Category Archives: Major Characters of the Mahabharata


Drona was an important figure in the Mahabharata epic. First was his role in teaching the warring cousins, the Pandavas and Kauravas, in the arts of war, and then fighting in a battle with them on opposite sides. His death is also very important and has an entire section of the epic devoted to it; he is a central figure because of his influence over the two main characters of the story. Drona was a Brahmin by birth, but was also a master in the arts of war and he was the best archer in his time. He took up a position to teach these arts to the “grandsons” of Bhisma who were the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Pandavas and Kauravas were cousins who were always trying to best each other in anything they did, and both groups were taught by Drona.  Drona’s main part in the Mahabharata occurs when the Pandavas wage war on the Kauravas for banishing them into the forest, after the Kauravas cheated the Pandavas in a game of dice (Menon volume 1:2-4).  Drona fights alongside the Kauravas in a bloody battle against his former students, and he is eventually killed (Ly 134-137). Drona’s story actually begins well before he was a great master warrior and had no wealth to his name.

After the birth of his son Asvatthama, Drona set off in the hopes to gain wealth for his family, by becoming the finest archer of his time.  He first travelled to Mahendra Mountain, where he had heard that Parasurama Bhargava was giving away all of his possessions.  Unfortunately, when Drona reached the top, he was informed by Parasurama that he had already given away everything (Menon volume 1:110-111).  He then travelled to the Pancala kingdom where Drupada, an old friend and former student of his father, was king. When Drona was young and Drupada was still a prince, the two became close friends and Drupada had once told Drona, “when I am King, you must come and live with me in my palace.  My kingdom will be yours as much as it is mine.  Only, we must be friends forever” (Menon volume 1:110).  To Drona’s surprise when he met with Drupada, the king would not help him and cast him aside.  After being humiliated by the king, Drona, Asvatthama, and his wife Kripa went and lived with Bhisma – Drona’s brother in-law.  After a few weeks, Bhisma told Drona that he wanted him to be the martial arts master of his grandchildren and have the wealth that he wanted. He also told him that one-day would stand with Bhisma against the Pancala kingdom even if it meant war. (Menon volume 1:113).

After coming into this newfound position, Drona would start to teach the grandsons of Bhisma, although he is not the biological grandfather since he is celibate; he is more like the granduncle to the Pandavas and Kauravas.  Although, before he started to train them, he asked them to promise him that they would help him accomplish a mission that was close to his heart and that if they did, he would make them great Ksatriyas (warriors); without hesitation they agreed. (Menon volume 1:114).  One of the Pandava princes, Arjuna, became Drona’s star pupil and the greatest archer that he had ever known.  This is for a few reasons, one, Arjuna was the only prince that was allowed to shoot a wooden bird out of a tree since he saw only the bird and nothing else (Menon volume 1:117-119).  Secondly, because he also saved Drona’s life, he was bathing in the river Ganga and a crocodile tried to attack him, but before it could, Arjuna shot it through the eye and heart.  This was the moment Drona said Arjuna would be the greatest archer in the world (Menon volume 1:120-121).  This caused the Kauravas princes to feel upset although they did not say anything.

After many years of training, Drona and his students went to fight Drupada, as this was the mission that Drona’s students had promised to help him accomplish. After a long battle they all defeated Drupada, and with Arjuna’s sword at Drupada’s throat and the ability to kill him, Drona recognized Drupada’s loyalty and forgave him (Menon volume 1:157).  Drona only did so because of their long and old friendship. As a sign of good faith, he gave Drupada half of his lands back and the two became friends again.  Drupada had his own ulterior motives behind becoming friends with Drona.  He had noticed that Arjuna was the greatest warrior he had ever seen and that he wanted him to wed one of his daughters.  He hoped that they might have a son who would one day kill Drona for what he had done that day (Menon volume 1:157).  For the time being the two remained at peace.  Drona ruled the northern Pancala lands and Drupada ruled the remainder of his lands from Kampilya (Menon volume 1:157). Peace, however, did not last forever; due to events at the palace, the Pandavas were exiled to the forest by the Kauravas.

