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.
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 the question: 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.
Read on to discover more about how Duryodhana died.
(For answers to all Duryodhana-related questions, see: Duryodhana: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Fleeing the Battlefield
Late on the eighteenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Duryodhana flees from the battlefield soon after the death of his commander Shalya, as he sees all his forces scatter in the face of Arjuna’s might.
He finds a lake on the outskirts of the battlefield, and conceals himself at its bottom. With his magic, he freezes the surface of the water.
The Pandavas find him after a long period of searching. Krishna, on approaching the lake, unfreezes it with an incantation and calls for Duryodhana to come out.
Duryodhana tries to negotiate with the Pandavas, saying that it is already late at night and that they could meet on the field of battle the next morning. But the Pandavas insist that the matter should be brought to a close then and there.
A reluctant Duryodhana exits his hiding place, then, and gives Yudhishthir a proposal. ‘I will fight any one of you in single combat, O King,’ he says. ‘But let it be so that the winner of the battle becomes the undisputed king.’
Incredulously – and much to Krishna’s anger – Yudhishthir agrees to this condition. Duryodhana challenges Bhima to a duel, therefore, and the weapon he chooses to fight with is the mace.
Mace Fight with Bhima
Krishna loses his temper at Yudhishthir for having fallen prey to Duryodhana’s words yet again. But a laughing Bhima swats away Krishna’s worries. ‘Do not fret, O Madhava,’ he says, slapping his arms. ‘I shall not lose to this wretch. Not today!’
Despite his big words, though, Bhima finds it a difficult proposition to get past Duryodhana. As Krishna reveals to Arjuna while the fight is progressing, Duryodhana has been practicing his mace fighting almost every day for the last fifteen years in anticipation of this day.
On the other hand, Bhima is a bit rusty because of all the real-life struggles that he had had to endure in the forest.
Krishna goes so far as to suggest to Arjuna that the only way Bhima could win against Duryodhana is by adopting unfair means. Taking this advice, Arjuna catches the eye of Bhima and quietly slaps his thigh.
Bhima notices this, takes the hint, and at the next available opportunity, brings the weight of his weapon crashing down on Duryodhana’s thighs.
With a scream of protest and pain, Duryodhana falls to the ground. Even as he complains of Bhima’s unjust methods, the Pandava strides over to his long-time enemy and kicks him on the head.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 53: Bhima Defeats Duryodhana.)
Duryodhana does not immediately die here, though. At his fall, all the great gods and sages of heaven rain flowers over hi s fallen body, singing his praises as a great king.
The Pandavas are bemused by this; after all, they have always believed that Duryodhana was the very incarnation of evil. Why do the gods honour him, then?
Duryodhana then addresses Yudhishthir and tells him, ‘Enjoy your victory, O son of Dharma. You are the emperor now of nothing more than a graveyard. Behold the tens of thousands of corpses that are piled upon one another.
‘Behold the women we have widowed in this war. Behold the children across the breadth of the country who will grow up without fathers. They will all have nothing but curses on their lips for you.
‘As for me, I have lived my life in great comfort. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of wealth. Now, by embracing death on the battlefield, I have reserved for myself a hero’s place in heaven.
‘You can go on ruling upon this wasteland. Rebuild it if you can. I will go and court with the dancers of Indra!’
These words from Duryodhana bring pause to the Pandavas, who look at one another and wonder if there is any truth to what their cousin has said.
But Krishna dispels all their doubts by stepping forward and blowing upon his conch. ‘I hereby declare,’ he says, ‘the sons of Pandu as the victors of the war. Let us go back and inform our soldiers that they can stop fighting.’
After the Pandavas and Somakas have left Duryodhana in his pitiable state (for some reason they do not kill him), Ashwatthama – accompanied by Kripa and Kritavarma – comes to stand by his side.
‘If you anoint me your next commander, O King,’ he says, ‘I shall see to it that the entire Panchala army will perish to my weapons!’
This is a bold claim, but Duryodhana is beyond caring now. With what little energy he has left, he performs the necessary rituals to make Ashwatthama his next commander.
The three surviving men of the Kuru army – Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma – now set out in the direction of the Panchala camp.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 54: Ashwatthama Rages.)
Death with a Smile
As Duryodhana lies on the earth by the lake, surrounded by gathering birds of prey, Ashwatthama unleashes carnage upon the Panchala camp, slaughtering thousands upon thousands of men in their sleep.
During this bloody night, Ashwatthama succeeds in killing Shikhandi and Dhrishtadyumna, thus avenging the deaths of Bhishma and Drona respectively.
(The Pandavas, Krishna and Satyaki are not present at the Panchala camp that night. Krishna takes them to the bank of the river Oghavati for some solitude and silent prayer.)
As the next day is about to break, Ashwatthama returns all the way to Duryodhana to give him the good news. Duryodhana is ecstatic.
‘Where great warriors such as Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Shalya have failed,’ he says, ‘you have succeeded, O Ashwatthama. You have truly given me peace of mind. May all the gods bless you with gifts in this life and beyond.’
Saying this, Duryodhana allows himself to fall into a blissful sleep. After a few breaths, his life leaves his body.
Thus, the prime villain of the Mahabharata ends up – ironically – with a pleasure-filled life on Earth and a serene, contented moment of death.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Duryodhana: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered