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Exploring Indian Epics: The Mahabharata

Romsha Vats   •   26 Jul, 2023   •   8 mins

Let's learn more about one of the most interesting and oldest Indian literary texts!

A wall mural of Lord Krishna and Arjuna riding the chariot during the Mahabharata war. Photo by Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Mahabharata is one of the most well-known and revered literary texts of Indian origin. It is a 200,000 verse-long poem written by sage Ved Vyasa during the ancient period. It majorly revolves around the mythological story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the two warring cousin branches of the Kuru family. The Kurus were rulers of Hastinapur, an ancient kingdom of north India. To better understand the rivalry between the Pandavas and Kauravas, it is essential to know about their family history.

The Kuru family tree. Photo by World History Encyclopedia.


The main story of the Mahabharata revolves around the families of two brothers - Dhritarashtra (elder son) and Pandu (younger son). In ancient kingdoms, usually, the elder-most son succeeded his father as king. But since Dhritarashtra was blind by birth, the crown was passed on to Pandu instead. While he was the king, Pandu brought many territories under his control and amassed great wealth. Once he had ensured the well-being of his kingdom, Pandu decided to hand over all responsibilities to his elder brother and retire into the forest.

Meanwhile, Dhritarashtra married Gandhari and gave birth to a hundred sons and one daughter. The hundred sons of Dhritarashtra came to be known as the Kauravas. On the other hand, Pandu had two wives – Kunti (elder wife) and Madri (younger wife). Since Pandu could not have his own kids, the Gods blessed both Kunti and Madri with sons. Kunti’s three sons were Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna, while Madri gave birth to the twins Nakula and Sahdeva. Collectively, the five sons of Pandu were called the Pandavas.

After the unfortunate death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti migrated back to the Hastinapura palace with her five sons. Thus, the Pandavas and the Kauravas grew up together. While training under Guru Drona, they started displaying signs of competition and jealousy. Duryodhana (the elder-most Kaurava) and Bhima once got into a serious mace fight, while Karna (Duryodhana’s best friend) gave Arjuna tough competition in the game of archery.

A story showing the rivalry between Kauravas and Pandavas. Video by Epified.

Dhritarashtra was only a caretaker king, but his son Duryodhana considered him the actual king and himself his rightful successor. However, to maintain peace in the kingdom, Dhritarashtra crowned Yudhishthira (the elder-most Pandava) as the king after he came of age. That was unacceptable to Duryodhana and the other Kauravas, who wanted to get rid of the Pandavas by hook or crook. Thus, they plotted various strategies to make the life of the five brothers and their mother difficult.

The long-drawn hostility between the two branches of the Kuru family lasted for several years. It finally concluded with the Mahabharata war at Kurukshetra (in modern-day Haryana), where the Pandavas emerged victorious. The Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of the Hindus, forms a part of the Mahabharata epic. It contains all the teachings Lord Krishna imparted to Arjuna on the battleground.

Although the Mahabharata epic is part of Hindu mythology, its story contains life lessons and teachings that apply to everyone. The unique part of this epic is that it does not describe any character as being only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but sees everyone as flawed people capable of making both right and wrong decisions. It also talks about the futility of war and the meaning of life. Thus, it is an outstanding story about human ethics and philosophy. 

General Knowledge Questions on The Mahabharata

  1. Who wrote the Mahabharata?
    Answer: Sage Ved Vyasa
  2. Who was Bheeshma Pitamah?
    Answer: Son of King Shantanu and Ganga. Grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas.
  3. Who was Draupadi?
    Answer: Daughter of the King of Panchala, who got married to all five Pandavas.
  4. Which kingdom was ruled by Lord Krishna?
    Answer: The mythological kingdom of Dwarka, which is said to be located in modern-day Gujarat.
  5. Who founded the kingdom of Indraprastha?
    Answer: The kingdom was founded by the Pandavas around modern-day Delhi.
  6. What was the name of Dhritarashtra’s only daughter?
    Answer: Dushala
  7. Who was King Shantanu’s first wife?
    Answer: Ganga
  8. What was Bheeshma’s original name?
    Answer: Devavrata
  9. What ‘Guru Dakshina’ did Guru Drona ask from his disciple Eklavya?
    Answer: His right thumb
  10. What was the name of Kunti’s fourth son?
    Answer: Karna
  11. Who was the real father of Arjuna?
    Answer: Lord Indra, the Hindu god of thunder and lightning.
  12. Who was the real father of Pandu and Dhritarashtra?
    Answer: Ved Vyasa, the son of Satyavati and sage Parashar.
  13. Who was Satyavati?
    Answer: She was the second wife of King Shantanu.
  14. Who was Shakuni?
    Answer: He was the brother of Gandhari and maternal uncle to the Kauravas.
  15. Who did Duryodhan crown as the ‘King of Anga’?
    Answer: Karna, his best friend.
  16. Who organised the Game of Dice?
    Answer: Shakuni
  17. What happened after the Pandavas lost the Game of Dice?
    Answer: They went into exile for 12 years.
  18. Who was Abhimanyu?
    Answer: Son of Arjuna and Subhadra.
  19. Who was Subhadra?
    Answer: She was the half-sister of Lord Krishna.
  20. Who was the sole successor of the Pandavas?
    Answer: Abhimanyu’s son, Parikshit.
  21. Who was the father of Lord Krishna?
    Answer: Vasudeva
  22. Which son of Dritharashtra survived the Mahabharata war?
    Answer: Yuyutsu, son of Dhritarashtra and a servant maid.
  23. What was the name of Lord Krishna’s foster mother?
    Answer: Yashoda
  24. Who was Ashwatthama? 
    Answer: He was the son of Guru Drona.
  25. What was the only lie ever told by Yudhishthira?
    Answer: He lied to Guru Drona about the death of his son, Ashwatthama.
  26. Who led the Kaurava army?
    Answer: Bhishma, Drona, and Karna led the Kaurava army in that order.
  27. Who led the Pandava army?
    Answer: Dhrishtadyuma, brother of Draupadi and brother-in-law of Pandavas.
  28. Who granted Bheeshma the boon to choose the time of his death?
    Answer: His father, King Shantanu.
  29. How was Lord Krishna related to the Pandavas?
    Answer: Kunti and Vasudeva were siblings. Thus, Lord Krishna was the nephew of Kunti and cousin of the Pandavas.
  30. Who narrated the Mahabharata to King Janamajeya, son of Parikshit?
    Answer: Vaishampayana, a student of Ved Vyasa. 

Quiz on the Mahabharata