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 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. Two years later, Duryodhana is the first of the babies to emerge.
Read on to discover more about how Duryodhana was born.
(For answers to all Duryodhana-related questions, see: Duryodhana: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra, serves Dwaipayana over a period of time on one of his visits to the court of Hastinapur. In return for her hospitality, Dwaipayana blesses her that she will give birth to a hundred sons that are equal to Dhritarashtra in valour.
She gets pregnant before Pritha does, which fills her with joy. But for two full years she does not deliver, and her stomach grows heavier and harder with each passing day.
In the meantime she also hears that Pritha – in the forest with Pandu and Madri – has given birth to a son (Yudhishthir).
‘Woe upon me,’ she cries out, ‘and woe upon the sage who gave me a false boon.’ Saying this, she beats herself on the stomach with such strength that the mass of flesh growing inside of her slips out and falls to the ground.
Before panic can set in, Dwaipayana arrives and consoles the queen. ‘My words never go in vain, my lady,’ he tells her. ‘Ask your servants to fetch a hundred pots filled with clarified butter.’
He then divides the ball of flesh – after first sprinkling holy water over it – into hundred equal parts, each the size of a thumb, and drops them into a pot each, immersed in butter and infused with his magic.
‘Wait for two full years before you open these pots,’ he instructs Gandhari. ‘And you shall have your hundred sons.’
So in due course of time, the foetuses inside the pots of butter grow into human babies, and the first of them, Duryodhana, is born.
Duryodhana is therefore conceived before Yudhishthir, as a small part of the mass of flesh that implants itself in Gandhari’s womb. When she gives birth to it, it is soon after she receives news that Yudhishthir is born.
Two years pass between the event of her delivering the mass of flesh and the birth of her first child. And we’re told that on the same day as Duryodhana’s birth, Kunti gives birth to Bhima.
We’re also told in the same breath that only one year separates Yudhishthir from Bhima.
This is a clear inconsistency in the timeline. Either Duryodhana is born one year after Vyasa performs his baby-in-a-jar trick, or Bhima is born two years after Yudhishthir. We cannot have them both.
But the tale makes no clarification on the matter. We’re left to grapple with it ourselves.
It is said that on the occasion of Duryodhana’s birth, all the world’s bad omens make themselves heard to Dhritarashtra, and his priests warn him that this son would bring much dishonour to the family name.
‘Even if we cast away this child, Your Majesty,’ they advise him, ‘you will still be left with ninety nine sons who will bring you much honour.’
But Dhritarashtra cannot find it in his heart to kill his firstborn.
This raises the question of who is the older one between Bhima and Duryodhana. If we believe the assertion at Duryodhana’s birth that Bhima was born on the same day, then neither is older than the other – except by a few hours, presumably.
But if we believe the assertion at the Pandavas’ births that Bhima was born one year following Yudhishthir’s, then we may have to conclude that Bhima is actually one year older than Duryodhana.
Perhaps they share a birthday, but Bhima – by this assumption – is a year older.
Dhritarashtra also has a son by an unnamed Vaishya woman. His name is Yuyutsu. He is usually considered one among the Kaurava brothers, and is mentioned among the maharathas. In age he is the second-oldest of them all, younger to only Duryodhana.
Yuyutsu gets mentioned later in the story as well as the only of the Kaurava brothers to switch sides before the war begins. On the battlefield, as is customary, Yudhishthir announces that if anyone wishes to switch sides, the time is now.
No one from the Pandava side defects, but from the Kaurava side, Yuyutsu chooses – without giving a reason – to fight alongside the Pandavas.
He is also one of the few people to survive the Kurukshetra war. He escapes the night-time raid of Ashwatthama because he leaves soon after sunset on the eighteenth day to convey the news of the war’s ending to the women of Hastinapur’s royal palace.
There is one other addition to the Kuru line that deserves mention. While he is dividing the mass of flesh into parts to be left immersed in butter, a small bit is left over after the hundred pieces have been confined to their respective pots.
This grows in time to become Dusshala, the sole sister of the Kauravas, the only daughter of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. She is given in marriage later to Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu.
Jayadratha plays a very important role in the Kurukshetra war. He guards Drona’s Chakra Vyuha on the thirteenth day with such finesse that Abhimanyu gets trapped within it. He fights off many of the Pandava warriors and prevents them from following Abhimanyu into the formation.
This leads directly to Abhimanyu’s death. So angry is Arjuna when he hears of Jayadratha’s actions (though Jayadratha was only performing his assigned role) that he vows to kill him on the fourteenth day.
He manages to do so right as the sun is about to set. The death of Jayadratha paves the way for the Kurukshetra war to become more and more ruthless as it careens to its end on the eighteenth day.
After the war, during Yudhishthir’s Ashwamedha, Arjuna invades the Sindhu kingdom again and wishes to fight the army, but Dusshala comes out to the battlefield and asks for his mercy. Arjuna relents.
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