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In the Mahabharata, what does Duryodhana's friendship with Karna teach us?

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

This blog is all about the foundation of the relationship between Duryodhana and Karna as depicted in the Mahabharata. Was it a pure friendship or a combination of greatness and gratitude or offer and payoff or favor and debt or something else? Let’s go deeper.

When Karna, in his young age, appeared for the first time in front of Kauravas and Pandavas, it was an occasion of exhibition and examination of weapons training and tactics of the princes. When all of the princes exhibited their tactics one by one and the program was at its end, Drona announced that anybody, who considered himself as capable enough like his pupil, could appear in the ground and show his skills in front of the mass. There was nobody but Karna to take that challenge of Drona and come forward.

Karna came forward and demonstrated his merit in such a way that everybody present over there was astonished! The demonstration of his qualification on weapons and war-tactics was so spectacular that Drona and all his pupil including Arjuna were shocked! For Drona, it was unimaginable that anyone could be so eligible without being his student. In this way, after finishing the show off, Karna publicly challenged Arjuna for a duel. Arjuna, considered to be the greatest archer of the world of that time, was extremely surprised to see the dare of Karna! He was ready and keen to accept that open challenge. But Drona was not fully clear of doubt. His ego was hurt. He strongly opposed Karna. According to Drona, as Karna was neither a prince nor a Kshatriya, he was not at all eligible for a duel with Arjuna. He was not even eligible to take part in such a royal program too. At that time, Duryodhana raised his voice and came forward to welcome Karna. He ignored his genealogical identity and accepted him as a great valiant combatant. Not only he embraced Karna publicly as his friend but offered him the authority of a province of their kingdom too. Thus Karna, in a moment, became one of the important chiefs of the Kaurava-kingdom. Being accepted this way by Duryodhana, Karna was spellbound! He lost his words and promised Duryodhana to support him till his last breath. This was one of the major turning points of The Mahabharata.

Now the question is what made Duryodhana so kind that he accepted Karna going beyond the cast system of that time? By offering Karna a position, equivalent to other chiefs of their kingdom, did he raise voice against the caste system? Was it an attempt to establish equality over the cast system? Did he talk about humanity through this act? Maybe, it would be really good if he had that intention in real. But alas, it was not like that. Then what was it?

Duryodhana was well aware of the fact that Bheema and Arjuna were two main pillars of the Pandavas. Without defeating Bheema and Arjuna, the finishing of Pandavas was absolutely impossible. Duryodhana himself was quite worthy of facing Bheema, but Arjuna was still a question mark. In the entire Kaurava team, there was nobody who could face Arjuna and defeat him in war. So when Duryodhana saw the skills, merits, qualifications and bravery of Karna, he found a golden opportunity in him. He understood that Karna could complete their force and fill in that blank in their cohort which he had always been searching for. Hence, if Karna combines with him, Panvadas will not be invulnerable any more. When this thought came in his mind, he jumped on the ground to grab the opportunity without wasting time. He embraced Karna, called him as his friend and offered the authority of a province named ‘Anga’. For Karna, the oppose by Drona was expected, but such acceptance by Duryodhana was beyond his imagination. So he was forever indebted to Duryodhana for his grace and pledged to accompany him, protect him, and help him in all his projects till the end of his life. He vowed that, no matter what, he would never leave the companionship of Duryodhana. Therefore for Duryodhana, it was all about grabbing an invaluable opportunity to defeat the Pandavas; and for Karna, it was repaying a lifetime debt. After all, it’s needless to say that showing off friendship, equality, humanity, generosity etcetera were just a part of Duryodhana’s plan and eyewash for others. So Karna was just an opportunity for Duryodhana who was a born opportunist.

What was the foundation of the relationship between Duryodhana and Karna?
The coronation of Karna by Duryodhana

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