Duryodhana’s birth was a miracle from S´iva, assisted by a blessing from Vyâsa. (See account under Dhritarâshthra.) Duryodhana was raised in the palace of King Pandu, who reigned because his blind brother Dhritarâshthra was disqualified by his infirmity.
When Pandu died, his oldest son Yudhishthira became king. Duryodhana and his ninety-nine brothers had trained in the martial arts with their five cousins, the sons of Pandu, or Pandavas. However, jealousy grew into hatred, and Duryodhana turned into one of the arch villains of Indian literature and myth.
The sheer length of the Mahâbhârata, the world’s largest epic poem, provided dozens of lengthy episodes that illustrated his deceit, cruelty, and malice. Duryodhana was also a clever opponent of the Pandavas.
On one occasion, with the help of his uncle S´akuni, Duryodhana led Yudhishthira into a gambling match that ended with the loss of his kingdom and even of the wife he shared with his brothers, Draupadî. Dushshâsana, Duryodhana’s son, dragged Queen Draupadî (also know as Pâñchâlî after her birthplace) into the Kauravas’ great assembly hall and tried to disrobe her in front of her defeated husbands and the other members of the palace.
She was helped by Krishna and was saved from humiliation. It was the miracle of the unending sari. The Pandava brothers and their joint wife Draupadî were forced into exile and after the agreed-upon thirteen years returned in the fourteenth to reclaim the kingdom, but Duryodhana refused to give it up.
So the hundred Kaurava brothers, led by Duryodhana, and the five Pandava brothers assembled their armies. Duryodhana asked Krishna to join on his side, but Krishna gave him the choice: either Krishna or his army. Duryodhana took the army, and Krishna joined the Pandavas as Arjuna’s chariot driver.
The battle involved great slaughter, but it eventually went badly for the Kauravas. On the eighteenth day they were routed, and Duryodhana fled the field of battle and hid in a lake. He had the miraculous power of surviving under water. He was discovered and forced to fight in single combat with Bhîma, the giant Pandava.
Duryodhana was winning, but Bhîma, remembering his vow to avenge Draupadî’s humiliation, struck Duryodhana below the waist, a dishonorable act. Duryodhana was left to die, but three of his army found him—the very last survivors of his great army. That night the survivors went into the Pandava camp, murdering many and bringing back the heads of five Pandava grandchildren.
Duryodhana mistook these for the heads of the five brothers whom he so hated. He asked for the head of Bhîma and when he found that he was able to crush it, he knew the deception. His dying words condemned the loss of life of innocents. He had died a “good fighter” (suyodhana).
One interesting reversal came at the end of the story of Yudhishthira’s long quest to reach heaven. Yudhishthira found that Duryodhana, his enemy and cause of so much of his and others’ suffering, had reached heaven years before. Duryodhana had done his duty (dharma) and for so doing had been granted his place with Brahmâ.