Duryodhana: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered

Duryodhana Questions Answered - Featured Image - Picture of Duryodhana with shield and mace, ready to fight.

Duryodhana is the main antagonist of the Mahabharata. He is the eldest son of King Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari of Hastinapur. He and his ninety nine younger brothers are together called the Kauravas.

Central to Duryodhana’s life is his belief that Dhritarashtra was the rightful king of Hastinapur, and that he had been cheated out of the throne by Bhishma and Vidura. Duryodhana attempts to correct this wrong by proclaiming himself heir to the Kuru throne.

Unfortunately for him, the Pandavas – his cousins – are much more powerful than he and his brothers are. So he resorts to several underhanded means to rob them of their wealth.

Duryodhana’s relentless envy and ambition bring about his downfall. He drags the Kuru kingdom to the Kurukshetra war, and becomes responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

In this post, we will answer all the questions you’ve ever had about Duryodhana.

How did Duryodhana die?

Duryodhana dies when, at the end of the Mahabharata war, Bhimasena hits him on his thigh with the mace. It is said that Duryodhana is stronger than Bhima when it comes to mace-fighting, and that he is impossible to defeat except by corrupt means. Krishna therefore signals to Bhima to hit his opponent below the waist.

It is dishonourable in a mace-fight to hit one’s opponent below the waist. The upper body is trained to receive blows from a mace, but thighs and knees – and the groin – are understandably considered off-limits.

As the fight between Bhima and Duryodhana rages on, Arjuna asks Krishna to opine about who among the two warriors is more likely to win.

Krishna replies: ‘Duryodhana and Bhima are about equally skilled with the mace. But over the last thirteen years, Duryodhana has practised day and night in anticipation of one day facing Bhima in battle.

‘On the other hand, Bhima has been preoccupied with life in the forest, and has given little attention to his mace-wielding. Therefore, it is impossible to expect him to defeat Duryodhana – as long as he fights with fair means.’

The implication here is clear: Duryodhana is too powerful to defeat if Bhima sticks to the rules of ethical fighting. The Pandavas have already taken similarly underhanded routes to kill Bhishma and Drona, so Arjuna is not perturbed by this.

He catches Bhima’s eye and meaningfully slaps his thigh. Bhima receives the signal, understands it, and proceeds to crush Duryodhana’s thigh with his mace at the next opportunity.

This brings Duryodhana crashing to the ground, and he protests loudly that he has been felled by unvirtuous methods. Krishna rises to his feet and says, ‘Yes! You have been sinful all your life. There is nothing wrong with killing a sinner with sinful behaviour.’

Detailed Answers: How did Duryodhana die? | Who killed Duryodhana?

How did Duryodhana restore Karna’s honour?

When Karna arrives at the Kuru graduation ceremony and displays his considerable archery skills, Kripa asks the young man to reveal details about his identity. Karna is embarrassed to do this because he is the son of a charioteer. Duryodhana now steps onto the arena and crowns Karna king of Anga – thus raising his status and restoring his honour.

At the Kuru graduation ceremony – where the Kuru princes show off their skills to an auditorium packed with noblemen and citizens alike – Karna makes his first appearance as a stranger.

Without introducing himself, he openly challenges Arjuna to a duel, and repeats all of the third Pandava’s momentous archery feats to show everyone that he is no less skilful.

For the Kuru household, this amounts to some loss of face because an unknown stranger – and someone who is clearly not of high birth – has shown up the most feted and admired of the princes.

Kripacharya rises to attend to matters. He compliments Karna on his good show, but then he says that Arjuna can only be allowed to challenge a warrior who is of sufficiently good stock. He asks Karna to describe himself and his birth.

It is Karna’s turn now to lose face. He knows that he is no more than a son of a charioteer. As he hangs his head and is considering his options, Duryodhana jumps into the fray and offers to make Karna a king.

‘Why must a warrior be of high birth to challenge Arjuna?’ Duryodhana asks. ‘But even if he does, let me make this young man king of Anga right at this moment. Now he is worthy of fighting Arjuna, is he not, Acharya?’

By doing this, Duryodhana protects Karna’s honour, and wins him as a loyal friend for life.

How was Duryodhana born?

