Duryodhana and Karna as friends

Duryodhana's jealousy and enmity with Pandavas are well-known right from their childhood. The competition between them has always taken the form of jealousy, frustration, and anger. The first encounter of Duryodhana with Karna happened when the Princes of Kuru (Pandavas and Kauravas) were displaying their skills at the end of the learning with Guru Dronacharya. When Arjuna was about to be declared as the best Archer, Karna challenged Arjuna. Karna
was called Sutaputra (Son of a Charioteer), as one of the charioteers found him and adopted him as son, since he is not considered as part of Kshatriya and part of Kuru Family, he was not permitted in the arena for show of strength. Duryodhana saw that as an opportunity to create a challenge for Pandavas and make them lose. He declared Karna as King of Anga (current days Bihar / Bengal). Karna perceived this as a great gesture and accepted it. The relationship as viewed from Karna's side

  • A large sense of indebtedness
  • Looking for every opportunity to repay the debt
  • Karna was true in his relationship and kept the values of the relationship even when
    he knew it was not right.

The relationship from Duryodhana's side was

  • Considering Karna as one of the key resources to counter Pandavas
  • Duryodhana's motives were selfish as he only wanted a warrior equal to Arjuna.
  • His selfish intention was to defeat Arjuna

Comparative studies of other friendships

Krishna and Sudama

The story of Sudama and the friendship between him andKrishna can be found in the Srimad Bhagavatam. Krishna and Sudama spent a brief period together during the Gurukulvasa of Krishna. The friendship here was pure, with no expectations from each other. The friendship remained even when they were separated after their studies in the ashram. There was a huge gap in terms of social-economic status between them. The story of how Krishna treated
Sudama when Sudama visited his palace is well known. Friendship can exist at a transactional and materialistic level. For example, our friends in schools and colleges are transactional and often linked to the support system that we create to
support learning with each other or partying with each other. Friendship can exist at an emotional level where the friends are connected through their souls. The communication between such friends is emotional; they do not need words to express it. The relationship and feelings were mutual. In comparison to this, "friendship" between Duryodhana and Karna was with purpose and agenda.

Krishna and Arjuna

Krishna and Arjuna are prime examples of Sakha Bhava. The friendship between them goes through several forms, but the bonding is a reflection of "friend in need" in every form." When necessary, Krishna did not hesitate in guiding Arjuna as Guru while rendering Bhagavad Geetha. Krishna never hesitated in stating bitter truth when essential while supporting all the time when Arjuna needed. The friendship between them was not with any anticipated support. Even before the war, when Duryodhana and Arjun went to Krishna. Arjuna asked for him in place of his army. That reflects the trust and relationship that Arjuna had with Krishna. In comparison to this, Karna sided with Duryodhana even when Karna knew that it was wrong.

Bhishma on Friendships

In आपद्धर्मपर्व (Apad Dharma Parva), Bhisma responds to a question from Yudhistara on friendship/ Alliances. Bhishma said the people of the following type are not worthy to be friends.

लुब्धः क्रूरस्त्यक्तधर्मा निकृतिः शठ एव च ⁠क्षुद्रः पापसमाचारः सर्वशङ्की तथालसः
दीर्घसूत्रोऽनृजुः क्रुष्टो गुरुदारप्रधर्षकः व्यसने यः परित्यागी दुरात्मा निरपत्रपः ⁠
सर्वतः पापदर्शी च नास्तिको वेदनिन्दकः ⁠सम्प्रकीर्णेन्द्रियो लोके यः कामं निरतश्चरेत् ⁠
असत्यो लोकविद्विष्टः समये चानवस्थितः ⁠पिशुनोऽथाकृतप्रज्ञो मत्सरी पापनिश्चयः
दुःशीलोऽथाकृतात्मा च नृशंसः कितवस्तथा ⁠मित्रैरपकृतिर्नित्यमिच्छतेऽर्थं परस्य यः
ददतश्च यथाशक्ति यो न तुष्यति मन्दधीः अधैर्यमपि यो युङ्क्ते सदा मित्रं नरर्षभ ⁠
अस्थानक्रोधनोऽयुक्तो यश्चाकस्माद् विरुध्यते सुहृदश्चैव कल्याणानाशु त्यजति किल्बिषी
अल्पेऽप्यपकृते मूढस्तथाज्ञानात् कृतेऽपि च ⁠कार्यसेवी च मित्रेषु मित्रद्वेषी नराधिप ⁠
शत्रुर्मित्रमुखो यश्च जिह्मप्रेक्षी विलोचनः न विरज्यति कल्याणे यस्त्यजेत् तादृशं नरम् ⁠
पानपो द्वेषणः क्रोधी निर्घृणः परुषस्तथा ⁠परोपतापी मित्रध्रुक् तथा प्राणिवधे रतः ⁠
कृतघ्नश्चाधमो लोके न संधेयः कदाचन ⁠छिद्रान्वेषी ह्यसंधेयः संधेयानपि मे शृणु

