Category Archives: b. The Mahabharata

The Relationship of Arjuna and Krsna

Arjuna and Krsna have what is described as a perfect warrior-friend relationship

(Katz 82). There are also many hints of the relationship being described as representing a great friendship between a man and god, as Krsna is Visnu, a god incarnate and Arjuna is a man. It is represented in many different stories throughout the Mahabharata. This relationship starts out as one of family members (cousins), both princes from neighbouring lands. It continues throughout the massive epic to grow and change as the two men grow and learn how to deal with life’s lessons and how to be dharmic in every scenario. Learning from one another as much as learning with one another. This is shown particularly in the stories of The Burning of the Khandava Forest, as well as the Great War of Kurukshetra. It is also well represented within the smaller appearances of Krsna in the lives of the Pandavas and Arjunas throughout the Mahabharata. The relationship of the two men grows through the devotion and loyalty shown by Arjuna and it is ultimately the saviour of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war (Katz 239-248).

The relationship starts out in the beginning of the Mahabharata with the birth of Arjuna, the son of the god Indra. Spoken by a figureless voice, comparisons between Arjuna to the god Visnu are made (Katz 29). The bodiless voice states that in one way or another Arjuna will bring as much joy to his mother as Visnu brought to his (Katz 29). This early comparison of the god and the man already foreshadows some of the experiences to be had by Arjuna and Krsna later on in the epic. It brings forth the idea that the two men really complete one another and are destined to be brought together in life. The symbolism of the ying and the yang is sometimes used to represent the friendship between these two men (Katz 83). Not that one is either the ying or the yang but that they both complete each other and make full contributions to the relationship (Katz 83). They are even referred to as the two Krsnas in some versions of the Mahabharata, the common meaning being that the two are so completely in sync with one another they are simply one and the same mind but two beings (Bryant 25).

The two men’s bond grows even stronger when Arjuna takes Krsna’s sister, Subhadra, as his wife. He first asks Krsna what his thoughts are on this idea of marriage to his sister and

Krsna approves right away exclaiming that Arjuna is the perfect match for his sister (Katz 63). Arjuna then sneaks into the kingdom where the princess lives and he causes her to fall in love with him. He then abducts the princess causing anger and an uproar within Krsna’s family. Krsna then speaks to his family in favour of the union between Arjuna and Subhadra and convinced his family that his sister’s marriage to Arjuna is not only a good thing but that Arjuna is the most suitable match for Subhadra (Katz 63). This shows a preference for Krsna’s friendship with Arjuna over that of his family’s wishes. It shows a strong commitment to a friendship in choosing Arjuna over his family. After this union of families Krsna and Arjuna are now brothers-in-law. This only strengthens their friendship as they are even closer relatives now; it also draws a parallel to them being actual brothers and therefore causing them to share an incredibly tight bond. They celebrate their new found brotherhood by going out to play in the water of a river, and so begins the story of The burning of the Khandava Forest.

In this story the two men show the reciprocity of their respect for one another and the equality of their relationship by teaming up and defeating gods and animals. This story starts out with the two, now brothers, running into the fire god Agni, who is hungry and asks to be fed. The two men comply with his requests and decide to burn down the entire forest and all the creatures within it (Rajagoplachari 41). According to C. Rajagoplachari editor of Mahabharata 6th ed. this story can be thought of as a connection of the two men’s souls as the growth of their friendship causes them to act as one/two people with one mind. It is about two men who are about to prove themselves to their fathers, themselves and their worlds (Rajagoplachari 79). This defeat of gods and father gives the description of the two men being outside of society’s judgments, as they are going against most of the lessons taught throughout the Mahabharata and killing the entire forest, alive with animals and plants (Rajagoplachari 79). This new opposing lesson causes reader/listeners to draw out the idea that these men must both have a deeper understanding of dharma and how to uphold it (Katz 79). Another similarity taken from this story would be that the two men know how to complement one another and by doing so how to fight off other warriors sufficiently. In the end of the story the men are granted a favour from the god Indra, who has now been defeated by Arjuna, a proven man to his father (the god Indra). Krsna chooses to remain close companions with Arjuna for all his life as his wish (Katz 82). This is an incredible request that lets us see the true companionship that Krsna feels with Arjuna and not just the devotion that is normally shown of Arjuna toward Krsna.

Part of the closeness between Arjuna and Krsna can be seen in its opposing relationship, between Krsna and Duryodhana. At one point Krsna goes to Duryodhana and shows him a truth. Much the same as when he shows Arjuna his true identity as the god Visnu in the story of the Bhagavad Gita. When Krsna does this Duryodhana, unlike Arjuna, denies Krsna’s truth and even threatens him (Katz 234). This little side story to the Mahabharata only accents the commitment and devotion that Arjuna holds for Krsna (Katz 234). The devotion that is shown by Arjuna for Krsna is a model throughout the Mahabharata. It shows up in many of Arjuna’s actions and words. For example when Arjuna stands at the foot of Krsna’s bed instead of the head, where Duryodhana stands, this shows Arjuna to be a humble man who is attached to the idea of Krsna as a great alliance rather than simply a strong weapon.

There are also references to the relationship between the gods, Indra and Visnu. Indra who is Arjuna’s father and Visnu, who is Krsna, represent fathers to both the men. The two gods have a friendship themselves and the friendship between Arjuna and Krsna hints at the same friendship as the one shared between the two father gods (Katz 83). This is an interesting side note as it leads to the idea of a strong eternal friendship between two equals.

Right after the Pandavas are exiled for thirteen years by Duryodhana they begin their journey into the forest. Krsna, hearing of their exile, rushes out to say goodbye to them and to see them off. He finds the Pandavas and appears to them in the forest. He comforts them, especially Draupadi, who is upset over her disrobing scene. He then assures vengeance on the Kauravas, then says goodbye and is on his way. This may represent the idea that god is always with you/always finds you (Mahabharata 54).

Before the great war of Kurukshetra, Arjuna and his cousin Duryodhana race to Krsnas kingdom in efforts of recruiting him for either side of the war. Krsna then gives Arjuna the choice of either using Krsna’s army for the war or Krsna himself as an advisor. Arjuna chooses Krsna as his advisor and chariot driver. In choosing Krsna as his advisor, Arjuna shows his loyalty and support in his friendship with Krsna.

At some points it is said that Arjuna is Krsna’s companion and in others it is said that Krsna is Arjunas companion (Katz 82). This friendship grows out of its equality, stability and emotional support on both sides. It is Krsna’s duty to guide Arjuna through life and keep him on the path of his dharmic duties (Bryant 8). Sometimes Krsna is needed to show Arjuna the path of dharma and this is what he does through some of the stories in the Mahabharata (Katz 83).
This way of the dharmic path Krsna shows to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita when he tells Arjuna what to do in the war in many different scenarios that make the dharmic path confusing even for such a man as Arjuna, son of a god, with such intensity, that of a true warrior (Rosen 12). This need for a teacher as well as another warrior that Arjuna possesses is a common theme throughout this history of literature as well as human life. It shows up in almost all aspects of his life, when he needs someone to help him convince people of things, or when he needs another set of hands to defeat enemies. He also needed a teacher to help him with his duties in his life as a warrior. The theme of the warrior friendship seems to hold common place among many stories throughout history [e.g., Patroklos and Achilles (Katz 82)]. Most often the friendships have a bit of a hero complex, meaning that one man is greater than the other, or is seen as more important than the other (Katz 82). It represents a relationship with god himself and how humans should treat god and be treated by god. It is seen as the perfect friendship with complete trust, enlightenment, teaching and support (Katz 82). The devotion of Arjuna to Krsna is spoken about in Arjuna and the Mahabharata by Katz. She writes about how Arjunas’ devotion to Krsna is what makes him the best of all his brothers (Katz 233). It is the extra characteristic he holds that completes him as a perfect being. As well as this unconditional devotion to Krsna shows him to be representing of the warrior class and their specific dharma (Katz 235).

The idea to take away from Arjuna and Krsna’s relationship in this myth would be that god is one’s true companion in whom rests a perfect relationship (Katz 83). The Mahabharata is a story told that portrays a friendship between two men. One who represents the great hero who is a perfect student and is in search of the truth (Katz 15); the other who portrays an advisor, seen as god or a more aware/enlightened version of the first man (Katz 15). When put together these two men makeup a great team, which seems to represent god and man working together as one. Together the two of them are unbeatable and working as equals who are supportive and respectful of one another, it is the perfect relationship between two people-god and man.


References and Further Recommended Readings

Bryant, Edwin F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. Oxford University Press.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1990) The ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahabharata. State University of New York Press.

Katz, Ruth Cecily (198) Arjuna in the Mahabharata: Where Krishna is, there is Victory. University of South Carolina Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Rajagopalachari, C. (1950) Mahabharata 6th ed. New Delhi: Hindustan Times.

Rosen, Steven (2007) Krishna’s Song: A New Look at the Bhagavad Gita. London: Praegers Publishers.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Duryodana and Krsna’s relationship

The meaning of Krsna’s instructions

The Dharma of Krsna

Krsna as a trickster


Noteworthy websites



Article written by Jolene Anderson (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.





The Warrior Son

Arjuna is a key characters in the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata, a collection of over 88 000 verses, and the longest epic in any language (Hodgkinson 8). The third of five Pandava brothers, Arjuna is described as a master ambidextrous archer, who is also highly skilled in the usage of other weapons, enabling him to earn the title of Maharathi, or outstanding warrior (Menon 2006a: 117).  Arjuna’s skill in warfare plays a pivotal role in the civil war being fought between two royal branches, the Pandavas, and their cousins, the Kauravas, where he single handedly kills many powerful warriors fighting for the opposing side.  Famously, Arjuna faces a moral dilemma over killing his kin before a great battle starts, and his resultant dialogue with Lord Krsna, his charioteer, who tries to convince him to fight, forms the subject of the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord) (Rodrigues, 233-234).
Due to a curse placed on King Pandu, he could not have sexual relations with either of his wives.  To ensure the king had an heir, his wife, Kunti, made use of a boon she had been granted that allowed her to beget a child by any deity she chose.  The third, and last child Kunti bore was Arjuna, begotten by the god Indra [Indra, in Hinduism, is the king of heavenly gods] (Hopkins 122).