Duryodhana is the eldest son of Gandhari, queen of king Dhritarashtra. Gandhari carries a large lump of flesh in her stomach for two years before giving birth to it. Vyasa then helps her break the flesh into a hundred and one parts, placing each into a jar of clarified butter. Nine months later, Duryodhana is the first of the babies to emerge.

Gandhari actually gets pregnant before Kunti does. At the time, Kunti, Pandu and Madri are living at Mount Gandhamadana, debating the value of inviting a Brahmin to father the next line of Kuru princes. It would be a year hence that Kunti divulges his secret power to her husband.

Gandhari’s pregnancy, though, is a long and arduous one. For two full years her stomach gets progressively heavier, and whatever is growing inside her womb refuses to leave it.

Causing her more heartache is the fact that about a year into her pregnancy, she hears that Kunti has become pregnant herself. And one more year later, Kunti even gives birth to the first of the Pandavas – before Gandhari.

This brings Gandhari to the edge of grief, and with despair she hits her own stomach repeatedly. As a result of this, a mass of flesh drops out of her onto the floor. This is a grotesque, throbbing, half-formed thing that is hard and grey.

Gandhari is flummoxed at the appearance of her ‘child’. As she is mulling over what to do, Vyasa appears on the scene and gives her a solution.

He breaks the flesh into a hundred and one pieces. He calls for a hundred and one jars of clarified butter to be brought. He places each piece of flesh into a jar and closes it. Then he asks some waiting women to keep watch on them.

Ten months from this day, an infant emerges from the first of the jars. His name is Duryodhana. On the same day, Kunti – at the Gandhamadana – gives birth to Bhimasena.

The other ninety nine jars give rise to the rest of the Kauravas. The hundred and first piece of flesh is Dusshala, Gandhari’s only daughter.

Detailed Answer: How was Duryodhana born?

How was Duryodhana as king?

It is unclear just how much official power Duryodhana appropriated for himself during the Pandavas’ exile. By all accounts, it is Dhritarashtra who rules as a puppet-king while his son pulls the strings. Regardless, the period of Duryodhana’s reign is not altogether unpleasant for Hastinapur. The Kuru kingdom maintains its premier status.

While Duryodhana is called ‘king’ and ‘emperor’ variously during the Pandavas’ exile, it is actually unclear what his official title is. Dhritarashtra, by all appearances, continues to be king and rules from the throne.

We can assume that Duryodhana rules the Kuru kingdom by proxy, because he is able to bend his blind father to his will. This is common knowledge around the world, so it is not unreasonable that Duryodhana – despite being nothing more than a prince – is still addressed in practice as ‘king’.

Duryodhana is the true ruler of Hastinapur in these years. Dhritarashtra is merely the puppet.

This allows Duryodhana to enjoy the privileges and luxuries of being a king while also letting Dhritarashtra take care of the arduous administrative tasks that the job brings. In other words, Duryodhana gets to have his cake and eat it too.

Despite this, one must admit that the Kuru kingdom is not exactly laid to waste under Duryodhana’s reign. One may argue that it does not scale new heights, but it maintains its position as the premier power on the Gangetic belt.

None of Yudhishthir’s old allies rebel against Dhritarashtra during this period. In fact, all of Yudhishthir’s friends – despite supporting the Pandavas in secret – switch official allegiance to Duryodhana. This includes Anarta (under Balarama) and Panchala (under Drupada).

Only after the Pandavas come out of the exile does Panchala begin to raise the prospect of war.

All of this suggests that Duryodhana is more capable as a ruler than he is given credit for. The common description of him as a bloodless tyrant seems to be a mischaracterization.

Detailed Answer: How was Duryodhana as king?

Krishna is the son of Kunti’s brother Vasudeva. Since the Pandavas and Kauravas are not related by blood, Duryodhana and Krishna are also not blood-relatives. However, to the extent that Duryodhana is considered a first cousin to the Pandavas, he and Krishna may reasonably call themselves distant cousins by marriage.

There is no direct blood-relationship between Duryodhana and Krishna. They’re only related to one another through the Pandavas.

Krishna is related to the Pandavas in two ways: (a) through kingship, because the Pandavas are the sons of Krishna’s father’s sister. So they’re first cousins; (b) through marriage, because Arjuna is the husband of Krishna’s sister Subhadra.

