The character of the epic "anti-hero" Duryodhana is examined across a variety of theatrical and other representations with the aim of showing that, in him, resides also the remnants of an older "heroism"devoted to this-wordly dharmic values and hostile to the new bhakti of Krishna.

IT IS MY BELIEF THAT THE Sanskrit Mahabhirata came to be the continuing repository of crisis in the public discourse of classical India. This is true in a number of ways: first, the text depicts a world itself in permanent crisis, a world whose karmic dominoes of human weakness reach into past and future horizons until bounded by creation and apocalypse; secondly, the Mahabharata escaped the prescriptive classical norms which created, as David Shulman2 might describe it, a "literature of samskdra," a literature whose genre dynamisms were made to run within limited loops, a literature, seen in most dramas and mahakavyas (court epics), which forestalled the exploration of disintegration and chaos; finally, the Sanskrit Mahabhdrata became the ddhdra (substratum) of crisis in classical India simply because it existed as a single, recognizable (although highly permeable) text for at least a thousand years. Or is it the other way around? Did the text remain available and permeable for so long because it was needed to serve as the locus for exploring crises?

A careful, philologically grounded inquiry has traditionally provided Indologists with the surest hope of establishing the textual background against which issues such as these may be explored. At the same time, the question of how we are to read a mighty narrative like the Mahabharata is bound to a broader and more difficult reflection on what it is we are doing with texts. Over the past hundred years Indologists have recurringly made what might be called positivist use of literary texts as historical documents, regarding them as potential sources of information about life in ancient times.3 Quarrying of this sort has been encouraged not only by European scientistic approaches to the study of texts, but in the case of the Mahdbhdrata perhaps also by a misunderstandingof the traditional Indian characterization of the text as "historic" and "encyclopedic." Authors such as Holtzmann and Dahlmann attempted, in rather different ways, to coordinate the evidence of

1 This essay is based on a paper delivered at the American

Academy of Religion annual conference in Boston on December 7, 1987, as part of a panel entitled "The Mahdbhhrataand its Transformations."I thank Wendy Doniger and Alf Hiltebeitel for their responses to the paper, Norman Cutler, Edwin Gerow, and Sheldon Pollock for commenting on later drafts. 2 David Dean Shulman, The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985). Shulman discovers a primary and mutually transforming relationship between a mode of "tragic" limitation within an obsessively ordered (brahmanical) samskdra and the mode which breaks free of this limitation through comic critique and "frame-shifting"-that is, clowning (Tamil vilaiyatcal,
Sanskrit lild).

3 Recent theorists in the disciplines of history and intellectual history have (characteristically) resisted a unitary terminology to describe the other (usually older) historiography. Dominick LaCapra's term "documentary" is found in his importantessay "Rethinking Intellectual History and Reading Texts," in Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1983), where it describes one aspect of a text, the other aspect being the Heideggerian "worklike." The pairs "constative/performative" (J. L. Austin) and "analytico-referential/patterning" (Timothy J. Reiss) are similar in their application to textual processes, and by extension to approaches to the discovery of knowledge. These writers intend to highlight the role of the modernist, scientific view of reality and its apprehension (hence, my "positivist") in the study of texts, as against a "dialogic" way which involves the apprehender and the text being apprehendedin a process of mutual transformation.



Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama The Mahabharata


the Mahdbhdrata with moments or phases in Indian history or cultural history.4 These writers did not necessarily assume that these texts provided a straightforward representation of their era of composition; still, they were looking for information. They understood that textual and sectarian editorial processes had obscured the picture, and so, like restorers of paintings, scraped away (with the tools of lower and higher criticism) to uncover the "original" image from which historical knowledge could be reconstructed. Although there are undeniably documentary aspects to any literary text, the text itself is not a "simple document or index of a more basic, if not absolute ground, reality, or context."5 It is not the role of literary texts to depict a historical era or eras in any more than an incidental fashion. Rather, the entire body of epic material, for example, is historical insofar as it constitutes the past unfolding of a public discourse, a discourse that is formative of, as well as formed by, social behaviors and self-understandings, that is formative of, as well as formed by, textual traditions, and that is obstreperously multi-vocal. Thus the historicizing we want to do will be the kind which comprehends this ongoing public discourse in the classical world. I will return to this notion at the conclusion of this essay, in attempting to place a fundamental problem raised by the Mabhdbhdrata within the typologies of the Western genre called tragedy. I see the primary discourse of the emerging epic text (which includes all its "versions" and retellings in other genres)6 as a series of attempts to come to terms
4 Adolph Holtzmann, Jr., Das Mahdbhdrata und seine

with the inherently problematic and self-destructive nature of social institutions-in this case of course ksatriya institutions.7 The issue spills out of the various narrative and discursive speculations on the central event of the Bharata world-the war with all its causes and effects. At the center of this cataclysm is the figure of the eldest Kaurava brother, Duryodhana. And whether they choose to accept or to modify a received story, succeeding versions of the Mahabhdrata invariably have trouble developing a uniform characterization of the stubborn, perverse Duryodhana: If he is the pretender who embodies the disruptive evil, how is it that he is also consistently King Duryodhana, the atiksatriya, the "super-ksatriya"whose heroic virtue it is not to capitulate to Lord Krishna's plan to Pandavize, i.e., theocratize Aryavarta. For although kings are not replaced with priests in the new order, the Pandavas respond to god Krishna's favor with more than worship: they follow his advice in pursuing actions not sanctioned in ksatriya tradition. What makes Duryodhana evil? Certainly there is an often-repeated litany of crimes chanted by the Pandavas-the attempted drowning and poisoning of Bhima, the burning of the lacquer house, and all the events of the gambling assembly. Indeed, when Duhsasana, at the command of Duryodhana, drags the menstruating Draupadi by her loosened hair and garment through the "circle of kings," the memory of this insult to her and to the entire Pan.davaclan fuels a desire for vengeance driving the narrative to the very end of the war. Since Draupad! is emblematic of gri, the splendor of legitimate sovereignty, her sexual humiliation and eventual restoration parallel the fortunes of Pan.davaroyal status

