Mahabharata - Story, Myths & Facts

Mahabharata is one of India’s greatest legendary epics, together with Ramayana. It covers 100,000 verses which are four times longer than Ramayana and fifteen times longer than the bible, making it the world’s longest epic poem written so far.

In Hindu belief, Mahabharata is considered as part of their historical texts. The infamous Kurukshetra war is believed to have happened back in the 10th century BC, in Mahabharata.

But really, how familiar are you with this epic legend? Whether you’ve heard a lot of versions of this story, or it’s your first time reading it, Mahabharata is the kind of story you shouldn’t miss. In this article, let’s travel back in time and explore the story, myths, and facts about Mahabharata. Also, if you are curious about how music can influence yoga, check out our newest article about that here: Yoga and Music: Theories Behind Them Explained.

Throwback: The Story of Mahabharata

The Mahabharata story covers about four generations of a problematic family tree that focuses on the rivalry between two brothers for the throne, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The story ends in the battle for the Hastinapura throne, which happened in Kurukshetra War.

The Early Generations

Vichitravirya, the king of Hastinapura kingdom, unfortunately, died before having any sons— his successors. So his stepbrother, Vyasa, was told to impregnate the late king’s two wives and the maid. Then three sons were given birth. Dhritarashtra, being the son of the first wife. Pandu, the son of the second wife. And Vidur, the son of the maid.

Dhritarashtra was born blind, making him unfit for the throne. All in all, Dhritarashtra had 100 sons and a daughter. Duryodhana, being the oldest. Together, Dhritarashtra’s children call themselves the Kauravas.

Because Dhritarashtra was unqualified, Pandu was seated as the king. Pandu had five children: Arjuna, Yudhistira, Nakula, Bhima, and Sahadeva. They call themselves the Pandavas.

King Pandu successfully conquered the neighboring areas and continuously expanding its territories without problems. At some point, Pandu decided to rest and spend time with his two wives in the forest. So during his absence, Pandu appointed his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, to rule on his behalf.

The Growing Rivalry & Kauravas Evil Plan

Many years later, Pandu and his one wife died. His other wife returned to the kingdom along with the five sons. Pandu’s successors came back to the palace. However, they did not get by with the Kauravas.

One day, a public skill exhibition happened. The rivalry between the cousins heated as the people watched the mace fight between Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, and Bhima of the Pandavas. The one-on-one went too far. This was succeeded by an archery duel between Karna and Arjuna of the Pandavas. Arjuna made fun of Karna for his low-level status. Karna, an excellent archer himself, backed Duryodhana due to his contest against Arjuna.

The citizens started raising concerns as Dhritarashtra only ruled in trust for his late brother, Pandu. Dhritarashtra pronounced Yudhistira, the eldest of the Pandavas, the heir to the throne to end this conflict.

Duryodhana was upset and insecure because he believed that he would sit on the throne, so he planned to kill the Pandavas. He invited them to a party in a nearby palace and set the whole place on fire. Luckily, the Pandavas was alerted to the evil plan that the Kauravas plotted and barely survived. The palace, however, was burned down to ashes and assumed that the Pandavas, along with their mother, didn’t make it alive.

After that incident, the Pandavas went into hiding, disguised themselves as Brahmin commoners, and wandered from village to village, asking for food. During these misfortunes, Bhima was able to kill two demons and fell in love with a female demon.

The Marriage Ceremony

One day, the Pandavas heard a ceremony wherein Draupadi, the princess of Panchal, was looking for a suitor. Draupadi is famous for her spellbinding beauty, and all the prince royalties had assembled to fight for her hand.

But the challenge to marry her was almost impossible to accomplish and needed top-notch archery skills. After all the royalties had lost, Arjuna came into the scene and finished the challenge in one attempt, making him the winner of the ceremony.

The Pandavas brought Draupadi back to their home and surprised their mother. “Mother, check out what we’ve brought back this time.” Assuming that they were bringing food, their mother replied: “Regardless of what it is, share it with your brothers.” Because of that, Draupadi became the wife of the Pandava brothers.

Back to the Kingdom

Later on, the Pandavas and their mother went back to the Hastinapura kingdom, where Dhritarashtra pretended to be overjoyed that they were still alive. Dhritarashtra granted them an extensive part of the kingdom to continue with their lives and rule over.

The Pandavas built a new kingdom there amidst the empty land, the Indraprastha.

The Dice Game

Duryodhana was insecure when the new Pandavas kingdom became so flourishing, so he asked Yudhistira for a dice game. Yudhistira accepted the game, and for some reason, he bet everything on the game, including his overall wealth, the kingdom of Indraprastha, himself, the Pandava brothers, and Draupadi.

Draupadi was humiliated and undressed inside the hall by one of the Kauravas. At this time, Krishna, who is one of the avatars of the god Vishnu, appeared out of nowhere and protected Draupadi. Because of this, Dhritarashtra chose to return what the Pandavas had staked.

However, the Pandavas lost another match to Duryodhana, which made them go exile for twelve years. The condition of the exile was that if they were discovered during the last year, they would have to redo the exile for another year.

Twelve Years of Exile

During the years of exile, the Pandavas explored places to places and acquired heavenly weapons. After twelve years, they went to the kingdom of Virat and decided to live and settle there for another year. Upon completing the conditions of the exile, the Pandavas decided to gather their allies to retake the throne against the Kauravas.

The Kurukshetra War & Bhagavad Gita

At first, Arjuna was hesitant to continue the war because what he’s up against was his own people, as well as his great-grandfather, who raised him, his mentors, and his cousins. Arjuna then raised his dilemma to Krishna: “What good is a kingdom that’s won at the price of their lives?”

