The Mahabharata: A Tale of Family, Duty, and the Great War for Dharma

Written By Jason Kim

Writing stories of mythical proportions.

In an era where the mortal and the divine played out their dramas on the grand stage of the cosmos, the Indian subcontinent bore witness to a narrative whose magnitude has reverberated across generations – the phenomenal epic, The Mahabharata.

The heart of the Kingdom of Hastinapura beat in rhythm with the mighty river Ganges, nurturing the lives of two sets of royal cousins: the noble Pandavas and the ambitious Kauravas. From their youth, a bitter rivalry fermented between them, the poisonous fruit of a twisted game of chance that robbed the Pandavas of their kingdom and honor.

Prince Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, known for his steadfast adherence to dharma – the righteous path – was flanked by his brave brothers: the mighty Bhima, the supreme archer Arjuna, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva. Their shared bond with their radiant wife Draupadi was a testament to their unity and a beacon of hope in their darkest hours.


Meanwhile, the Kauravas, led by their eldest, Duryodhana, a prince tainted by envy and ambition, strayed far from the path of dharma, instigating deceitful tactics that drove the Pandavas into exile.

Their years of hardship bore the seeds of an impending war, a conflict that would span the breadth of Bharat, drawing in kings, warriors, and gods alike. The very heavens held their breath as the Pandavas and Kauravas faced each other on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, their armies arrayed under the watchful gaze of Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s divine charioteer.

This was no mere skirmish for territory. It was a cataclysmic clash of principles, of right against might, of dharma against adharma. The echoes of their celestial weapons, the intense duels, the sacrifice, and the valor resonated through the eighteen days of relentless combat, painting a poignant tableau of humanity’s resilience and the grim realities of war.

The triumphant yet sober Pandavas emerged victorious, guided by the lessons encapsulated in Krishna’s divine discourse, the Bhagavad Gita, elucidating the impermanence of life, the importance of duty, and the pursuit of righteousness.

The Mahabharata is more than an epic; it’s a profound exploration of life, duty, morality, and the dharma that binds the cosmos. It’s a mirror held up to humanity, a reflection of our virtues and vices, our aspirations and our fears. A tale that has shaped the ethos of a civilization and continues to resonate with a timeless relevance.

The Mahabharata – A Saga of Conflict, Philosophy, and the Human Condition

The Mahabharata, one of the grandest and most profound epics in Indian mythology, unravels a saga of epic proportions. This ancient masterpiece delves into the intricate lives of the Pandava and Kaurava princes, cousins entwined in a web of rivalry and destiny. The Mahabharata is a tapestry of love, loss, redemption, and the eternal struggle between righteousness and the complexities of human nature.

Pandavas, known for his steadfast adherence to dharma

At its core, the Mahabharata chronicles the Great War between two factions: the righteous Pandavas, led by the virtuous Yudhishthira, and the Kauravas, headed by the ambitious Duryodhana. Fueled by familial tensions, greed, and moral dilemmas, the narrative explores the existential quandaries and choices faced by its myriad characters.

Amidst its vast breadth, the Mahabharata encompasses profound philosophical discourses on duty, righteousness, and the nature of human existence. The Bhagavad Gita, which is contained within the Mahabharata, is a treasured sacred text that expounds upon these themes, offering insights into life’s purpose, the nature of the soul, and the paths to enlightenment.

The epic weaves together intricate subplots, affectionate relationships, and complex character development. The narratives of virtuous heroes like Arjuna, the valiant warrior; Draupadi, the resilient and fiery princess; and Krishna, the divine guide, intertwine with those of flawed yet redeemable characters like Duryodhana and Karna, revealing the complex tapestry of human nature.

Nakula and Sahadeva.

Themes of war and peace, love and loss permeate the Mahabharata. It explores the consequences of greed, the destructiveness of ego and ambition, and the nuances of loyalty and betrayal. Interwoven with myth and legend, the epic serves as a mirror reflecting the intricacies of the human condition, offering profound reflections on the choices we make and the consequences they bear.

