5 Lesser Known Tales from the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is often known as the fifth Veda. It has often been said that reading the Mahabharata from start to finish will fill the reader’s mind with such knowledge and enlightenment that he is sure to achieve heaven. Whether or not that is true, the epic is a virtual forest of stories, with new ones taking root every second. Here is a list of five stories that are not that often repeated.

1. Sage and Scribe

vyasa-ganesha

The Mahabharata is said to have been written down by Lord Ganesha, to the dictation of Vyasa. At the beginning of the exercise, Ganesha says to Vyasa, ‘Lord, I shall write for you on one condition; that you recite the verses at such a speed that my pen shall never stop.’ To that Vyasa said, ‘So be it, my lord. In that case my condition is that you shall only write down a verse after you have understood its meaning.’

With this understanding they sat down, and every time Vyasa wanted a break from his recital he would throw in a difficult verse or two for Ganesha to ponder upon, and while the elephant-god thought, the sage rested. Some say that sage and scribe are still at work in some unseen corner in some unknown forest.

2. Pandu’s Last Wish

The-Pandavas

When Pandu, the father of the Pandavas, was about to die, he wished for his sons to partake of his brain so that they inherit his wisdom and knowledge. Only Sahadeva paid heed, though; it is said that with the first bite of his father’s brain, he gained knowledge of all that had happened in the universe. With the second he gained knowledge of the present happenings, and with the third he came to know of all that would occur in the future.

Sahadeva, often relegated to silence in the story along with his brother Nakul, is known for his prescience. He is said to have known all along that a great war would come to cleanse the land, but he did not announce it lest that would bring it about. As it happened, staying silent about it did not help either.

An interesting parallel here with Cassandra, princess of Troy, who had the gift of foresight but also the curse that no one would ever believe her. In contrast to Sehdev, Cassandra chose to rave and rant, and was often derided by her own family as a mad woman.

3. Yudhishtir’s chariot

Death-of-Drona

Yudhishtir’s chariot is said to always float three finger-breadths over the ground due to his pious and righteous nature. Until, that is, he tells a half-lie in the war that Ashwatthama, the elephant, has died. Though not technically a lie, it was a bending of the truth designed to force Dronacharya to renounce his arms, and it was enough of a sin for Mother Nature to pull Yudhishtir’s chariot to the ground with a gentle thud.

And Yudhisthir became one of us.

4. The final journey

Mahabharat_Illustrations

The five brothers and their wife reach the base of the mountain Sumeru, at the top of which live the Gods. Over the course of the journey, everyone except Yudhishtir falls to their death. For each death, Yudhishtir gives a reason: for Draupadi, it was because she was partial to Arjun in her love; for Arjun, Nakul and Sehdev, it was vanity, whether in prowess, looks or wisdom. For Bhim it was gluttony that finally took his life.

After each death Yudhishtir, usually prone to grief, moves on detachedly, without so much as a backward glance. In this final tale, the Mahabharat suggests that our last walks, when they come, will be the loneliest of all, and only by detaching ourselves from the earthly can we truly achieve lasting peace.

5. Parashurama kills the Kshatriyas

Lord Parashurama kills the sinful kings of the world

We’ve often spoke of Karna as a character with a deep identity crisis. Prashurama is another that fits the bill. Though a Brahmin by birth and raising, he has a love for weapons and fighting. He’s given to anger and revenge. In an age when Brahmins were meant to be detached, he found himself bound by the Kshatriya bonds of loyalty, prestige and love. So when he hoists his axe onto his shoulder and sets out to cleanse the Earth of Kshatriyas – to exact vengeance for the murder of his parents by Kartaveerya Arjuna, a Kshatriya king – one gets the feeling that he has raised his arms against his own brothers.

Twenty one times he decimates the Kshatriya race, but each time they come back. This is because the line of the Kshatriyas was measured by the line of the women – which is why Kunti’s sons, even though not sired by Pandu, came to be known as Pandu’s sons.

So if Parashurama really wanted to annihilate the Kshatriyas, he would have done well to kill all the women instead. But he didn’t, perhaps deterred by the precept – a Kshatriya precept – that women should not be fought against in battle.

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Interested in reading more stories from Indian mythology? Download my free eBook, 25 Lesser Known Stories From the Mahabharata, by clicking on the below image.

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Do you know any small stories like this that are not common knowledge but add some flavour to the epic? If so, let me know in the comments below!

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Images Courtesy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Comments

  1. There is the story of muruvarevajra, I shall narrate it to you when we meet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely little post with those small nuggets of information here.

