Here they worship the villain….

There is a standard format for all tales and epics. There would be the protagonist(s), supporting characters and the antagonist(s) and at the end, good wins over evil, and the protagonist emerges victorious. Generally, the protagonist would be an embodiment of all virtues, and the villains  get characterized as the opposite poles to the leads and so naturally, scheming and wily. An exception to this format is the Mahabharata, where every character has multiple attributes, and cannot fit under a single framework of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Everyone depicted in the epic has their own positives and negatives which determine the path of their lives and that of the mahakavya. Couple years back in the U.S., a classmate of mine asked me after she saw the idol of Krishna in my room,

it amazes me that you Hindus worship this person. He is for sure a noble character in the epic, but he is very cunning too, exploiting others’ weaknesses, even if that is for strategic reasons and to protect the World. Say, the slaying of Jayadratha for example. In our faith, we simply can’t have contradicting personal qualities in a single person. It sounds beautiful though.

Well, that is the beauty of the Hindu Dharma. You can have belief in anyone, any path, follow a certain philosophy or deny it, and even pick out the best or worst from several people and apply those qualities in your lives. The Mahabharata follows the same tenets- every character has two sides, and you are free to choose the one you like. Every virtuous person has an inherent weakness or negative attribute in him/her; and every sinner has a drop or two of saintliness left deep within. It is left to the reader or follower to accept what he/she likes the most and shape the nature of that character through his/her point of view. Therefore Arjuna can be taken as a villain and Dushasana as a hero.

According to the popular narrative, Duryodhana might be the main antagonist of the Mahabharata, but at the same time, Vyasa also lauds his devotion towards friendship. The relationship between Duryodhana and Karna has been eulogized through generations as an example of great friendship, and sometimes pointed out as a bad example to how friendship between “not-too-right” minds can end up in disaster. Although Karna was on the Kaurava side, the readers feel genuine sympathy for him being wronged at birth and also admire several of his noble qualities like his charitableness and valor. Similarly, Duryodhana too, though despised for his vile nature, is commended for his reign- as a Good King to his subjects. The act of  Bhima kicking him after his death was condemned by Yudhishtira for this very reason.

Now, let me take you to this village named Poruvazhy in Kollam district of Kerala. Here, we have a temple where Duryodhana is the principal deity. The villain of the Mahabharata has been deified here, is adored by the people and they flock in during the festival season to worship and offer their prayers to him. The Malanada Temple at Poruvazhy, much different from a structural temple without a garbhagriha and idol, lets the devotee imagine the deity -which is placed on a raised platform- according to their understanding of divinity.

Malanada Temple

Like every temple, this one too has a legend behind how it came into existence. It is said, years after the Pandavas were exiled after losing the game of dice,  spies and wandering mendicants would bring in their news to Hastinapura. While Duryodhana rejoiced at the suffering of his cousins, he also was envious learning about their achievements like that of Arjuna acquiring celestial weapons, following which he went into depression. Karna who could not stand his dear friend being restless came forward to comfort him saying that he had all the Pandavas’ wealth and was the ruler while his foes lived like beggars, foraging for fruits and berries in forests. When Duryodhana could not be comforted by his words, Karna suggested that they go to the forests in search of the Pandavas, find them out and mock at their plight.

Incited by Karna, Duryodhana marched off to the southern forests and eventually reached the location where the Malanada Temple is located now. He was exhausted after the long journey and went to a nearby house and asked for water. He did not realize that it was the house of a Kurava (a Shudra Tribe) chieftain who was the ruler of that region. The elderly woman present there gave him toddy to drink, which is customary as a mark of respect to the Supreme King and gave him a herbal concoction to get rid of his fatigue. Refreshed, Duryodhana rose to thank the lady and then he noticed her mangalsutra, which indicated she was from the Kurava tribe. As per customs, it was not proper for a Kshatriya to have food or drinks offered by the lower classes, and Duryodhana decided to console himself and perform penance for this deed.

He was touched by the helping mentality and divinity of the lady, and appreciated the knowledge of the community in medicine, and thereby, he sat on the nearby hill and worshiped Lord Shiva for the welfare of the tribe as they were his subjects and that no divine wrath must be cast on them for offering food to the Kshatriya King. Duryodhana formally granted the title of “Siddha” to the tribesmen and prayed that they be never robbed of their wealth of knowledge. He also donated 101 yojanas of land around the hill to the tribesmen, which the tribals surrendered back to the King nominally and promised to build a temple in his honor on the place where he sat and prayed. Duryodhana then requested them to build shrines for Karna, Gandhari, Dussala, Bheeshma, Dronacharya & Shakuni and rode off.