Theile (Kiel: C. F. Haesler, 1892-95); Joseph Dahlmann, Das Mahabhdrata als Epos und Rechtsbuch: Ein Problem aus Altindiens Kultur und Literaturgeschichte (Berlin: F. L. Dames, 1895). Holtzmann saw an older epic tale in which the Kauravas were the heroes and the Pdndavas the villains (this is actually his second level), superseded by a brahmanic reversal and encyclopedic elaboration. Dahlmann posited a single teacher-redactor who embodied the particular cultural synthesis of the 5th century B.C. 5 LaCapra, 19. 6 By characterizing the text as emerging, I am echoing Richard Bauman's notion of the "emergent text," in Verbal Art as Performance, ed. Richard Bauman (Rowley, Mass.: Newberry House, 1977), 37-45. It would be, however, in obvious contradiction to my aims to ascribe any sort of determinism to this process. I especially do not wish to consider the main narrative of the Mahdbhdrata as a "myth," although the Sanskrit text contains and uses many myths for narrative purposes. The notion of a "myth" is now almost inseparable

from the structuralisttreatment of narratives so styled, and is thereby prey to an implicit determinism. 7 Here I move in a different direction than that of Heesterman. See J. Heesterman, The Inner Conflict of Tradition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), especially "Vedic Sacrifice and Transcendence," "The Conundrumof the King's Authority," and "Power, Priesthood and Authority." Whereas Heesterman's analysis of the crisis of kingship hinges upon the dangers of ritual (and ritualized) violence and its imperfect solution in transcendent Vedic authority, what I see as more alive in the epic text is the personal and corporate crisis of identity produced by a rupture in the communal (ksatriya) ethos. It seems that the sacrificial catastrophe has retreated enough into the background so that it can be appropriatedas a metaphor. The transcendent authority that challenges that of the king in all the Mahabhdrata stories is the Lord's rather than the Veda's.


Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.2 (1992) cated. As Duryodhana dies in Salya Parvan, he is provided many opportunities to assert his ksatriya dharma, his ksatriya law over against what to him is Krishna's unfair way of bhakti. It would seem that Duryodhana could never choose Arjuna's path, for even devotion which commands adherence to one's own warrior dharma does so by robbing the warrior of his autonomy.10 What I find compelling, however, is that these two positions, the Vaisnava theological perspective which asserts Duryodhana's blindness to Krishna's divinity and the aggressive assertion of the priority of ksatriya dharma, are replicated over and over, with interesting variations, not only within the critical text of the epic and within the "additional material" found in the critical apparatus," but also within the plays attributed to Bhasa, which may have been written in the early centuries A.D., and in the Sanskrit drama called Venisamhara, composed around 700 A.D. 12 At least in the
10 See passages below.

and measure its vigor. At the same time, the MahdbhMratanever reduces its human emotions to mere symbols. Draupadi's pain and wrath, and the hatred that BhIma, in sympathy with Draupadi, maintains and enacts toward Duryodhana are so powerful that in many places in the Sanskrit Mahabhdrata and in a number of other tellings the violation of Draupad! and its consequences become the primary dynamism of the narrative. Seen from such a perspective, this violation becomes the chief sin of its author, Duryodhana. The Pandavas themselves, however, are also authors of vicious misdeeds, largely tricks committed in battle through the urgings of their cousin, the warrior-hero Krishna. This is, strikingly, a kind of evil less frequently practiced by Duryodhana and his allies. As Krishna becomes a god, and as the Vaisnava editors who glorify him try to establish a pro-Pandava moral valence in the face of immoral actions on both sides, the wrongdoings of Duryodhana tend to be subsumed under a single flaw which is trans-ethical. Those who have read Rudolph Otto's Original Gita8 or Alf Hiltebeitel's Ritual of Battle9 know that that flaw is not Duryodhana's ruthless usurpation of the kingdom, which includes the humiliation of Draupadi; it is not even his opposition to the Pandavas per se-in the received versions of the text, all these become expressions of his subsumptive sin: opposition to Krishna Vasudeva. Theologically, this has usually been taken to mean blindness to Krishna's divinity. But blindness to divinity can be looked at in two ways, depending on what you believe about the divine figure. For those textual hands, editors and commentators, intent on bolstering the growing Vaisnava devotionalism in the text, Duryodhanawillfully disregards a reality, an indisputable fact: Krishna's cosmic rulership, which relativizes all questions of good or fair polity. Such theological reflections have been elicited by opposing the two theophanies of Krishna, the first, in the Kuru court (Udyoga Parvan 5.129), in which Duryodhana, not comprehending the "true" identity of Krishna, attempts to have him bound, and the second, received by Arjuna in the revelation of the Bhagavadgita. If, however, the divinity is no divinity for you, as he was not for Duryodhana, then you find yourself in combat with a figure who fights unfairly to undermine all the values on which the battle has been predi8 Rudolph Otto, The Original Gita: The Song of the Supreme Exalted One, tr. J. E. Turner (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1939). 9 Alf Hiltebeitel, The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahdbhdrata (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1976).

1l To call this material "interpolation"would be inaccurate, but this is not the place for a detailed argument concerning the Poona edition as a valuable scholarly tool, despite its unevenness as a critical text. See the discussion of James L. Fitzgerald in his "The Moksa Anthology of the Great Bhdrata: an Initial Survey of StructuralIssues, Themes, and Rhetorical Strategies" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Chicago, 1980), 59: "The amount of inter-contaminationwhich exists in the extant Mahabhdrata manuscripts rendered the editorial process problematic in a fundamental way, and the status and value of the Poona edition was controversial when the first finished products began to emerge, and it is still under a cloud today." Fitzgerald cites in this regard such critiques as Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Religious Studies Review 4.1: 22ff. Perhaps it is more useful to think of the critical edition as a catalogue raisonne' than a strictly hierarchic ordering (in the chronological sense) of Mahibhdrata manuscript material. For a recent reappraisal of the Mahdbhirata textuality issue, see Ian Proudfoot, Ahimsd and a Mahdbhdrata Story, Asian Studies Monographs, n.s., no. 9 (Canberra: Australian National University, 1987). 12 Mahdbhirata: the Text as Constituted in its Critical Edition, ed. V. S. Sukthankaret al. (Poona: BhandarkarOriental Die Ehrenrettung Research Institute, 1933-66); Venisarhhdra: der Konigen, ein Drama in 6 Akten von Bhatta Ndrdyana, kritisch mit Einleitung und Noten herausgegeben von Julius Grill (Leipzig: Fues Verlag [R. Reisland], 1871); Venisamhdra of Bhatta Ndrdyana, edited with the commentary of Jagaddharaby M. R. Kale, second ed. (Bombay, 1918; reprint ed., Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977); complete annotated translation of Venisathhdra in David L. Gitomer, "The


Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama The Mahabhdrata


various strata of the epic text one could imagine, as Holtzmann did, a residual Kauravan warrior narrative in conflict with a later narrative of Krishnaite supremacy, that is, that texts from different ideological eras were simply left to jostle one another, though such a view implies that epic textual growth and redaction proceeded in an unconscious, mechanical fashion. But the Mahabhdrata plays of Bhasa seem to be the prodof uct of a single author, and the Venisamnhdra Bhatta Narayana is a unitary work of, again, a single author: In acts one, two and six of the Venisamnhdra, Duryodhana is the deluded warrior who cannot recognize Krishna's divinity, while in acts three, four and five he is a legitimate king whose fall admits of "tragic" possibilities. Moreover, both authors are dyed-in-the-wool Vaisnavas. Why, then, does the Vaisnava perspective eventually not displace all others in the later dramas? Why is Duryodhana not depicted solely as the scheming, ruthless, even vicious tyrant he can be at his
worst? 13

It is therefore not enough to say that willy-nilly we have a dialogue between older Holtzmannesque Duryodhanan values and more recent Vaisnava theological materials; the fact is that over the centuries, most versions of the texts seem to be committed to upholding both of these positions quite strongly-in other words, the same truly Bakhtinian "multi-vocal" dynamism of the Mahabharata, with the values lined up in the same way. In fact, the dramas seem to want to intensify the conflict between the two sets of values, since in the dramas, much more pointedly than in the epic, Duryo-

dhana is a legitimate sovereign who possesses gri, the charismatic royal splendor. Yet we cannot always even use the term "conflict" here, since there is often no common arena of discourse. Instead we trace a rupture between two realms of meaning. Let us look first at the accounts of the theophany in the Kuru court. In the Mahdbhdrata, Krishna has been sent to Duryodhana's court to sue for peace, though it is hardly to be imagined that the Kururajawill accept. Duryodhana in counsel with Sakuni, Karna, and Duhiasana decides to capture Krishna, but Vidura and Dhrtarastra revile him for the immorality and danger of such an action (5.128). When Krishna hears of the plan, he laughs; then along with a display of all his attributes and a host of weapons, he manifests all the human and divine participants in the war in miniature (ahgusthamatra, "thumb-size," 5.129). At 5.129.13 he is called bhagavan janardanah; at the end of this wondrous event, termed by the text iL'caryamor "miracle" tatah sa purusavydghrah saMjahdra vapuh svakam / tam divydm adbhutam citram rddhimattnmarindamah, "Then the tigerlike enemy-tamer withdrew his real form, his divine, wondrous, brilliant richness." (5.129.16).14 This is clearly, and perhaps intentionally, a precursor of the theophany in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita (6.33.9ff.) and, although it is the first full manifestation of Krishna's divinity in the epic, the term vigvartipa, cosmic or universal form, is not
used. 15

Venisamrhdra Bhatta Ndrdyania: of The Great Epic as Drama," Ph.D. diss., Columbia Univ., 1987; Plays Ascribed to Bhdsa, ed. C. R. Devadhar (Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1962); individual editions with translation and notes of Mahabhhrata plays (Karnabhdra, Madhyamavydyoga, Diitaghatotkaca, Diitavdkya, Paicardtra, Urubhahga) by C. R. Devadhar (Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1957); translation of "Urubhanga: The Breaking of the Thighs," by Edwin Gerow, in Essays on the Mahdbhdrata, ed. Arvind Sharma (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991), 68-83. All translations from the Mahdbhdrata and the dramas are mine, except where noted. 13 Even the attempts of at least two important critics (A. D. Pusalker, Bhdsa: A Study, 2nd rev. ed. [Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1968] and Edwin Gerow, "Bhisa's Urubhahga and Indian Poetics," JAOS 105 [1985]: 405-12 to find a different Duryodhanain the dramas, different, that is, from the epics, are confounded by the same two valences of personality traits and ideologies drawn up in hostile array in nearly all Mahdbhdrata versions. See the comments below in the discussion of the Urubhariga.

In Bhdsa's Ditavakya, Duryodhana attempts to have Krishna bound, and Krishna rebuffs him with what is explicitly termed a vis'varu-padargana; scene may the be the inspiration for the treatment of the same incident as reported by the chamberlain at the end of the

Thanks to Edwin Gerow for pointing out textual difficulties in the Critical Edition's readings of this passage. 15 Between verses 5.129.14 and 15 of the critical edition, there is a passage not accepted in the Poona text or the Calcutta edition but included in Nilakantha's version in which the blind Dhrtardstra hymns Krishna and begs him for the sight to see his visvarupa. Earlier, in verses 12 and 13, Krishna had granted a divine vision (divyam caksur) to all the kings who had closed their eyes at the frightening theophany, but that section would seem to be rounded out with the affirmationof celestial drums, floral showers, trembling earth, and agitated oceans in verse 14. Verses 15 and 16 describe Krishna's withdrawal of his divine form. Dhrtardstra's request does seem out of place inserted between the floral showers and the trembling earth. S. K. De, editor of the critical edition of Udyoga Parvan notes the visvariipa reading in several other Devanagari MSS of a type similar to that of the Nilakantha MSS.


Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.2 (1992) even ennoble, the character of Duryodhana to heroic proportions. Here he is first of all "the king," as he is in the Venisamhara, though the epic makes it clear that Dhrtarastra,being the only personage at the Kuru court called raja, is still king. Moreover, in the Datavdkya, Duryodhana's entrance is preceded by the chamberlain's "wrongly" evocative description:
See this dark youth (9yama yuva) wearing a white silk coat, attended with the finest royal umbrella and fly whisk, and his gleaming limbs anointed. Endowed with royal splendor (gri), his arms adorned with gems, he looks like the full moon amidst the constellations. [Then Duryodhana enters as described.] (DV 1.3)

first act of the Venlsamnhdra. The Bhasa play has Vasudeva enter the Kaurava court just after BhIsma has been selected as sendpati, commander-in-chief. To display his disdain for Krishna, Suyodhana16 has instructed the princes to show no respect for him, on penalty of a fine. He has further had a painting of Draupad! being dragged by her hair and garments brought into the hall, so he can look at it while receiving Krishna. After the two trade violent words, the king orders Krishna bound. When no one will obey, he attempts to do it himself, but is repulsed by the Lord's display of his cosmic form, as happens in the Venisamnhara (but not in the epic-evidence of traditions common to epic plays, or at least of the influence of one dramatist on the other). Before Krishna can leave, his various attributes-the discus, bow, mace, conch and sword-appear in personified forms, ready to destroy Duryodhana and his allies. Krishna dismisses them and would leave himself, but Dhrtarastra falls at Vasudeva's feet, begging his blessing and lauding him with a host of epithets beginning with "Bhagavan Narayana."17 According to Pusalker's chronology,18 this is the earliest Bhdsa play; it introduces the tendency, developed in the Paficaratra and in the Urubhahga, to magnify,
16 An alternate name for Duryodhana. The "pejorative" prefix dur can mean "badly" or "difficult to-," as in "fighting badly" or "difficult to fight." Likewise the "laudatory"prefix su can mean "well" or "easy to-." Although the two names of the Kuru king are generally interpreted in unparallel fashion as "difficult to fight" and "fighting well," both Sanskrit terms are ambivalent in being potentially complimentary and hostile to Duryodhana. Monier-Williams gives Suyodhana as a euphemism for Duryodhana with the meaning "fighting well," which is hardly much of a euphemism-one would think the Pdndavas would use it in the sense of "easy to fight." It is true that in the Venisamhara the Kururdjais generally called Suyodhana by the Pdndavas and Duryodhana by his own family and partisans, and this seems also to be the case in the Mahdbhdrata itself. Yet the fact is that both sides at times use the other's name. When doing so they must be eliciting its secondary sense, a sure indication of the epic tradition's extreme ambivalence about Duryodhana'scharacter. 17 But there is no miracle of sight, as in the interpolated epic passages mentioned above. 18 Pusalker, 122ff. The speculative chronology presented in chapter five of Pusalker's work includes a variety of stylistic parameters such as choice of meter, verse-prose ratio, willful breach of the rule ordaining an iamb in the third foot of the 9loka, and considerations of content such as length and complexity of the works, and "originality," i.e., departure from

Bhasa makes it clear that Duryodhana possesses ?ri, that absolutely indispensable quality which affirms the legitimacy of sovereignty, that quality which the epic understands to be embodied in Draupadl, the woman Duryodhana has violated! The most startling feature of this verse, however, is the initial phrase, ?ydma yuva, words whose main association would ordinarily be with Krishna. Bhdsa's poetic language contains a multivalenced irony that stirs up the self-contestatory elements latent in every presentation of Duryodhana, for here Duryodhana is a legitimate king, a potentially sympathetic figure who at least physically mirrors the divine hero he rejects. The price of accepting or even recognizing Vdsudeva as "Bhagavdn Ndrdyana"would be the loss of his own kingship and its attendant discursive realm of ksatriya dharma. Duryodhana answers Krishna's arguments for the return of the Pdndavas' portion of the kingdom with a fair statement of ksatriya ideals, a theory of legitimate sovereignty, suggesting how hard he himself came by the throne:
Kingship is enjoyed by brave princes after conquering their foes in battle. It cannot be had by begging, nor is it conferred upon the poor in this world. If they desire to become kings, let them venture forth on the battlefield, or else let them at their will enter a hermitage, sought for peace by men of tranquil minds. (DV 1.24)19

source material. The method is problematic, but the order of the plays is not really crucial to the points made in this paper. 19 Devadhar's translation is retained here.


The Mahdbhhrata Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama
We four brothers will officiate as priests while Lord Hari oversees the performance of the rite: Our king is initiated in the sacrifice called battle; his wife's loosened braid shows the purity of her vow. We will offer the Kauravas as victims; the fruit shall be the quelling of the painful insult to our beloved Pdficdli. Now the drum of glory beats wildly calling warriorkings to join the slaughter. (VS 1.25)


Bhasa does not avoid portraying the negative, "immoral" side of this fondness for strife, the selfishly ruthless (chala) Duryodhana whose rapacious nature even finds expression in an amoral aestheticism, as when he admires the technique and emotional precision of the painting depicting the humiliation of Draupad! (Ditaviikya 1.12ff.). But the aspect of the chala that primarily interests the playwright is Duryodhana's blindness to the divine identity of Krishna. The Venisamhara has the same perspective, articulated by Bhima to his younger brother, Sahadeva, in rather vedantic terms near the end of the first act:

Brother, can't the wicked-souled Suyodhana recognize Vdsudeva as the Lord even when he shows his true form?

