Welcome to my giant resource of Mahabharata Episodes!
On this page, I am gathering together all the posts that I have written about the various episodes of the Mahabharata.
These encapsulate the entire story in 60 engaging and readable chapters. Perfect if you’re a first-time reader or a long-time fan.
Hope you enjoy them!
Episode 0: Why did the Mahabharata Happen?
The seed of the Mahabharata is sown when Parashurama, the son of Jamadagni, takes a vow that he will exterminate the entire race of Kshatriyas from the face of the earth.
At around the same time, the Asuras have lost yet another battle to the Devas in a bid for supremacy over heaven. So the sons of Diti plot to take over Earth instead and breed evil there.
Duryodhana, Duhsasana, Shakuni, Jarasandha – and all the villains of the story that are later killed by the Pandavas – are examples of such Asuras who take over the power structures of the world.
When Bhoomi the Earth goddess approaches Vishnu with her burden, Vishnu promises her that he would descend in order to kill all the forces of evil.
Other gods also help him in this quest. Notably:
- Prabhasa, the elemental of dawn, takes birth as Bhishma.
- Sesha, the virtuous serpent, becomes Balarama, Krishna’s brother.
- Yama, the lord of justice, is born as Vidura in the womb of a Sudra woman.
- Varchas, the son of Soma, takes birth as Abhimanyu and functions as the pivotal point in the final battle.
Episode 1: Ganga Marries Shantanu
Ganga descends to Earth in order to honour the curse of Vasishtha and to bear the elemental gods in her womb.
She also undertakes this quest so that she can meet her own love, Mahabhisha – who is born in the world of men as Shantanu.
Ganga is instructed to kill the first seven of her children as soon as they’re born, but the eighth – the incarnation of Prabhasa, the elemental of dawn – is to be protected because he is destined to lead a long life on Earth.
However, without knowing any of this, Shantanu silently watches his wife kill seven of his sons and then confronts her on the eighth occasion.
This develops into a quarrel which ends with Ganga leaving Shantanu and taking her child with her.
Sixteen or so years later, the prince returns to his father’s kingdom as Devavrata, and is made the crown-prince.
Episode 2: Satyavati Marries Shantanu
Satyavati, the daughter of a fisherman in a fishing settlement of Hastinapur on the banks of the river Yamuna, is seen and liked by Shantanu when the latter is on a hunting trip.
When the king asks for her hand, Satyavati’s father refuses on grounds that Satyavati’s sons will never acquire any status because the throne of Hastinapur has already been given to Devavrata and his descendants.
A crestfallen Shantanu returns home, but thoughts of Satyavati do not leave him. In order to ease his father’s woe, Devavrata resolves to speak to Satyavati’s father on his own.
During their meeting, after listening to all of the fisher-king’s points, Devavrata not only renounces the kingdom but also makes a vow that he will never touch a woman so as to ensure that he will never have children.
This vow of lifelong celibacy earns him the title of Bhishma.
Episode 3: Amba, Ambika and Ambalika
However, the fisher-king’s best-laid plans fall to waste. Satyavati bears Shantanu two children, Chitrangada and Vichitraveerya. Both of them die before their time.
Chitrangada responds to a challenge to single combat thrown by a Gandharva (of the same name) and succumbs in battle. Vichitraveerya dies shortly after his marriage due to an illness.
However, before he dies, he does rule Hastinapur for a short time.
During this period, Bhishma travels to the country of Kosala and attends the groom-choosing ceremony of three princesses: Amba, Ambika and Ambalika.
He doesn’t bother with participating peacefully in the swayamvara, though. He just abducts the princesses in plain sight after throwing a challenge to all the assembled suitors to stop him if they dared.
His plan is to have Vichitraveerya wed all three women, but Amba tells him that she loves another man, a king called Salva.
Bhishma lets her go – a decision that will come back to haunt him – and makes Ambika and Ambalika queens of the kingdom.
Vichitraveerya dies heirless soon after his wedding, though. This prompts Satyavati to call upon another of her sons, Sage Vyasa, to sire children of Ambika and Ambalika.
Vyasa ends up fathering three boys: Dhritarashtra by Ambika, Pandu by Ambalika, and Vidura by an unnamed Sudra waiting woman.
Episode 4: Kunti, Madri and Gandhari
As the three princes grow into young men, Bhishma clearly favours Pandu to be the next king of Hastinapur. Dhritarashtra is by rights the true heir to the throne, but since he is blind, Bhishma reasons that he cannot be a suitable king.