Duryodhana is related to the Pandavas because they are the sons of his father’s younger brother. However, it is also an open secret that Pandu was incapable of having children – and that the Pandavas were adopted sons of Pandu.

So while the official relationship between Duryodhana and the Pandavas is ‘first cousins’, in reality, there is no blood-relation at all between him and them.

On the other hand, since the Pandavas were born of Kunti’s womb, their relationship with Krishna is intact. The fact that Pandu adopted the Pandavas does not in any way affect the relationship between them and Krishna.

In reality, the Pandavas can be said to be more closely related to Krishna than they are to Duryodhana.

Between Duryodhana and Krishna, therefore, there is no blood-relationship. But Duryodhana cultivates a strong mutual friendship with Balarama in the interest of diplomacy. At best, Duryodhana and Krishna can be called distant cousins.

Detailed Answer: How was Duryodhana related to Krishna?

Why did Duryodhana go to heaven?

Indra explains to Yudhishthir that even extremely wicked people spend a small amount of time in heaven as reward for their few good deeds. Therefore, despite the fact that Duryodhana’s final destination is hell, he is taken to heaven to enjoy the fruits of his virtuous acts. After the short time is up, he is taken to hell for much longer – perhaps eternity.

When Yudhishthir reaches heaven at the end of the story, Indra gives him a little information about how people are sent to heaven or hell depending on their life’s work.

‘Wicked people who are destined to go to hell are first taken to heaven,’ says Indra, ‘so that they may enjoy the fruits of their few virtuous deeds. And good people who are destined to go to heaven are first taken to hell so that they may face the consequences of their few misdeeds.’

The final destination is also not a permanent one, of course. After you have served your time in both heaven and hell, your soul will be returned to Earth for another lifetime. And the cycle repeats.

Duryodhana is among the first group of people – exceedingly wicked men who will spend a short time in heaven to enjoy the rewards of their few good deeds. Then he is taken to hell for a much longer period – perhaps forever.

Yudhishthir is the opposite: he is an exceedingly good man who will spend a short time in hell to atone for his few sinful acts. Then he will be taken to heaven forever.

But we must remember that the death of Yudhishthir happens thirty six years after the death of Duryodhana. By the time Yudhishthir reaches heaven, Duryodhana has long been banished to the depths of hell.

The ‘Duryodhana’ that Yudhishthir sees in heaven is nothing more than Indra’s illusion – a test of Yudhishthir’s character.

Detailed Answer: Why did Duryodhana go to heaven?

Why did Balarama support Duryodhana?

The official foreign policy of Anarta – the kingdom of Balarama – is to be equally conciliatory toward both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Therefore, while Krishna ostensibly supports the Pandavas in their many quests, Balarama does the balancing act and cultivates an enduring friendship with Duryodhana.

As the king of Anarta – with its capital at Dwaraka – Balarama’s first priority is to protect the interests of his people.

In order to fortify Anarta’s position among the middle kingdoms, Balarama pursues friendship with Kuru on the Gangetic plain. But the internal politics of the Kuru throne – namely, the long-standing feud between the Pandavas and Kauravas – presents a potential problem to Anarta.

If Anarta takes sides in the matter, it will come out with its prospects diminished if its bet fails. For instance, if Anarta had openly supported the Pandavas, then it would have been left in an awkward position after Duryodhana takes over as emperor.

If Anarta had sided with the Kauravas, it would have been difficult to build friendships with the Pandavas during their ascension years.

In other words, Anarta’s wish is to maintain friendly relations with the kingdom of Kuru, regardless of who is ruling it. Balarama, therefore, builds an enduring friendship with Duryodhana, who he considers to be the principal player of one side of the fight.

Meanwhile, Krishna woos and forms a special bond with Arjuna, who he considers to be the principal player of the other side.

By straddling the fence in this manner, the two brothers ensure that regardless of the current state of the quarrel between the cousins, Anarta the kingdom will not be disadvantaged.

Detailed Answer: Why did Balarama support Duryodhana?

Why did Duryodhana befriend Karna?

Duryodhana befriends Karna because he is able to see from Karna’s display of archery prowess that he will be the perfect nemesis for Arjuna. Duryodhana thinks himself capable of handling Bhima, but he has been looking for someone to match Arjuna’s skill. The moment he finds Karna, therefore, he latches on to him and begins nurturing him.