When the Great War described in the Mahabharata ensued, Drona, Asvatthama, and Bhisma fought with the Kauravas in Duryodhana’s armies, while Arjuna and the Pandavas fought against them (Stewart 113).  During the battle, Drona fought halfheartedly against his former students. He said that the only way he would be able to defeat the Pandava’s army was if Arjuna was removed from the battlefield (Pilikian 17). Knowing this, one of the king’s stepped forward, offering Arjuna a challenge he could not refuse, so that Drona could then defeat the army (Pilikian 17).  Drona and Bhisma were chosen to lead the chariots to victory against the Pandava’s archers.  Unfortunately, Bhisma was killed and Drona was appointed commander of Duryodhana’s armies (Pilikian 63).  According to The Mahabharata, with Drona as leader of the army, and Arjuna off the battlefield, Drona ‘unleashed his divine arsenal and the Pandavas and Srinjayas were eclipsed beneath his attacks as he went reeving through them like Indra among demons’ (Pilikian 75).  Drona “was like a tiger amongst men in the fight”, although he did have remorse and sympathy for the men he was killing, he felt that the fate they suffered was underserved (Pilikian 89).  Throughout the battle there were Pandavas soldiers all around Drona yelling “kill Drona, kill Drona” or the war is lost (Menon Volume 2:228).

In order to win the battle, Drona tried to capture Yudhisthira [to try and trick him into a game of dice so they could banish them back to the forest] (Menon volume 2:219). However after Drona killed many Pandava soldiers in order to get close enough to him, Yudhisthira leapt nimbly from his chariot, mounted the swiftest horse he can find and fled (Menon volume 2: 227).  In an attempt to capture Yudhisthira again, Duryodhana, (king of the Kauravas) devised another plan to distract Arjuna so Drona might capture Yudhisthira (Menon volume 2:224-224).  Once again this plan failed, but this time it was due to Arjuna’s son.  Yudhisthira used him to break the Kaurava’s defenses and this lead to Drona and five other warriors to face him (Menon volume 2:228-240).  Arjuna’s son was much more powerful than Drona and his men had anticipated and Karna [another warrior of Drona’s] feared that if they didn’t kill him they would all die (Menon volume 2:244-245).  Drona and his men had a long, grueling battle against Arjuna’s son, but in the end they sever his bow string, break his bow, kill his horses, his two guards, and then kill him with hundreds of arrows (Menon volume 2:243-246).

Then Drona, during a point in the battle when the fighting had stopped, sat alone at the edge of the field of death and a profound sense of doom came upon him.  He thought about Drupada and tears rolled down his face (Menon volume 2:331-332).  He remembered of how Drupada prayed for a son to kill him and now that he had killed Arjuna’s son, it was only a matter of time before Arjuna would come after him and try to kill him (Menon volume 2:332-333).  This introduces us to the dramatic death of Drona, which occurs in the Drona Parva part of the Mahabharata epic.  In order to kill Drona the Pandava’s king, Yudhisthira, lied to Drona saying that his son had been killed in a bloody battle (Ly 134).  When Drona heard that his son had been killed, his spirit was broken and the will to fight left him and he laid down his bow (Menon volume 2:341).  Before Drona could be killed, however, he picked up another bow and commenced to fight once again.  Drona was fear embodied once again.  His body was full of an uncanny light (Menon 2:342).  Earlier in the epic, Drona had killed three of Bhīma’s sons while he was trying to reach Drupada to kill him.  Now with Drona fighting for one last time to avenge his son’s death, Bhima, in disgust, yelled at him that although he was born a Brahmin he has now become a butcher (Menon volume 2:342-343).  These words finally made Drona cast aside his bow.  The war paused and Drona yelled, “I will not fight anymore, Drona’s war has ended, the rest is left to you”(Menon volume 2:343).  Sitting down in his chariot with his legs crossed Drona then shut his eyes and “yokes his spirit”, surrendering his greater self.  While this is happening Bhima jumped from his chariot and ran at Drona (Menon volume 2:343).  Arjuna wanted to take Drona alive but, could not stop Bhima, who was grieving for the loss of his sons and bent on vengeance, with a swing of his sword Bhima severed Drona’s head from his body, leaving him a lifeless corpse (Menon volume 2: 341-343).



Pilikian, Vaughan (2006) Mahabharata: Drona Volume 1. New York: New York University Press.

Ly, Boreth. (2003). “Narrating the Deaths of Drona and Bhurisravas at the Baphuon.” Arts Asiatiques 58. 134–37.

Menon, Ramesh (2006) The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering (volume 1). New york, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse, Inc.

Menon, Ramesh (2006) The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering (volume 2). New york, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse, Inc.

Stewart, Frank. (2010). “The Mahabharata and Andha Yug: A Brief Summary.” Manoa 22 (1). 111–14.


Related Topics for Further Investigation











Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Adam Geib (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.