The Mahabharata’s resounding impact is felt not only in Indian mythology but across global literary and philosophical traditions. It has been a source of inspiration for writers, scholars, and artists throughout history, reflecting its timeless relevance and depth of wisdom.

In essence, the Mahabharata is an intricate tapestry of conflict, philosophy, and the manifold dimensions of human nature. It serves as a reminder of the complex interplay of forces within ourselves and in society, urging us to reflect on our choices, seek harmony amidst chaos, and strive to align our actions with higher principles in the pursuit of a just and meaningful life.

The Mahabharata Story

Once upon a time, in the land of Hastinapura, there was a great kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. The throne of the kingdom was the center of a fierce dynastic struggle, and this is the story of that struggle.

In this kingdom, there were two branches of the family who were entangled in the rivalry. The Kauravas, the eldest branch, and the Pandavas, the younger branch. The Kauravas believed that they should inherit the throne, but the Pandavas had a different opinion. They claimed that it was their birthright to rule over Hastinapura.


The ultimate battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas took place in Kurukshetra. It was a monumental clash, filled with complicated conflicts of kinship and friendship. Loyalty and duty often overshadowed what was right, leading to many challenging situations.

In the end, it was the Pandavas who emerged victorious, and with their victory, the great warrior Krishna met his demise. Following Krishna’s death, the Pandavas ascended to heaven, marking the end of Krishna’s dynasty and the beginning of a new era known as the age of Kali Yuga.

The story doesn’t start with the Kauravas and Pandavas, though. It begins with a king named Shantanu, who falls deeply in love with Satyavati, a fisherwoman. However, Satyavati’s father has a condition for their marriage: he wants any future son of Satyavati to become the king. To honor this request, Shantanu’s eldest son, Devavrata, agrees to relinquish his claim to the throne and vows to never marry.

Shantanu falls in love with Satyavati, the fisherwoman.

Shantanu and Satyavati have two sons, Chitrāngada and Vichitravirya. Chitrāngada becomes the king after Shantanu’s death, but his reign is short-lived. Vichitravirya, the younger son, then takes over the throne. Meanwhile, the king of Kāśī organizes a swayamvara, a ceremony where his three daughters would choose their own husband. Unfortunately, he forgets to invite the royal family of Hastinapura.

When the time comes for Vichitravirya to get married, Bhishma, Devavrata’s new name as he is known for his great prowess as a warrior, attends the swayamvara uninvited and abducts the three princesses, Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. Ambika and Ambalika agree to marry Vichitravirya, but Amba tells Bhishma that she had already chosen the king of Shalva to be her husband and was heartbroken that Bhishma took that choice away from her.

Amba goes to the king of Shalva, but he refuses to marry her, still bearing a grudge against Bhishma. Devastated, Amba returns to Bhishma, hoping he would accept her as his wife, but he refuses due to his vow of celibacy. Amba becomes consumed by anger and vows to take revenge on Bhishma in her next life.

In her next life, Amba is reborn as Shikhandi, the daughter of King Drupada. Shikhandi seeks revenge and assists Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra, ultimately leading to the downfall of Bhishma.

And so, the Mahabharata is not just a story of a struggle for power and the triumph of good over evil, but also a tale filled with complex relationships, promises, and the consequences of our actions. It teaches us about the importance of righteousness and the eternal struggle between right and wrong.

Pandava and the Kaurava Princess

After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti returns to Hastinapura with the five Pandava brothers. The Kaurava brothers, led by Duryodhana, are envious and resentful of the Pandavas’ popularity and righteous nature. Duryodhana feels threatened by the Pandavas’ claim to the throne and plots their downfall.

Dhritarashtra is about to be crowned king by Bhishma when Vidura intervenes

Over the years, the Pandavas and Kauravas grow up together and receive their education from various gurus, including the famous sage Dronacharya. The Pandava brothers excel in their studies and impress their teachers with their skills and virtues.

As the time for choosing the heir to the throne approaches, Dhritarashtra, the blind king, appoints Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava, as the crown prince. However, Duryodhana’s envy grows stronger, and he conspires to strip the Pandavas of their rights.