He arranges for two girls to be married to Pandu: Pritha the princess of Kunti and adopted daughter of Kuntibhoja, and Madri the princess of Madra and younger sister of Shalya.
For Dhritarashtra, Bhishma brings a match from the kingdom of Gandhara. The true name of the woman is unknown because she shall henceforth be called Gandhari.
Gandhari performs one act during her marriage to Dhritarashtra that attracts much comment: she blindfolds herself permanently.
After his wedding, Pandu sets out almost immediately on an expedition of conquest, and establishes himself as the supreme leader of Aryavarta.
Soon after his return, at the behest of Bhishma, Pandu retires into the woods with his two wives and a large retinue of servants – with the ostensible intention of having children.
Episode 5: Pandavas and Kauravas
Early on during Pandu’s ‘honeymoon’, he gets cursed by a sage named Kindama for the sin of shooting at a deer while the animal was in the process of uniting with its beloved.
Kindama decrees that whenever Pandu seeks sex with a woman, he himself will be shot down to death much like the deer.
This plunges Pandu into a state of grief, and he resolves to go with his wives northward to the mountains of Gandhamadana, where he can live a life of penance and austerity.
Soon after their arrival, though, Kunti tells Pandu about her boon – with the help of which she can summon gods to have children – and uses it to give birth to three sons: Yudhishthir, Bhimasena and Arjuna.
She then gives Madri one use of the incantation. The girl summons the Ashwin twins to have sons with. The resultant progeny are named Nakula and Sahadeva.
Meanwhile, Gandhari also gives birth after a long pregnancy – to a grotesque mass of flesh. Vyasa helps her to break it off into a hundred and one pieces which in time become the hundred Kauravas and their sister Dusshala.
Episode 6: Pandu Dies
For a few years after the Pandavas are born, Pandu, his two wives, and five sons live in relative harmony at Gandhamadana.
But one fateful day, Pandu succumbs to desire for Madri and approaches her. True to Kindama’s word, he is struck down by an invisible bolt of lightning, and dies.
Madri decides to ascend Pandu’s funeral pyre, which leaves Kunti as the sole mother and caretaker to all five children. From that point on, she resolves to become as true a mother as she can be to Nakula and Sahadeva as well.
She returns to Hastinapur bearing Pandu and Madri’s corpses. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari give her and the kids a royal welcome.
This event is significant because it represents a tacit admission by Kunti that she indeed wishes her children to live as kings.
Around this time, Vyasa advises Satyavati to leave for the woods. The queen – along with Ambika and Ambalika – does so.
Episode 7: Drona Becomes Acharya
As the royal princes grow into early youth, Bhishma begins to look for a teacher for them. Kripacharya recommends the name of Drona, the husband of his sister Kripi.
Drona is the son of Sage Gautama, and he is named so because he took birth inside a vessel. As a boy he enjoys a close friendship with Drupada, who later grows up to become the king of Panchala.
During their time at Gautama’s hermitage, Drupada off-handedly says that when he becomes king, he will give Drona half his kingdom. Drona naively believes that the prince means the words.
Later, after his marriage and birth of his son Ashwatthama, with the intention of pulling his family out of penury, he approaches Drupada and reminds him of his old word.
In return, Drupada mockingly refers to him as a beggar and insults him in court.
Drona then asks for the help of Kripacharya, who gives him room in his own house to live.
During a chance meeting with the Kuru princes, Drona uses a blade of straw to pull out a ball stuck at the bottom of a disused well.
When Yudhishthir recounts this story to Bhishma, the latter comes personally to meet Drona and assigns him the task of turning the Kuru princes into worthwhile warriors.
Drona thus becomes Dronacharya.
Episode 8: Karna Arrives
At the end of the Kuru princes’ education, Bhishma and Drona arrange for a graduation ceremony: an event during which the princes can exhibit all their skills to a packed crowd of noblemen and commonfolk.
Arjuna is the main draw of the event. He is Drona’s favourite pupil, and the most skilful of all the cousins.
Duryodhana and his brothers are miffed that the ceremony has been set up to be a showpiece for just one man. As they’re about to leave the arena, they come face to face with a warrior who is resplendent like the sun.
