Dushasana is one of the minor but significant characters in the Mahabharata. He is the younger brother of Duryodhana, who is in turn the oldest of the Kauravas, and the prime antagonist of the story.
Dushasana’s character is defined by his utter loyalty to Duryodhana. His most notorious contribution occurs during Draupadi’s vastraharan, when he tries to disrobe Draupadi in the middle of the assembly.
Dushasana dies at the hands of Bhima on the seventeenth day of the Kurukshetra war. Bhima tears open Dushasana’s chest and pretends to drink his blood, in accordance with an oath he takes during the game of dice.
(For a full list of important Mahabharata characters, see 56 Mahabharata Characters that will Amaze You.)
Who is Dushasana?
Dushasana is the younger brother of Duryodhana, and is the son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. At the time of Dushasana’s birth, Dhritarashtra is the king of Hastinapur. Pandu and his wives – Kunti and Madri – are living near the mountain of Gandhamadana.
The birth of the Kauravas occurs in magical circumstances. Gandhari gives birth to a mass of flesh after a two-year labour. Vyasa helps break the flesh into a hundred and one pieces, and places each one of them inside a jar of clarified butter.
He allows the foetuses to develop inside the jars. At the end of the incubation period, the jars begin to break one by one. The first to emerge is Duryodhana.
The second is Dushasana. Though he is technically the younger brother of Duryodhana, he is not all that much younger. His birth takes place (presumably) within a few days after the first Kaurava.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Dushasana grows up idolizing his elder brother. From very early on, he supports Duryodhana’s claim on the Kuru throne, and that makes him a natural enemy of the Pandavas.
Enmity against the Pandavas
Dushasana is often considered part of the ‘wicked foursome’ of the Mahabharata, the other three being Duryodhana, Shakuni and Karna. Dushasana is widely thought to be the most foolish, churlish and emotional of the four.
The commonly held image in readers’ minds of Dushasana is that he is blindly loyal to Duryodhana, and often allows his emotions to get the better of him. While Shakuni, Karna and Duryodhana are fairly restrained at most times, Dushasana is given to histrionics.
Dushasana is therefore party to all the plots that Duryodhana engineers as a child to damage the Pandavas. For instance, Dushasana knows that Duryodhana poisoned and drowned Bhima – which of course backfired and gave Bhima tremendous strength.
Dushasana is also part of the plan to burn the Pandavas alive in the flammable house of Varanavata.
He is never seen making any meaningful contribution to the planning of these affairs. But he is eager in carrying out errands for his elder brother, and in displaying joy at the impending destruction of the Pandavas.
It is not even clear if Dushasana ever analyzes the Pandava-Kaurava conflict in his own mind, or if he just buys into Duryodhana’s argument like a loyal follower would.
So in effect, Dushasana hates the Pandavas just as much as Duryodhana does, but owing to his volatile and capricious nature, he often displays this hate in unsavoury ways whereas Duryodhana is more polished and dignified about it all.
Why did Dushasana disrobe Draupadi?
Dushasana disrobes Draupadi during the Draupadi Vastraharan incident when Karna commands him to do so.
The context surrounding this is that Vikarna, one of the Kaurava brothers, argues in favour of Draupadi and says that Yudhishthir had no right to pledge Draupadi because he had already lost himself.
In response, Karna argues that even a slave has a right to pledge his wife, so Draupadi was in fact rightfully won by Duryodhana. He goes on to insult Draupadi as a woman of loose character because she has five husbands.
It is interesting to note that when Karna makes this accusation against Draupadi, no one in the assembly pushes back on him. This suggests that public opinion on Draupadi’s marital arrangement was actually in line with Karna’s thoughts.
Karna then says, ‘A woman of such base character does not deserve a hearing at this assembly. In fact, a suitable treatment of her would be to disrobe her in public and humiliate her.’
Of course, even if one were to agree that Draupadi was of ‘loose character’, it does not follow that she should be publicly disrobed. Here Karna is using the fact that Draupadi is now also Duryodhana’s slave, so in essence Duryodhana could do anything with her, anywhere.
Karna then tells Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi. Dushasana steps forward, almost grinning ear to ear in glee.
(As an aside, this openly eager attitude of Dushasana to carry out orders does him no favours. Bhimasena reserves the most violent of his promises – that he will drink Dushasana’s blood from his chest – for his cousin owing to this.)
Sending off the Pandavas
After the Pandavas have lost the second dice game and are making preparations to leave on their exile, it is Dushasana who makes a proclamation.
‘King Dhritrashtra is now the absolute sovereign monarch of both Indraprastha and Hastinapur,’ he says.T’he sons of Pandu have been vanquished, and they have been deprived of a share in our kingdom forever.
‘Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada, will do well now to elect a man of her choice in this very hall for her husband, for what good are her five husbands who can give her nothing but sorrow?’
He hurls further insults at the leaving sons of Pandu, and Bhimasena, pushed to the edge of his rage, makes a vow. ‘It does not behove you, son of Dhritarashtra, to boast so of a kingdom that you have won by unfair means.
‘I promise everyone present in this assembly and all my dead ancestors that I shall one day drink the life-blood of this wretch after tearing open his chest with my bare hands.’
Dushasana just laughs at this bravado from Bhima, because he believes that the Pandavas are never coming back from their exile. Even if they did, they would never have enough power to challenge the Kuru throne’s supremacy.
Dushasana therefore dances vulgarly in celebration, and sends the Pandavas on their way.
