Mahabharata is perhaps the only ‘scripture’ which shows realistic characters. With every other scripture talking about the characters being a vessel of either virtue or vice, it is perhaps only the this one text and story which takes place in the Dvapar Yuga and deals with Grey Characters. No one can claim that there is even one character in Mahabharata who was completely perfect. This realistic portrayal of the characters signifies that duality is the guiding impulse of existence.
The core story of Mahabharata is that of a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura, the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. The two collateral branches of the family that participate in the struggle are the Kaurava and the Pandava. Although the Kaurava is the senior branch of the family, Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, is younger than Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava. Both Duryodhana and Yudhisthira claim to be first in line to inherit the throne. The struggle culminates in the great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. The battle produces complex conflicts of kinship and friendship, instances of family loyalty and duty taking precedence over what is right, as well as the converse. The Mahabharata itself ends with the disappearance of Krishna, and the subsequent end of his dynasty. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu age of Kali Yuga, the fourth and final age of mankind, in which great values and noble ideas have crumbled, and man is heading towards the complete dissolution of right action, morality and virtue.
Now, since the Pandavas were supposedly the conventional protagonists and Kauravas, the conventional villains, we expect that Duryodhana and his brothers would have been hurled to hell. Duryodhana the man who told Dushasana to strip Draupadi naked in front of the entire assembly, the one who deceived the Pandavas so many times. His expected fate would have been that he should be hurled to hell. However, you will be surprised to know that this was not the case. In fact, Duryodhana got lucky enough to reach paradise. Why?
While most critics give only a single reason for this happening, the reasons for this are many:
Anyone who takes birth on the land of Kurukshetra and dies out of renunciation or in a war has to go to the Heaven
The great ancestor Kuru, after whom the land around Hastina-puri came to be known as Kuru-kshetra, kept tilling the earth using his flesh as seed and blood as water until an exasperated Indra asked him what he wants. Kuru wanted nothing for himself. His only wish was that those who die on the land tilled by him would ascend to paradise instantly. Indra accepted to this on one condition. It was not enough to die in Kuru-kshetra; the manner of death mattered too: either death by renunciation or death in a war.
Delay in the Kaurava’s birth
Gandhari conceived and she bore the burden of the Kaurava brothers in her womb for two long years without being delivered. Impatient, after Yudhishtra’s birth, she struck her womb with great violence. This resulted in the coming out of a hard mass of flesh which was later divided into 100 pieces and put in different pots. Moreover, Dushala, who was a daughter of Gandhari was born before the Pandavas. Thus, the children of Gandhari and Dhritirashtra, in a way, always faced injustice. This draws our sympathy towards them and might be a reason for the Kaurava’s not being sent to hell.
Duryodhana was a good Kshatriya and had the courage to befriend a ‘lower caste’- Karna
In C. Rajagopalachari’s Mahbharata, it is mentioned that Indra tells Duryodhana that the reason behind his ascend to heaven is that he has been a true kshatriya and has performed his duties well. Duryodhana was also the only one in the Kuru Dynasty who befriended the apparent son of a charioteer. Moreover, it the battle of Kurukshetra involved a lot of clever means to render the Kauravas as losers. Thus, many believe that Duryodhana and his brothers had to suffer injustice in that way.
4. The extreme injustice done to Duryodhana :
i) Due to Gandhari’s blessing, Duryodhana’s body had become invincible, no matter how expertly or forcefully Bhima hit it. So, Bhima played unfair by hitting Duryodhana below the waist, which was the only destructible part of his body.
ii) Duryodhana happened to be the favourite student of Balarama. Duryodhana was a good student. He did not try to do everything. He chose one discipline – mace fighting and stuck with it. He chose the best in the industry to teach him. He put his heart mind and soul into it and was eventually regarded as the best in mace-fighting. Some consider him a better fighter than Bheema and hence believe that Bheema had to adopt unfair means of defeating him.
iii) Balarama sided with Duryodhana because Samba (Krishna’s son) abducted Lakshmana, the daughter of Duryodhana and inspite of defeating Samba in battle – it was eventually decided that Samba will marry Lakshmana. This rankled in Duryodhana’s heart for long – and Balarama sympathized with him.
iv) Moreover, Balarama wanted Subhadra to marry Duryodhana. And when he was married to Arjuna, he was left shattered. Balarama empathised with Duryodhana for the same.
v) We all know that Draupadi in the Palace of Illusions mocked at Duryodhana by calling him a blind man’s son. This had hurt his ego and resulted in igniting a spirit of revenge in his soul.
While, we may not know what the reality is, the truth is that each and everyone of us has got both good and bad within our being. The evil inside us is not of type but of degree. All we need to do is keep a check on this or reach equilibrium so that we don’t turn out to be villainous. Surely, one bad deed doesn’t make you a bad guy. For the Ball is always in your court – It’s on you to choose the path of balance (because good and bad are nothing but subjective terms.)