How was Duryodhana related to Krishna?

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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 related to Krishna?

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.

Read on to discover more about how Duryodhana was related to Krishna.

(For answers to all Duryodhana-related questions, see: Duryodhana: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Duryodhana and the Pandavas

Duryodhana and Krishna do not have a direct relationship between them. They are only related through the Pandavas.

Though Duryodhana and the Pandavas are often considered to be first cousins (they are sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, who are brothers), it is important to look at this issue more closely to tease out the actual relationship.

Pandu and Dhritarashtra – though they are assumed to be sons of Vichitraveerya – are actually sired by Sage Vyasa. And they’re born to two different mothers, Ambika and Ambalika.

It is therefore accurate to call Pandu and Dhritarashtra half-brothers who only shared a father. (However, their mothers are biological sisters, so the two men can be thought of as more closely related than if the mothers had come from different kingdoms.)

If we step down one generation from there, Duryodhana’s parentage is fairly certain. Despite the grotesque nature of his birth, he is certainly the son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. No questions there.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 5: Pandavas and Kauravas.)

The Pandavas, however, are another story. Due to Pandu’s inability to participate in intercourse, Kunti and Madri give birth to five sons between them – and they use four different fathers to sire them.

That means Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna are actually half-brothers who share a mother – Kunti. And Nakula and Sahadeva are also half-brothers who share their mother – Madri. In Nakula and Sahadeva’s case, their fathers are twins, so we may conclude that they’re genetically as alike as any two ‘real’ brothers would have been.

Crucially, none of the Pandavas are actually born to Pandu. They’re called ‘Pandavas’ only because Pandu adopts them as his sons.

Due to this occurrence, Duryodhana and the Pandavas are actually not related by blood at all.

Duryodhana’s Claims

This unconventional nature of the Pandavas’ birth is commented upon by Duryodhana on several occasions. During the Kuru princes’ graduation ceremony, when Kripa waxes eloquent about the importance of lineage, Duryodhana gets up and asks:

‘Has the entire Kuru race not been sired by people of other dynasties? Has Sage Vyasa now begotten my father and my uncle? Have the Pandavas not been birthed by unknown men when my uncle Pandu was cursed to become impotent?’

Toward the end, just before the beginning of the Kurukshetra war, when Krishna travels to Hastinapur and tries to convince Dhritarashtra about the need to love the sons of Pandu, Duryodhana once again interjects.

(Suggested: Why did Krishna go to Hastinapur?)

‘You call them the sons of Pandu, Keshava,’ he says. ‘But the whole world knows that my uncle was unfortunately struck by Kindama’s curse. He did not have the ability to bear children.

‘As for the true fathers of the Pandavas, who can tell for certain who they are? Kunti claims that she has summoned Yama, Indra and Vayu to birth them, but what reason have we to believe her?’

In other words, Duryodhana is questioning the Pandavas’ parentage, and therefore their claim to the throne of Hastinapur. He is suggesting that the Pandavas were fathered by unknown, unnamed men in the Gandhamadana mountain.

The Pandavas and Krishna

Between the Pandavas and Krishna, on the other hand, there is a very clear biological relationship.

Krishna is the son of Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena. One of Vasudeva’s sisters is Pritha, who is given to Kuntibhoja as a young girl for fostering. Pritha grows up to become the wife of Pandu, and takes the name of Kunti.

She is the mother of the first three Pandavas – Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna.

And Krishna is the son of Vasudeva and Devaki. Therefore, Krishna and the Pandavas are first cousins. While there are murmurs about who the Pandavas’ fathers are, there is never any doubt about the fact that Kunti is their mother.

To be sure, we must add the caveat that Nakula and Sahadeva do not have any biological relationship with Krishna. Only the first three Pandavas do. In the same vein, we must also clarify that Nakula and Sahadeva are in no way related to their elder brothers either.

Later in life, Krishna deepens this biological relationship by giving his sister Subhadra (with whom he shares a father) in marriage to Arjuna. Thus, the Pandavas are actually more closely related to the Vrishnis and Yadavas than they are to the Kuru dynasty.

Friendship with Balarama

Duryodhana’s relationship with Krishna, therefore, is very tenuous. While they address each other as ‘Cousin’ just for propriety’s sake, it is difficult to imagine them feeling any sort of kinship for one another.

If anything, the two men nurse feelings of hostility toward each other because Krishna is friendly toward the Pandavas and Duryodhana is not. Krishna considers Duryodhana wicked and unjust, whereas Duryodhana considers Krishna manipulative and coercive.

Despite all this, Duryodhana seeks and cultivates a close friendship with Balarama over the course of the story. At what point their association begins and how it develops is not clear. But we can assume that while Krishna has been wooing the Pandavas in several ways, Balarama has been courting Duryodhana at the same time.

(Suggested: Why did Krishna give his army to the Kauravas?)

However, this relationship seems to have a whiff of political expediency about it. For Duryodhana it is an important step to secure one brother’s support – the important brother in his view, because Balarama is king – while the Pandavas befriend the other brother.

For Balarama too, knowing that Krishna has captured the love of the Pandavas, it becomes important to maintain cordiality with Duryodhana as well just in case the Pandava-Kaurava feud leans that way.

It bears noting, though, that Balarama’s support for Duryodhana is not as deep as Krishna’s for the Pandavas – because at the end, when Duryodhana asks Balarama for support, the king declares that Anarta is going to remain neutral.

Duryodhana does benefit from many years of friendship with Balarama, though, not least by learning to mace-fight under his guidance and giving Bhimasena a close fight.


Duryodhana and Krishna, therefore, are not biologically related. They are only tenuously related through the Pandavas, who are themselves only related to Duryodhana as adoptive sons of Pandu.

Biological ties between the Pandavas and the Vrishnis of Dwaraka are far stronger than those that exist between them and the Kuru establishment like Dhritarashtra, Vidura and Bhishma.

When Krishna makes a move to deepen this friendship by giving Subhadra in marriage to Arjuna, Duryodhana makes a politically motivated decision to build a strong friendship with Balarama.

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