Child, such a man lives in delusion. How can he recognize the Lord? Those whose delight is only in the Self, whose minds are fixed in formless contemplation, whose abundantknowledge has broken the knots of ignorance and established them in truththey may behold the unnameable one whose existence transcends darkness and light. How can Suyodhana, blind with delusion, know the primordial God? (VS 1.23)

Bhdsa, on the other hand, in the Paicaratra sees the war as a great blazing display of Duryodhana's tejas run to excess, using a simile (in 1.16) that is perhaps an ironic comment on the Pdndavas' earlier fall in the gambling assembly. The force of this fire is destroyed because its fuel has dwindled, like a noble man's power for generosity when his fortune has dwindled. (PR 1.15) The fire now devours the ladle, the vessels and the kindling sticks, like a man reduced by addiction to vice who eats up all his own property. (PR 1.16). Following this prologue, a chorus of citizens, seeing Duryodhana approach, gently urge him to give up his anger towards his kinsmen as he continues to sacrifice and conquer. Perhaps the image of a sacrificial fire that has raged out of control but is now spent is a characterological clue to the radical rewriting of the epic story Bhasa is about to spring on his audience. Bhisma announces the entrance of a reformed Duryodhana: Having attained eminence by accumulating wealth, our Duryodhana gulped infamy through love of strife, but now serving dharma, he becomes a vessel of good deeds, and that same Duryodhana shines with new beauty. (PR 1.20) Duryodhana himself has a new philosophy: My soul is rendered confident; the elders are satisfied with me, the world trusts a man in whom virtue dwells, and infamy is destroyed. Heaven is won by the dead, they say,

The Pafcaratra of Bhdsa is set somewhat earlier in the story, during the Panydavas' year spent incognito in Virdta's court. The first act opens with a long prologue in which three brahmins describe a grand sacrifice performed by the noble monarch Duryodhana. Before the final ritual bath can be accomplished, however, the sacrificial fire surges out of control and destroys the hall of sacrifice, all the sacrificial implements, and the surrounding forest, extinguishing itself only when it reaches a nearby river. In view of the epic's powerful metaphorequating battle with apocalyptic sacrifice,20 and which is broadly echoed in the Venisamhara,21 Bhasa must intend his description of sacrificial disaster as his own twist of interpretationon the coming destruction. Whereas Bhatta NMrayana, writing more in the pattern of the original metaphor of the Sanskrit epic, envisions the Bharata war as a great sacrifice at which the Pandava brothers preside over the slaughter of the KurusHiltebeitel, Ritual of Battle; see especially chapter 12. 21 Gitomer, Venisamhdra, 1.25 and its note; see also verses 1.19 and its note and 1.24, and the note to 1.5f. on "fire of apocalypse."


Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.2 (1992)
very end of Duryodhana's story I postpone discussion of it until we look at Duryodhana's death in the epic itself. The passages at the end of Salya and the beginning of Sauptika parvans present an extremely complex interplay of values and attitudes voiced in the hours during which Duryodhana dies.25 Here we need to look at only a brief sampling of the kingshiplksatradharma side of the bivalence, in order to trace its persistence in the explicitly Vaisnava dramas. In the verses immediately following those in which Bhima breaks Duryodhana's "beautiful" thighs (Salya Parvan 9.57.44), causing him to crash to the earth, Sa .jaya, who has been given a special sight to narrate the war to the old king, tells Dhrtarastra of the evil portents that appear everywhere. Nature, it seems, is not as pleased with Duryodhana's death as the Panidavas are. The ensuing dialogues involving Krishna, Balarama, Bhima, and Yudhisthira propose all sorts of explanations for Duryodhana's fall, from fate to karmic defined retribution to violation of dharma-dharma from many different perspectives. It is Duryodhana, however, who has the last word here, a statement both elegiac and defiant that could have been the inspiration for Bhasa's Urubhanga: I have studied the Vedas, bestowed gifts according to ordinance, ruled the earth with its oceans and stood at the head of my enemies. Who is more fortunatethan me?26 What ksatriyasregardas our desired dharmaI have won by meeting my destructionin battle. Who is more fortunate than me? I have won human pleasures worthy of gods, and hard for kings to come by. I have reached the ultimate wealth and majesty. Who is more fortunatethan me? I'm bound for heaven with my friends and kin, unshakable Krishna! You will live on to grieve, all your 9.60.47-50) purposes destroyed! (MBh Duryodhana, by following his warrior dharma, with all its ruthlessness and treachery, has won a hero's death and a hero's place in heaven. Just as the realm of nature condemned the crooked, unlawful blow that brought Duryodhana down, heaven now responds with praise and affirmation for this evaluation of his life's worth: words came to their end, Bharata,a When the Kururdja's great shower of wonderfully fragrant flowers rained down. The gandharvasplayed instrumentsand hosts of nymphs sang. Again and again the siddhas proclaimed, 'Wonderful!Wonderful!"Pleasant breezes, fragrantand gentle, began to blow. And the sky was clear and blue as
25 See Gitomer, Venisamnhdra, chs. 4 and 5. 26 svantatara, literally "having a better end" than me.

but that is an untruthheaven is not beyond, but ripens here on earth in manifold variety. (PR 1.21)22

In gratitude to his guru, Duryodhana offers a gift of Drona's choosing. When Drona requests half the kingdom for the Pandavas, Duryodhanais distraught but ultimately agrees to keep his word. To save the world, he will by the end of the play avert the war by conceding half the kingdom he has righteously won! Astonishingly, he keeps his promise and hands over half the kingdom in the name of truth:
Yes! I give to the Pdndavas the kingdom which was theirs before; for even in death all men endure as long as the truth endures. (PR 3.25)23

The righteousness of Bhasa's Duryodhana in the is entirely ethical; it does not require or even cognize a transcendent solution. (It sounds like something Yudhisthira might say.) Although the rhetorical thrust of the expression "even in death all men endure as long as truth endures" is as a valuation of truth, the phrase also implies that no reward for virtue or for suffering is normally expected in the afterlife. After all, "heaven is not beyond, but ripens here on earth in manifold variety." But if Bhasa's intention is to redeem Duryodhana, the Paficaratra solution is an awkward one. Other changes and episodes invented by the playwright can be woven into the original epic fabric with a minimum of difficulty, but having Duryodhana return half the kingdom to the Pandavas eliminates the reason for the war which forms the very substance of the epic. If it is the case that the Paticariitra represents the most "mature" product of the Bhasa Mahabhdrata cycle,24 the problem of recuperating it as an "epic play" becomes acute. Would the spectator imagine that Duryodhana reneged after announcing his return of the Pandavas' portion? Unlike the Datavakya this play really does force the dilemma of revisionism (has Bhasa given us a new Duryodhana?) versus revivalism (or has some memory of an original "Kauravan"epic a la Holtzmann resurfaced?). Crubhahga ("The Breaking of the Thighs"), on the other hand, presents an equally sympathetic and "good" Duryodhana with somewhat less violation of the original story. But since this play takes us to the
22 Mrtaih prapyah svargo yad iha kathayantyetad anrtam / parokso na svargo bahugunam ihaivaisa phalati. 23 Mrte 'pi hi narah sarve satye tisthanti tisthati. 24 Again, this is according to Pusalker's criteria, which are not entirely convincing. See n. 18 above.


Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama The Mahabharata


lapis lazuli. Seeing such marvels and the worship offered to Duryodhana,those Pandavasled by Vdsudeva became ashamed. Hearing from the sky about those they had slain unrighteously (adharnatah)-about BhIsma, Drona, Karnaand Bhurigravas-the Pandavaslamented, pained with grief. (MBh 9.60.51-55)

Duryodhana, however, does not die yet. This may have been the end in one version of his death, but even in the textual stratumrepresentedby the critical edition, there are several more passages in which these themes are worked out. Not only do the epic authors seem to want to exploit the literary possibilities of the pathos in Duryodhana's crushed and humiliated condition, they also want to give him, and his friends and enemies, more opportunities to reflect on the meaning of his fall. In epic terms this means puzzling out once again the riddle of dharma. Krishna's last statement to Duryodhana's mother Gandhari, the oft-repeated epic maxim "where dharma is, there is victory," (yato dharmas, tato jayah), for example, is by itself a frustratingly obscure explanation of her son's downfall:27 if desirable karmic consequences are produced by following the dharmic laws, then which laws, which dharma? Krishna's ultimate sense of the term and Duryodhana's equally, though more literally, ultimate sense emerge dialogically in what succeeds. Almost the entire following chapter in Salya Parvan (9.63) consists of a long speech by Duryodhana in which he reviles the Pandavas for their adharma, and asserts his own fulfillment of the ideal of kingship, culminating in a warrior's death. Most of the sentiments and many of the statements themselves are repetitive of those cited above, except that he adds respect for kin and balanced observance of the three (notice that there are only three) purusirthas. At least from the evidence of the epic text, Duryodhana's characterization of his life and works is highly inaccurate: if there are any descriptions of his studying the Vedas, sacrificing, giving donations, respecting his kin, etc., they must be quite rare. The epic authors are rather using Duryodhana's vigorous pursuit of ksatradharma metonymically to assert the comprehensiveness of the dharmic way as prescribed by the smrti texts, perhaps against the incursion of Vaisnava bhakti. But the dharma that Krishna is speaking of is the "greater" Dharma, the cosmic Right that the Pandavas embody, not necessarily through their actions, but beAlthough the maxim is one of Krishna's favorites, his use of it here (9.62.58) is stingingly poignant, since he is actually quoting Gandhari's own warning to Duryodhana at the gambling assembly.

cause they incarnate the gods and because God, Krishna, is on their side. Although Duryodhana does not actually die until Sauptika Parvan when AMvatthaman, Krpa and Krtavarman return from their murderous arson in the Pandava camp, his final words in Salya Parvan encapsulate a view of life that certainly comprises the ksatriya ethos met in the previously cited passage but is much more broadly significant as a non-bhakti (or anti-bhakti) cosmology. This law of mortality (martyadharma) is said to have been ordained by Dhatr. Destruction comes to all beings, achieved through the course of time (kalaparyayakdritah). And so now death has all but engulfed me (mtm samanupriptah), while you, my friends, watch. Having protected the earth I now approach this conclusion! How fortunate that I never turned back from combat, no matter what happened! How fortunate that I was slain by sinners, and that, too, using the worst trickery! How fortunate that I always fought with courage and perseverance! How fortunate that I see you escaped from that destruction and come to me safe and sound-that is the best thing to me! Do not grieve at my destruction out of friendship! If the Vedas are authoritative, I have conquered imperishable worlds! (MBh 9.64.22-27) Then, quite suddenly, Duryodhana ends his speech with a remarkable statement which, by acknowledging Krishna's power, without reference to Krishna's divinity, collapses the presumed inequality in their conflict, the conflict between social dharma and the amoral, impenetrable cosmic Dharma. At the moment before death it becomes clear that his lifelong willful "blindness" to Krishna's way in favor of his own warrior's ruthless aggression has borne him the fruit of attaining, if not surpassing, the stature of the god-hero, for he employs the same expression (samanupriiptah) he has just used to describe how death has caught up to and surrounded him, applying the term now to his besting of Krishna: I am mindful of the power of Krishna, whose tejas is immeasurable, but he has not shaken me from following the ksatradharma. I have entirely won him (sa maya samanupraptah);28I am not to be grieved for at all (niismi gocyah kathamcana). (MBh 9.64.28-29)
28 Those familiar with Indian devotional literature are accustomed to hearing the verb prap and even the English translation "win" in the sense of "win the god's favor." The context shows that such a sense cannot be intended here, but an ironic echo of it would be apposite.


Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.2 (1992) Despite what certain scholars have maintained,30 Bhasa's solution in the Urubhafiga is not to make the
30 There is an interpretive lineage which constructs a noble, resigned, forgiving Duryodhana who accepts Krishna's divinity. See, for example, Pusalker, p. 136ff., pp. 203-4. Edwin Gerow's work ("Bhdsa's Urubhanga and Indian Poetics") is invaluable in clarifying the consideration of the Urubhanga (and other Sanskrit works) as tragedies. I have, however, a number of disagreements with both his interpretationand his translation of the play. These disagreements, in fact, helped stimulate some of the central observations of this essay. I differ, for example, with Gerow's opinion that Duryodhana's words in the second half of the crucial verse 35 of Urubhahga "clearly recogniz[e] the divinity's supremacy" ("Bhdsa's Urubhanga and Indian Poetics," 405) as the reason for his (Duryodhana's)destruction, unless supremacy is understood only in terms of force and cunning, and not of right. The translation,