Growing up, Arjuna is described by the epic as the most adept warrior among the five Pandava brothers.  Of all the other Pandava brothers, and the hundred Kauravas, Arjuna was the great warrior Drona’s most diligent student.  One Mahabharata story recounts an archery practice where Drona instructed each boy to aim at a wooden bird in a tree.  As each boy aimed, Drona asked him what he saw. After each boy had described the bird, tree, and landscape beyond, Drona told him to lower his bow.  Only when Arjuna replied to Drona’s question that he only saw the bird’s eye, was he allowed to shoot the target (Menon 2006a: 118-119).  This story highlights the importance of focus, and how focused Arjuna was as a student. Another example of Arjuna’s dedication to learning was his discovery that his brother Bhima ate at night as well as he did in the day. Since Bhima was so good at eating, this gave Arjuna the idea to practice archery in the dark, to become more skilled (Menon 2006a: 116). As a further advantage to his skill at archery, Arjuna gained the celestial bow Gandiva by assisting Agni in the burning of the forest Khandava (Menon 2006a: 302).
Arjuna used his skill with his bow to win the hand of Drapaudi at her swayamvara, by shooting a spinning wooden fish in the eye while only looking at it in a reflective pool. Together with his brothers, he married Drapaudi as a common wife (Rodrigues 231).  As a rule, when one of the brothers was alone with Drapaudi, the penalty for interrupting was a 12 yearlong exile.  When news of trouble among his subjects came, Arjuna realized he had left his weapons in the room that Drapaudi was occupying with one of his brothers.  So great was his sense of duty, that he obtained his weapons, defended his subjects, and voluntarily went on his exile immediately after (Menon 2006a: 259-260).  During this exile, Arjuna married many more wives to strengthen his family’s kingdom. Of his many wives, the four most important were Drapaudi, Chitrangada, Ulupi, and Krsna’s sister, Subhadra.  Arjuna fathered Abhimanyu with Subhadra.
In The Mahabharata, the eldest Kauravas, and rival of Yudhisthira for the throne, Duryodhana, challenged Yudhisthira to a game of dice. Yudhisthira had a weak spot for gambling, and it is said that due to Duryodhana’s treachery he lost everything he possessed, including his kingdom, his brothers, and Drapaudi.  After the results of the gambling were declared void by the king, due to the humiliation of Drapaudi, Yudhisthira agreed to one final game of dice in which the wager was 12 years in exile, followed by a year that the exiled must stay disguised, or else face another 12 year exile. Yudhisthira lost, and the five Pandavas and Drapaudi were exiled (Williams 31).
During his second 12 years in exile, Arjuna left his brothers and wife and went on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas to win favour with the gods and to gain celestial weapons to use in the unavoidable war against the Kauravas at the end of the exile.  In the Himalayas, he fought against Siva, who had disguised himself as a Kirata, (mountaineer).  Soon after the fight began, Arjuna found himself disarmed and overcome by his opponent, and ashamed of his defeat, started to worship Siva and ask for forgiveness  (Menon 2006a: 448).  For this devotion, Siva gave Arjuna Pasupata, his most powerful weapon, and restored his bruised body to even greater strength than before (Menon 2006a: 449). After his fight with Siva, Arjuna was taken into heaven by his father, Indra, and lived among the gods for many years (Menon 2006a: 459). After impressing the gods Indra, Varuna, Yama, and Kubera, each presented him with unique celestial weapons (Hopkins 149).
While in Indra’s court, the celestial nymph Urvashi fell in love with Arjuna, but cursed him to live life with impotence when he rejected her. Indra later influenced Urvashi to change the duration of the curse to one year. In the last year of exile, Arjuna uses the curse to his advantage and disguised himself as a eunuch, acting as the master of dance and music under Raja Virata (Bae 145).  At the end of the year, he helped Raja Virata defeat a Kaurava army, resulting in the marriage between Abhimanyu and Virata’s daughter, Uttara (Menon 2006a: 679).
With the terms of their exile completed, the Pandavas looked to the Kauravas for their rightful half of the kingdom.  Duryodhana refused them, and even refuses to give them five villages to live in, causing war to break out (Rodrigues 233).  The two armies gathered on the plains of Kuruksetra. Before the battle, Arjuna approached Krsna for help, where Krsna gave him an ultimatum. Choosing between having Krsna on his side, or his army, Arjuna chose to have Krsna as his charioteer and allowed Krsna’s armies to fight for the Kauravas, as Krsna had loyalties to both sides (Hodgkinson 9). It is here, with Krsna on his chariot, lining up for the battle, that Arjuna faces the terrible grief of the moral dilemma that is in front of him. Before him he sees many familiar faces in the opposing lines and realizes that the battle would result in him killing kin, and great teachers, such as Bhishma and Drona. Just as he is about to give up, to Arjuna’s surprise, Krsna revealed himself as a god, and revealed the subject matter that makes up the Bhagavad Gita in an effort to convince Arjuna to fight (Hiltebeitel 110). Krsna teaches Arjuna the whole philosophy of the Vedic tradition (Hodgkinson 10). Krsna teaches in gentle tones and exposes many types of yoga, and teaches to focus on upholding righteousness without consideration of personal loss, consequences and rewards, and that duty supersedes any other pursuit.  Krsna finally convinces Arjuna to fight by telling him that killing his kin doesn’t matter because, “by my hand these men are slain already” (Segal 170). From this point on, Arjuna becomes a devoted student and subject to Lord Krsna (Segal 171).
The battle at Kuruksetra is fought for eighteen days, and Arjuna defeats many warriors. The fifth day sees Arjuna singlehandedly killing thousands of Kaurava warriors (Rosen 94). On the tenth day he mortally wounded Bhishma; he defeated Susarman and his four brothers on the twelfth day, but also lost his son Abhimanyu (Rosen 95). He killed Jayadratha with a celestial arrow on the fourteenth day (Rosen 97).  On the seventeenth day, Arjuna dishonorably killed his nemesis, and maternal half brother, Karna, by shooting him with an arrow while his chariot was stuck in the mud (Rosen 98). By the end of the eighteenth day, only the five Pandava brothers, Krsna, and one other survive, ending the war with the Pandavas as victors (Hodgkinson 10).
Victorious, the Pandavas rule over Hastinapura, the devastated home of their ancestors.  The sage Vyasa reconciles the Pandavas and the Kauravas.  Yudhisthira rules as king and Arjuna protects the horse from his Asvamedha (horse sacrifice) as it roams the kingdoms (Menon 2006b: 505).  During these roamings, Arjuna conquered many kingdoms for his brother [See Arjuna on Wikipedia for general list of conquered kingdoms]. When the earthly form of Krsna decides to leave the world, the Pandava brothers decide to follow him.  In their old age, they make a final pilgrimage to the Himalayas to reach heaven, and along the journey they die, one by one (Hodgkinson 10). According to The Mahabharata, Arjuna is defeated by supporters of the Kauravas, the Abhiras, and dies.
In Hindu culture, Arjuna is one of the most popular heroes in The Mahabharata.  The Bhagavad Gita is a very popular portion of The Mahabharata as well, and it goes in depth into the character of Arjuna.  The popularity of Arjuna in Epic mythology stems from his exciting mastery of weaponry, his supernatural survivals in battle, and the depiction of his exciting life.  Furthermore, Arjuna is the model of the perfect student, is idyllically dedicated to God, and puts duty above all else, making him a popular role model. Arjuna is often used as a teaching tool for human character development in young Hindus.  The story of Arjuna is relatable to many other characters in epic works, as he stands as the typical reluctant hero, who initially tries to avoid his duty, but eventually performs his task with bravado (Segal 168).


Bae, James (2003) In a World of Gods and Goddesses: The Mystic Art of Indra Sharma. Novato: Mandala Publishing.

Carriere, Jean-Claude (1987) The Mahabharata. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Framarin, Christopher (2007) “Good and Bad Desires: Implications of the Dialogue between Krsna and Arjuna.” International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2: 147-170.

Ganguli, Kisari (1896) The Mahabharata. Calcutta: Bharata Press.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1976) The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahabharata. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Hodgkinson, Brian (2003) The Bhagavad Gita: a verse translation. Delhi: Books For All.

Hopkins, Washburn (1969) Epic Mythology. New York: Biblo and Tannen Booksellers and Publishers, Inc.

Hudson, Dennis (1996) “Arjuna’s Sin: Thoughts on the Bhagavad-Gita in its Epic Context.” Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1: 65-85.

Katz, Ruth (1989) Arjuna in the Mahabharata: Where Krishna is, There is Victory. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Menon, Ramesh (2006a) The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Volume 1. Lincoln: iUniverse, Inc.

Menon, Ramesh (2006b) The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Volume 2. Lincoln: iUniverse, Inc.

Rosen, Steven (2006) Essential Hinduism. Westport: Praeger Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook: An online introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Segal, Robert (2000) Hero Myths: A Reader. Maiden: Blackwell Publishers.

Smith, John (2009) The Mahabharata. Toronto: Penguin Classics.

Theosophical Publishing (2005) The Weakness of Arjuna. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Williams, David (1991) Peter Brook and the Mahabharata. London: Taylor & Francis.


Heroism in Hinduism

Article written by: Dennis Van Hell (March/April 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

Nakula in the Mahabharata



Nakula and his twin brother Sahadeva were the youngest of the five Pandava brothers. The twins were born to mother Madri, the second wife of King Pandu, but mythologically Nakula and Sahadeva were the sons of the Aswins, the god-twins (see Wilkins 414-415). Due to a curse, King Pandu could not produce heirs with his wives, so he encouraged them to invoke a special mantra that allowed them to have children with the gods of their choice. With the mantra, Madri “thought of the twin Aswins, who coming to her with speed begat upon her two sons (Ganguli Vol 1: 260),” named Nakula and Sahadeva. Kunti, King Pandu’s first wife had three children by the gods, the oldest was Yudisthira son of the god Dharma, and then came Bhima from the wind god and last was Arjuna from Indra, the god of thunder (see Rodrigues 229).

The story of Nakula and his family is articulated in one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata tells the tale of the power struggle over the kingdom of Hastinapura between the descendants of King Pandu (the Pandavas) and those of his blind brother Dhrtarastra (the Kauravas). Although Nakula does not play a primary role in this epic, as one of the Pandavas he is instrumental in helping his brother king Yudisthira regain dominion over the Hastinapura kingdom. Throughout the Mahabharata Nakula is described as being “unrivalled on earth for personal beauty” (Ganguli Vol. 1: 260), an excellent swordsman, loyal to his brothers, a great car-warrior, intelligent, and most prominently, skilled in caring for horses. During the Pandavas’ thirteenth year of exile, Nakula interviewing for a job with King Virata, described himself as being highly knowledgeable about breaking horses, their temperaments, as well as knowing “how to correct vicious horses and all the methods of treating their diseases” (Ganguli Vol. 4: 20).

