Romsha Vats • 26 Jul, 2023 • 8 mins
Let's learn more about one of the most interesting and oldest Indian literary texts!
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 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.
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.