Duryodhana does not see himself as a player in the great divine drama of cosmic destruction directed by Krishna. In this passage, at least, he could never subscribe to the Vaisnava recuperation of dvesadharma, the notion that he contributes to some ultimately preordained plan by opposing the forces of the Lord-a rationalization which implies ultimate purpose (divine goodness) in the universe. The Law (dharma) that he knows first of all is martyadharma, the law of mortality, the incontrovertible fact of death built into human life by Dhatr, a semi-abstract, quasi-deistic ordainer of the way things are.29 He knows, as well, the ksatradharma, the way of kings-protecting the earth, fair combat, loyalty to the end. Now that end has arrived, he is at last able to articulate the realm of finitude and freedom that both he and the powerful Krishna belong to. This articulation is his triumph. Bhasa's Urubhahga is a play which also depicts the rhapsodically self-affirming moment of Duryodhana's death. Yet the invocation to Krishna at the play's opening points to the unavoidable rupture in Duryodhana's signification as king, for the Duryodhana who is elevated to ndyaka (hero) status must somehow avoid colliding with the author's favored deity, Krishna, who champions Duryodhana's enemies, the Pandavas. Each Bhasa play, as we saw, has a different solution to this problem. The Ditavakya schematizes the relationship latent in the Mahdbhairata in place of the developmental narrative:Duryodhana is fully ennobled as king, but "tragically" blind to the divinity of Krishna. In the epic this is an intermittent motif produced in conflicts that arise over the course of a complex and unruly history. In the play, however, Duryodhana'sresemblance to the lord he denies and the explicitness of his denial flatten a meaning which in the epic emerges dynamically through the narrativeinto a static theological notion. In the Paficardtra, Visnu is praised in the benediction but does not figure in the play. Duryodhana, however, is portrayed(even more than in the Ditavakya) as a legitimate, splendid, and dharmic king who, prompted by ethical, non-theistic values, eventually returns a half portion of the kingdom to the PIndavas.

It was Hari himself, alien to deceit, who entered the mace To win me over to the realm of Death. Beloved Hari! for tivrdm bhimagadampravigya sahasd nirvyajayuddhapriyas tendhamjagatah priyena harind mrtyohpratigriahitah seems to stem from a view of Duryodhana as somehow changed in his relationship to Krishna. The phrase translated as "alien to deceit," literally, "who loves fights without trickery," refers grammatically to Duryodhana himself, rather than to Krishna. (The term is nirvydjayuddhapriyas,though others of Devadhar's editions give, somewhat more weakly, niyogayuddhapriyas, which must be a reference to ksatriyadharma, and nivyojayuddhapriyas, doubtless a misprint.) In the epic, both Balardma (9.59) and Duryodhana himself (9.60) assert this contrast between the Kuru king and the cheating Pandavas, and explicitly blame Krishna for inciting his partisans to deceit. The rest of the translation gives the impression that Duryodhanais grateful to Krishna for having delivered him to death. In a personal communication, Gerow has shown how the syntactic ambiguity in the first half of the verse created by relative clauses in both the instrumental and nominative without proper nouns [literally, "By whom was stolen Indra'sParijata tree as well as his pride, who through his divine play, slept on the ocean for a thousand celestial years"] and followed with agents in the instrumental and nominative (harina and aham in the second half does create confusion as to the subject of the verse. Nonetheless, it seems that the apposite sense is: Hari (as described in the first two clauses), who is loved by the world (not necessarily by me), suddenly entered Bhima's mace and handed me, who loves to fight fairly (and not by such deceptions), over to death (-otherwise I would not be in this situation).

29 Dhatr, translated by van Buitenen as "the Placer," is afigure well known in the Mahdbhdrata. In the wonderful debate between Draupadi and Yudhisthirain Vana Parvan 3.3133, Dhdtr is said to be responsible for human ends, which are, however, achieved as much through human effort and chance as they are through fate. Dhatr is sometimes identified with Brahma; he is not, to my knowledge, regarded as a god to be propitiated.

Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama GITOMER:The Mahabharata
dying Duryodhana a kind of bhakta of Krishna-which would be a clear violation of the epic's view of Duryodhana's salvation through opposition to the wily Ydto present dava and fidelity to his own dharma3l-but him as relatively indifferent to, perhaps even "transcending," the historical oppositions and enmities that develop in the epic. Thus, Bhasa opens the Urubhahga with: May Lord Krishna be a boat over the flood-torrentof your foes, the same boat by which Arjuna crossed the river of his enemies whose very current was Duryodhana! (UB 1.1) But then the playwright has Duryodhana utter sentiments entirely consonant with those in the epic, sentiments which ignore the ultimate protection of Krishna's life-saving boat. I sacrificed by all the approved Vedic rites; for kinsmen I was the support; I showered a hundred favors on my foes, never cheated my dependents; (UB 1.52) ... and Only at your feet, father, was my crown ever bent in homage; without a thought for even this blazing fire32 I now ascend to heaven with that same fierce pride I was born with! (UB 1.47)
* * *


tive, since our knowledge of socio-political self-understandings in classical (i.e., Sanskritic) India is, despite much recent interesting work, still inchoate.34 For "the question of tragedy" has only partly to do with (a) the formal dynamism (a genre) which unleashes a tragic action, and only partly to do with (b) the supposed world view (a tragic vision) that permits such a dynamism to operate. Tragedy is also very clearly the locus of the problematic of the polity, the locus of the problematic of the individual responsible for the realization of the ideal of the rightly ordered society. In Athens, the entire participatory populace attended the tragic theater to watch their supposed historical ancestors groan through failures in order that the citizens themselves might construct a new meaning for their social reality. Indian drama was never meant for that purpose.35 But the Mahdbhdratamay have been. For these and other reasons one may look on the Mahabharata as a genre, an institution even, where the crises of polity in all their human and cosmological significance are continually brought to the test. Just as the continual writing, production, and experiencing of tragedies was vital to the life of the Athenian polis, so too the Mahdbhdrata never wants to resolve itself. No