Karna is an important figure in the Mahabharata Epic, which reputedly took place at the start of the Kali Yuga. The Mahabharata tells the story about a war between the five Pandava brothers and the Kaurava brothers. Karna was born to Kunti, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, and the Sun god Surya. Karna was born with an impenetrable armor and golden earrings which made him invincible. At the time of Karna’s birth, Kunti was unmarried and a virgin. As Kunti was an unmarried princess when she had Karna, she abandoned him in the Asva River, where he was found by, and adopted by Adhiratha and Radha, who were a charioteer (suta) couple. The couple raised him as their own son and named him Vasusena (see McGrath 28; Adarkar 4).

While growing up, Karna always used to pray to the Sun god and was generous to brahmins. He made a vow that he would always give alms to brahmins who approached him regardless of what their requirements were. One day, while Karna was praying to the Sun god, Indra, the god of thunder, came to Karna disguised as a brahmin and asked Karna to give him his armor and earrings as a gift. Even though Karna knew that this was a trick by Indra, he kept his promise and submitted his armor and earrings to Indra. Due to his actions, he earned the name of Vaikartana, “the flayed”, and received an infallible spear from Indra which would kill anyone it hit, but could only be used once (see Bryant 26).

As a young man, Karna was an exceptional warrior whose skills were equal to that of Arjuna. To learn the arts of warfare, Karna approached Dronacarya, the famous teacher of Arjuna. Drona refused to teach Karna because of his status as a suta. As his attempt to be Drona’s student did not work out, Karna left in search of the great brahmin warrior sage, Rama Jamadagni (see McGrath 29). Afraid of being rejected as a student due to his status of a suta, Karna disguised himself as a brahmin and sought Rama Jamadagni’s guidance. Under Rama Jamadagni’s guidance, Karna learned all the arts of warfare. One day, while his master was taking a nap on his lap, Indra, in the form of a bee, stung Karna until he started bleeding. Upon waking, Rama Jamadagni found out that Karna was not a brahmin and cursed Karna, stating “may he forget the weapon at the time he will be killed”. During his training Karna mistakenly killed a brahmin’s cow and the brahmin cursed him, saying “may the earth swallow his wheel at a time of greatest peril” (see Bryant 26). Later in his life, these two curses played a major role during his time in the Mahabharata.

Even though Karna was an exceptionally strong warrior and the only one who could match Arjuna, his status of a suta came in the way of showing his prowess. As Karna grew, his hate for the Pandava brothers grew, especially Arjuna. During an archery contest, Karna decided that he wanted to challenge Arjuna and see who the better archer was. Instead of accepting the challenge, Arjuna insulted Karna by calling him a suta and refused to accept his challenge. Infuriated, Karna vowed to kill his step brother. Throughout the Mahabharata, Karna is shown to best Arjuna in battle even when Arjuna had Krsna as his charioteer. Karna’s charioteer, Salya, demoralized Arjuna, trying to demolish his will to fight (See Adarkar 202-203; De Bruin and Brakel-Papenyzen 52). Even Arjuna’s father, Indra, believed that Karna was a major threat to Arjuna. Indra aided his son, by obtaining Karna’s armor, which made him invincible, and by creating Ghatotkaca, son of Bhima, in whose presence Karna had to use his infallible spear (see Adarkar 202). Due to these events, Karna was far more vulnerable but still had the edge against Arjuna in their final battle. Due to Krsna’s unorthodox strategy, which was against the ksatriya code, Arjuna was able to slay Karna.

Before going to war, Karna was confronted by his mother, Kunti, who revealed the entire truth. Karna, listening to his mother, realized that the Pandava brothers were his own brothers. Karna was the eldest of the six brothers. Kunti pleaded that Karna join the Pandava side and fight alongside his brothers. According to dharma, Karna was supposed to obey his mother. Instead, he replied “by casting me away, the wrong you have done me, destructive of fame and glory, is irreversible….When there was time to act, you did not show me this crying out [anukrosha]. And now you have summoned me, whom you have denied the sacraments. You never acted in my interest like a mother, and now, here you are, enlightening me solely in your own interests!” (see Bryant 32-33). Even though Karna refused to obey his mother, he vowed that he would spare his four brothers, and only fight Arjuna with intentions of killing him. He promised that regardless of who dies, Kunti would be left with five sons (see Lama 50-52).

During the Mahabharata War, Karna’s and Arjuna’s battle decided the outcome of the war. Krsna played a crucial role in Karna’s death, as he encouraged Arjuna to break the ksatriya code, in order to kill Karna. Throughout most of their battle Karna had the upper hand. Krsna saved Arjuna’s life more than once during the battle. When Karna was dominating over the battle, his curses took effect and eventually led to his demise. The first curse, which he received from the brahmin whose cow Karna unintentionally killed, took effect resulting in Karna’s chariot getting stuck in the mud. As Karna was about to die, his second curse, which he received from his mentor, finally affected him. Karna lost knowledge of all his weapons and was left defenseless (see Adarkar 6; Bryant 26). Upon listening to Krsna’s advice, a reluctant Arjuna fired arrows at a defenseless Karna and killed him by breaching the codes of ksatriya conduct (see Lama 53-54).