He introduces himself as Karna, and proceeds to match Arjuna feat for feat. Just as he is about to challenge the third Pandava for a duel, though, he gets asked by Kripa about his lineage.
This prompts Duryodhana to perform a rare act of nobility: he stands up for Karna’s right as a warrior, and crowns him king of Anga right there so that his duel with Arjuna can proceed unhindered.
Karna’s adopted father Adiratha, however, stumbles onto the stage and embraces him. The entire crowd comes to know at that moment that Karna is nothing more than a charioteer’s son.
Bhimasena is the first to ridicule him, in response to which Duryodhana once again stands by his new friend.
No fighting happens, though. The sun sets at the nick of time, and the ceremony concludes without a flourish.
Episode 9: Invasion of Panchala
As Guru Dakshina, Drona asks his students to invade Panchala and to bring Drupada back to him alive as a prisoner.
The Kauravas take first the first bite of the cherry and fail. They are routed by Drupada’s army. Arjuna and Bhimasena then lead another division of Kuru’s army against Panchala and end up winning.
They bring Drupada back to Drona, who says to his old friend: ‘Your whole kingdom is mine now, Drupada. But I am more magnanimous than you are. I will give you back half your kingdom in the name of our friendship.’
So North Panchala becomes Drona’s, and South Panchala gets given back to Drupada as alms.
Though this episode is often mentioned as an insignificant footnote to the main story, some commentators have theorized that this invasion of Panchala actually had Bhishma’s seal of approval, and that North Panchala becomes annexed to Kuru after the battle.
Drupada, according to this theory, ends up becoming nothing more than a tribute-paying nobleman, which fires up his thirst for revenge and leads to the birth of Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna.
Episode 10: Conspiracy in Varanavata
Duryodhana and Shakuni conspire to send the Pandavas to Varanavata on an ostensible pleasure trip. They commission the construction of a special palace built of wax, to which they plan to set fire one night as the Pandavas are sleeping.
On the eve of their departure, Vidura speaks to Yudhishthir in the language of the Mlechhas, and warns him cryptically to be wary of enclosed spaces, and that secret passageways are a boon to the wise.
The Pandavas are alerted to danger thus, and they spend much of their time in Varanavata digging an underground tunnel. And on a day of their choosing, they set fire to the palace and escape.
As luck would have it, on the same day, a Nishada woman and her five grown sons come to the house looking for shelter and food.
The Pandavas allow these six people to perish in the fire so that Duryodhana might find six charred corpses the morning after and deem his ruse a success.
After their escape, the Pandavas set out into the forest, where Bhima kills a Rakshasa named Hidimba and marries the Rakshasa’s sister, Hidimbi.
Episode 11: Ghatotkacha is Born
After marrying Bhima, Hidimbi takes her husband on a honeymoon of sorts, flying along the skies to pristine lakes and valleys outside the reach of normal men. They visit faraway towns and sport together in hidden gardens.
They give birth to a son named Ghatotkacha – because his bald head has the appearance of a pot. Of the five Pandavas, therefore, Bhima is the first to become a father.
After this, Bhima bids farewell to his wife and son. The Pandavas along with Kunti journey on to the city of Ekachakra.
Here, while living at the house of a Brahmin, Kunti comes to know that a Rakshasa called Bakasura is terrorizing the town. She pledges her son Bhima to visit the Rakshasa for his next meal.
Bhima kills Bakasura and frees Ekachakra of the Rakshasa’s tyranny.
Episode 12: Draupadi Enters
After the killing of Bakasura, Vyasa pays the Pandavas a visit and recommends that they travel to the city of Panchala – where Drupada has called for a swayamvara for his daughter Krishnaa, also known as Draupadi.
Draupadi and her brother Dhrishtadyumna are both born of divine methods during a sacrifice that Drupada conducts soon after his humiliating loss of face to Drona.
He asks for a son that will kill Drona, and in return he receives Dhrishtadyumna – whom a voice proclaims is destined to kill the acharya – and Draupadi – who will cause the destruction of the Kuru race.
The Pandavas attend Draupadi’s swayamvara, where Arjuna completes the task set by Drupada. He wins Draupadi as prize.
Incidentally, also present here is Krishna and Balarama, but merely as spectators not participants. Karna is the one other notable competitor who gets snubbed by Draupadi, who proclaims:
‘I do not wish to be wedded to a Sutaputra!’