Duryodhana challenges Yudhishthira to a game of dice, a common practice among kings to settle disputes. Yudhishthira, known for his unwavering integrity, accepts the challenge. However, the game is rigged, and Yudhishthira loses everything, including his wealth, kingdom, and even himself and his brothers and wife Draupadi, who was dragged to the courtroom.

Draupadi is humiliated and insulted in front of the entire assembly of kings and princes. Duryodhana orders her to sit on his lap, but she refuses and seeks help from the elders present. None come to her aid, except for Bhishma and Vidura. However, Duryodhana’s brother, Dushasana, attempts to disrobe her in public, but Krishna miraculously prevents it from happening.

In the end, the Pandavas are forced into exile for thirteen years, including one year of living incognito. During this period, they face numerous challenges, including demons, disguised deities testing their virtues, and political intrigue. They acquire new alliances, friendships, and divine weapons, preparing for the final showdown with the Kauravas.

After completing their exile, the Pandavas return to Hastinapura to claim their kingdom. However, Duryodhana refuses to give them their rightful share and offers only five villages. The Pandavas reject this offer and instead prepare for war.

The battle at Kurukshetra

The Kurukshetra war, a great battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, begins. It lasts for eighteen days and involves countless warriors, gods, and celestial beings. The war is filled with heroic deeds, divine interventions, and tragic losses.

The Kurukshetra war sees the triumph of Arjuna and Lord Krishna, fighting on the side of the Pandavas, against the Kauravas. Arjuna gains divine knowledge and guidance from Krishna through the Bhagavad Gita, which becomes a philosophical centerpiece of the epic.

In the end, the Pandavas emerge victorious, and Duryodhana is slain by Bhima. The war takes a heavy toll on both sides, with many casualties and the loss of many loved ones. The Mahabharata concludes with Yudhishthira ascending the throne and ruling over a peaceful and prosperous kingdom.

The Mahabharata is not just a tale of a war between cousins, but a profound exploration of dharma (duty), karma (action), and the complexities of human nature. It delves into moral dilemmas, ethical choices, and the consequences of our actions.

The polyandrous marriage of Draupadi to all five Pandavas causes social and moral disapproval. However, it is defended by the Pandavas as fulfilling a vow dharma that they had made.

Return from Exile and Kurukshetra War

After the completion of their exile, the Pandavas demand their rightful share of the kingdom from the Kauravas. Duryodhana, however, refuses to yield, and war becomes imminent. Before the battle, Arjuna, troubled by the thought of fighting and killing his own relatives, seeks the advice of Lord Krishna, who teaches him the principles of dharma through the Bhagavad Gita

The kingdoms of Panchala, Dwaraka, Kasi, Kekaya, Magadha, Matsya, Chedi, Pandyas, Teling

The Kurukshetra War, one of the bloodiest battles in ancient Indian history, ensues. The Pandavas fight on the side of dharma, while the Kauravas are depicted as fighting for power and greed. The war sees many great warriors falling on both sides, including Bhishma, Drona, and Karna.

At the end of the war, the Pandavas emerge victorious, but at a great cost. The destruction and loss of life cause grief and remorse for Yudhishthira, who laments the futility of war despite the victory.

After the war, Yudhishthira is crowned king and restores dharma to the kingdom. The Pandavas rule the kingdom together for a while, but eventually, they renounce their kingdom and retire to the forest as ascetics.

The Final Journey

The Mahabharata ends with the Pandavas embarking on their final journey to heaven. One by one, they face many obstacles and tests of virtue, including resisting temptations and facing their sins. Eventually, they reach the Himalayas, where they leave their earthly bodies and ascend to heaven.

The Mahabharata is a complex and multifaceted epic, a treasure trove of myths, legends, and moral lessons. It reflects the societal norms, values, and beliefs of ancient India, revealing the complexities and contradictions of human nature. Its timeless themes of duty, honor, love, and sacrifice continue to resonate with readers today.

The Pandavas Exile

During their exile, the Pandavas face numerous trials and challenges. They spend their first year in the kingdom of King Virata, disguised in different occupations. Yudhishthira becomes a sage and advisor, Bhima takes on the role of a cook, Arjuna disguises himself as a eunuch and teaches dance and music to the king’s daughter, Nakula takes care of the royal horses, and Sahadeva serves as a cattle rancher.