Throughout the Mahabharata, Karna’s life was that of suffering and injustice. Nonetheless, Karna stood by dharmic values and believed in duty and loyalty. Karna, like Yudhisthira, was tested twice in order to see if he upheld to dharma. He was loyal to two types of people, “one elevated, one low” (See Adarkar 99). He was loyal to his suta parents who raised him with love, and to his close friend Duryodhana. Karna proved his loyalty when he decided to fight alongside Duryodhana, even when he found out that the Pandavas were his real brothers. Karna believed that “birth or class determines nothing”, and always knew that what mattered most were his parents who raised him and friends who believed in him and gave him another opportunity in life (see Adarkar 113)


Sources and Bibliography

De Bruin, Hanna M and Papenyzen, Clara B (1992) The Death of Karna: Two Sides of a Story. Hawaii: University of Hawai’i Press.

Lama, Mahendra P (1990) Review: Lucid and Profound. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.

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

Adarkar, Aditya (2001) “Karna in the Mahabharata” PhD diss., University of Chicago

McGrath, Kevin (2001) The Sanskrit Hero: Karna in epic Mahabharata. Boston: Brill Publishers


Related Topics:







Rama Jamadagni


Websites related to further reading:


Article written by: Shreyas Dhokte (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.







Bhisma was the ‘grandfather’ of the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the great Hindu epic The Mahabharata. He was a well-known and respected ksatriya and ascetic who on his deathbed taught lessons of dharma. Bhisma was regarded as the mortal form of one of the eight gods called Vasus. In the epic, these gods offended the sage Vasistha, who in turn cursed them to be re-incarnated on earth (Brodbeck and Black 183). There were several versions of what the Vasus did to incur this curse; Mother of Bhisma, the river goddess Ganga’s version was that Vasistha had a superior cow and the eight Vasus stole this cow and its calf, while the Vasus’ own version portrays them much more innocently and only states that they offended him in some way (Brodbeck 158). Also in Ganga’s version Dyaus, the ringleader of the Vasus and of the cow thievery, must survive because he was cursed specifically, but in the Vasus version all eight were cursed equally. In Ganga’s version she requested that one son survive, and the Vasus agreed only if he be childless; this eighth son, Dyaus, is Bhisma. The father of Bhisma and his seven brothers was king Samtanu, who was the reincarnation of the earthly king Mahabhisa. Mahabhisa’s virtues and dharmic life secured him a spot in heaven, but once there his audacious display of feelings toward the Goddess Ganga caused Brahma to sentence him to another life as a mortal on earth, and he was reborn as Samtanu. Meanwhile the eight Vasus approached the Goddess Ganga and urged her to embrace an earthly incarnation as their mother, with Samtanu as the father. Ganga was pleased to have a chance to continue the love between her and Samtanu that had begun in heaven, and so she agreed (Brodbeck and Black 183).

Once on Earth Samtanu met Ganga, they fell in love and he proposed to her. Ganga accepted only on the condition that no matter what she did, even if it displeased king Samtanu, she must never be stopped, questioned, or spoken to harshly. If Samtanu followed this prenuptial agreement, they would live in happiness, but if he broke the agreement she would forsake him and leave. Samtanu agreed to these prenuptial stipulations and the couple gave birth to seven sons, each of which Ganga immediately drowned. In keeping with his previous agreement Samtanu said nothing to Ganga about her murder of their sons, until she tried to drown their eighth son, when he finally spoke against her in the hopes of saving this son. Because Samtanu had now broken their prenuptial agreement, Ganga told him that she was leaving him and taking their eighth son with her, but that she would return him to Samtanu later; she also explained the curse upon the eight Vasus and why she had to drown each of their previous sons (Brodbeck 158).

Years passed and Bhisma returned to his father, who wished to be remarried to Satyavati, daughter of the king of the fisherfolk. Satyavati’s father refused to allow their marriage, because no matter how many children they produced together, Bhisma, or his children, would always be rightful heirs to the throne. In order to enable his father to remarry, Bhisma gave up his right to the throne and vowed to be celibate, meaning he would never succeed to the throne and he would never have any children who would one day do likewise (Hill 199). This oath is the reason for his name, Bhisma, which means ‘he of the terrible oath’. One good thing that came from this oath was that it so impressed the gods that they granted Bhisma the boon that he would be able to choose his own death. This gave him some power over his own life and also served to make him an unparalleled warrior, as he could not be killed.