Nakula, along with his brothers and the Kauravas were all trained by the skillful teacher Drona, where “the twins (Nakula and Sahadeva) excelled everybody in handling the sword” (Ganguli Vol. 1: 282). Although Nakula used many weapons, he is said to have favored the sword because “a hero armed with the sword can, single handed, withstand many bowmen and many antagonists armed with maces and darts” (Ganguli Vol.8: 361). The Kauravas and the Pandavas were constantly fighting and tensions were exacerbated after King Pandu, as a result of his curse dies and Nakula’s mother, Madri performs sati.  The blind Dhrtarastra steps up as king of Hastinapura and the Pandavas, escaping a death trap set by the eldest son of Dhrtarastra, Duryodhana, go to live in the forest (see Rodrigues 230).

While living in the forest, the Pandavas attend the swayamvara of Princess Draupadi, and the skilled warrior, Arjuna wins her hand in marriage. Draupadi agrees to marry all five of the Pandavas and would later give birth to five sons, “all of whom were heroes of the foremost rank and immovable in battle like the hills” (Ganguli Vol. 1: 432), which was evident in Nakula’s son Satanika. Satanika played a helpful role in the great war between the Pandavas and Kauravas, he was even described as being “that crusher of foes” (Ganguli Vol.6: 217). Nakula also had another son “named Niramitra born to his second wife, Karenumati” (Williams 218), who was the daughter of the king of Chedi.

After returning to Hastinapura to make peace with their uncle, Dhrtarastra decided to give the Pandavas the territory of Indraprastha, which was densely forested and of no use to the king. One of Nakula’s greatest individual feats was the conquest of the western territory of Indraprastha, “the direction that had once been subjugated by Vasudeva” (Ganguli Vol. 2: 66), and was “presided over by the god Varuna” (Ganguli Vol. 2: 66).  On his quest, Nakula first conquered the mountain country of Rohitaka, then Sairishaka the desert country and had a dangerous encounter with the sage Akrosa. Among some of the powerful tribes subjugated by Nakula were “the Dasarnas, the Sivis, the Trigartas, the Amvashtas, the Malavas, the five tribes of the Karnatas, and those twice born classes that were called the Madhyamakeyas and Vattadhanas” (Ganguli Vol. 2: 66-67), as well as the tribes along the sea shore and living on fisheries. Also Nakula was welcomed by his uncle Salya in the west and took from him enough treasure to fill the backs of ten thousand camels.

After seeing how the Pandavas “transformed the harsh land of Indraprastha into a wealthy kingdom” (Rodrigues 231), Duryodhana, filled with jealousy, devised a plan to take the kingdom away from the Pandavas. Knowing that King Yudhisthira was both addicted and terrible at gambling, Duryodhana challenged him to a game of dice, in which Yudhisthira lost his kingdom, possessions, brothers and his wife. The terms of the final game of dice dictated that the loser would have to surrender their kingdom and go into exile for thirteen years; with the last year being of non-discovery on punishment of repeating the entire period of exile. Yudhisthira lost this round of dice as well, and true to his character Nakula, as well as the other Pandavas and Draupadi accompanied their eldest brother into exile (see Rodrigues 231-232).

Whilst in exile, the Pandavas were not only faced with difficulty and privation but also had many adventures along the way. One such adventure occurs when the brothers, exhausted after unsuccessfully hunting deer, sent Nakula to fetch water from a nearby lake. Before Nakula could drink from the lake, he heard the voice of Yaksha telling him to answer questions before quenching his thirst. The thirsty Nakula however could not resist the crystal clear lake and he “dropped down dead” (Ganguli Vol. 3: 601). King Yudhisthira then sent Sahadeva followed by Bhima and Arjuna who all meet the same fate before he himself ventured over to the lake. Yudhisthira successfully answerd Yaksha’s questions, and as a reward he would revive one of the Pandava brothers. Wanting to be fair to both of his father’s wives, Yudhisthira chooses Nakula, son of Madri and impressed with the king’s dharmic choice, Yaksha, who was actually the god Dharma in disguise, revives all of the Pandavas.

In their thirteenth year of exile, the Pandavas under disguise resided in the kingdom of Virata, where Nakula was employed as keeper of the horses to the king. Nakula impressed king Virata “by showing him fleet and well-trained steeds that followed him wherever he went” (Ganguli Vol.4: 22). Later, at the close of the year of non-discovery Nakula with the Pandava brothers helped King Varata fight off an attack launched by Duryodhana on the kingdom. When Duryodhana refused to give the Pandavas “even five small villages” (Rodrigues 233), an eighteen day war between the Pandavas and Kauravas was initiated (see Williams 204-205).

Although Nakula was not the most prominent hero in this war, he did play a key role in many battles during its course. It was said that Nakula, remembering his years of exile would “vomit the poison of his wrath like an angry snake, down their very lives” (Ganguli Vol.4: 112), and Dhrtarastra would regret going to war. During one battle Nakula and Sahadeva, “endued with great effulgence, became the protectors of Bhima’s wheels” (Ganguli Vol.5: 42) and Nakula faced many antagonists  including Dussasana, his uncle ruler of the Madras, Bhishma, Drona, Duryodhana, Karna and the warriors of Alayudha. Perhaps his main contribution in the war against the Kauravas, was Nakula’s battle against Karna’s sons. Nakula first encountered the son Chitrasena who possessed a near equal skill in battle. After a close back and forth combat, Nakula prevailed slaying Chitrasena and his brothers Sushena and Satyasena “rushed with speed against the son of Pandu like a couple of tigers” (Ganguli Vol.7: 24). Nakula was able to defeat both of Chritrasena’s brothers and “beholding the slaughter of Karna’s sons and the prowess of Nakula, thy army….fled away in fear” (Ganguli Vol.7: 26).

At the end of the eighteen days of war, the Pandavas emerged victorious and Yudhisthira was restored to his rightful place as king of Hastinapura. Nakula was appointed a military official with the duties of “keeping the register of the forces, for giving them food and pay and for supervising other affairs for the army” (Ganguli Vol.8: 85). King Yudhisthira additionally gave Durmarshana’s gold and gem-adorned palace to “Nakula who deserved it best and who had been emaciated (with the miseries of a life) in the great forest” (Ganguli Vol.8: 88).

After a long period of rule, Nakula accompanied his brothers in their journey towards the sacred mountain Meru, located in the north. The Pandavas entered a yogic state and like his brothers Sahadeva, Arjuna and Bhima, Nakula too fell to the ground (see O’Flaherty 53-54). Despite Nakula’s many virtues and dharmic actions, he falls from his yogic state because he “thought that there was nobody that equaled him in beauty of person” (Ganguli Vol.12: 28), and “what has been ordained for a person, must have to be endured by him” (Ganguli Vol.12: 28). In other words Nakula’s attitude towards himself as being the most beautiful was un-dharmic and as a consequence he was not accepted into heaven as was his dharmic brother Yudhisthira.

Although Nakula is not specifically worshipped within the Indian tradition, The Mahabharata is celebrated and remembered through the performance of Javanese shadow-puppet plays. Javanese shadow plays are “part of an oral tradition which has been transmitted from dhalang (puppeteer) to dhalang for centuries” (Sears 90), and are based on the characters and anecdotes of the great Hindu epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. Throughout the epics themes of “courage, loyalty and integrity are implicit” (Knapp 48), and shadow plays attempt to convey these messages by attributing certain physical and moral qualities to each character. The costumes donned by the puppets also serve to enhance their character types, which further allows the audience to intimately know the characters and their personalities. Krsna for example may be portrayed with a black face, which represents for the Javanese “maturity, calm and virtue” (Knapp, 50), and are qualities that Krsna portrays in The Mahabharata; specifically in helping the Pandavas defeat the Kauravas. So although Javanese shadow-puppet plays are not particularly dedicated to Nakula, his personality traits and contributory role in The Mahabharata are remembered and preserved through these performances.


Brodbeck, Simon P. (2009) The Mahabharata Patriline: Gender, Culture, and the Royal Hereditary. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Embree, Ainslie T. (1966) Editor, The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House, Inc.

Ganguli, Kisari M. (1970) Translator, The Mahabharata. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers PVT. Ltd. Vol. 1-12.

Knapp, B. (1984) Indonesian theater : a journal. Anima, 11(1), 47-61.

O’Flaherty Doniger, Wendy (1988) Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism. New Jersey: Barnes & Noble Books.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism-the ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Sears, L.J. (1994) Rethinking Indian Influence in Javanese Shadow Theater Traditions. Comparative Drama, 28(1), 90-110.

Wilkins, W. J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2003) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. California: ABC-Cilo, Inc.


Related Topics for Further Investigation






King Pandu








Noteworthy websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Kayla Plausteiner (Spring 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna and Draupadi

Mahabharata heroes and their wife

The Mahabharata is a highly significant and poetic Indian epic reputedly written by sage Vyasa (Narsimhan xix). It is the tale of five princely brothers, the Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi. The Pandavas were born as sons to king Pandu and his two wives Kunti and Madri (Narsimhan xx). The epic depicts a family feud amongst the Pandavas and their cousins, the Kauravas, and the struggle of the Pandavas for their right to rule, which culminates in the great battle of Kuruksetra (Narsimhan xix). One of the reasons that led to the battle of Kuruksetra was the public humiliation of Draupadi by the Kauravas and the revenge exacted by the Pandavas for the same. Draupadi is a central character in the story and her relationship with her husbands is also essential to the epic battle (Narsimhan xxvi). This article focuses on the relationship between the three elder Pandavas; namely, Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna and their beloved wife, Draupadi.

Draupadi was a part incarnation of Sri and was born as a daughter to Drupada, the king of Panchala (Bhawalkar 2). She had expert knowledge of political science and was known as Pandita (the great learned one) (Bhawalkar 3-4).  Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, in his jealousy tried killing the Pandavas and their mother Kunti, who escaped from the fire and went into exile (Narsimhan xxi). It was during this exile, that Drupada arranged Draupadi’s Svayamvara (self choice). Arjuna, who went to the Svayamvara disguised as a Brahmin, won her hand. Arjuna being a great archer was able to pierce the target through a revolving wheel and thus won the hand of Draupadi (Bhawalkar 6-7). On the way back from the court, Bhima and Arjuna decided to play a prank on their mother, Kunti, and introduced Draupadi as alms. Kunti made the mistake of asking them to share the alms with their brothers. Thus, as respect for their mother, Draupadi was taken as wife by all the five Pandavas: Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva (Bhawalkar 6-7).

Draupadi had special relationship with her husbands. Besides being a wife, Draupadi had a cordial friendship with Yudhisthira and they counseled each other frequently. Yudhisthira listened to her council in areas of politics and running of his kingdom. He had lengthy conversations with Draupadi about Dharma where they did not see eye to eye (Bhawalkar 44-47). Yudhisthira staked Draupadi on a game of dice with Kauravas, which he lost. It was at this time he describes her beauty, which shows how much he adored her.

