duryodhana is the Difference between the “Benign-Fisherman” and the “Big-Fish”.

Fourthly, to Duryodhana – like father like son - rulers are a privileged class, and Artha is their only Dharma [17]. Discontent – that propels ambition - is the Mantra of Duryodhana’s dynamism [18] – which, he considered the root of tri; his ambitions were propelled by discontent [19] - Rajah Guna and Tamah Guna.

Duryodhana’s ‘asamtoshah’ is what puts him in diametric opposition to the Pandavas whose secret of unity was to be ‘samtushtah’, [20] - the power of Sattva Guna, the power of Dharma that controls Artha yet not compromising Artha-centricity in Rashtra.

We can understand from our common experience: an Artha-centric world, propelled by asamtosha (dissatisfaction), creating Asamtushta (dissatisfied) people, fighting over needle-point possession, hankering after Power, trying to perpetuate Matsyanyaya with common people as perpetual Small-Fish.

Nakula defined Kali as any non-protective king (12.12.27). [21]

We understand now why Duryodhana is called the incarnation of Kali.

Turning the people into Healthy Animal, turning society and Rashtra into Animal Farm is actually non-protection even if that is apparently ‘ruling well.’

Common people must gain the wisdom to know who Yudhishthira is and who Duryodhana is. Well, it is difficult; however, common people have the most formidable weapon – the COMMON SENSE. That is the only hope for the ‘Small-Fish’ and ‘Trivial-Fish’ in the Existential Reality of Matsyanyaya.


[1] 1.102.23
[2] 1.102.1-23
[3] ‘And after reverentially saluting and bowing to Bhishma and the other elders of the Kuru race, and with adieus to Dhritarashtra and others of the family, and obtaining their leave, he set out on his grand campaign.’ (KMG.Adi.113)
[4] ashvamedhashatair ije dhrtarashtro mahamakhaih.’ (1.106.1-5)
[5] 15.8.13-14
[6] 1.130.2-3
[7] 5.31.7
[8] 5.57.17-18
[9] na sa labhyah punar jatu mayi jivati keshava (5.125.22)
[10] 5.125.26
[11] karmadrshtyatha bhrtyams tvam varayethah kurudvaha /
       karayethash ca karmani yuktayuktair adhishthitaih
[12] sarve janapadash caiva tava karmani pansava /
       paurogavash ca sabhyash ca kuryur ye vyavaharinah
[13] Remembering George Orwell’s allegorical novella ‘Animal Farm’ (1945), that criticizes brutal dictatorship built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror in the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, all in the name of Socialism and Communism. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin ("un conte satirique contre Staline").
[14] Remembering Bernard Shaw’s satiric comment that whole purpose of humanity to live in a predictable and patterned script and as “Slave to Reality” is humanity’s seeking “Make me a healthy animal.”
[Man and Superman]
[15] 1.214.1-10
[16] Article 1(1) of the Indian Constitution says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”
[17] 2.50.14-15
[18] 2.50.18
[19] 12.173.23-24
[20] 2.69.10
[21] asharanyah prajanam yah sa raja kalir ucyate


More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

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