Samtanu and Satyavati had two sons, the first, Citrangada died young, and so the second son, Vicitravirya became king. Bhisma abducted 3 Kasi princesses, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, as wives for his brother, from an svayamvara hosted by the king of Kasi. Amba begged Bhisma to let her go back, as she was in love with another man, Salva, and Bhisma listened to her pleas and let her go. She soon discovered though that Salva would not have her back, as she could be impure from spending time with another man (Brodbeck and Black, 20). She returned to Bhisma and asked to either marry him or his brother, but he refused (Brodbeck and Black 204-205). According to Amba, Bhisma had ruined her life by spoiling her marital prospects and she vowed to exact revenge on him. For fourteen years the princess performed austerities to the gods until she was granted a boon, for which she chose Bhisma’s defeat. Siva swore that she would be reborn as a great warrior in the house of Drupada and would destroy Bhisma in battle. Amba then gathered firewood, made a giant pyre and committed suicide by stepping into it, saying “For Bhisma’s death” (Hill 160).

Seven years later King Vicitravirya died without fathering any sons between his two wives, Ambika and Ambalika. Bhisma should have been the one to inseminate his half brothers widows, so as to carry on their patrilineage, but he refused because of his vow of celibacy. At this time Satyavati revealed that she had a premarital son, Vyasa, and he was called upon to inseminate Victravirya’s widows, and the resulting children and grandchildren were the Kauravas and the Pandavas, and this is how, although celibate, Bhisma is referred to and known as the grandfather or grandsire of the Kauravas and Pandavas (Brodbeck 167).

Years later, the Kauravas and the Pandavas waged war over which side of the family were the rightful rulers of the kingdom. In this war, the great battle at Kurukshetra, Bhisma fought on the side of the Kauravas. For ten days Bhisma commanded the Kauravas forces, slaughtering many. Krsna stated that it was Arjuna who should fulfill the task of killing Bhisma (Hill 145), but because Bhisma was an unparalleled warrior and could choose the time of his own death this was an impossible task. At this point Yudhisthira remembered that Bhisma had sworn to reveal to the Pandavas how he could be killed when the chosen time for his death arrived. And so the Pandavas and Krsna went to Bhisma and were instructed to have Arjuna attack him from behind Sikhandin, because Bhisma would not attack a woman (Brodbeck and Black 193). After her death Amba, who had sworn revenge on Bhisma for kidnapping her, was reborn as the female Sikhandin to Drupada, but with the help of a yaksa she became a male, while the yaksa became female, but they would switch back upon Sikhandin’s death (Brodbeck and Black 217). Together Arjuna and Sikhandin would attack Bhisma. Because Bhisma knew that Sikhandin was in essence a woman, he laid down his arms and Arjuna and Sikhandin both skewered him with arrows (Brodbeck and Black 218).

After being pierced with arrows, Bhisma laid on a veritable bed of arrows, as he was skewered with so many arrows that not one part of his body touched the ground, and for many weeks he spoke and gave lessons on dharma, until choosing to die on the winter solstice, long after the great Bharata war ended (Brodbeck and Black, 190). During this time Bhisma gave lessons on things such as gift giving to cleanse the soul of sin (Hill 54-55), dharma and kinship (Hill 115) and lessons on the evils of time, and the expiation of sin (Hill 217). Finally when he was done dispensing his dharmic teachings, Bhisma engaged in yoga and released each limb of his body, freeing them of arrows and healing them. Once his entire body had been freed his soul split through his head and rose into the sky, and thus Bhisma chose his own death (Brodbeck and Black 190).

Today in modern Hindu society, Bhisma is celebrated on “the eighth lunar day of the light half of magha” (Verma 73), which falls either in January or February. This is regarded as the day on which Bhisma chose to die, and on which his soul journeyed up through the sky and into heaven. Since Bhisma did not marry or have any sons it is the Hindu duty to consider oneself as his great great grandchildren and to offer him oblations and libations on this day. An sraddha is performed and barley, sesame, flowers and gangajal are offered to Bhisma. Devotion to Bhisma on this day is said to guarantee successful progeny (Verma 73).



Black, Brian and Brodbeck, Simon (2007) Gender and Narrative in the Mahabharata. Oxon: Routledge.

Brodbeck, Simon Pearse (2009) The Mahabharata Patriline. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (1990) The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Vol V Bhishma Parva. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Hill, Peter (2001) Fate, Predestination and Human Action in the Mahabharata: A Study in the History of Ideas. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Verma, Manish (2007) Fasts and Festivals of India. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Mahabharata








Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by Megan Perin, March 2013, who is solely responsible for its content.

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.