She is not too short, nor is she too large; nor is she too dark nor is her complexion red. She has eyes reddened from passion. I will stake her—whose eyes and fragrance are like autumnal lotuses. Attached to modesty, she is, in beauty, equal to Sri, the goddess of beauty. Were a man to desire a woman, she would be like this one, on account of her kindness; she would be like this one, on account of her beautiful figure; she would be like this one, on account of her perfect character. She is the last to sleep and first to awaken. She knows everything, down to the jobs both completed and not yet done by the cowherds and shepherds. Like the jasmine flower, the mallika is she; with her perspiring face she appears similar to a lotus. She has red eyes, long hair, a waist as slender as the sacrificial altar, and a body with no excessive hair. (Bhawalkar 22, Sutherland 65, Hiltebeitel 2001:260)


After the Pandavas were exiled from Hastinapur, because of the fateful game of dice, where Yudhisthira staked Draupadi and lost, she questioned Yudhisthira’s manliness and dharma for staking her (Bhawalkar 23-27, 46-49). She constantly complained to Yudhisthira for the treatment she had received at the hands of the Kauravas (Sutherland 67). Yudhisthira explained to her that since anger is a root of total ruin and the destroyer of men, it would be unbecoming of him (Bhawalkar 47). During their exile Yudhisthira used to help Draupadi in the kitchen to cook food for the Brahmins, thus spending time with her and helping her (Bhawalkar 40). Yudhisthira was always the counselor and not the protector for Draupadi (Bhawalkar 94). He never protected her because he always followed the path of righteousness and did not believe in revenge (Bhawalkar 50). Even during their last year of exile, when Draupadi was dragged and hit in king Virata’s court by Kicaka, Yudhisthira controlled his anger and asked Draupadi to go to her chambers (Bhawalkar 94). Even though he was strong he always felt incapable of keeping Draupadi safe from danger (Bhawalkar 84). Draupadi’s aggressive behavior was mainly directed towards Yudhisthira because he was the eldest, a figure of authority. As well, he was the one always following the course of dharma, which prevented Bhima and Arjuna to exact immediate revenge for Draupadi (Sutherland 69, 71-72).

Where Yudhisthira acted as Draupadi’s counselor, Bhima, the second of the Pandavas, appropriated the role of her protector. Draupadi had a very special relationship with Bhima. She looked up to him as her defender because of his strength (Sutherland 71-72). During the game of Dyuta, when Draupadi was dragged in to the court during her menses and clad only in a piece of cloth, it was Bhima who swore vengeance (Bhawalkar 22-27, 32).  During their exile, when Draupadi was kidnapped by the demon Jatasur, it was Bhima again who saved her and killed the demon (Bhawalkar 60).  Draupadi also went to Bhima for protection when Kichika assaulted her, in their 13th year of exile (Bhawalkar 92-95). It was during this time that she went to Bhima and cried in her misery lamenting about her state, due to Yudhisthira’s gambling addiction. She said to Bhima, “I am suffering this unending misery due to the deed of your eldest brother, the worst gambler” (Bhawalkar 97-100). Bhima, the strongest of the Pandavas, had a very soft spot for Draupadi. He killed Jayadratha, Kichika, Duhsasana and Duryodhana in order to protect her and exact revenge for the insult suffered by Draupadi (Bhawalkar 84, 104,121). Bhima also supported Draupadi in her anger against Yudhisthira (Bhawalkar 50, Hiltebeitel 2001:249). He wanted to wage war against the Kauravas for treating Draupadi like a slave and insulting her in the court. However, Yudhisthira wanted to forgive his cousins (Bhawalkar 50). This led to disagreement between the two brothers. Bhima always wanted to fulfill Draupadi’s smallest request because he did not want to hurt her more after the torment she went through at Hastinapur, at the hands of Duryodhana. At one time during their exile, she wanted Saugandhika flowers for Yudhisthira and she asked Bhima to get them for her. Bhima crossed mountains and forests to fulfill her wish (Bhawalkar 59-60).

While Yudhisthira and Bhima’s relationship with Draupadi might be characterized more easily (e.g., counselor and protector), her relationship with Arjuna was more complex. Arjuna, the third of the Pandavas, won the hand of Draupadi during the Svayamvara. According to Hiltebeitel, Arjuna was Draupadi’s favorite husband (1980:153). Arjuna held her in greatest respect. He, along with Yudhisthira, also took into account Draupadi’s council and advice when it came to strategy and planning (Bhawalkar 69-70). When Arjuna married Subhadra, he took her to Draupadi who was very angry with him for the betrayal. He begged her for forgiveness for his decision to marry Subhadra (Bhawalkar 18-19). It was after Draupadi’s acceptance of Subhadra that Arjuna was able to find peace in married life with his second wife. After Draupadi’s insult at the hands of Karna, Duryodhana, Sakuni and Duhsasana, Arjuna vowed to kill Karna and his followers in battle (Bhawalkar 36). When Jayadratha kidnapped Draupadi, Arjuna and Bhima went after them to rescue her (Bhawalkar 82-83).

Draupadi was a strong woman. She was revered and loved by all her husbands (Bhawalkar 68-69). She underwent many torments at the hands of Kauravas; however, she never gave up on her vengeance. She swore to keep her hair untied, and only to tie it back after she had soaked it in Duhsasana’s blood for dragging her in the court after the game of Dyuta (Bhawalkar 38). She always kept reminding her husbands of her insult, such that they never forgot her torment (Bhawalkar 44-47, 95-97). Draupadi always put her husbands’ happiness before hers. She always made sure they were fed before she ate, bathed before she took a bath, kept the house clean, helped them in their meditation, she even kept a note of all their expenditure and household running’s (Bhawalkar 68-70). She faithfully followed her husbands into the forest enduring intensive hardships (Sutherland 68).



Bhawalkar, Vanamala (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1980) Śiva, the Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadi. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Narsimhan, Chakravarthi (1998) The Mahabharata: An English Version Based on Selected Verses. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sutherland, Sally J (1989) “Sita and Draupadi: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role- Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109, no. 1 (Jan. – Mar.): 63-79.

Related Topics for Further Investigation










The Mahabharata


Related Websites

Article written by: Abhishek Malwankar (April 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.

Myths of Arjuna and Krsna

Arjuna and Krsna are two characters in the Hindu epic known as the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is a tale about the descendants of Bharata (a character in the Ramayana epic). The Mahabharata is about the families of two brothers, Drhtarastra and Pandu, fighting a dharmic war against each other. The sons of Drhtarastra come to be known as the Kauravas, and the sons of Pandu come to be known as the Pandavas. Pandu’s wife Kunti knows a secret mantra whereby with it she can call upon any god and have children with him. Pandu encourages Kunti to call upon the gods and have children with them, as Pandu has no children. Kunti has her first two sons Yudhisthra and Bhima with the gods Dharma and Vayu. Then Kunti calls upon the thunder god Indra, and has her third son Arjuna with him (Rodrigues 229-230).

Arjuna, the main hero of the Mahabharata, has an extraordinary birth. It has been said that his birth was “attended with far more celestial clamor than the births of his brothers”. At the time of Arjuna’s birth, a prophecy was made “by a disembodied voice” which tells of all the heroic actions that Arjuna will perform (Katz 29). The prophecies also call Arjuna a hero. A hero, in Indian terms, is one whose action follows Dharma. This seems rather fitting because “among the Vedic gods, Indra, [Arjuna’s father] fulfills [the] heroic role” (Katz 30).

As Arjuna grows up, he becomes more and more distinct from his brothers. At one point, it is noted that out of all the Pandava brothers, Arjuna is the only one who seems to have “special marks on his body” (Katz 43), for example “ on the soles of his feet [there are] ‘straight lines that [run] upward’” (Katz 43). This is an external feature that distinguishes Arjuna from his brother. As time passes, the distinctiveness from his brothers becomes more and more evident. Out of all the brothers, Arjuna is the most skillful warrior.

Krsna was born to Devaki, the sister of a king named Kamsa. Krsna was Devaki’s eighth child. Kamsa was told that the eight child of Devaki would kill him, so Kamsa “imprisoned Devaki and her husband Vasudeva” (Rodrigues 313) and killed all their children. Krsna was somehow smuggled out of the prison to the village of Gokul, where he became the son to Yasoda. Krsna grew up to be a very mischievous child, who was loved by many, especially the gopis (cowgirls) who all shared a special relationship with him. Krsna’s most favourite gopi was Radha, who later becomes his lover (Rodrigues 313). Radha and Krsna’s relationship becomes the basis for a lot of devotional poety (Rodrigues 274).

Krsna is the eight incarnation of the god Visnu. When asked of his true identity, Krsna says “he is the Lord of all Beings descending to uphold dharma” (Theodor 16).  Krsna is mentioned in many texts and has many different roles; however, in the Mahabharata epic, he plays the role of a warrior. Krsna and Arjuna, throughout most of the epic, are seen as equals and friends. It is not until the Bhagavad Gita, where Krsna reveals his true self as Visnu to Arjuna that the relationship between Arjuna and Krsna changes from that of friendship to that of god and devotee (bhakta). Arjuna and the rest of the Pandavas are known to be great believers of the god Visnu.

So close is Arjuna’s and Krsna’s friendship that when Arjuna expresses his “infatuation” for Subhadra (Krsna’s sister), to Krsna, Krsna prompts him to capture her and marry her. Arjuna and Subhadra have a “rakshasa marriage” (Katz 63); that is, a marriage through capture. Subhadra becomes Arjuna’s third wife and together they “give birth to Abhimanyu” (Katz 62) who is believed to be as good a warrior as his father.

In the Mahabharata there is a tale of the burning of the Khandava forest. Krsna and Arjuna are approached by the fire god Agni, who is seeking their aid to help him burn the Khandava forest.  Agni cannot burn the forest down by himself, because Indra, the thunder- lightening god keeps extinguishing Agni’s fire with rain. Agni, disguised as a Brahmin, asks Arjuna and Krsna to help him get food. Arjuna and Krsna agree to help him without knowing Agni’s true identity. When Agni reveals his true identity to Krsna and Arjuna, they are unable to turn away from their promise (Katz 71).

Thus, Arjuna and Krsna keep their word and go to the Khandava forest to help Agni burn it down and feed Agni because “Agni needs the forest as food” (Katz 71). Arjuna and Krsna fight Indra and other gods who come to aid Indra in keeping the fire out. They also make sure that all of the creatures of the Khandava forest stay in the forest.  By doing so, they alongside Agni, become killers. They make sure none of the creatures escape the forest and if any escape, Krsna and Arjuna bring them back and feed them to Agni. (Katz 72). Krsna and Arjuna make sure everything in the forest gets burnt.

