The real villain of Mahabharata!

A simple question was asked to me by a 12-year-old boy a long time ago. I couldn’t answer him. Even today I am not able to answer this question. The question was: “Who is the real villain of the epic Mahabharata?”
I happened to read Mahabharata during my teens. I still remember most of it (though, generally my memory is poor). I have been thinking about the characters in the epic. But even today I was not able to find out an answer!
If you read the many versions of Mahabharata (other than the original Veda Vyasa’s Jaya aka Mahabharata) you may answer like this: “The Kauravas, especially the eldest of them, Duryodhana. You might even say Duryodhana = Evil Warrior.”
Was he a villain? In fact, the meaning is Dur = difficult (to conquer) in Yodhana = fighting. So his name means one who is difficult to win against. That was true. Later, during Mahabharat War, Bheema killed Duryodhana using tricks and not in a Dharmic way.
Well. The real Mahabharata doesn’t say what is right or wrong. There is no hero or villain. The good Vs bad is a Semitic concept. Mahabharata is about Dharma Yudh (Dharma = duty, responsibility, privilege, and right together. Yudh = war). Both Kauravas and Pandavas fought the war because they thought they were right.
In fact, Kauravas had the ‘right’ and Pandavas were ‘right’.
Duryodhana, the eldest of 100 Kauravas, was the Prince with a rightful claim to the throne. According to the tradition during those times, the eldest son of the King should be the next King.
The King of Hastinapur was Dhritarashtra. Since he was blind he delegated his younger brother Pandu to rule the Kingdom temporarily. No doubt, Pandu was a good ruler, but later he left the Kingdom for good with his two wives – Kunti and Madri.
Dhritarashtra had 100 children (Kauravas), the eldest being Duryodhana – so he was the rightful next King.
Pandu didn’t have any children. Kunti and Madri had children from different sources. But they were not Pandu’s kids. Later Pandu and Madri dead. Kunti decided to raise the five children (named Pandavas).
She didn’t go to her father’s kingdom or to her brother Vasudeva (who was Krishna’s father). Instead, one fine morning, Kunti comes to Hastinapur with the five children, Pandavas.
Pandu didn’t have any rights as a King. Even if he has, Pandavas are not his children. But Dhritarashtra was kind and generous. So, even if he knew Pandavas were not his brother’s sons, he has given them half of the Kingdom and a palace at Indraprastha (Today’s Delhi).
Eldest of Pandavas, Yuddhishtra ruled Indraprastha. He was a very Dharmic and rightful King. But he had a weakness – addiction to the dice game. Once, he lost his kingdom in a game of dice to Duryodhana.
Again, Dhritarashtra, the just King interfered and gave the Kingdom back to Yuddhishtra seeing the pathetic situation of Pandavas. The action of Dhritarashtra proves his magnanimity.
Yuddhishtra would have lived happily and ruled the Kingdom. But greed and vices in his character lead him again to the game of dice. The bet was approved by both parties. Yuddhishtra failed. Lost the Kingdom failed again. He even pledges his brothers and wife. Is it Dharmic?
Till this moment you can’t say Kauravas or Duryodhana had done any villainous act.
However, after winning the game Duryodhana had done a very nasty, Adharmic act. Insulting a woman! According to Hindu Dharma Shastras, a woman should be treated respectfully and with dignity.
Kauravas (not all of them) dragged the wife of Pandavas, Draupadi (her actual name is Krishna and she was dark in complexion), who was in a single garment and having her periods, forcefully by pulling her hair, then trying to take off her upper garments.
Then they mocked her and asked her to select another husband just because her husbands were turned into slaves. Most of them thoroughly enjoyed the entire show in laughter. Yes, this incident was the only Adharmic deed by Duryodhana and his brothers.
Remember, while everywhere on this earth, women were considered as slaves of men, in India, they were considered equal and even worshipped. So if a man insults a woman he deserves death, as per our Dharma.
14 years after they lost the Kingdom, Pandavas come back with a claim again. Prince Duryodhana said NO to them. Then War happens. Pandavas win. Vyasa says the victory was hollow. He highlights the futility of war and violence in the epic.
Mahabharat does not define evil or good. Dharma traditions do not have a concept of evil.
So, who is the real hero or villain of Mahabharat? Only you can tell based on your perspective. Vyasa, who was an avatar of Vishnu, honestly wrote down history as is. Of course, he had taken the poetic freedom to exaggerate a little bit though. He didn’t say one is good and another is bad. Instead, he has shown how the human (Manushya), godly (Daiva), and demonic (Asura) qualities are mixed in everyone.
I believe human life will be worthy only if one reads the great epic. I won’t say that if you didn’t read the original Mahabharat your life is a waste, though it appears a bare truth. If you read it, you’ll get enlightened.
So let me ask the same question to you – who is the hero or villain of Mahabharat? Please let me know. Not for the sake of arguing, but to find the different perspectives!

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