In the final year of their exile, the Pandavas hide in the kingdom of Matsya, taking on various disguises. Arjuna adopts the identity of a eunuch named Brihannala and becomes a dance teacher to the princess Uttara, as they prepare for the Kurukshetra War.

Upon completing their thirteen years of exile, the Pandavas return to Hastinapura and demand their rightful share of the kingdom. However, the Kauravas refuse to honor this agreement, leading to the inevitability of the great war.

The period of exile serves as a time of self-discovery and preparation for the Pandavas. They acquire allies, gather support, and build alliances in the lead-up to the climactic battle against the Kauravas.

The exile phase of the Mahabharata portrays the resilience, determination, and strategic thinking of the Pandavas as they navigate through adversities, patiently waiting for the right time to reclaim their kingdom and restore justice.

The battle of Kurukshetra

The battle of Kurukshetra was a pivotal event in the Mahabharata, with both sides summoning vast armies and lining up for war. The Pandavas had the support of various kingdoms and clans, including Panchala, Dwaraka, Kashi, Magadha, Matsya, Chedi, Pandyas, and the Yadus of Mathura, among others. On the other side, the Kauravas had allies such as Pragjyotisha, Anga, Kekaya, Sindhudesa, Mahishmati, Avanti, Madra, Gandhara, and Kambojas.

Before the war, the great hero Balarama expressed his discontent and chose not to participate, going on a pilgrimage instead. Krishna played a non-combatant role as the charioteer for Arjuna. He also offered the Narayani Sena, consisting of the Abhira gopas, to fight on the side of the Kauravas.

Arjuna, however, was burdened by moral dilemmas as he saw his own relatives and respected figures on the enemy side. He fell into despair and refused to fight. It was during this crucial moment that Krishna delivered the famous teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, reminding Arjuna of his duty as a warrior to fight for a just cause.

As the battle progressed, both sides started resorting to dishonorable tactics. At the end of the 18-day battle, only a few individuals survived, including the Pandavas, Satyaki, Kripa, Ashwatthama, Kritavarma, Yuyutsu, and Krishna. Yudhishthira became the king of Hastinapura, but Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, cursed Krishna, predicting the downfall of his clan.

The battle of Kurukshetra marked the climax of the Mahabharata and had profound consequences for the future of the dynasty and the characters involved. It showcased the complexities of war, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of actions taken in pursuit of power and righteousness.

The Curse

After witnessing the devastating aftermath of the war, Gandhari, who had lost all her sons, curses Krishna for not stopping the war despite being capable of doing so. Krishna accepts her curse, knowing it will come to fruition 36 years later.

The Pandavas, having ruled their kingdom, decide to renounce everything and retire to the Himalayas. Clad in skins and rags, they begin their ascent towards heaven in their physical forms. A stray dog accompanies them on their journey. However, one by one, each brother and Draupadi fall along the way. Yudhishthira, the most virtuous of them all, is the only one who remains, along with the dog.

To Yudhishthira’s surprise, the dog reveals himself to be the god Yama, also known as Yama Dharmaraja. Yama then takes Yudhishthira to the underworld, where he sees his siblings and wife. Yama explains that this was a test and that any ruler must visit the underworld at least once. Yudhishthira is reassured that his siblings and wife will eventually join him in heaven after experiencing the consequences of their actions.

After Yudhishthira’s departure, Arjuna’s grandson, Parikshit, becomes the ruler. However, he tragically dies from a snake bite. In his anger, Parikshit’s son, Janamejaya, decides to perform a snake sacrifice (sarpasattra) to eliminate all snakes. It is during this sacrifice that the tale of his ancestors, including the events of the Mahabharata, is narrated to him.

According to the Mahabharata, Karna, the Pandavas, Draupadi, and the sons of Dhritarashtra eventually ascend to svarga (heaven) and attain the state of the gods. They unite in peace, free from anger and resentments that had plagued them in their earthly lives.

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