Who killed Dushasana?
Dushasana is killed on the seventeenth day of the Mahabharata war by Bhima. Bhima takes a vow during the dice game that he will drink Dushasana’s blood. On the seventeenth day, after killing him, Bhima tears open his chest and drinks a mouthful of his enemy’s blood.
On the seventeenth day of the Kurukshetra war, with Karna and Arjuna seeking to challenge one another, a decisive fight breaks out between Bhima and Dushasana.
The latter draws first blood in this challenge, breaking the bow of his opponent and killing his driver, but the son of Dhritarashtra is equal to the task of defending himself.
He picks up a new weapon in the blink of an eye, and shooting a cloud of arrows at Bhima while holding the reins of his horses himself.
A bright shaft decked with gold and diamonds now leaves his bow, and pierces through the armour of Vrikodara, at which the latter staggers back and falls down on the terrace of his car, losing consciousness for a while.
But he is up in a few moments, and begins to roar like an angered lion. Even now Duhsasana continues to dominate the duel, cutting off Bhima’s bow, and then with six shafts injuring Visoka, the Pandava’s charioteer.
Bhima, consumed with rage, hurls a dart at his sworn enemy, but sees it being shattered to pieces by nine well-aimed arrows.
While the soldiers witnessing this battle applaud Duhsasana for his skill, Bhima addresses his cousin and says, ‘Pierced I have been, O hero, deeply by your arrows. But bear now once more the stroke of my mace!’
Bhima drinks Dushasana’s blood
With those words, a fierce dart resembling the mace of Yama flies from Bhima’s hand toward Duhsasana. It strikes its target on the head, and carries him a distance measured by the length of ten bows away from his chariot.
Bhima descends from his own car and runs to where Duhsasana lies prostrate, and with his foot placed on the prince’s chest, looks around at Karna, Suyodhana, Kripa, Ashwatthama and Kritavarma, as if challenging them.
‘Today I am going to slay this wretched one,’ he says. ‘May the powerful warriors of the Kaurava army protect him if they can.’
Picking up a sword and slicing open the chest of his enemy, Bhima then pounds the heel of his foot down on Duhsasana’s throat, not paying attention to whether he is alive or dead.
Crazed with rage, he straddles the son of Dhritarashtra and drinks his warm lifeblood before chopping off his head with two swipes of his sword.
‘I regard my enemy’s blood to be tastier than my mother’s milk,’ he says, ‘or honey, or clarified butter, or even ambrosia or nectar that the gods drink.’
Similarity to Duryodhana
In many ways, Dushasana is similar to Duryodhana in the emotions he feels about the Pandavas. But he is not blessed with the trait of restraint that Duryodhana possesses. So he allows himself to be carried away by his emotions.
Dushasana’s behaviour at any moment, therefore, gives us an accurate picture of what Duryodhana is thinking and feeling.
Dushasana is also not blessed with the same skill at arms and weapons that Duryodhana has. Duryodhana is considered Bhima’s equal with the mace. Dushasana, on the other hand, is not a noteworthy warrior.
During his assessment of the two armies before the Kurukshetra war, Bhishma says that Dushasana is a ratha. While this is nothing to scoff at, it also does not place him in the first class of warriors that have assembled for battle.
Heroism during the war
On the tenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Dushasana exhibits rare valour in a duel with Arjuna.
Dushasana has been tasked over all the previous days to protect Bhishma. Now, at the arrival of the eleventh hour, he summons all the courage and skill he had developed over his entire life to march into battle against Arjuna.
Not only that, he manages to hold his own for a significant amount of time, first piercing his chest, then injuring Krishna, and then sending three arrows to hurt the forehead of Arjuna.
When Arjuna tries to return the favour by enveloping Dushasana with arrows, the latter shoots them all down mid-flight with a combination of earthly and celestial weapons.
With a cry of impatient anguish, Arjuna steps up a level, and resorts to shafts reinforced with whetted stone. He shoots five of them at once and overwhelms Duhsasana by their sheer number.
As they break through the defense of the Kaurava and begins to pierce his armour at various places, he flees back into the inner ranks to fight from alongside Bhishma’s chariot.
Did Bhima drink Dushasana’s blood?
After the war is finished, Gandhari gets angry at Yudhishthir for the crime of fighting the war against the Kauravas. She also gets angry at Bhima for the manner in which he kills Dushasana.
‘How could you drink the blood of a man like an animal, Vrikodara?’ she asks. ‘It is considered the height of cruelty to eat the flesh of another man, and only Rakshasas are known to drink the blood of their enemies.’
Bhima accepts Gandhari’s anger, and tells her that he did not actually drink Dushasana’s blood. ‘I only touched it to my lips to honour my vow, Mother,’ he says. ‘I did not let any of the blood travel down my throat.’
Bhima also expresses regret at having to kill Dushasana and the other Kauravas in so brutal a fashion. He tells Gandhari that the circumstances surrounding the dice game made it impossible for any other solution to be reached.
Bhima thus fulfils his vow of killing the Kauravas – and also of killing Dushasana.
Dushasana’s role in the Mahabharata story, therefore, is to serve the reader with an image of the values that the Kauravas and Duryodhana uphold.
While Duryodhana, Shakuni and Karna sometimes conceal their motivations behind concepts such as Dharma and virtue, Dushasana’s outbursts and behaviour leave no one in any doubt as to the true vices that the Kaurava brothers have embraced.