The various postures of heroic virtue and sinning ascribed to the figure of Duryodhana in the Krishnaite milieu have prompted critics to raise the "question of tragedy" with respect to Sanskrit literature a number of times in the twentieth century. Only some abbreviated, theoretical points are offered here on this vast, complex topic.33 These remarks are, further, limited and tenta31 Such opposition is different from the notion of dvesadharma mentioned above, for it does not theologize Duryodhana's way as part of Krishna's plan. 32 Gerow translates jvalantam agnim as "the fires of Hell" which to me seems unjustified, especially in light of the next thought. Surely Duryodhana means the funeral pyre. 33 See Gerow, "Bhdsa'sCrubhariga," 410, for a bibliography; significant considerations include A. B. Keith, The Sanskrit

Drama in its Origin, Development, Theory and Practice (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1924), 278-83, and Pusalker, 13640, 198-204, which also includes bibliographic notes to many previous writers on the issue. There is a distinct "Orientalist" dimension of the problem: imperial and imperially trained critics sought to disprove or prove the existence of the form considered a benchmark of cultural development in the subject people. Gerow acknowledges this dimension in a succinct statement (p. 410), but seeks to clarify the discussion by handling the problem as one of comparative poetics, disambiguating the appropriateterms in Indian and Western aesthetics. See Gitomer, Venisamhdra, ch. 5, for further discussion of socio-literary, aesthetic and psychological aspects of the question. 34 An admission that this knowledge will ever be refracted by the nature of the materials we have to work with, as well as by our scholarly socio- and idio-syncracies, may help us avoid the tendency of our predecessors toward "correlational" historicizing. 35 The stock crisis of Sanskrit drama is the production of a royal heir, the comedic parallel to the primary crisis of both epics, that of dynastic continuity. On this latter issue, see Sheldon I. Pollock, The Ramayana of Valmiki, vol. II: Ayodhyakanda (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986), 8-24. Pollock's analysis is exemplary Indology-philological, historicizing, and cognizant of the role of texts in a hegemonic discourse.


Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.2 (1992) to which he does not subscribe. As Duryodhana said before his death in the epic,
I am mindful of the power of Krishna, whose tejas is immeasurable, but he has not shaken me from following the ksatradharma. I have entirely won him; I am not to be grieved for at all. (MBh 9.64.28-29) and in the Paficarlitra, Heaven is won by the dead, they say, but that is an untruthheaven is not beyond, but ripens here on earth in manifold variety. (PR 1.21)

beginning can take it far enough back, until one finds the primary enmity in creation between gods and antigods-a kind of fall. No ending ever ties up the story, for even after the war is won, Yudhisthira is really unable to receive his consecration, to reinaugurate the glorious dynasty of Kuru in any effective, lasting way. Only the radical strategy of junking every possibility of polity, destroying the earth's entire population and reconciling the combatants in heaven (note that this reconciliation takes place in heaven; the remaining life on earth is bleak, as the epic's opening attests)-only such a radical strategy will allow the book to end. And we know that the middle is infinitely expandable, as the apparatuscriticus of the Poona edition, or even the mammoth text of the South Indian recension from Kumbhakonam,make all too clear. Thus, when I speak of historicizing the epic anew, I am thinking of the kind of work that Jean-Pierre Vernant has done on the role of Greek tragedy in the polis.36 In his work and that of those inspired by him, classical tragedy is a discourse related to other discourses within the larger social discourse; as such it is essentially rational (and rationalizing): its unique property is to enclose a gap of ambiguity (or chaos, or "meaninglessness") that arises within the episteme of the greater social discourse due to ruptures that occur in the "political" order (that is, within the life of the polis). Western classical tragedy indicates this "hole" by "performing" it in a dramatic mythos; once indicated, it is capable of taking its place as a thematized "meaning" within the hierarchy of meanings that constitute that larger social discourse.37 The Duryodhana problem may thus be identified as an inevitable "gap" in the public discourse on dharma and bhakti-inevitable certainly on the narrativeplane because the Krishna devotees see what Duryodhanadoesn't see, and because for him there is certainly nothing to see. Krishna's devotees call Duryodhana "blind," but Duryodhana cannot explicitly condemn devotion because it is a reality
36 Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Nacquet, "Le Mo-

ment historique de la tragedie en Grece: Quelques conditions sociales et psychologiques," "Tensions et ambiguites dans la tragedie grecque," and "Oedipe sans complexe," in Mythe et
tragedie en Grece ancienne (Paris: F. Maspero, 1972). 37 See Timothy J. Reiss, Tragedy and Truth: Studies in the Development of a Renaissance and Neoclassical Discourse (New

Duryodhana sees himself as faring in a world in which he and Krishna are equal combatants. He asserts that good and evil actions have their rewards within the consensual framework of human striving-the arena of dharma ihaiva, right here on earth. Duryodhana's reality provokes a crisis, opens a gap in social meaning, which a text like the Bhagavadgita cannot really close, as evidenced by the ongoing production of dramatic treatments in which the problem is replicated,38despite the fact that these dramas nearly violate their prescribed aesthetic norms to do so (since the bivalence creates multiple, ambiguous heroes and conflicting rasas). But it is clear that the existence of all these texts is showing us, quite self-consciously, that for at least some elements of the classical culture, the theological solution of bhakti continues to be not only profoundly unsatisfactory, but profoundly threatening to the realization of the dharmic person in the dharmic society, the realm of human responsibility for human values. Can we also recognize, in our dialogue with the Indian past, that seeing the problem in Duryodhana does not indicate anything particularly villainous about the dilemma? Yudhisthira, the dharmaraja, also has his differences with Krishna (as well as, of course, with Duryodhana). He suffers terrible agonies over the battle expediencies, and finally over the legitimacy of assuming a kingship bought with blood. A study of his predicaments in epic and drama would reveal a parallel ruptureof meaning, from the side of goodness.

Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980), chs. 1 and 12.

38 Elements of the bivalence are present even in a twentiethcentury version, the Tamil poem Pdiicdlicapatam of Subrahmanya C. Bharati, published in two parts, 1912 and 1921.

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