The Burning of the Khandava forest is of great significance, because we see Arjuna fight his father Indra with Krsna, by his side. Arjuna’s power on a divine or heroic level comes from his father Indra, but it is from Krsna, with whom he shares a close friendship that Arjuna gets “the power of his fully developed character” (Katz 217). Therefore to some extent it can be said that the relationship that Arjuna shares with Krsna surpasses the relationship Arjuna has with his father, Indra (Katz 217). The relationship Arjuna shares with Krsna during the episode of the burning of the Khandava forest is that of an equal and a warrior friend. There is no mention of Krsna being a god during the Khandava episode (Katz 83).  Arjuna, till the Kurukshetra war, is not aware of the divine nature of Krsna. We also see two gods, Krsna/Visnu and Indra, fighting each other. This alludes to the tension that is perhaps present amongst some gods and the shift in worship of Vedic gods to more devotional worship. This shift it seems is caused by the coming of the Epics and the Puranas (Rodrigues 292).

The actions of Krsna and Arjuna during the Khandava episode have been questioned by many, claiming that the actions of Krsna and Arjuna were adharmic. However, according to Katz, Arjuna and Krsna are supporting a dharmic ideal; Krsna and Arjuna “are supporting the sacrificial order of the universe” (Katz 75) where sacrifice to Agni is necessary to maintain the cosmic order.

The Mahabharata says that Arjuna and Krsna are incarnations of Nara and Narayana.  The term “Narayana” seems to refer to an incarnate of Visnu. Nara, on the other hand, “means ‘man’” (Katz 215). Therefore Narayana is Krsna and Nara is Arjuna. The Mahabharata says that Nara and Narayana were rsis “whose godlike power derived from a tremendously long course of austerities” (Katz 215) and whenever there is any mention of the two in the epic, there is an implication of great friendship. Nara and Narayana are said to be “born yuga after yuga” (Katz 215). Since, the Mahabharata is said to be written in the Kali Yuga, we can safely assume that Arjuna and Krsna are incarnations of Nara and Narayana of the Kali Yuga.

Krsna and Arjuna’s relationship takes new heights during the battle of Kurukshetra. This is the main battle in the Mahabharata where the Pandavas and the Kauravas fight each other. Krsna serves as Arjuna’s charioteer. Once Arjuna and Krsna reach the battle grounds Arjuna has a change in heart; his perspective changes. Arjuna “no longer sees enemies on the other side….but [he sees] ‘bandhus’, relatives (Malinar 60). On the battle field, “Arjuna [sees], standing their ground, fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, fathers-in-law, and companions in both armies” (Johnson 5). Arjuna is unable to bring himself to fight.  He tells Krsna that he sees “evil omens… [and] nothing good can come from slaughtering one’s own family in battle” (Johnson 5).  Arjuna tells Krsna that he does not want to be a killer of his family. He doesn’t seem to understand the reason behind killing his own family; killing Drhtarasthra’s people will bring him no joy (Johnson 5). At one point Arjuna tells Krsna that he does not want the kingdom, neither does he want to win; however being a ksatriya warrior, this is exactly what he should desire. Then Arjuna says that the purpose of trying to regain a kingdom is to increase a family’s prosperity, however by waging war against the Kauravas, the family’s prosperity is not increased. He should be fighting with his family, not against it (Malinar 61).

Seeing Arjuna dejected and not ready to fight, Krsna has a conversation with Arjuna- where Krsna reveals his true self as Visnu to Arjuna and convinces Arjuna to fight against the Kauravas. This conversation has come to be known as the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most renowned texts of Hinduism.

Krsna/Visnu tells Arjuna that no one knows Krsna’s true self because Visnu is the source of all gods and sages, and thus to know Krsna, one must know Visnu; to be able to know Visnu, “one must rely on the supreme himself in order to know him” (Theodor 89).  When one accepts Visnu as the source of all things, he becomes enlightened, and this enlightenment makes him fully devoted to Visnu. Krsna then says that when his (Visnu’s) people try and approach him, he bestows it upon himself to destroy their ignorance and make them his devotees. This speech seems to be addressing Arjuna’s moment of lapse- where Arjuna refuses to fight. Krsna is trying to rid Arjuna of his doubt and enlighten him, to make him fight the Kauravas (Theodor 90). He is urging Arjuna to “cut his doubts, which represent ignorance” (Theodor 15) and follow his path to be enlightened. Krsna tells Arjuna that a warrior should not experience this sort of weakness. This weakness leads one to disgrace and not heaven (Johnson 7). One gets the feeling that by telling Arjuna that when devotees try and approach him, he makes them stronger believers, Visnu/Krsna is telling Arjuna to believe in Visnu and Visnu will rid of him of his doubts and show him the right way. Visnu is sort of alluding to the fact that nothing is possible without Visnu, because Visnu is the source of all things; if Arjuna believes in Visnu, Visnu will rid him of his doubts and make things right.

When Krsna’s true self as Visnu is revealed to Arjuna, we notice a change in the relationship between the two. Before the revelation, Arjuna and Krsna are portrayed as friends, however, when Krsna reveals himself as Visnu, their friendly relationship is replaced with a sense of “fear, reverence, submission, a loss of identity, confusion and barely controllable mental turmoil” by Arjuna towards Krsna (Theodor 96). Despite feeling confused and afraid, Arjuna, from being the ideal king, becomes “the ideal bhakta, the loyal follower…” of Krsna (Malinar 13). He immediately feels regret for his previous informal treatment of Krsna and asks for forgiveness from Krsna for his behavior. Then Arjuna continually bows in front of Krsna praising his power and greatness (Theodor 96). Arjuna praises Krsna as “the father and the guru of the world who should be adorned” (Minnema 100). By calling Krsna the guru of the world, we see sort of a guru-sisya relationship come forth, where Krsna is the guru and Arjuna the student (sisya).  Arjuna “relinquish[es] familiarity in favour of devotion” (Theodor 90).

The comradeship that Arjuna and Krsna share is very close.  Arjuna alongside Krsna helps Agni burn the Khandava forest. During this episode- we see Arjuna, with Krsna by his side- fight his father Indra. This leads us to believe that the relationship Arjuna shares with Krsna, surpasses the relationship Arjuna shares with Indra, his father.

During the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna develops doubts about fighting the Kauravas. Here Krsna comes to his aid, and shows the right path. He convinces Arjuna that a warrior must fight, for that is his dharma. Krsna shows Arjuna his divine form, a form that many humans and gods thirst to see. This just shows the love and respect Krsna has for Arjuna. Krsna himself has said that no one is dearer to him than Arjuna; he cannot see the world without Arjuna being part of it (Katz 244).


Johnson, W.J (1994) The Bhagavad Gita. New York:  Oxford University Press.

Katz, Ruth Cecily (1949) Arjuna in the Mahabharata: Where Krishna is, There is Victory. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Malinar, Angelika (2007) The Bhagavadgita: Doctrines and Contexts. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Minnema, Lourens (2011) “One Dialogue- Four Relations”. Studies in Interreligious Dialogue. Vol.21 no.1 p. 96-11.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBook An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online


Theodor, Ithmar (2010) Exploring the Bhagavad Gita. Surrey: MPG Books Group.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:



Nara and Narayana

The Burning of the Khandava forest

Krsna bhakti

Bhakti yoga

The Bhagavad Gita

Related Websites:

Article written by Tasneem Kapacee (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.


Yushithira is the eldest of the five Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is the most voluminous epic poem in the world (see Sarma 88), being composed of 100,000 verses. It is said to have been composed between 400 B.C.E and 400 C.E. by a sage named Vyasa (see Olson 224-225). The story is about the Pandava brothers (Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva), who lose their kingdom and fight their cousins, the Kauravas, to gain it back. Yudhisthira stands for duty and righteousness. He is also known as Dharmaraja, and he is the son of the god Dharma.

“The Mahabharata is Yudhisthira’s education” (see Hiltebeitel 4), and “can be seen as a treatise on Dharma or religion” (see Bae 139).  The main story starts with the two brothers Dhrtarastra (who is blind) and Pandu (who is pale). Dhrtarastra and his wife Gandhari give birth to a hundred sons, the Kauravas. Pandu, because of a curse, could not engage in sexual relationships. Thus, he asked his wife, Kunti, to use a mantra in order to invoke a god and conceive a child. Kunti invokes Dharma, Vayu and Indra, and manages to conceive three sons through them: Yudhisthira, Bhima, and Arjuna. Madri, Pandu’s second wife, also uses the mantra and gives birth to twin brothers: Nakula and Sahadeva. After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti becomes responsible for the raising the kids. Because of Pandu’s death, Hastinapura was in need of a new king, and Dhrtarastra takes the throne until Yudhisthira is eligible.

The Kaurava brothers become tempted to kill the Pandavas due to their jealousy of the Pandava brothers’ successs. The Kauravas’ attempt of murdering the Pandavas was unsuccessful. As the story unfolds, Arjuna wins the hand of a princess named Draupadi, who then becomes the wife to all the five Pandavas. The Pandava brothers get half the kingdom, which Yudhisthira expands by defeating the surrounding regions. Yudhisthira performs the Rajasuya sacrifice, which makes the Kauravas extremely jealous who then challenge the Pandavas to a game of dice. This is where Yudhisthira’s weakness comes in. Yudhisthira ends up losing his kingdom, his brothers, his wife, and himself as well. Wagering Draupadi to the Kauravas poses a huge threat to Yudhisthira’s dharmic responsibility (see Hiltebeitel 219-220); Draupadi’s humiliation emphasizes this aspect of the story. Despite being given back what he lost, Yudhisthira loses his kingdom once again. Not only does Yudhisthira lose the kingdom, all the Pandava brothers and Draupadi are forced into exile for thirteen years.  There is an event during the exile where the Pandavas encounter a yaksa (spirit), which is the god Dharma in disguise. Four of the Pandavas are poisoned by the spirit, because unlike Yudhisthira, they do not answer the spirit’s riddles. Once Yudhithira successfully solves all the riddles, the yaksa grants him a wish with which he can bring one brother back to life. Yudhisthira chooses Nakula so that each mother would have at least one son alive (see Sarma 89; see Hiltebeitel 209). The years go by, and during the thirteenth year, the Pandavas disguise themselves to prevent people from recognizing them (see Bae 145). Yudhisthira, for example, “poses as a master of dicing” (see Olson 228), which is contrary to Yudhisthira in the beginning of the story. During the twelfth year of the exile, Yudhisthira has a conversation with a sage named Brhadasva about misery. The sage tells him a story about and gives him “the heart of the dice” which gives him the talent of dicing, hence his disguise.  (see Hiltebeitel 216). Once the thirteenth year is over, Duryodhana (one of the Kaurava brothers), refuses to return the Pandavas’ share of kingdom to them, he would not even give them five villages where they could reside (see Bae 145). Yudhisthira tries to negotiate but the Kauravas refused, and this escalated into war.