The list as sighted by Bhishma is long. Some of them are anyone Greedy, Cruel, Denounces Dharma, Crooked, Fraudulent, Inferior, Suspicious of everyone, lazy, Sinful, Procrastinator, Liar, Shameless, Nonbeliever, Escapist, Jealousy of others, Cunning, Speaks ill. Many of the characteristics would apply to Duryodhana. Hence, he is not a worthy friend. But Karna accepted him as it is with full knowledge because of his indebtedness to him. Bhishma also mentioned who all should be considered as friends.

कुलीना वाक्यसम्पन्ना ज्ञानविज्ञानकोविदाः ⁠रूपवन्तो गुणोपेतास्तथाऽलुब्धा जितश्रमाः ⁠
सन्मित्राश्च कृतज्ञाश्च सर्वज्ञा लोभवर्जिताः ⁠माधुर्यगुणसम्पन्नाः सत्यसंधा जितेन्द्रियाः
व्यायामशीला सततं कुलपुत्राः कुलोद्वहाः दोषैः प्रमुक्ताः प्रथितास्ते ग्राह्याः पार्थिवैर्नराः ⁠

यथाशक्ति समाचाराः सम्प्रतुष्यन्ति हि प्रभो ⁠

नास्थाने क्रोधवन्तश्च न चाकस्माद् विरागिणः ⁠विरक्ताश्च न दुष्यन्ति मनसाप्यर्थकोविदाः ⁠
आत्मानं पीडयित्वापि सुहृत्कार्यपरायणाः ⁠विरज्यन्ति न मित्रेभ्यो वासो रक्तमिवाविकम् ⁠

क्रोधाच्च लोभमोहाभ्यां नानर्थे युवतीषु च ⁠न दर्शयन्ति सुहृदो विश्वस्ता धर्मवत्सलाः ⁠
लोष्टकाञ्चनतुल्यार्थाः सुहृत्सु दृढबुद्धयः ⁠ये चरन्त्यभिमानानि सृष्टार्थमनुषङ्गिणः
संगृह्णन्तः परिजनं स्वाम्यर्थपरमाः सदा ईदृशैः पुरुषश्रेष्ठैर्यः संधिं कुरुते नृपः ⁠
तस्य विस्तीर्यते राज्यं ज्योत्स्ना ग्रहपतेरिव ⁠शास्त्रनित्या जितक्रोधा बलवन्तो रणे सदा

जन्मशीलगुणोपेताः संधेयाः पुरुषोत्तमाः

The list of characteristics includes speaking the truth, communicating well, accomplished, intelligent, under his own control, satisfied, not greedy, trustworthy, and controlling their emotions.

Why is the "friendship" between Duryodhana and Karna popular today?

We live in a fast-paced society. We have lots of contacts but no connections. We try to justify this by treating all transactional relationships as friendships. We anchor this belief in the friendship of Duryodhana and Karna. This anchoring is convenient to explain as Karna has created a mind space in today’s generation by virtue of his commitment towards Duryodhana. In addition, most people have sympathy for him. We should not confuse his commitment for Duryodhana as friendship. It was a kind of one sided friendship. While Karna treated the relationship like friendship, but for Duryodhana, Karna was a trump card for Arjuna. Today's materialistic world has a vastly different meaning of friendship, and it is often seen as more being together under all weathers. However, if one is a friend in crime, the law would not spare someone just because he was a friend. The current thinking approach is based on the short-term joy that each provides.

Subramaniam P G
Subramaniam P G was a Mahabharata Upanayanam student. Graduate in Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University), Varanasi. An expert in Business Process Management with experience in business processes relating to diverse Industry and Functions. Also a passionate trainer and mentor to a large number of professionals.

Disclaimer: This article belongs to the author in full, including opinions and insights. Amrita University is not responsible or liable for the information contained in this article, or its implications therein.

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