Birth of Duryodhana
According to the myths, the birth of Duryodhana and other Kauravas was unique. Once Vyasa blessed Gandhari that she shall give birth to hundred children. When Gandhari became pregnant, her pregnancy continued for an unusually long period of time, she would beat her womb in frustration and would envy Kunti, the queen of Pandu, who had given birth to three of the five Pandavas.
Due to her actions, a hardened mass of flesh emerged from her womb. Gandhari was devastated, and worshipped Vyasa to help her out of this problem. Vyasa then divided the flesh ball into one hundred equal pieces, and put them in pots of ghee, which were sealed and buried into the earth for one year. At the end of the year, the first pot was opened from which Duryodhana emerged followed by other Kauravas.
When Duryodhana was born, he seemed to be surrounded by bad omen. The elders of the kingdom like Vidhura and Bhishma advised Dhritarashtra to abandon the child. Infact, Vidhura predicted a violent end of the dynasty. However, Dhritarashtra was too attached to his first-born child and so did not abandon it.
Early Years of Duryodhana
As Duryodhana grew up, he was deemed to be very powerful. It was perceived that his body was made of thunder. Like Ravana of Ramayana, Duryodhana was well versed with the religious scriptures and was a scholar, but he too misused his knowledge. He was jealous of the Pandavas, particularly Bhima who used to dominate the Kauravas in sport and skill, with his immense physical power and strength. Out of his intensive jealousy, Duryodhana also attempted to kill Bhima by poisoning his food, however Bhima was safe.
Despite the love he received from his family, Duryodhana's character and actions set him apart from the virtuous ideals upheld by the Pandavas, his cousins and rivals. This disparity in their conduct with respect to virtue, duty, and respect for elders fueled Duryodhana's resentment. Duryodhana's animosity towards the Pandavas stemmed from his conviction that they enjoyed preferential treatment solely due to the circumstances of their birth. He believed that their maternal uncle, Shakuni, played a significant role in orchestrating schemes aimed at humiliating and even eliminating the Pandavas. Under Shakuni's guidance, Duryodhana harbored a deep-seated hatred for his cousins.
One of the primary sources of Duryodhana's bitterness was his belief that, as the eldest son of King Dhritarashtra, he should rightfully ascend the throne of Hastinapura. However, due to his father's blindness, Dhritarashtra had to relinquish his claim to the throne in favor of his younger brother, Pandu. Duryodhana vehemently contested this decision, arguing that the throne should rightfully be his and not Yudhishthira's, his older cousin. He also questioned the lineage of the Pandavas, asserting that they were the offspring of Kunti and divine entities rather than Pandu, thereby rejecting their perceived superiority.
Determined to prove his worth, Duryodhana received martial training from his guru, Dronacharya, becoming exceptionally proficient in mace combat. He further honed his skills in mace fighting under the tutelage of Balarama, seeking to gain favor with him. Balarama, impressed by Duryodhana's prowess, referred to him as "lightning made flesh" and hailed him as the preeminent mace fighter of his generation. These martial skills would later play a crucial role in the epic battle of Kurukshetra, where Duryodhana would engage in a fierce rivalry with the Pandavas.
Duryodhana’s affinity with Karna
The one good characteristic of Duryodhana was his trust on Karna (illegitimate child of Kunti) whom he considered as his closest friend despite the caste difference. Duryodhana's affinity with Karna began when at the martial exhibition; the Kaurava and the Pandava princes demonstrated their skills before their elders, their guru Drona and the people of the kingdom. Meanwhile a great and effulgent warrior, Karna appeared and challenged Arjuna, who is considered by Drona to be the best of the warrior princes. But Karna was humiliated when Kripa asks him to ascertain his caste, as it would be inappropriate for unequal to compete.
Duryodhana immediately defended Karna, and made him the king of Anga so that he is regarded as Arjuna's equal. Karna pledged his friendship to Duryodhana, as Duryodhana had rescued him from the source of continuing humiliation and hardship for him. Neither of them knew that Karna is in fact Kunti's eldest son born to Surya. A very intense bond of friendship developed between the two, and Duryodhana became very close to Karna.
In the Kurukshetra War, Karna was Duryodhana's greatest hope for victory. He earnestly believed that Karna is superior to Arjuna, and that he could inevitably destroy him and his four brothers. While devoted to Duryodhana, Karna knows that even though his skills were as good as, if not better than Arjuna's, he was incapable of killing Arjuna as he had Lord Krishna to protect him. When Karna got killed, Duryodhana mourned his death immensely.
