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Duryodhana: Is there ever a limit to our ambitions?

Updated: Feb 27, 2022


Blog #14

  • Do you believe that monarchy is only reserved for those of royal descent?

  • Do you think bloodline overrides all other qualifications to become a king or queen?

  • Would loyalty to a friend override loyalty to your own family?

  • Are you willing to chase a title or status at the cost of everything else including the ruin of your own family?

  • Would you ever concede defeat? Even if victory is clearly out of your grasp?

  • Would you drive for victory at any cost?

Mahabharata Context:

Duryodhana is the eldest son of Queen Gandhari and King Dhritarashtra born after a long difficult pregnancy. He grows up with his hundred brothers, his sister and his five cousins, the Pandavas. They are all taught by the same teacher, Guru Dronacharya (Drona). A major rivalry quickly emerges as the children start growing up- Duryodhana and Bheema. Duryodhana knows that his father Dhritarashtra is the caretaker king but from his vantage point, he is the first born of a sitting king and therefore the heir apparent to the Hastinapur throne, not Prince Yudhistira. His refusal to ever acknowledge Yudhistira as the next in line to the throne is the fault line in the Mahabharata that leads to the war.

Duryodhana makes numerous failed attempts to kill or sideline the Pandavas and fails each time through timely intervention by others or just sheer bad luck. He quickly allies himself with the powerful Karna and makes him King of Anga. His animosity for the Pandavas and their bride Draupadi leads to his lewd commands asking Draupadi to sit on his thighs. The pivotal flashpoint when he chooses defeat is where he chooses the large Yadava army to join his side rather than an unarmed Lord Krishna, who promptly joins Prince Arjuna and the Pandavas. This decisively tips the scale and the battle ends with his brutal defeat and death at the hands of his arch rival Bheema in the final mace fight. Duryodhana remained defiant and unrepentant in death despite knowing that his decisions obliterated his entire family tree.

Our null hypothesis for the Duryodhana persona

Duryodhana has many admirable attributes- strong, powerful, ambitious, larger than life, loyal friend, skilled in the art of war and unbeatable with a mace club. Duryodhana's generosity and loyalty to King Karna are remarkable highlights of true friendship between men. However, Duryodhana's competitive rivalry with Bheema and his stubborn refusal to make peace with the principled Yudhisthira stand out as signs of a large narcissistic mind focussed only on himself with scant regard to the incredible human costs of his decisions.

Lessons learned:

We can certainly learn the value of friendship from Duryodhana. True friends stand with us in good times and especially during bad times. However, a bigger learning for us to have some empathy for the other side of a negotiation and to understand the costs of our decisions that we force on our families. It is not something to take lightly. Do we weigh the costs our family bears as more important than our choices during these pivotal moments in life? Can we say we have always put our family first over our selfish wishes? What % of Duryodhana do you have in you?

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