    I know this is shameless self promotion but I also have written posts on Sahadeva’ Secret (http://mahabore.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/sahadevas-secret/) and about Parasurama’s role in the Mahabharata (http://mahabore.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/parasurama-in-the-mahabharata/).

    Do read them and let me know your thoughts on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read both those posts, Jai. I especially liked your Parashurama series where you tell stories of him appearing in both epics. He’s one of those characters (along with sages Vasishta and Vishwamitra) who are always around, no matter what the period 🙂

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    • Raghav Bhatt says:

      But, Sahadeva;s story of wisdom is not from Mahabhaatha, I mean MahBharatha. of Vyasa.(which is the only original Mahabharatha). I dont how such stories will spread in the title of Mahabharatha stories. Some other such stories are Duryodhana getting vajrakaya by Gandhari;s blessing(Not there in Mahabharatha), Shakuni taking revenge for killing of his brothers(May be inspired by chandraguptha Maurya story and introduced by some body later), Pandavas burning Khandava forest to make their capital there( actually Khandava forest was burnt by Krishna and Arjuna to cure the some indigestion of Lord Agni much after Pandavas settled in Indraprastha-at least 15 years later)

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      • Hi Raghav. You’re right. Maybe I should have titled the post: ‘5 Stories Derived From the Mahabharata’ or some such. In fact, in the foreword that I wrote for the ’25 Lesser Known Tales’ book, I do mention that not all of the tales are present in the canon. Some have taken birth in folklore and have persisted as parallel narratives.

        Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

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  3. Pandu’s last wish was certainly strange – imagine a father urging his sons to practice cannibalism by feeding on his dead body, and Sahdev actually acceding to his father’s wish. I believe this to be one of those apocryphal stories which gets supplanted by dabblers in mythology, with their own interpretations.

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    • Yes, Jayant. Most likely apocryphal. I’m also suspicious of Yudhisthir’s chariot story. Surely throughout their lives, one or the other person would have noticed that his chariot floated on air and mentioned it. The fact that it gets such a short mention at the convenient time makes that story doubtful too. But it’s okay. Much of the main story is embellishment anyway 🙂

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  4. “the line of the Kshatriyas was measured by the line of the women” — could you point me to some scriptures/books about this. I never knew this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mamatha,

      Whether or not the son of a king has a claim to the throne depended on who the mother was. Kings regularly had sons by women of ‘lower castes’ – an example being Vidur himself, who, just because he was a maid’s son, didn’t get considered for kingship. On the other hand, in the practice of Niyoga, kings willingly lent their wives to Brahmins and other men and were willing to bring up the resultant off-spring as their own. Example of this is the Pandavas. Though everyone knew that they were not Pandu’s sons, it didn’t matter because they were Kunti’s sons, and Kunti was the wife of Pandu. Therefore, they were Pandu’s sons.

      So we have examples of both cases:
      1. The son of a king won’t become a king unless the mother is of high birth – i.e. a Kshatriya.
      2. The son of the king’s wife will have claim to the throne, whether or not he is sired by the king.

      If we put the two together, we can infer that the line was measured by the ‘status’ of the mother, not the father. Which is why after Parashurama killed the Kshatriya race, they sprang up again. Because all the Kshatriya women must have had sons through Brahmins and re-established the race. It’s not explicitly stated anywhere in the scriptures that this was so. But I think we can infer this.

      Do you agree?

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      • In the second case, I believe, son of the king’s wife will have claim to the throne only if ‘Niyoga’ happened with king’s consent. If that is the case, Karna would not have claim to the throne as his birth was before Kunti’s marriage to Pandu right?

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      • Ah, yes, the conception of the child will have to occur:
        1. While the queen is married to the king
        2. With his consent – or without his knowledge.

        I suppose it is possible for a queen to sleep with another man, have a child, and never tell the king that the boy is not his 🙂

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      • Partho Datta says:

        The Niyoga pratha does not require the king to be alive. Think of the births of Dhritarashtra and Pandu. All this happened after the death of their “father” Vichtravirya. There are three kinds of children mentioned: Adhyora which we would call a natural child, Kshetraja, the kind that Panduetc., were and kaneen, a child born of an unpermitted union

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  5. I heard a different version regarding Sahadev. Not sure of the truth. Though it was Pandu’s wish, Krishna seems to have forbade pandavas against doing so. However, Sahadev when he got a moment alone with his father’s corpse ate one of his father’s toe. When Krishna came to know about this, he cursed Sahadev that he would die if he revealed the future to anyone, so he had to remain silent. This fact is also compared to that of Abhimanyu’s. When Arjuna was telling about chakravyuh to Subhadra, Abhimanyu listened to the story while Subhadra slept. Krishna entered the chamber and interrupted Arjuna. All these Krishna had done to create a balance, he did not want destiny to favor single side.