Marriage of Duryodhana
The narrative of Duryodhana's marriage, as recounted in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, sheds light on this aspect of his life. According to the epic, Duryodhana married the daughter of King Chitrangada of Kalinga. In the original text, the name of Duryodhana's wife remains unspecified. However, in subsequent adaptations and renditions, she has been referred to as Bhanumati and Trilokapura Princess Mayuri.
Duryodhana's marriage was marked by an unconventional course of events. He resorted to abduction after being rejected by the two princesses during their swayamvara, a self-choice ceremony. His close friend Karna assisted him in executing this audacious act. Upon their arrival in Hastinapur, Duryodhana sought to justify his actions by drawing a parallel to the legendary abduction of three princesses of Kashi by his great-grandfather, Bhishma, on behalf of his stepbrother.
Duryodhana's marital union with Bhanumati and Mayuri bore fruit in the form of two children, namely Laxman Kumara and Lakshmana. However, the Mahabharata provides limited information about them, aside from Laxman's unfortunate demise during the Kurukshetra War and Lakshmana's subsequent marriage to Samba, the son of Lord Krishna. It is worth noting that, according to the Mahabharata, Duryodhana had only two wives, and he held a deep and abiding affection for them throughout his life.
Duryodhana Usurping the Kuru Kingdom
Duryodhana's rise to power and his eventual usurpation of the Kuru Kingdom can be traced back to a series of events marked by jealousy and rivalry. Duryodhana participated in a plot by Shakuni to burn the Pandavas in a house of wax at Varnavata; however, they managed to escape the trap having been warned by Vidura. After the Pandavas survived the perilous wax house incident and emerged with a new life, the kingdom of Hastinapura found itself on the brink of internal strife. To alleviate this tension, the venerable Bhishma proposed a division of the kingdom.
Following Bhishma's counsel, Yudhishthira was granted half the kingdom and crowned as the ruler of Khandavprastha, a strategic move aimed at averting a direct clash between the Pandavas and the Kaurava princes over the entirety of the Kuru Kingdom. This decision, however, did not sit well with Duryodhana. He assumed the role of the crown prince in Hastinapura and, due to the advanced age and blindness of his father, King Dhritarashtra, he gradually accumulated significant control and influence within the state apparatus. To assist him in governing the kingdom, Duryodhana surrounded himself with a council of advisers, which included his uncle Shakuni, his brother Dushasana, Bhishma, Vidura, and the formidable warrior Karna.
When Dhritarashtra announced Yudhisthir as the heir to his throne, Duryodhana was left frustrated. To avoid any misunderstandings, Bhishma suggested to Dhritarashtra to divide the kingdom of Hastinapura. While the arid and barren land was handed over to Yudhisthir, Dhritarashtra kept the prosperous land for himself and his son.
Despite his newfound authority, Duryodhana remained consumed by jealousy, particularly directed towards Yudhishthira. His resentment deepened as he witnessed the Pandavas, along with Lord Krishna, transform Khandavprastha into the grand city of Indraprastha. Yudhishthira's performance of the Rajasuya Yagna, which conferred authority over numerous other kingdoms upon him, further intensified Duryodhana's envy. The prosperity and fame of Indraprastha began to overshadow that of Hastinapura in the eyes of the people.
Duryodhana in the Game of Dice
When the news of Indraprastha's beauty reached everywhere, Duryodhana decided to see the city personally. When he went to the Pandava's palace, he mistook water to be flooring and fell into the water. Bhima, Arjuna, the Pandava twins, and even the servants present couldn't contain their laughter at this unfortunate incident, further fueling his rage.
In popular culture, particularly in television shows and post-modern novels inspired by the Mahabharata, blame for Duryodhana's resentment is sometimes attributed to Draupadi, who is said to have taunted him with the phrase "the son of the blind man is also blind." However, in the original Sanskrit epic written by Ved Vyasa, there is no mention of Draupadi taunting Duryodhana. This misinterpretation only served to further enrage Duryodhana and intensify his hostility towards the Pandavas.
On reaching Hastinapura, Duryodhana and Shakuni (Duryodhana's uncle) planned a plot through which he could forcibly take away all the belongings of the Pandavas. Shakuni invited the Pandavas for the dice game. Shakuni who was an expert in the game was to play the game against Yudhisthir who was comparatively a novice in the game. As a result of this, Yudhisthir continuously lost the game to Shakuni. In the process he lost everything that he had kept at stake, which included his kingdom, his four brothers, himself and finally his wife too. To add to more insult Duryodhana ordered his brother Dushashana to get Draupadi to the forum. When Dushashana dragged Draupadi by her hair and tried to disrobe her, the elders in the forum were shocked and ashamed by Kaurava's action. Draupadi was left humiliated. Unable to bear this injustice done to the Pandavas, Dhritarashtra and Bhishma made Duryodhana to return back everything back to Yudhisthir.
