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The Hero In Duryodhana

It has been quite long since I wrote anything. Probably because I hardly have time to read. A book on the shelves of a bookstore randomly caught my attention, and rocked my world. It was an account of the Mahabharat as a story of Duryodhana's life.I realised that thanks to the narrative that has been maintained over generations, we have come to believe that the various characters in our epics were black, or white;you are either the hero, or a villain. We actively forget that our epics were not, and are not, a collection of dusty proverbs told in the form of a story. They are the stories of common people of another era, and just like the people potrayed in our epics, their stories have an enormous grey area, and are meant to explore the complexities of human nature.

It has been quite long since I wrote anything. Probably because I hardly have time to read. A book on the shelves of a bookstore randomly caught my attention, and rocked my world. It was an account of the Mahabharat as a story of Duryodhana's life.I realised that thanks to the narrative that has been maintained over generations, we have come to believe that the various characters in our epics were black, or white;you are either the hero, or a villain. We actively forget that our epics were not, and are not, a collection of dusty proverbs told in the form of a story. They are the stories of common people of another era, and just like the people potrayed in our epics, their stories have an enormous grey area, and are meant to explore the complexities of human nature.

The Ramayana, surprisingly, is a bit clear on this-Ravana was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was a staunch devotee of Shiva and an illustrious ruler who lead his country into such wealth and prosperity that the streets were fabled to be inlaid with gold, thus leading to the name- Golden Lanka. While the sin he committed by kidnapping Sita is not to be condoned, that doesn't make him a 'bad guy'. Though he is the villain of the Ramayana, he had more good qualities than bad, and was a great king.


The Ramayana, surprisingly, is a bit clear on this-Ravana was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was a staunch devotee of Shiva and an illustrious ruler who lead his country into such wealth and prosperity that the streets were fabled to be inlaid with gold, thus leading to the name- Golden Lanka. While the sin he committed by kidnapping Sita is not to be condoned, that doesn't make him a 'bad guy'. Though he is the villain of the Ramayana, he had more good qualities than bad, and was a great king.


Duryodhana, on the other hand, has it worse. He is vilified as a complete villain who did everything based on greed, lust, and angst towards his cousins-the Pandavas.


It is usually forgotten that while he had horrible qualities, he had many great ones too, that made him stand apart from the Pandavas. The Pandavas, and Krishna on the other hand, had detestable qualities as explained above that are often forgotten in the brilliance of Krishna's glory.


It is never specified how exactly Duryodhana was evil. While he had unreedemable qualities that lead to his downfall, he was a courageous warrior with exceptional skill in the art of mace fighting. He was said to be brilliant, kind, and was a good ruler. The Kurukshetra war, if looked at closely, was not a battle for the welfare of the people, the citizens of the country;rather, it was a dynastic war for succession between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Nowhere in the great epic is it written that people were unhappy under Duryodhana's rule.



While treating someone poorly on the basis of caste is essentially illegal in India now, we see that Karna, who, (in my opinion) is the greatest hero in all of Mahabharata, is treated poorly on account of his caste. In the light of his horrible actions towards Draupadi, the wrongs done toward him by the Pandavas are forgotten. The reason a warrior of such calibre, renowned throughout the country for his Dharma, fights alongside Duryodhana is that he was the only one who saw Karna for what he was- a great warrior, irrespective of his caste. When disgraced at the martial exhibition for his caste despite being just as good (or better) than Arjuna, Duryodhana is the only one who stands alongside Karna, and offers him a portion of the kingdom, elevating him from the position of that of a Charioteer's son to that of a king in an instant.



While searching for the Pandavas in their thirtheenth year of exile, Duryodhana reached the sourthern forests of Kerala. Feeling extremely thristy, he asked an old lady for water. The old lady, belonging to a low caste, offered him some toddy which he drank gratefully. The old woman, realising that he was of Royal lineage, was touched that a man of his standing would accept something from an untouchable, but as we see in the epic, the eldest Kaurava never saw caste. Duryodhana, on the other hand, was touched by her hospitality, and after meditating on a nearby hill, praying to Lord Shiva for the prosperity of the villagers, he assigned swathes of agricultural land to the villagers.


The villagers built a temple on the very spot where he meditated. To this day, the temple pays its property tax in the name of 'Duryodhana', showing the love and respect the villagers have for the 'villain' of the Mahabharata.


Does this mean the exoneration of his evil acts? Of course not. This post is to merely show everyone, that life is neither black, or white, but rather multiple shades of grey.(again, as before, copied word for word from Jeffrey Archer). The fact that Duryodhana was a good man does not condone his acts of evil, but neither does the good qualities of the Pandavas exonerate them from their sins. Once believed to mean 'a bad ruler', it has only recently come to popular attention that in reality, 'Duryodhana' meant ,' one who is extremely difficult to wage war against'. For all his faults and merits, he did live true to his name.


Thiruvalluvar did say,


குணம்நாடிக் குற்றமும் நாடி அவற்றுள்


மிகைநாடி மிக்க கொளல்.


Weigh well the good of each, his failings closely scan, As these or those prevail, so estimate the man.


In the end, whether or not Duryodhana was a villain is left to us to decide, after reading the Mahabharat. I believe his actions towards draupadi were heinous, and his failings were many, and probably unforgivable.But we have just looked at the demerits for too long. It's time we looked at the other side, whether or not we decide to change our opinion.













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