The following conversation is identified as the Bhagavad Gita— the ancient story and is the basis of most Hindu beliefs. The conversation with Krishna gave Arjuna the courage to proceed with the war.

The casualties that the war had caused were unknown. The troops of both parties were believed to have totaled nearly four million armies and thousands of elephants and horses also. After the eighteen restless days of battle, the Pandavas has won the war against the Kauravas.

As stated earlier, the Bhagavad Gita is a conversation mentioned in Mahabharata where Krishna advised Arjuna about waging war against his own people.

Under the Bhagavad Gita, Krishana made clear to Arjuna the significance of accomplishing his duty as a warrior to support dharma. Several Hindu beliefs were also mentioned, like karma, bhakti, and moksha.

The Bhagavad Gita’s word has caused the Indian Independence campaign leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi.

Debunking Myths: 10 Amazing Facts About Mahabharata

Debunking Myths: 10 Amazing Facts About Mahabharata

1. The youngest Pandava brothers can see the future

Sahadeva, being the youngest among the Pandava brothers, can foresee the future. When the Pandava brothers are asked by their father to eat a dead piece of his body, Sahadeva is the only one who could take the challenge, which gave him the ability to foresee the future.

2. Not all of the Kauravas were against the Pandavas

Vikarna and Yuyutsa, the two younger brothers of Duryodhana, frequently question his actions now and then, including the shaming of Draupadi. Bhima swore to kill the Kauravas in the most painful way. Bhima killed Vikarna; however, Bhima was heartbroken after learning that Vikarna is on their side.

3. Vidur is one of the avatars of Yamraj

In Mahabharata, Vidur possesses the royalties’ blood together with King Pandu of Hastinapura and Dhritarashtra. Vidur was the son of the sage Vyasa and Sudri, a woman-in-waiting- to the kingdom’s queen, Ambika, and Ambalika.

4. A demon lies in Arjuna’s son soul

Abhimanyu, being the son of Arjuna, had a soul of a demon named Kalyavana. After Kalyavana’s death, the god Krishna caught his spirit and delivered him to Dwaraka to imprison him inside the cupboard.

According to Krishna, Abhimanyu has Kalyavana’s soul, who was, later on, capable of killing it in the long run. Abhimanyu’s only shortcoming was his insufficient knowledge of Chakrauyuha.

After that, the Chakrauyuha has started killing Abhimanyu, as this was the way to get Moksha. So Krishna never gave the knowledge of ways to get out of Chakrauyuha to Abhimanyu.

5. The main offender of Drapaudi’s shame

Karna was responsible for Drapaudi’s shameful undressed moment in the hall, not Duryodhana. He has been reticent in the whole happening, not until he asked Draupadi to come in the hall. Karna also accused Draupadi of a Vaishya.

6. Aside from Draupadi, Arjuna had other wives

Arjunas journey led her to meet his other three wives: Subhadra, Ulupi, and Chitrangada.

7. Ekalavya was the cousin of Vasudeva Krishna

Almost few people will realize that Ekalavya was the lost child of Devashrava, sibling of Vasudeva, and later found by Nishadas in the forest.

Ekalavya met his death after protecting his father in Rukmini Swayamvar. Krishna killed Ekalavya as his grand sacrifice for Gurudakshina. Krishna, later on, promised Ekalavya that he would be reincarnated very soon and deliver the justice of Drona, who Dhritadyumna killed.

8. Arjuna actually saved Duryodhana’s life

Duryodhana went into the Dwaita forest to humiliate the Pandavas together with all of their servants from the kingdom of Indraprastha. There, Chitrasena, along with his apsaras, were having fun in the pond. Then, Duryodhana asked Chitrasena to leave the pond, and Chitrasena declined. An argument sparked between them.

When Chitrasena restrained Duryodhana, the Pandava brothers who happened to be nearby asked Chitrasena to leave Duryodhana alone. Chitrasena, an ally of Arjuna, saved Duryodhana, yet not until he wraps him with vines and puts him on his horse.

Duryodhana, who was embarrassed, said thanks to Arjuna and asks him anything to return the favor. Arjuna then responded that he would tell Duryodhana when the time comes he needs help with something.

9. Gandhari attemted to kill Kunti

After learning the news that Duryodhana was in critical condition, Gandhari burst into anger and cursed Kunti. Gandhari wanted to behead Kunti. However, she could not pull it off because she lacks the courage and ended right before she could land a blow.

10. Karna’s children were brought into Tutelage by Arjuna

After Arjuna learned the true identity of Karna, he immediately flocked into Tutelage together with Karna’s children. The Pandava brothers were in grief, and the only way they could amend their shortcomings was to finish Vrishaketu’s request. Thus, Arjuna was seated at the throne of Anga, the previous kingdom of Pandu, and Indraprastha.

Celebrating the Mahabharata Festival Today

The celebration of the Mahabharata festival is done every December at Haryana Kurukshetra, which is assumed as the place where the ancient war in the story had happened. Mahabharata festival celebrated the day when Krishna opened the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. The said festival includes the recitation and discussion of the Bhagavad Gita, together with the colorful performances and dances based on the story of Mahabharata.

Final Thoughts

The fight between the Pandava brothers and Kauravas is just one part of the Mahabharata. The story covers many other legends about divinities and heroes that include a vast range of topics. These legends explain complex philosophical discourses that make the basis of the Hindu belief— rules of conduct, social needs, and religious customs.

The story of Mahabharata became highly popular in India and the rest of Southeast Asia. The tale inspired multiple classical works of art, like Indian miniature portraits and the detailed wood-carvings of the age-old temples of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Today, the story of Mahabharata remains the most prominent Hindu epic and continues to strengthen the foundation for spiritual belief and myths.