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    • Hi Mamatha,

      Given that the Pandavas were kids when Pandu died (I think Yudhishtir was nine, which meant Sahadeva must have been three or four), I think it’s highly unlikely that Krishna was in the picture. We know that Pandu’s body was burnt right after his death, because Madri kills herself on the pyre.

      Krishna enters the Mahabharat at Draupadi’s swayamvar, long after Pandu’s body had been burnt. So I think we can safely reject this hypothesis that Krishna was involved in this.

      Having said that, the whole story could be rejected because it’s unbelievable 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • As far as my reading goes, Krishna forbade Sahadev from ever telling what he knew/learnt. For excessive knowledge about the future and consequences of ones deeds can deter that person from the path of correct action.
      Kirshna feared that if Sahadev told Arjun what was the aftermath of the great war, Arjun might never fight. Krishna was right in his guess, and hence his farsightedness made sure that the reason he had descended on Earth was fulfilled (Vinashayacha dushkritam).
      Krishna instructed Sahadev to never tell anyone about the extent of his knowledge, never answer when not asked, and never answer more than he was asked.

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  6. Reblogged this on jurodoslovie.

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  7. purushotham says:

    Its(mahabharatha) a great epic.But full of exaggerations, fictions, fantasies like kauravas birth by cloning, kunthi giving birth to pandavas, draupadi marrying 5 husbands like many incidents reveal us the polyandry system prevailing then.
    Drutharastra was shown an iron statue by krishna when he wanted to embrace Bhima(to kill with his hug)who killed dhuryodhana(his loving son )and to everybody’s surprise the iron statue was crushed by powerful hug of drutharastra.
    This story tells us that the Mahabharatha is of Iron age story.
    Lord krishna is a transmigrated role of the author of the epic who knows everything in advance and keeps quiet for karma theory and teleology.

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  8. hi sharath..
    shall I get the tamil version of whole mahabaharat..if means where I can get??

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  9. Prashan Kumar says:

    Hats off to (Sharath Komarraju) The writer, You really have a great knowledge brother.

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  10. It is great !!!

    The story of Bishm is also epic, he is one of the mahajan ( there are only 12 ) and the greatest devotee of krishna present in the battle field…….though he is just projected as a great warrior which is half truth …. he was a great devotee of krishna also !!

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  11. Reblogged this on sentimentalswordsman.

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  12. every one tells that story what he gets from mahabharata mahabharata is differ for every it is like what u get and what u told…………..

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  13. Ekalavya the Unique Archery Shooter & the extraordinary disciple explains his love to his Guru despite of discrimination.

    Ekalavya was one of the greatest Skillfull Archery Shooter in the Whole Epic Mahabharata. Although he didn’t fought any War or Battle in Mahabharata but he always remembered for his Unique Skill of Archery of which even Arjuna, Karna and Dronacharya among great warriors never equivalent to his war skills.
    Ekalavya was very fond of Archery and War skills he want to learn from Dronacharya whom he adore as his respected and beloved Guru. Dronacharya didn’t want to teach Ekalavya the Yuddha Kala(Combat Art) because he was a outcaste. The Gyaana and Training was only for Brahmins and Kshatriyas so, Dronacharya refused him because of Caste discrimination. Ekalavya didn’t get dishearten and build up a clay sculpture Idol of Dronacharya in a Place to practise war skills. Eklavya started to train himself combat art skills both with weapon and bare hand skills in the name of his Gurudev Dronacharya. One day Guru Dronacharya after teaching his disciples sat for Meditation near his Ashrama. A dog was barking constantly that was distraction of Dronachariya’s medition who tried to concentrate on Dhyaan. Ekalavya knew this was the time of medition of Guru Dronacharya and the barking of dog disturb and distract him. Ekalavya took out his Bow and Arrow to shoot the target. The target was far away he can’t see it only hear the barking. Ekalavya concentrate on the direction exactly where the dog was barking. After confirmed the exact direction Ekalavya released the arrow from his hand and moved to the forest through the bush, hit the target. The arrow hit in so unique way that it move through the lower jaw and upper jaw of the dog making dog alive but unable to bark. Dronacharya opened his eyes and saw the dog stop barking by hit by an arrow. Dronacharya was very much impressed and curious to know who have this unique shooting skill. Dronacharya went to visit to place from where the arrow shot. He was very surpriced to see his clay Idol was worshiped and a young boy was practising combat art despite being a outcaste. Ekalavya was very pleased and delighted to see his Gurudev. Dronacharya asked Ekalavya that if he granted him as his Gurudev then he must give a Guru Dakhsina, although Dronacharya never accepted Ekalavya as his disciple. Ekalavya asked what he want in Guru Dakhsina. Dronacharya asked for his right hand thumb as Guru Dakhsina. Ekalavya know Dronacharya never accept him as disciple and without his thumb he can’t shoot arrows any more. Ekalavya didn’t hesitate to cut his right hand thumb and give it to Dronacharya. Dronacharya took his thumb and leave the place. Dronacharya not only discriminate Ekalavya for being an outcaste but also underestimated his unique skill of Shooting( Archery) that make him fear of more stronger than his beloved disciple Arjuna. So, he asked Ekalavya’s thumb that is the proof enough to explain that Ekalavya was the most skillfull Shooter and the most qualified unique Warrior in the entire Mahabharata Epic. Ekalavya didn’t fought any war but his devotion to his Guru made him the Invincible Person in Mahabharata.