Platform of Duryodhana

Accordingly, the Kurava tribesmen built a raised platform and a temple around it, and began to worship Duryodhana as an avatar of Shiva. Within the complex, sub-shrines, devoted to Karna and others as named by Duryodhana came up. The concept of “Sankalpa” takes prominence here, as the devotees bow down to Duryodhana the avatar of Shiva, thus mentally submitting themselves to Lord Shiva through their beloved King. The story of 100 yojanas of land around the temple which was nominally given back to the King still holds importance, as the present temple and land belonging to it have been registered in the name of “Mr. Duryodhana” as per Kerala State Revenue records and Temple Endowment Board records!

Initially a tribal shrine, the temple is now thronged by people from all paths of Hinduism although it still follows the tribal customs like the main offering being toddy and chicken curry. The idea of a temple to a vilified character in the epics and the traditions which stand against some of the established tenets of temple worship may seem weird to some, but that is the all-adaptable character of Hinduism, isn’t it? The Hindu way of life teaches us nobody can be innately evil or bad, that the circumstances are what transform them into despicable ones, and even the smallest dropof virtue in them must be respected.

A spin-off to the legend again adds more insights into the embracing nature of our culture which can find the best in the supposed-to-be-worst . There is a temple nearby, dedicated to Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son who was brutally slayed in the Chakravyuha. It is said that after the death of Abhimanyu, Duryodhana was repentant about the act, although he did not express it. That night he appeared in the dream of the Kurava chieftain and asked him to build a shrine for Abhimanyu and worship him, but build it in such a way that it faces away from his own shrine, as his conscience makes him ashamed of facing Abhimanyu. The temple was built. Now, once a year, during the annual festival, the idol of Abhimanyu is taken to the Malanada temple, symbolizing the nephew visiting his uncle to pay obeisance and Duryodhana apologizing for his deed !

Indeed, Hinduism is interesting, and amazes us to the hilt with such examples out of the stereotype …

About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in Hinduism, Holy Places in India, Kerala, Legends and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Here they worship the villain….

  1. Vijayalakshmi says:

    very well written with clarity reaching all.

  2. Manya It was an informative article, It is true that our culture has space for every view point,

    As we are talking of Duryodhana, a very important point needs to be pondered upon, How the winning side dictates its terms to write History, How Suyodhana became Duryodhana as history writers always chose the winner side and wrote according to their masters’ will.

    In present context, we can see the same thing, How cruel invaders like Tipu Sultan or Akbar become great kings as the pseudo secular class remains in power and decides the chapters of History.

    Thanks to our Indian oral tradition, even if no written documents are available to give Hindu view in the Mughal Era, the atrocities have not been forgotten.

    Writers like william Dalrymple who try to prove Mughals as seculars, if questioned about the sources or lack of Hindu sources; they grudgingly accept the lack of it and completely rely on regal documents, which is why I believe that every History book should come with a disclaimer that they are not the ultimate truth but mixture of few one sided sources and his/her opprtunist loyalties with topping of writer’s ideology.

    and these temples are not only places of worship but testimony that we have challenged the seats of power and their version of story since time immemorial.

  3. vam says:

    I only knew of Duryodhana and Karna temples in North-west region of Uttarkashi district in Uttarakhand. Info in this article is a revelation.

    Indeed, our culture embraces the extremes, and all that may seem strange or different, even while advocating a restoration of balance and a degree of dispassion in submission to Supreme Being.

  4. Nice article Manya, Duryodhan and Ravan for me were not villains per se, both of them were flawed characters, people with strong positive virtues, let down by one fatal weakness. In case of Ravan, it was his lust for women, that did him in, and in case of Duryodhan, it was his arrogance and jealousy. Both of them were able men, great warriors, and good rulers too, but that one fatal weakness, causes their downfall.

    • Prasanna Sundaram says:

      is there any other instance where Ravan was shown to have lust? I always read the story as surpanakha’s “naak katt gayi” which i always assume was not the literal sense but the way its referred when someone is said have had the respect zone trespassed … if that being the case ravan’s fury is as imaginable as bheem’s rage against dushshasan … the logic that calls for a family of 5 brothers to kill a 100 of their own cousins needs to be the same for a well educated and respected king of a different nation

      • Yes there is that background story of Sita actually being Vedavati, and he had tried to grab her force, she put a curse on him saying that if he ever tried to violate a women against her will, he would die immediately. This is there I think in most South versions. Apparently, that is the reason why he did not force himself upon Sita, when she was in his captivity.

  5. varun v kumar says:

    Gud onee manya…. never heard such things abt my villian Mr. Duryodhana…

  6. quiet interesting-and reading such long blogs like this,not made me really interesting like this.

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  9. Srikant says:

    Worshiping the villain means upholding the (obviously) negative traits that the person was known for and not for the positive traits he had. So worshipers should be aware of the fact that he was the epicenter of the adharmic side.
    The whole ithihaasa of the epic Mahabharata is all about Dharma va adharma and the various powerful characters participating from either side. So the main lesson learnt is in which side you were – dharma (humanity, nature, justice) or adharma.

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