It is of course possible that Duryodhana helps Karna during the graduation ceremony purely on humanitarian grounds. Witnessing the brazen treatment being meted out to an unprivileged man, Duryodhana might have rebelled in righteous indignation and offered whatever support he could.

But it bears asking the question: would Duryodhana have sprung to the man’s support if he had not proven himself a capable archer?

At this point in the story, the Kuru princes are still young men. Duryodhana and his brothers have grown up under daily harassment in Bhimasena’s hands. Arjuna has already established himself as a blue-eyed-boy of them all. He is Dronacharya’s pet.

Duryodhana has trained himself with the mace enough to match Bhima in a structured battle that is fought within the rules. But Bhima’s strength, agility and adaptability make him a fearsome foe.

Still, Duryodhana thinks that he can engineer ways in which he may be able to kill Bhima if the situation demands it. But Arjuna? Arjuna is far beyond anyone’s reach.

Until now! Here is a youth who has dropped out of nowhere. He has shown that his archery skill is equal to Arjuna’s. And here is Kripacharya, alienating him by snubbing him. Why not befriend him? Why not nurture him and transform him into a perfect match for Arjuna?

If Duryodhana succeeds in doing this, between the two of them, they can (hope to) account for Bhima and Arjuna – and without these two, the Pandavas are as good as powerless.

Duryodhana therefore latches on to Karna and buys his loyalty by making him king of Anga. His hope is that Karna will one day repay the debt by killing Arjuna.

Detailed Answer: Why did Duryodhana befriend Karna?

Why did Duryodhana hate the Pandavas?

Duryodhana hates the Pandavas because he believes the Kuru throne is his by right (as the eldest son of Dhritarashtra the king). The Pandavas, in his view, are usurpers. As they grow older, the Pandavas’ overwhelming success fills Duryodhana with envy. The fact that Bhishma supports the sons of Pandu further infuriates him.

Duryodhana’s case for the throne of Hastinapur can be summarized in the following way:

  • It was wrong for Bhishma to favour Pandu over Dhritarashtra despite Dhritarashtra’s blindness. Pandu could have served as regent and helped Dhritarashtra.
  • Even if we concede that Dhritarashtra’s sidelining was fair, Pandu should have been made a ‘stand-in’ king, who is only ruling on behalf of Dhritarashtra, with the full knowledge that Dhritarashtra’s children are the true heirs.
  • Even if we concede that Pandu’s ascension to the throne as king in his own right was fair, the moment he abdicated the kingdom to Dhritarashtra and renounced his status to go into exile with his two wives, he has forfeited his right.
  • It is not true therefore that Dhritarashtra is ruling Hastinapur in Pandu’s name, but the reverse. The throne had always belonged to Dhritarashtra, and it has returned to him when Pandu left on his exile.
  • Even if we concede all the above, it is commonly known that Pandu was incapable of having children. Kunti’s claim is that her five sons were adopted by Pandu as his own, but there is no evidence to support it.
  • Pandu cannot confirm it; neither can Madri. They’re both dead. So the paternity of the Pandavas – even their adopted paternity – cannot be confirmed except by Kunti’s word.

When you take all of these points together, Duryodhana’s claim to being the rightful heir to the throne of Hastinapur appears quite strong. This is especially true because Duryodhana’s lineage is clear: he is the biological son of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra.

In Duryodhana’s view, therefore, the Pandavas are nothing more than greedy usurpers. The fact that Bhishma and Vidura give shelter to these people and favours them angers him further.

To make things worse, the Pandavas prove themselves in every way worthier than him. When given the opportunity, they outshine the Kauravas comfortably. This makes Duryodhana envious, which further fuels his rage.

Detailed Answer: Why did Duryodhana hate the Pandavas?

Was Duryodhana older than Bhima?

Duryodhana and Bhima are born on the same day. It is not explicitly clear who takes birth first, but from the description in the text, one can infer that Duryodhana first emerged from his jar of butter – and then, later on the same day, Kunti gave birth to Bhima at the Gandhamadana. Duryodhana, therefore, is a few hours older than Bhima.