Draupadi gets married to all five Pandavas on the advice of Vyasa, after which Dhritarashtra invites the Pandavas back home to Hastinapur.
Episode 13: Exile of Arjuna
After Yudhishthir becomes king in his own right at Indraprastha, Narada pays the Pandavas a visit and advises them that they should have agreed-upon rules according to which Draupadi can be shared amicably between them.
So the Pandavas decide that Draupadi should entertain whichever brother seeks her company first, and that if any of the brothers sees Draupadi with another Pandava, he is to retreat respectfully and give the couple their privacy.
Soon after this is established, however, Arjuna happens to venture into the private chambers of Yudhishthir in order to retrieve the Gandiva (to chase off some robbers), and inadvertently disturbs his elder brother in the company of Draupadi.
Though none of the other Pandavas think this is an offense that deserves punishment, Arjuna sets out on a twelve-year exile.
During this period, he meets and weds three women: a Naga princess called Ulupi, a princess of Manipura called Chitrangada, and Subhadra the sister of Krishna and Balarama of Dwaraka.
He has sons with all of them: Iravan, Babruvahana and Abhimanyu.
By the time he returns home to Indraprastha, Draupadi has already given birth to four sons with the other four Pandavas. He then hastens to have a son of his own by her: Shrutakarma.
Episode 14: Massacre at Khandava
Bhishma and Dhritarashtra decide that the Pandavas ought to be given half the kingdom. They decree that a new city be erected at Khandavaprastha, adjoining the forest of Khandava.
Around the same time, Arjuna and Krishna – in order to cure Agni’s indigestion – set fire to the forest of Khandava, and make sure that none of the living beings that make their home in the woods escape alive.
This conflagration devours thousands and thousands of birds and beasts. Among those to have escaped death during this event is an architect of the Asuras named Maya.
(A Naga named Aswasena also manages to escape. He returns to take revenge on Arjuna at the very end of the Kurukshetra war.)
Yudhishthir engages the services of Maya to build a great hall called the Maya Sabha, which serves as the central administrative location of Indraprastha, the city that the Pandavas build in the land cleared at Khandavaprastha.
Episode 15: The Rajasuya
After the return of Arjuna, Yudhishthir resolves to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice, which will establish him as the emperor of the whole known world.
But Krishna cautions him that as long as King Jarasandha of Magadha is alive, Yudhishthir has no hope of fulfilling his ambition.
As the opening salvo of Yudhishthir’s quest for world domination, therefore, Krishna takes Arjuna and Bhima on a covert mission to Magadha where Bhimasena kills the king in a wrestling match.
After that, the four brothers of Yudhishthir set out in four different directions carrying the message of their elder brother.
At each kingdom they encounter, they offer the ruling king a choice: either fight or accept Yudhishthir’s supremacy.
By and by, the entire world comes under Yudhishthir’s rule. To celebrate this achievement, they invite all their newly acquired allies to attend the Rajasuya sacrifice, during which Yudhishthir will give away much of his wealth to Brahmins.
It is here that Shishupala, the king of Chedi, rises to challenge Krishna in open court.
Episode 16: Krishna Kills Shishupala
Shishupala’s mother is Srutashrava, younger sister of Vasudeva, Krishna’s father. So Shishupala is Krishna’s first cousin. However, his father, Damaghosha, was a strong ally of Jarasandha.
With the death of Jarasandha, the kingdom of Chedi pledges allegiance to Yudhishthir, but Shishupala is unable to resist himself when he sees that Krishna is being given the prime offering at the Pandavas’ Rajasuya.
Shishupala therefore stands at his seat amid the conclave of kings and unleashes a torrent of insults at Krishna – calling him a cowherd, a nobody, a womanizer and so forth.
Many of the Kuru elders attempt to placate him with words, but the king of Chedi proves unstoppable.
It turns out that Krishna has given Srutashrava a promise long ago that he will forgive a hundred sins of Shishupala. Today he sits on Yudhishthir’s throne, silent, until Shishupala’s time runs out.
Then he lets loose the Sudarshana Chakra on the hapless man and kills him.
Episode 17: The Game of Dice
After the Rajasuya, with Yudhishthir seemingly at the height of his power, Vyasa arrives and makes a prophetic claim: that the dynasty of Kuru will be destroyed – not by outside forces but by infighting.