The Pandavas and the Kauravas ask Krsna for assistance. Krsna gives them a choice; the Pandavas end up chosing Krsna himself, while the Kauravas get Krsna’s army. Right before the war, Arjuna felt torn and did not want to fight his relatives, friends, and teachers (see Bae, 148). Krsna advices and successfully convinces Arjuna to fight; this conversation between Arjuna and Krsna is known as the Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavad-gita is the most influential passage of the Mahabharata (see Bae 147). Right before the Bhagavad-gita, however, Yudhisthira has doubts himself. Yudhisthira questions Arjuna about “how so few can conquer so many” (see Hiltebeitel 209). During the war, many die, including Karna, the secret son of Kunti and Surya (the sun-god), who is slain by Arjuna. Near the end of the battle only four of the Kauravas remained. Yudhisthira ended up finding Duryodhana’s hiding spot, and Duryodhana agreed to fight with each of the Pandavas one by one. Bhima ended up hitting Duryodhana below the belt which threatened Yudhisthira’s righteousness. Yudhisthira offered to slay Bhima as a punishment for going against the rules of chivalry. This caused an argument between the advisors of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Duryodhana was keen on taking revenge and killing the Pandavas, but his plan failed because his men killed the wrong people, not the Pandavas (see Ions 126). The Pandavas, after defeating the Kauravas, returned to Hastinapura.

Despite being victorious, Yudhisthira grieves and tells Gandhari that he is the one responsible for her sons’ deaths (see Hiltebeitel 210). Yudhisthira begins his journey as a ruler who performs an Asvamedha (horse-sacrifice), and protects the widows of the men who died during the battle (see Hiltebeitel 210). Yudhisthira also seeks Bhisma’s advice about king’s obligations and responsibilities. In the course of time, Dhrtarastra and his Gandhari die, which causes the Pandavas and Draupadi to leave Hastinapura and go on a pilgrimage. They were also accompanied by a dog in their pilgrimage.

During the journey, all the Pandavas, except Yudhisthira, die one by one. Yudhisthira considers each death as a form of punishment for each of the Pandava’s weaknesses. Yudhisthira finally ends up at the gates of Indra’s heaven, as he’s welcomed by Indra, Yudhisthira refuses to go in unless he’s assured that his brothers and wife were in there. He also requests that his dog be allowed into heaven because he did not want to abandon the dog. The dog turns out to be the god Dharma, his father. Once past the gates of heaven, Yudhisthira is horrified at the site of all the Kauravas being in heaven while his brothers and wife were in hell. Yudhisthira refused to stay in Indra’s swarga (heaven) and demanded to go to hell where his brothers and Draupadi reside. After witnessing the many horrors of hell, Yudhisthira finds out that “the whole scene was revealed to be the product of maya, or illusion” (see Ions 127). Yudhisthira leaves his physical body behind and, in the end, Yudhisthira, his brothers, Krsna, and Draupadi were all welcomed into heaven.

Yudhisthira’s main role in this epic is to display dharma, the importance of duty and righteousness. Yudhisthira’s righteousness has been tested twice in the Mahabharata (see Adarkar 120). His first test is the one where he would not abandon his dog; the other is when he is made to believe that his brothers and wife are in hell. Yudhisthira passes both these tests because he sticks to his dharmic behavior and makes the right choices. Yudhisthira is very important in the Mahabharata because, through him, others can learn about Dharma and what it means to be righteous. Yudhisthira is not a very popular as a deity, but he does have a temple dedicated to him known as the Dharmaraja Ratha, which is situated at Mahabalipuram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (see Lippe 328).


Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader. New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press.

Bae, James H. (2003) In a World of Gods and Goddesses: The Mystic Art of Indra Sharma. Novato, CA, USA: Mandala Publishing.

Bhattacharji, Sukumari (1978) The Indian Theogony. Calcutta: Firma KLM Private LTD.

Sarma, Deepak (2008) Hinduism: A Reader. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing.

Smith, John D. (2009) The Mahabharata. London, New York, and Toronto: Penguin Group.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharat : A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ions, Veronica (1983) Literary of the World’s Myths and Legends: Indian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.

Fitzgerald, James L. (2003) Review: The Many Voices of the Mahabharata. Tennessee : American Oriental Society.

Pathak, Shubha (2006) Why Do Displaced Kings Become Poets in the Sanskrit Epics? Modeling Dharma in the Affirmative “Rāmāyaṇa” and the Interrogative “Mahābhārata”. Springer.

Adarkar, Aditya (2005) The Untested Dharma Is Not Worth Living. Springer.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Mahabharata

The Pandava Brothers






The Kauravas









The Bhagavad-gita

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Rutika Gandhi (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.


One of the most prominent female characters within the Hindu religion is that of Draupadi. She originates in Hindu mythology within one of the great epics, the Mahabharata. Throughout this epic the true character of Draupadi emanates, displaying her individuality, strength, and unyielding determination for both justice and vengeance. Through these characteristics the figure of Draupadi has come to be a symbol of empowerment for women and has gained the worship of many followers. Not only is Draupadi an empowering character, but she “was a devoted wife, chaste, religious minded and adhering to duty” ( Bhawalkar 142) and thus a remarkable role model for Hindu women.

The Mahabharata is where Draupadi’s history begins. As the most prominent female character and heroine of the epic, Draupadi is presented as the wife of the five Pandavas. She and her five husbands, Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, are wed after Arjuna impressively wins Draupadi’s svayamvara. Thus, the daughter of King Drupada begins her life with the Panadavas, a life that is to be full of both epic success and devastating disasters. Throughout this time we see the constant struggle between the Pandavas and their family the Kauravas. The climax of Draupadi’s story is “when the eldest Kaurava brother. Duryodhana, had her dragged by her long hair into the men’s court and tried to strip off her sari” (Diesel 9). Fortunately, through her prayer to Krsna, a miracle occurs and she becomes the “visible recipient of divine grace in the form of endlessly descending sarees” (Hiltebeitel 280). This event is followed by Draupadi’s vow for vengeance and the beginning of an insatiable desire for justice that is only quenched upon her enemy’s blood running through her hair.

The innate qualities with which Draupadi’s character is imbued are truly the basis on which her significance within the Mahabharata is centred. Her physical portrayal is that “the very sight of her, was magnetic due to her irresistible beauty and fragrance” (Bhawalkar 141). But it is not just her appearance which makes Draupadi stand out, but her positive qualities as a woman and wife to the Pandavas. Through her actions as wife Draupadi “had become the life breath of her husbands, dearer to them than their life” (Bhawalkar 142) and as such, following her great embarrassment at the hands of the Kauravas, she becomes a pivotal reason for the Pandavas to seek vengeance on the Kauravas for their adharmic behaviour.

Though the legend of Draupadi begins within the Hindu epic, her influence extends far beyond the words of her story. Although within the Mahabharata Draupadi “was quite human with human emotions and feelings like anger, love, hate, happiness, and grief” (Bhawalkar 141) this is not the only portrayal of her character. “[A] Tamil version of the epic, dating to c.1400 CE, includes additions which relate her apotheosis to the powerful Mother Goddess of Fire” (Diesel 9), which in turn has caused fire walking festivals to be held with Draupadi as their patron. According to this version of the epic, after Draupadi has been avenged, she walks through fire which “confirms and seals her divine nature, transforming her into a Goddess worthy of the worship of her devotees, who must imitate her faithfulness and virtue” (Diesel 10). These festivals are an important part of the religious beliefs for the followers of Draupadi the goddess. Fire walking festivals are especially important for the women who share these beliefs, as it is an empowering experience. According to Deisel: “By emulating the behaviour of the Goddesses, women are able to act in a way that brings them a sense of independence, confidence, and worth, which challenges patriarchal control and has the potential to bring healing” (Diesel 11). Thus, not only are these festivals important religious rights, but they are tool for women to take some control within their lives and fight the patriarchal oppressions of Indian society.

The worship of Draupadi has become so essential for people within certain areas of India that it has even developed its own cult. This cult is specifically centred in “the Chingleput, and North and South Arcot Districts” (Hiltebeitel 13) of India. Similarly to those who participate in the fire walking festivals, it also focuses on the Tamil version of the Mahabharata in its worship of Draupadi (Hiltebeitel 14). Its festivals and religious life hinges on the heroine of this epic tale, believed by her followers as a goddess. With temples and festivals dedicated to this crucial and enduring character within Hindu mythology, the existence of such a cult for the goddess Draupadi demonstrates how essential her role is not only within the Mahabharata but within Indian society as well.


Bhawalkar, Vanamala (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Pub. House Diesel, Alleyn. (2002) “Tales of Women’s Suffering: Draupadi and other Amman Goddesses as Role Models for Women.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 17 Issue 1 (January): 5-20.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1988) The Cult of Draupadi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Draupadi: Mother Goddess of Fire
Draupadi in the Mahabharata
The Mahabharata
Women’s Roles in Indian Society
Feminism in India

Related Websites

Article written by: Lauren Weadick (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.


Bhima’s story originates in the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is a Hindu epic that emphasizes family conflict between great warriors and lessons are embedded throughout the epic. Bhima was the second of the Pandava brothers and as George Mason William states, “Bhima (the terrible) was the product of his mother’s union with Vayu, the wind god. Bhima had a terrible temper but was courageous and a great warrior” (G.M. Williams 84). His appetite was so large that when the Pandavas would have supper he would eat half of the family’s food. He was married to Hidimba and the brother’s joint wife Drapaudi. Of the five Pandava brothers, he had the most strength and greatest appetite.

In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, challenged Yudishthira to a game of dice. Yudishthira accepted the challenge and during the game he lost all that he possessed: his lands, his kingdom, his brothers, himself, and eventually even Drapaudi who was dragged out by her hair and nearly stripped naked by Duryodhana, before she invoked Krsna who came to her rescue (D. Williams 31). Bhima had vowed to avenge the humiliation of Drapaudi caused by Duryodhana (G.M Williams 84). Yudishthira then agreed to a final game of dice in which he lost. The Pandavas and Drapaudi were condemned to spend twelve years in exile in the forest and a thirteenth year in an unknown place disguised so that they cannot be recognized (D. Williams 31). Bhima was furious towards Yudishthira for gambling away everything he owned.