We know for certain that Duryodhana and Bhima are born on the same day. But the order of their births is not explicitly mentioned.

We’re told of Gandhari’s plight with her pregnancy – how she had had to endure a two-year long labour; how she had beaten herself on her stomach in envy after hearing of Yudhishthir’s birth; how a mass of flesh had popped out of her; and how Vyasa came to break it into a hundred and one parts.

The hundred and one pieces of flesh – each gestated in a jar of clarified butter of its own – begin to emerge as newborn infants after ten months. Duryodhana is the first to come out.

At his ‘birth’, a number of bad omens appear in the city of Hastinapur. A number of Brahmins advise Dhritarashtra to have the child killed. But Dhritarashtra cannot bring himself to do so.

On the same day, the text says, at the foothills of Mount Gandhamadana, Kunti gives birth to her second child. She names him Bhimasena.

It is entirely possible that the birth of Bhima happens before the birth of Duryodhana, but if we take the order of described events as chronological, we might infer that Duryodhana is elder to Bhima by a few hours.

Was Duryodhana good or bad?

The Mahabharata universe is biased against Duryodhana and the Kauravas. The narrative is carefully constructed to portray him in bad light. But if one were to objectively view matters, it is true that Duryodhana has more of a right to the Kuru throne than do the Pandavas. In this light, Duryodhana can be viewed as a good man who has been wronged.

There is a distinct pro-Pandava bias in the Mahabharata. The narrative is structured such that the Pandavas are the sons of gods, and the Kauravas are the manifestations of evil.

Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu. And his purpose for descending to Earth is to eliminate the forces of evil (headed by Duryodhana) and reinstate Dharma in its rightful place.

In order to see Duryodhana’s side, therefore, the reader has to step out of the frame that the Mahabharata enforces upon us. If we view events as they may have happened – and not as narrated by Vyasa and his disciples later – Duryodhana may emerge as a sympathetic figure.

Not a man without his faults. He is passionate, rude, envious, cruel at times even. But he is not as wicked as the story may have us believe.

For starters, he will reclaim his original name of Suyodhana – not Duryodhana. He will impress us as the only prince with a watertight claim on the throne. He can prove his parentage. He is the eldest son of the current king, who himself was the rightful heir to the throne in his generation.

By contrast, the Pandavas are not the biological offspring of Pandu. They cannot prove the claim that Pandu had adopted them before his birth.

And in any case, the Pandavas are the sons of the younger prince of the previous generation – and as such, they have no right to the throne.

If we adopt this frame of reference for a while, then Suyodhana is the good guy and the Pandavas are the rebel usurpers. Bhishma enables the discord for his own selfish reasons. And the Pandavas, after exploiting Bhishma’s support during their youth, kill him in the war when it is expedient to do so.

In this story, the bad guys – the Pandavas – have succeeded in defeating Suyodhana. And then, they have set about writing the story in a way that portrays them in the best possible light.

Did Duryodhana know about Karna’s birth?

There is no indication of Duryodhana knowing the secret about Karna’s birth. All in all, only six people know the secret about his birth: Kunti, Surya, Vyasa, Bhishma, Krishna – and Karna himself. Of these, Bhishma, Krishna and Karna discover the truth only just before the war. Duryodhana doesn’t ever know.

Karna is the firstborn son of Kunti. She has him through a union with Surya the sun god, before her marriage to Pandu.

At the time of her marriage, according to the laws of that period, Karna automatically becomes Pandu’s adopted son. Had Kunti told Pandu about Karna, therefore, the boy would have become the first Pandava.

Only six people in the story know this secret: Kunti and Surya are the first to know, of course, having perpetrated the deed. Vyasa is the next, though we don’t know the circumstances in which this happens. Most likely, Kunti tells him at some point.

The next to know is Krishna; he learns of it from Kunti during his visit to Hastinapur just before the war.

Karna comes to know of it almost immediately after, when Krishna tries to use this information as a bribe to entice him into fighting on the side of the Pandavas. Karna refuses.

Bhishma is the last to know, around the tenth day of the war. He learns it from Vyasa.

There is no record of Duryodhana knowing of Karna’s secret. Like everyone else, he guesses that Karna is a high-born man who had been abandoned at birth, but he never finds out that he is Kunti’s son.

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