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    • Hi Picasso. Cool name! Thanks for your comment. I’m writing a longer book about the lesser-known characters in the Mahabharata, so I will add Ekalavya to that list. Thank you for your comment 🙂

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    • nishant says:

      Eklavya fought the mahabharta war from kaurava side.
      The reason why drona dint teach him archery was becoz he was a son of tribal chieftan loyal to the magadha empire which was kuru:s enemy so being a loyal employee of kaurav court drona could never teach archery to a person who in future wud fight against him. After jarasangh’s death tho the enemity between magadha and kuru ended and eklavya fought for magadha from kaurav side

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  14. I thought Pandavas were born after Pandu’s death. After Pandu’s death Kunti has to use her power to call Gods. Sorry for my ignorance.

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  15. i think the story of pandu’s death wish is false because pandu’s head blasted when he went near to his wife (as a result of the curse he has upon himself) but the other one were quite informative….

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  16. What is the true reality
    …this is taught by the Mahabharata

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  17. Nice article . Two points I will like to make . As per ancient laws the husband of the woman is the father of her children . This is called as Bija Kshetra Nyay .

    Secondly a Kshatriya by definition would be one who is above 14 years of age and holds weapon . Children do not form part of the war force nor those who drop their weapons or run away . So they attacked when they came of age and courage . That is why he had to retaliate 21 times .

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  18. Bhayankar Bakchod says:

    Misleading title. nothing new in the article. If you think these are “lesser known” tales then I pity your knowledge of Mahabharata. Thoroughly disappointed.

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  19. KARTHIK SATHYAKUMAR says:

    If I’m not mistaken I think I read an article about you couple of days ago in Deccan Herald I think…anyways nice and informative.

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  20. Personally, I have a strong feeling that Homer wrote his epics ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ after reading/hearing about the Mahabharat. The story-lines are so similar.

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  21. anil srivastava says:

    Parshuram did not cleanse the entire kshatriya clan..he just annihilated those kshatriya clans who were responsible for his hardships. Please rectify your article. Rest is fine..

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  22. Mousumi Saha says:

    I Would like to mention another story about Arjuna’a wife ulupi. she was a widow and older than Arjuna. Chitrangada and ulupi with both of them Arjuna got married during his vanabaas period, Arjuna had two sons from them……..these are also not much told stories of Mahabharata. Satyabati ,Queen of The king Shantanu was first named Matsyagandhya as she smelled like fish. After meting with Parasar muni she became Padmagandha meaning who smells like lotus flower. And from their union ved Vyasa the creater of The Mahabharata was born.

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  23. Not interesting

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  24. Anitesh Mukherjee says:

    Thank u for the interesting story.
    Hare krishna

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  25. draupati’s truw love to karna also one of lassser known of mahabharata….

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  26. Mahabharatha is definitely an ocean of stories, which with time and its continuous repetitions has added some edges to itself may be by folklore or by narrators according to their interpretations, for me what is important is how those stories, those thyologies help me learn morals from it… So, Shri Sharath ji, thank you very much for finding out time and writing for us to read…

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  27. I find Indian mythology absolutely fascinating and cannot get enough of it. Appreciate your stories – Pandu’s last wish and Yudhishtir’s chariot were brand new – but was happy to read all of them. Every time I find something new – Ved Vyaas knew what he was talking about when he put in that counter clause 🙂 Thanks.

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