But when the plot was repeated, Shakuni set the condition that Yudhisthira and his brothers would have to spend thirteen years in exile in the forest before they may receive their kingdom back. He also stated that the thirteenth year must be passed incognito, or else they would be compelled to repeat the term of exile.
Duryodhana in Virata War
During the course of his tumultuous life, Duryodhana's actions extended beyond the boundaries of the Kuru Kingdom, leading to his involvement in the Virata War. Duryodhana had forged a close friendship with Kichaka, the commander-in-chief of the Matsya Kingdom. However, a tragic incident unfolded when Bhima, one of the Pandavas, killed Kichaka in retribution for his humiliation of Draupadi, the Pandava queen.
In the wake of Kichaka's death, Duryodhana placed the blame squarely on King Virata of the Matsya Kingdom, holding him responsible for the demise of his dear friend. This accusation led to a heated confrontation between Duryodhana and King Virata, with Duryodhana openly insulting the Matsya monarch. In response to this affront, King Virata was incensed and issued an order for Duryodhana to vacate his kingdom immediately.
In response to this expulsion, Duryodhana, bolstered by his army, made the fateful decision to launch an attack on the Matsya Kingdom. To further strengthen his offence, he enlisted the support of his two wives and cousins, Susharma and his army. Their combined forces mounted a concerted assault on the Matsya Kingdom.
However, Duryodhana's ambitions to conquer Matsya faced formidable resistance. Arjuna and Bhima, two formidable warriors among the Pandavas, took up the defense of the Matsya Kingdom. Their strategic prowess and formidable combat skills proved to be insurmountable obstacles for Duryodhana and his allies. As a result, despite their best efforts, Duryodhana and his forces failed to achieve victory in their campaign against the Matsya Kingdom.
Battle of Kurukshetra
When the Pandavas returned back after thirteen years of exile, they asked back for their kingdom. However, Duryodhana did not wish to give it back. Despite by being chided by his elders like Bhishma, Vidhura and Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana remained adamant on his decision. This made the outbreak of Kurukshetra battle inevitable.
By the look at Kaurava's army as compared to that of Pandavas, one could have predicted an easy win for the Kauravas. The reason being that the Kauravas had invincible warriors like Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Ashwathama, and Shalya while Pandavas had only Krishna on their side. Duryodhana would constantly force Bhishma and Drona to blackmail the Pandavas or convince the Pandavas to play another game of dice. Not only this, he was involved in an unethical destruction of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna.
But little did Duryodhana know that by engaging in unethical ways of battle, he was inviting distraught from the Pandavas side. The Kaurava side began to slowly loose the battle with the death of stalwarts like Drona, Bhishma and even Karna (who was slain by Arjuna after days of valorious fight). Arjuna also killed atleast thousands of Kuru soliders in a single day to avenge the death of his son Abhimanyu. This made the Kauravas weak.
Duryodhana's hopes began to get shattered and after making some final desperate efforts, he fled the battlefield and hid near a lake, within which he survived by his mystic powers of yoga. He came out from the river only after Ashwathama and Kripa encouraged him to face his destiny with courage.
On learning that except for Duryodhana all her sons have been killed, Gandhari was left shocked. Despite knowing her son's evil tendencies, Gandhari out of motherly love decides to bless her son. After years of blindfolding her eyes out of respect for her blind husband, Gandhari- an ardent devotee of God Shiva, decided to remove her blindfold to use the great mystic power of her eyes in order to make every part of Duryodhana's body invincible to all attack. For this purpose, she called upon Duryodhana to her tent and told him to appear before her naked. As Duryodhana was entering the tent stark naked,Krishna who was just leaving her tent criticized Duryodhana who then covered his thigh and groin and appeared before his mother. When Gandhari's eyes fell on Duryodhana's body, she was shocked to see his thighs and groin covered. Hence, she could not bless his thighs and groin, which became susceptible to the enemy's attack.
