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: 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.
Read on to discover more about why Duryodhana hated the Pandavas.
(For answers to all Duryodhana-related questions, see: Duryodhana: 12 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Bias toward the Pandavas
There is an inherent pro-Pandava bias in the Mahabharata as it is written. This is not surprising, because the tale is told by sages gathered at the snake-sacrifice of Janamejaya, who is a direct descendant of the Pandavas.
The great war of Kurukshetra is won by Pandavas, and after that, they rule from Indraprastha for a period of thirty six years. That is long enough to rewrite history in important ways.
Especially in those days, since writing was either non-existent or rare (depending on when you believe the events took place), the king had disproportionate power on the flow of information.
In other words, he employed all the storytellers and balladeers who codified events into tales. Even if he did the honourable thing and encouraged them to be unbiased, the very fact that their lives depended on the king’s favour would have unconsciously introduced ‘angles’ to their narratives that made him look good.
I make this claim without passing any judgement. That is just how things work: history is by its very nature biased toward the victors.
So if we are to bring some level of objectivity to the Mahabharata story, we may begin by addressed Duryodhana as Suyodhana instead. And then we may examine the strength of his claim to the throne of Hastinapur.
While this point is often overlooked by the characters in the tale, it is true that Duryodhana’s right to the throne is – from a neutral point of view – much stronger than that of the Pandavas.
In fact, from certain angles, it seems that the Pandavas actually have no right to kingship whatsoever. It appears that Duryodhana is correct in claiming the Pandavas as usurpers and freeloaders.
In Duryodhana’s mind, therefore, the hatred that he has for his cousins is entirely justified – in the following manner.
Pandu over Dhritarashtra
The first act of injustice in the Kuru household occurs when Bhishma favours Pandu over Dhritarashtra to be king. The only official reason given for this is that Dhritarashtra is blind, therefore he is ‘unfit to be king’.
While it is impossible to argue that Dhritarashtra will be handicapped in no way by his affliction, it is also wrong to assume that the only available solution is to strip Dhritarashtra of his right to be king and give it to Pandu instead.
For example, Bhishma may have chosen to keep Dhritarashtra as a figurehead-king with Pandu joining the ranks of courtiers who support him. Bhishma and Vidura are already part of this committee; Pandu may have made a welcome addition.
Dhritarashtra cannot fight in a war because of his blindness. But a king’s power does not derive from his physical prowess in war. That is a general’s job. A king rules with wisdom, conducts diplomacy with tact, and manages his treasury like a trader.
In all of these skills, Dhritarashtra is at no disadvantage because of his blindness. With proper guidance, he could have become as good as ever.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 4: Kunti, Madri and Gandhari.)
Pandavas over Kauravas
Now, even if we concede that Bhishma made an error in judgement by sidelining Dhritarashtra, he compounds it by insisting that since Pandu became king, it is now his sons that have a right to the throne – even over Dhritarashtra’s.
Here, too, the more logical solution would have been to make Pandu king, but communicate effectively to all stakeholders that this transfer of power is to be confined only to this generation.
In other words, Bhishma should have called everyone into a room and said, ‘Look, we are installing Pandu on the throne. But Dhritarashtra is still the ‘true’ king. It is his firstborn that will be made crown-prince.’
Everyone in the family would have seen the inherent sense in this statement. Only upon receiving Pandu’s agreement to this proposal should he have made king.
Even if we concede the double-error on Bhishma’s part, when Pandu gives up his throne at the end of his expedition of conquest, and declares that he is leaving for the mountains, it is understood that he is doing this for good.
Once again, there is a distinct lack of communication between family members. Did Dhritarashtra ask whether or not Pandu intended to come back? Was this only a temporary transfer of title or was Pandu going to retire in the forest?
If the brothers were reluctant to talk to one another about these matters, Bhishma – as the elder – should have had the wisdom to sit the two of them in a room and thrash out the terms.
Because no such meeting takes place, everyone assumes different things. Pandu assumes that Dhritarashtra is only keeping the throne warm indefinitely for his sake. Dhritarashtra assumes Pandu is gone.
During the return of the Pandavas, Kunti comes bearing the corpses of Pandu and Madri. The sages of Gandhamadana who accompany Kunti tell the assembled Kuru citizens that Pandu had adopted the five children that Kunti has brought back.
Now, Pandu is not alive to confirm or deny this news. As far as the Kuru people know, no evidence exists – besides the word of Kunti and the corroboration of sages whom they have never seen – that any adoption has occurred.
There is also no evidence that Kunti’s story – that the Pandavas were born to gods – is true. In fact, if Pandu and Madri had died of some other causes suddenly, this is exactly the behaviour one would expect of Kunti.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 6: Pandu Dies.)
In order to bolster her sons’ claim to the throne, she would have insisted that the sages support her in the adoption claim and the ‘fathered by gods’ claim.
(Please note here that I am not questioning Kunti’s story. But from the Kurus’ point of view, this sudden return of Kunti should have been as highly sceptical – especially because Pandu is no more.)
If we forgive Bhishma’s lack of leadership and imagination in all of the above scenarios, let us consider the decade or so that the Kuru princes grow up together in the royal palace.
Bhishma is now able to see how the personalities are developing. He meets with Kunti and Gandhari often. He knows what each woman is thinking. He knows what Dhritarashtra’s thoughts are on the matter.
Over ten years, he has plenty of opportunities to take a decision either way. Either he says to Dhritarashtra, ‘Son, you’re out. Make way for Yudhishthir,’ or he says to Kunti, ‘Your sons have no path to the throne. We have made mistakes in the past. Time to correct them.’
But he does neither of these two things. He just sits on his hands and watches passively as Duryodhana’s frustration at his grandfather’s lack of conviction mounts.
If Duryodhana therefore often claims that Bhishma is partial to the Pandavas, is he wrong?
The final nail in the coffin is the decision that Bhishma, Vidura and Dhritarashtra (really the first two) take soon after the Pandavas’ wedding to Draupadi to divide the Kuru kingdom into two.
To be fair, these are not two equal parts. Khandavaprastha is said to be a small corner of the kingdom, not fertile or developed enough compared to the main city of Hastinapur.
But the Pandavas get a share of the treasury too, to help them build a kingdom and a capital. Over a twelve-year period, the support they receive from the Kuru leadership – both financial and psychological – is immense.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 13: Exile of Arjuna.)
Why should the Pandavas get anything at all? Why should the Kuru kingdom be divided? Duryodhana should be the rightful king, and the Pandavas should be given important positions of leadership in the kingdom.
There should only be one king. The sons of Pandu should – at best – serve this one king as noblemen. That is what kinsmen of other kings do. Just because they are sons of the king’s younger brother, they not get given pieces of the kingdom.
Once again, this is a failure of Bhishma’s leadership. Even at this late stage, he could have settled the matter once and for all. But he chooses to make it worse by breaking up Kuru – and deepening the enmity between Duryodhana and the Pandavas.
The main reason for Duryodhana’s hatred for the Pandavas is therefore Bhishma’s failure to manage expectations around who is the rightful heir to the throne.
Logically speaking, the Pandavas have no claim to the throne at all, because they are the sons of Pandu, who was only given the title of king because Dhritarashtra is blind.
Dhritarashtra’s firstborn, therefore, should be king. That is Duryodhana.
Also, the Pandavas cannot actually prove that they are the sons of Pandu. Duryodhana, meanwhile, is the biological son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari.
Despite all of this, seeing Bhishma and Vidura go to great lengths to appease the Pandavas irks Duryodhana. His hatred is fuelled by the ineptitude of the Kuru leaders.
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