In order to prevent this from happening, Yudhishthir takes a vow that he will obey all of Dhritarashtra’s orders without complaint or question. By doing this, he thinks, he can prevent Vyasa’s prophecy.
Soon after, Duryodhana and Shakuni invite the Pandavas and Draupadi over to Hastinapur for a game of dice. Yudhishthir sits on one side and the king of Gandhara on the other.
Despite knowing the ills of gambling, Yudhishthir agrees to play because the invite comes in Dhritarashtra’s name.
In a series of gambits, Yudhishthir loses his kingdom, his brothers, himself, and finally Draupadi to Duryodhana – in that order.
This prompts Draupadi to ask the question of whether Yudhishthir – having first lost himself – had the right to pledge his wife.
The debate therefore becomes: is Draupadi won or not won?
Episode 18: Yudhishthir Loses Everything
As the game of dice unfolds in the hall of Hastinapur, Draupadi is away in the ladies’ chambers, resting. When the news of Yudhishthir’s loss reaches her through a page, she asks: Did the king lose himself before he lost me? Or did he lose me first?
Back the hall, Duryodhana is infuriated that a mere slave (which Draupadi is now) has the temerity to send a king’s messenger back with a question. He sends Duhsasana to bring her there by whatever means necessary.
So Duhsasana drags Draupadi by her hair and presents her in court, where Draupadi repeats her question.
In the debate that follows, Vikarna – one of the brothers of Duryodhana – takes up Draupadi’s cause and argues that she had not been won and should not have been pledged.
On the other side, Karna argues that Draupadi has been won.
He also says that a woman of five husbands is nothing more than a whore. He instructs Duhsasana to disrobe Draupadi in full view of the court.
As Duhsasana approaches Draupadi, sense prevails in Dhritarashtra’s mind. He gives back Yudhishthir his kingdom and sends them on their way.
But Duryodhana challenges them again to a second dice game, at the end of which the Pandavas are banished into the forest for a twelve-year exile followed by a year of hiding.
Twelve years of aranyavaasa (living in the forest) and a year of agnyaatavaasa (living incognito).
Episode 19: The Pandavas in Exile
Early in their exile, Yudhishthir prays to Surya the sun god and receives from him a gift: a vessel that will always remain full of food for the whole day, every day, until Draupadi has had her meal.
This vessel is called the Akshaya Patra.
At the hermitage of Dhaumya, the Pandavas are visited by the Panchalas and the Yadavas. Draupadi is besotted with grief at the humiliation to which she had been subjected.
Krishna promises her that all these wrongs will be avenged at the proper time.
During a conversation between Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna, the three brothers realize all of a sudden that even if they wished to fight Duryodhana for their lost kingdom, they do not have the strength or skill necessary to defeat Bhishma and Drona.
So Arjuna resolves to go on a quest to collect as many divine weapons as he can so that he will become powerful enough to win Yudhishthir back his kingdom.
Episode 20: Adventures of Arjuna
Arjuna has a number of adventures during his quest to become the most powerful warrior in the world. First, he propitiates Shiva to procure the Pashupatastra from him, after fighting him over the carcass of a wild boar.
Then he makes his way to Amaravati, the kingdom of Indra, where he rejects the amorous advances of Urvashi and earns from her a curse that he will spend a year of his life as a eunuch.
From there, he invades the kingdom of Hiranyapuri and rescues it from the stranglehold of Rakshasas. He also wages war on a race of people called the Nivatakavachas and destroys them.
All of this takes five years. At the end of it, he returns to Kailasa, where he meets the Pandavas who had come there to receive him.
Episode 21: Nahusha the Serpent
Just before the return of Arjuna from his many exploits in Amaravati, during their stay in Kubera’s place, Bhima once goes wandering about and finds himself entrapped by a serpent.
This serpent is named Nahusha. He is strong enough to overpower Bhima in his coils. Just as Bhima is about to lose hope, help arrives from an unexpected source: Yudhishthir.
When Yudhishthir appears, Nahusha lets go of Bhima and focuses on asking the eldest Pandava a set of Dharma-related questions.
In truth, Nahusha is a king who has been cursed by Vasishtha to be a serpent on Earth in a far-flung cave. His condition for freedom is that he will one day meet a king who is well-versed in the scriptures.
Nahusha sees Yudhishthir and knows that he is that man. Yudhishthir answers all of his questions patiently, and thus rescues Bhima from certain death.