War of Mace with Bhima
The culmination of the great Kurukshetra War bore witness to a pivotal event known as the "War of Mace" between Duryodhana and Bhima. By the eighteenth day of the war, Duryodhana found himself bereft of his army, with only a trio of loyal companions remaining such as Ashwatthama, Kripa, and Kritvarma. In a bid to find solace and clarity, Duryodhana withdrew to meditate in a serene lake.
As fate would have it, the Pandavas, led by Yudhishthira and accompanied by Lord Krishna, eventually located Duryodhana. In a surprising turn of events, Duryodhana expressed his desire to relinquish his claim to the kingdom and retire to the forest, offering to gift the throne to the Pandavas. Yudhishthira, however, firmly declined this offer, asserting that Hastinapur was not Duryodhana's to bestow. Instead, he proposed a singular resolution to the conflict, a one-on-one combat, wherein Duryodhana could select any of the Pandava brothers to face him in battle, with each contestant allowed to choose a weapon of their preference. The victor of this intense confrontation would emerge as the ultimate victor of the war.
Despite the perceived advantage he held over Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Nakula, or Sahadeva, Duryodhana chose his long-standing rival, Bhima, as his opponent. This decision was rooted in Duryodhana's belief in his superior technique, honed through unwavering dedication and training under the guidance of Balarama, their martial arts instructor.
The ensuing battle between Bhima and Duryodhana was fierce and unrelenting. Duryodhana's technique and skill enabled him to gain an upper hand, nearly rendering Bhima unconscious from exhaustion. However, at a critical juncture, Lord Krishna, who had been closely observing the combat, issued a signal to Bhima by repeatedly clapping his own thigh with his hand. This signal served to remind Bhima of a solemn oath he had taken after the infamous game of dice – the oath to crush Duryodhana's thighs.
Empowered by this memory and driven by his resolve, Bhima delivered a powerful blow with his mace, striking Duryodhana's thigh with lethal force. This devastating strike mortally wounded Duryodhana, causing him immense pain and distress. As a final act of humiliation, Bhima, in his victory, kicked Duryodhana's face.
Duryodhana, now lying defeated and grievously injured, lamented the unfairness of his demise. He contended that Bhima's attack, striking below the waist, violated the rules of a mace fight. His cry of injustice enraged Balarama, the brother of Lord Krishna, who raised his weapon in anger, ready to retaliate against this perceived transgression. However, Lord Krishna intervened, calming Balarama by reminding him of Duryodhana's malevolent deeds and chastising him for attempting to interfere in a war in which he had refused to participate.
In his final moments, Duryodhana, while acknowledging his defeat, boasted of a glorious death and reflected on his time as the ruler of Hastinapur, contrasting it with the Pandavas' years of exile. He expressed the belief that his afterlife would be spent in the company of his friends and relatives. With unwavering conviction, Duryodhana continued to criticize the Pandavas for their strategies and deceit during the war, fervently upholding his own character and declaring that he would depart from this world with contentment.
Death of Duryodhana
Having observed the intense battle between Duryodhana and Bhima, Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, and Kritvarma refrained from intervening, recognizing the importance of preserving Duryodhana's honor. Once the combat had reached its conclusion and Bhima emerged victorious by striking Duryodhana below the waist, they approached Duryodhana's battered body. In this moment of vulnerability, Ashwatthama pledged to Duryodhana that he would avenge his defeat by dispatching the Pandavas and their allies to the realm of Yama, the god of death. Seeking Duryodhana's permission to continue the war, Ashwatthama was granted the fallen warrior's consent.
Proceeding with his mission, Ashwatthama proceeded to eliminate the Upapandavas and the remaining remnants of the Panchalas. Upon his return to Duryodhana, he displayed his sword, stained with the blood of the Upapandavas. Hearing of this vengeance, Duryodhana departed from this world, his thirst for revenge satiated. Simultaneous with Duryodhana's death, Sanjaya, who had been blessed with divine sight to provide updates to Duryodhana's father, King Dhritarashtra, lost this extraordinary vision. This loss signified the conclusive end of the devastating war.
In the aftermath of the war, as the Pandavas embarked on their retirement, it was only Yudhishthira who attained heaven while still alive. In this celestial realm, Yudhishthira was surprised to encounter Duryodhana. Puzzled by this presence, Yudhishthira inquired of Narada, the celestial sage, about how Duryodhana had found his place in heaven. Narada explained that Duryodhana had fulfilled his religious duties, which had allowed him entry into this divine abode.
Thus, the death of Duryodhana, marked by his final moments on the battlefield, his pursuit of vengeance, and his eventual presence in heaven, serves as a profound and complex episode within the epic of the Mahabharata.