During the exile, Bhima saved his family from a burning house and subdued demons to stop them from molesting humankind (G.M. Williams 84). One day in the forest Drapaudi found a thousand-petaled golden lotus and asked Bhima to bring her more of these flowers (Lutgendorf 173). Bhima then climbed the Himalayas in search of the flower and encountered a monkey blocking his path. Bhima yelled at the monkey to move but the monkey continued to lay there and suggested that Bhima lift his tail off the path in order to pass. When he tried to heave the tail off of the ground it would not budge and then the monkey revealed himself as Hanuman, the monkey god and Bhima’s half brother. Here Bhima learns a lesson as described by Philip Lutgendorf, “Hanuman warns him against wanton acts of violence, and tells him the secrets of Kubera’s Lake” (Lutgendorf 174). While in exile, Bhima defeated the demon Hidimba and married the demon’s sister Hidimbi as his second wife. He had a honeymoon for a year with Hidimbi by day and every night he would return to be with the Pandava brothers’ joint wife Drapaudi. Then Bhima and Hidimbi had a child, whom they called Ghatotkacha. Ghatotkacha was a giant and he swore to come to the aid of his father whenever necessary (D. Williams 32).

When the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile arrived, they had to disguise themselves and they all found refuge at the court of King Virata. Bhima was known as a great cook and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari comments on Bhima’s disguise and skill at cooking, “Bhima decided to become the king’s cook, and to please him with mouth-watering new dishes, assuming the name of Vallabha” (Rajagopalachari 68). While the Pandavas were in disguise, a general in King Virata’s court became infatuated with Drapaudi and pursued her through great lengths. David Williams describes how Bhima protected Drapaudi after being threatened by the general, “Drapaudi implores the mighty Bhima to help her; so he goes in her stead to a secret rendezvous, and pulverizes the over-amorous general” (D. Williams 33).

After the thirteen year long exile the Pandavas came out of hiding and a great war was fought between the Pandavas and Kauravas. In this war, Bhima played a large role and killed many men. Ghatotkacha, Bhima’s son, fought alongside his troops of Rakshasas and they destroyed the enemy by the thousands. Duryodhana was angered by this and sent his close friend Karna to kill Ghatotkacha. Karna had trouble killing Ghatotkacha until he used the Shakti, a mighty weapon that could only be used once, and it pierced through the chest of Ghatotkacha. Bhima, who had a terrible temper, was infuriated by his son’s death. Only the soothing words of Yudishthira could calm his rage (Rajagopalachari 118). On the battlefield Duryodhana chose Bhima for a duel which Chakravarti Rajagopalachari described, “Duryodhana rushed at Bhima. The deadly maces clashed and sparks shot out. The duel was equally poised. They fought well and long and other outcome remained uncertain. They both were the masters of the art of mace-fighting” (Rajagopalachari 135). During the fight Krsna hinted to Bhima to strike Duryodhana’s thigh. As George Mason Williams reports, “Bhima had to resort to an unfair blow from his war club, which crushed his cousin’s thigh, and then he kicked his despised foe brutally as he lay wounded” (G.M. Williams 84). This fight demonstrated that Bhima was true to his word in seeking revenge for Drapaudi even if it meant fighting dirty. Balarama, who taught Duryodhana to fight with a mace, was furious at the cheap shot dealt by Bhima. In his fury he charged at Bhima ready to strike and avenge the death of Duryodhana. Then Krsna rushed in and defended Bhima and said he had just redeemed his pledge made in the presence of Drapaudi (Rajagopalachari 136).

The Pandavas went on to win the war and ruled the kingdom under Yudishthira. Years later, when most of their relatives were dead, the Pandavas entered a yogic state and set out for the north (O’Flaherty 53). When it was Bhima’s turn to approach the gates of heaven, he fell and asked King Yudishthira why he has fallen. Wendy Doninger O’Flaherty states Yudishthira’s response to Bhima, “You ate too much, and boasted about your vital energy, and despised your enemy. That is why you have fallen to the ground” (O’Flaherty 54).

Bhima was a great warrior; he was loyal to his wives and lived a dharmic life aside from striking Duryodhana below the navel. He did not reach heaven because of his large appetite, his overconfident nature and his hatred towards his enemies. As George Mason Williams states, “Despite one episode that tarnished his record, more than a hundred stories made Bhima an example of raw courage and strength, fighting to follow the way of a righteous warrior” (G.M. Williams 84).


Lutgendorf, Philip. (2007) Hanuman’s Tale. The Messages of a Divine Monkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press US.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. (1990) Textual Sources for the Study of HInduism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rajagopalachari, Chakravarti. (1976) Mahabharata. Delhi: Diamond Pockets Books Ltd.

Williams, David. (1991) Peter Brook and the Mahabharata. London: Taylor & Francis.

Williams, George Mason. (2003) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. Oxford: ABC-CLIO.

Related Topics:







Written by Kirk Patterson (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


The Harivamsa is widely considered by most Hindus as an appendix to one of the most well known epics in Indian literature, the Mahabharata. As an appendix to the Mahabharata the Harivamsa is not one of the 18 sections (parvas) of the epic, but is widely regarded by most scholars to be closer to a purana, a religious text (Winternitz 424). The origins of this appendix is not precisely known but it is apparent that it was a part of the Mahabharataby by the 1st century CE because, “the poet Ashvaghosha quotes a couple of verses, attributing them to the Mahabharata, which are now only found in the Harivamsa” (Datta 1558). The Harivamsa is not known to have been created by one person but rather is the collection of many different authors as a “heaping up or very loose arranging, side by side of texts –legends, myths and hymns –which serve to glorify the god Visnu” (Winternitz 424). However, according to Sanskrit texts, it has been attributed to the sage Vyasa. The most likely reason that the Harivamsa is equated with the Mahabharata is because it is said that they had both been recited to Janamejaya, during the same ritual by Vaisampayana. While both these texts contain some of the same Brahmanic legends and rituals, the vast majority of their content is different (Winternitz 425). While the Harivamsa has been regarded as an important source of information on the origin of Visnu’s incarnation as Krsna, there has been speculation as to whether this text was derived from an earlier text and what its relationship is to the Brahmapuranam, another text that deals with the origins of Krsna (Ruben 115).

The Harivamsa is made up of 16,374 verses and divided into chapters called adhyayas (Datta 1558). The chapters are further divided into three books called the, Harivamsaparvan, the Visnuparvan and the Bhavisyaparvan, with 55, 128, and 135 chapters respectively; each chapter deals with a distinct aspect surrounding the gods Visnu, Siva, and Krsna. The Harivamsaparvan means the “lineage of Hari”, Hari being another name for Visnu. Visnu is considered a preserver god who incarnates into avatars to keep and restore order in the cosmos. Visnu’s avatars have included a tortoise, boar, fish, man lion, dwarf, humans and finally it is said that Visnu’s last avatar will be a white winged horse. Krsna is Visnu’s eighth incarnation (Jackson –Laufer 597). The Harivamsaparvan consists of a version of creation which Winternitz considers “confused” because of a haphazard collection of myths and legends. This book of the Harivamsa also follows the lineage leading up to the miraculous birth of Krsna (Winternitz 426). The Harivamsaparvan also contains great amount of hymns dedicated to Krsna; one can even consider this book as containing “…in a certain way the divine history of Krsna previous to this stage” (Winternitz 426).

The second book, the Visnuparvan deals “almost exclusively with Krsna, the incarnation of the god Visnu” (Winternitz 427). Winternitz outlines the importance of the second book of the Harivamsa to Krsna worshippers:

Where as the best and wisest among the Visnu-worshippers adore Krsna above all as the proclaimer of the pious teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita’s, it is the Krsna of legends as they are narrated in the Harivamsa and in the Puranas, who is worshipped and prayed to by the millions of the actual folk in India up to the present day, sometimes as a supreme god, and sometimes esteemed as an ideal of perfect humanness (427).

In many cases it is this legendary Krsna that is adored rather than the Krsna in the Mahabharata that could be considered the “treacherous, hypocritical friend of the Pandavas” (Winternitz 1981: 427). The Visnuparvan provides in-depth look at the mythology behind the birth and youth of Krsna. According the Visnuparvan, Krsna was born of a surrogate mother because of a prophecy told to King Kamsa that he would be killed by the eighth son of Devaki, Krsna’s mother. Devaki was placed under continual watch until the first six of her sons were killed, however after Krishna was conceived he was secretly placed into another womb. Krsna was then raised in a community of cow herders and lived with them even as he started to display supernatural talents. An important chapter outlines how Krsna’s adoptive mother Yasoda had enough of the wild ways of the little Krishna and ties him to a mortar. The chapter then tells of the amazement of both Yasoda and the other cow herders as they see young Krsna laughing as he had pulled the mortar behind him and in the process took down two large trees, roots and all (Winternitz 428). A chapter in the second book tells of the first time that Krsna is recognized as the god Visnu. While arranging a festival to the god Indra, Krsna convinces the herdsmen to instead have a festival to honour the mountains. This makes Indra very angry and he begins to rain down on the cow herders. Krsna, however, holds up a mountain as an umbrella for his people causing Indra to realize that this was actually the god Visnu. Krsna then tells his herdsmen to not treat him as a god but treat him the same as any other herdsman (Winternitz 429). The second book then goes on to tell of all the adventures and battles of Krishna, as well as battles between Visnu and Siva. The end of the Visnuparvan contains hymns and songs to Krsna but also contains one other chapter that is seemingly unrelated and alludes to the Kamasastra as a “instructions in the form of conversations between Krishna’s wives and the sage Narada…of the ceremonies, celebrations and vows by means of which a wife can make her body pleasant to her husband”(Winternitz 431).

The third book, the Bhavisyaparvan, means “chapter of the future” as its first verses allude to the failure of Janamejaya’s horse ritual. This book of the Harivamsa also talks about the age of Kali that was to continue until the  Visnu’s ninth incarnation as a white winged horse (Datta 1558). The Bhavisyaparvan goes onto include two more unrelated creation stories and then adds both hymns and stories surrounding the gods Vishnu and Siva. This last book of the Harivamsa contains a poem that relays the importance of both reading and reciting the Mahabharata and prescribes the “presents that should be given to those who read out each Parvan on completing the reading”(Winternitz 434-435). The book is finally ended by summarizing the Harivamsa.

