The Kaurava prince had a boon but he was tricked...
As the Kurukshetra war raged on, the casualties increasing with each passing hour, it became evident to everyone that the Kauravas were going to lose. Most of the veteran generals on the Kaurava side had been slain by now and the war was in its endgame. After the death of Shalya (Pandavas’ uncle who was tricked into fighting on the side of Kauravas) Duryodhana goes into hiding. By now he’s the only Kaurava prince surviving. Bhima challenges him to a mace duel in order to ultimately bring the war to an end. Duryodhana agrees.
When Gandhari hears of this challenge, she decides to break her vow of being blind folded for life for just one brief minute. It was just days after she’d lost her son-in-law, Jayadrata, husband to Dushala due to Krishna’s deviousness so she felt it important to give her son an unfair advantage. Now, Gandhari was a very pious woman and a Vishnu devotee, which is also why she was angry with Krishna for not having done anything to prevent the death of her sons and even cursed him. The curse didn’t just kill Krishna, it brought down his entire dynasty. Even in the little that’s written about Gandhari’s powers you can get a sense of her superpowers. There are only two recorded instances during which she removed her blindfold. The first was when she summoned Duryodhana before his mace duel with Bhima. Her only order to her firstborn was that he come to her as the day he was born.
And so following those orders, Duryodhana took a bath in the lake and began walking towards his mother’s chambers. It was late in the night and no one was around so he didn’t think much of his state of nudity. But suddenly, Krishna appears from seemingly nowhere and looks at the Kaurava prince bemused. A flummoxed Duryodhana blurts out the reason why he’s without clothes. The ever astute Krishna realises that something is up and pretends to chide Duryodhana.
Let’s not forget despite the animosity, Duryodhana was aware that Krishna wasn’t one to be messed with. He nods his head in agreement – Krishna had argued as to how a Kaurava prince could go to his mother stark naked – and wraps some leaves around his thighs.
When he reaches his mother’s chambers, Gandhari asks him if he was ready. Duryodhana replies in the affirmative and Gandhari removes her blindfold for the first time in her life. Just a brief look from Gandhari covers all of Duryodhana in an invisible armour… except the parts he had hidden from her view.
Gandhari realises her son wasn’t in fact in the nude and is extremely angry. It was, after all, the one instruction he had to carry out. How difficult could it have been to understand it, she thunders. A sheepish Duryodhana explains that he ran into Krishna on his way to her chambers and it was he that had convinced him to wrap something around him before appearing before her.
An incensed Gandhari scolds Duryodhana for falling for Krishna’s devious ways. The armour, she explains, would have protected Duryodhana during his duel with Bhima the next day. Duryodhana is upset, of course, but assures his mother that the rules of a mace duel prevent participants from attacking each other below the waist. Gandhari, of course, knows better and dismisses her foolish son from her chambers.
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The next day when Bhima and Duryodhana face off in the ultimate duel, the rules are reiterated. Balarama, a friend and teacher to Duryodhana and a mace expert, agrees to referee the duel. As the duel begins, it becomes clear that Bhima’s blows were not affecting Duryodhana in any manner at all, let alone hurting him. Krishna realises what may have happened and signals to Bhima to attack Duryodhana on his thighs.
Remember, this was against the rules of the duel and it would have been against a warrior’s ethic to attack in such a manner. However, seeing that he had no choice, Bhima followed Krishna’s orders and dealt a fatal blow to Duryodhana on his thighs. Since that was the part of Duryodhana’s body that wasn’t covered in a divine invisible armour, Duryodhana collapses and eventually dies.
Balarama protests that the blow was against the rules of the duel but Krishna argues that the Kauravas had broken several rules during the war including one that cost his son-in-law Abhimanyu his life.
With this duel, the war of Kurukshetra comes to an end. If only Duryodhana had followed his mother’s instructions, it was quite likely he would have emerged undefeated and maybe even turned the war around single-handedly.