The Harivamsa is an important text because it contains accounts of Krsna not found in any other literature. An example is a story found in chapter 52 of the Visnuparvan where Krsna creates a pack of wolves from his body hair and these terrorize the cow herder people, in order to convince them that they must move. Krsna, being an incarnation of Visnu, the preserver god, justifies this action by bringing happiness and peace to these people (Lorenz 94). However, although the Harivamsa does contain writings on Krsna not found anywhere else there is evidence that the legend of Krsna does not come from this appendix but rather may have originated from an earlier text.  This is because the compiled nature of the Harivamsa has allowed for additions over time (Lorenz 2007: 97). It may be the case that the Harivamsa that is currently appended to the Mahabharata was actually created out of an original oral Harivamsa, because over time, the text was enlarged by additions and was matched in style to the Mahabharata (Ruben 124).


Datta, Amanesh (1987) Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature Vol. II. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

Jackson –Laufer, Guida (1994) Encyclopaedia of Traditional Epics Vol. II. Santa Barbara,  California: Library of Congress Cataloguing.

Ruben, Walter (1941) “The Krsnacarita in the Harivamsa and Certain Puranas.” Journal of  American Oriental Society. Vol. 61, No.3. Pp.115-127.

Lorenz, Ekkehard (2007) The Harivamsa: The Dynasty of Krishna. Oxford University Press.

Winternitz, Maurice (1981) History of Indian Literature Vol. I. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related Terms:




Horse ritual




King Kamsa













Written by Danielle Dore (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Draupadi in the Mahabharata

Draupadi’s story originates in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is believed to have been composed between 200 BCE and 200 CE, authored by Vyasa and said to be the longest epic in history (Rodrigues 227). Its writing is followed by the Kali Yuga, which was a period of retrogression in which families were waging war. (Rodrigues 227). The epic stories are thus centered on this tension among family members, but also introduce a variety of social issues, including the role and representation of women in Hindu culture. Draupadi is the central female character in the epic and embodies a very dynamic role model for women. Her role symbolizes the concerns for the treatment of women in a society dominated by patriarchal ideals (Sutherland 63). Vyasa is careful however to ensure that this concern is not easily suspected. Her presence in the Mahabharata discloses a criticism of authority (Hiltebeitel 240). Although her behaviour occasionally challenges the traditional view of women, Hindu women may acceptably adhere to Draupadi’s role as a wife and a woman in society.

Draupadi was the daughter of King Drupada and was born through exceptional circumstances. Her and her brother, Dhrstadyumna arose from a sacrificial fire (Hill 249). Her descriptions from the onset of the epic focused on her astonishing physical appearance.

She was beautiful and enchanting; she had a lovely body and a waist the shape of the sacrificial altar. She was dark, had eyes like lotus leaves, and dark, wavy hair. She was a goddess who had taken on a human form. Her scent, like that of a blue lotus, perfumed the air for the distance of a mile. She possessed the most beautiful figure; none was her equal on earth (Sutherland 64).

Women were made to be beautiful and desirable to men and Draupadi was so desirable that she became the wife of five men, the Pandavas brothers, who became her husbands through contest. Yudhisthira was the eldest brother who possessed great dharmic qualities, very honest and just, which continually came into conflict with the protection of Draupadi (Sutherland 64). Bhima and Arjuna were the next two brothers who were both great warriors, fearless and strong with a great love for Draupadi (Sutherland 64). Nakula and Sahadeva were the youngest twin brothers who were born of a different mother (Rodrigues 229). Arjuna the great warrior won Draupadi in an archery contest but the other brothers, so smitten by her beauty, wanted her as well and so Draupadi agreed to marry them all (Rodrigues 230). Draupadi remains a good wife to all her husbands.

She devotedly serves her husbands and their other wives without pride, anger or desire. With affection and self restraint she waits attentively on their wishes without any selfish thoughts. She works hard to manage the home never speaks harshly, never laughs loudly, never causes offence and is never idle. She never cooks food her husbands do not like, and she is dutiful in performing the offerings to the ancestors and in serving guests. Even though they are gentle by nature she treats her husbands as if they were venomous snakes, always prone to anger the eternal dharma for a woman is to serve her husband in this way, for he is her god and she has no object in her life other than his service (Sutton 423).

This passage is Draupadi’s response to Satyabhama’s question in the Mahabharata in regards to Draupadi’s husbands’ submissive but never angry demeanor. It demonstrates the embedded teachings of the epic. A woman should remain devoted and her dharma can be found in her service to her husbands. This passage also reveals the godliness of a woman’s husband. However, while Draupadi may disclose this devotional dialogue there are three main events of the epic which demonstrate her challenges to this devotion.

The Mahabharata accompanied with the Ramayana, the two major epics of the Hindu tradition, focus on principles for life on earth. Draupadi and Sita, the goddess of the Ramayana, serve as role models for women and their functions. Draupadi’s character provides a model of female behaviour that women may safely copy, (Sutton 422) however in some instances her actions are questionable in regards to the traditional patriarchal society from which these women arose. As such, Sita is considered the ideal wife and woman (Sutherland 63). Draupadi is very outspoken in three major events of the Mahabharata in which she questions the godliness of her husbands, specifically Yudhisthira. The first of these events occurs between a meeting of the Pandavas with their rival cousins the Kauravas. Yudhisthira, faithfully following dharmic principles, enters into a game of dice with his cousin Duryodhana (Rodrigues 231). After losing his kingdom and all his possessions he tried to win them back by staking himself and then Draupadi (Rodrigues 231). Yudhisthira elaborately describes his wife as to make her a desirable stake in the game.

She is not too short, nor is she too large; nor is she too dark nor is her complexion red. She has eyes reddened from passion. I will stake her – whose eyes and fragrance are like autumnal lotuses. Attached to modesty, she is, in beauty equal to Sri, the goddess of beauty. Were a man to desire a woman, she would be like this one, on account of her beautiful figure; she would be like this one on account of her perfect character. She is the last to sleep and first to awaken. She knows everything, down to the jobs both completed and not yet done by the cowherds and shepherds. Like the jasmine flower, the mallika, is she; with her perspiring face she appears similar to a lotus. She has red eyes, long hair, a waist as slender as the sacrificial altar, and a body with no excessive hair (Sutherland 65).

Draupadi is described as the perfect wife and woman and then becomes the object not only of desire but also of sexual abuse in the present disregard of her husbands. Being won by the Kauravas, Duhsasana orders her to be stripped naked and begins to peel off her clothing. However, Draupadi, humiliated by such a notion, prayed to Krsna for help who came to her rescue in the absence of any assistance from her husbands (Rodrigues 231-232). Outraged that her husbands did not come to her aid her anger became observable to the entire assembly and she embodies an aggressive attitude in response to her husbands’ passive manner. The situation justifies Draupadi’s response to defend herself. Only divine intervention kept her from being completely degraded in the presence of her husbands and the entire assembly, thus her anger is justified (Sutherland 66). While women, during this time period, were considered the lesser sex in a relationship women themselves were not completely disregarded.

The epic includes two more events in which Draupadi is sexually assaulted in the absence of her husbands, both physically and behaviorally. The first involves the love-sick king Jayadratha who abducts Draupadi when she refuses his advance (Sutherland 68). Her husbands are away from the palace at the time of the abduction and she must defend herself. The second event happens in the last year of the exile, the Pandavas and Draupadi disguised themselves in the court of Virata to remain hidden from the Kauravas (Sutherland 69). Draupadi disguises herself as a servant to Queen Sudesna whose brother, Kicaka, propositions her (Sutherland 69). In this last event Draupadi is again let down by her husbands, most specifically Yudhisthira.

Kicaka, even more infatuated by the luckless princess, enlists the queen’s aid to help him win her. Sudesna, despite the protestations of Draupadi, sends her to Kicaka’s chamber with some liquor. Draupadi, upset at being sent into what she correctly perceives is a compromising situation, prays to Surya, the sun god: As I have never claimed another man but the Pandavas, by this truth, let me not fall under Kicaka’s power when I arrive there. Answering her prayer, Surya sends an invisible raksasa to protect her. Kicaka attempts to seduce her, but she runs for protection to where Yudhisthira is. Kicaka grabs her by the hair and while Yudhisthira looks on, throws her to the ground and kicks her. The raksasa sent by Surya pushes Kicaka senseless to the floor (Sutherland 69-70).

In every situation, Draupadi is left to protect herself, usually calling on a god to help her. However, it is through these situations that her behaviour is justified. When the husband will not provide protection a woman must take matters in to her own hands. However, the message is still embedded in the literature that a woman should remain faithful to her husband(s).

It is important to consider the epic from the perspective of the time in which it was created. However, this does not mean that its teaching’s have not permeated modern Hindu culture. Modern Hindu thought still attests to patriarchal virtues in which women are considered inferior and subject to their passionate nature (Sharma 41). This indicates that the dynamics between men and women are still evolving in a male dominated system. Nevertheless, Draupadi’s behaviour identifies with a woman who is articulate and forceful and certainly has an influence with men (Sutherland 67). This suggests that women were not completely submissive servants but also had a right to their protection and dignity.

The gods are always pleased with those who treat women well and curse those houses where they are mistreated. Manu has instructed that women should be cared for by men for they are mostly weak, easily seduced, soft-hearted and lovers of honesty. Some women are harsh, stupid, and malevolent, but still men should honour them for when the women are satisfied society is peaceful (Sutton 428).

Thus, while patriarchy may still dominate, reverence to the gods suggests a respect and consideration for women. Their inferiority is nevertheless suggested and as such Draupadi, and her bold behaviour, are a significant role model. Throughout the epic, Draupadi’s statements about her duty as a wife are an indication that women should still follow tradition. Draupadi imparts not only an example but offers advice that women can safely duplicate and utilize in society.


Hill, Peter (2001) Fate, Predestination and Human Action in the Mahabharata: A Study

in the History of Ideas. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (2002) Rethinking the Mahabharata. New Delhi: Oxford University


Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The EBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Ltd.

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Modern Hindu Thought – The Essential Texts. New Delhi:

Oxford University Press.

Sutherland, Sally J (1989) “Sita and Darupadi: Aggressive Behaviour and Female Role-

Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 109(1), 63-79.

Sutton, Nicholas (2000) Religious Doctrines in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Motilal

Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Related Readings

Bhawalkar, V. (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi:Sharada Pub. House.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (ed.) (2002) Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian

Religion. New Delhi: Shakti Books.

Diesel, Alleyn (2002) “Tales of Women’s Suffering: Draupadi and Other Amman

Goddesses as Role Models for Women.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 17(1), 5-20.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1980) “Siva, The Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pandavas and

Draupadi.” History of Religions, 20 (1-2), 147-174.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1991) The Cult of Draupadi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany, N.Y.:

State University of New York Press.

Related Research Topics


The Ramayana

The Mahabharata

The Pandavas

The Kauravas





Goddess Worship (Fire Walking – specifically tied to Draupadi)

Related Websites

Written by Shannon Pollock (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.