Episode 22: Adventures of Bhima
During Arjuna’s absence, Bhima becomes the default protector of his wife and brothers. In one of his adventures, he sets out in the Himalayas to bring a flower for Draupadi and meets with Hanuman, his older brother.
Hanuman tricks him at first by pretending to be an old woman, and then gives his younger brother a lesson in humility. Hanuman also tells Bhima that the Pandavas are destined to win the battle for their kingdom.
He promises that he will grace the chariot of Arjuna and make it well nigh indestructible.
Bhima also defeats the Krodhavasas at the lake of Kubera, after which Kubera invites the Pandavas to live in his garden as guests. Then, when a Rakshasa called Jatasura abducts Draupadi, Bhima kills him.
Episode 23: Duryodhana is Rescued
Now we’re at a point in the story where the Pandavas have returned to the forest of Dwaita to spend their twelfth year of exile.
Duryodhana, at the head of a small division of soldiers and servants, arrives in Dwaita with the express intention of ridiculing the plight of the Pandavas.
Instead, he enters into a quarrel with a group of Gandharvas and gets captured by him.
When Yudhishthir comes to know of this, he counsels Bhima that a family should be united when confronted by a common foe. Bhima and Arjuna thus go out to lead the Kuru army against the Gandharvas.
As it turns out, the leader of the Gandharvas is none other than Chitrasena, who taught Arjuna dance in Amaravati.
In all this, Karna flees the battlefield at the first opportunity, not even bothering to fight for the sake of his friend. This is another example of Karna’s cowardice when the stakes are high.
Duryodhana is overcome by shame at this incident. He tries to give up his life in despondence, but all the Danavas together breathe their energies back into him.
Episode 24: Karna Conquers Everything
Soon after Duryodhana returns to Hastinapur after being rescued by the Pandavas, Karna sets out on an expedition of conquest.
He succeeds in fighting and defeating many of the great kings of the world – including Drupada, Bhagadatta and Rukmi.
He also meets with the Vrishnis, and though he does not fight them, he strengthens the alliance between Dwaraka and Hastinapur.
On his return, he tells Duryodhana that the time has come for a second Rajasuya, one that will outshine Yudhishthir in its brilliance.
But Duryodhana’s sages advise him that it is not proper to perform a Rajasuya while the king who performed it is still alive.
As an alternative, they suggest that a golden plough be made to represent Karna’s achievement, and that Duryodhana should till the land with it.
Though the people are Hastinapur are underwhelmed by this ‘second Rajasuya’, Duryodhana goes ahead and anoints himself emperor, to the applause of Karna and Shakuni.
Episode 25: Jayadratha Abducts Draupadi
During the Pandavas’ time in the forest of Kamyaka just as their exile is coming to an end, Jayadratha spots and abducts Draupadi when the Pandavas are not at home.
This is a foolish move at best, and if he thinks he can get away with it the illusion is shattered almost immediately. The Pandavas give chase, catch up with Jayadratha, and rescue their wife.
Bhimasena wants to kill the king, but Yudhishthir suggests that they should be more merciful of him because he is the husband of Dusshala.
Reluctantly, Bhima lets Jayadratha go, but not before shaving his head and leaving behind five tufts of hair.
Thus humiliated, Jayadratha prays to Lord Shiva and secures from him a boon that he will be able to stand up to the Pandavas (with the exception of Arjuna) on one day of the upcoming battle.
This happens during the thirteenth day, when Jayadratha holds the Chakravyuha from breaking after Abhimanyu has sliced it open.
Indirectly, therefore, he becomes the warrior most responsible – as seen by Arjuna anyway – for Abhimanyu’s death.
Episode 26: Karna is Defanged
Toward the end of the Pandavas’ twelfth year of exile, Indra visits Karna in the garb of a Brahmin and asks for his divine armour and earrings.
Karna gets prior warning of this: Surya visits him in a dream and warns him that Indra is going to arrive. He advises him not to give up his armour because that will weaken him significantly.
However, Karna says, ‘If Indra himself comes to me and asks for something, how can I refuse?’
Karna therefore willingly gives up the one thing that makes him as powerful as Arjuna. In return, Indra gives him the Vasava dart, which can be used with devastating effect – but only once on one enemy.
After this incident, Karna earns the name of ‘Karna’ – which means ‘peeler of self’. Until before this, he is known widely by his given name of Vasusena.
There is some confusion as to when this incident happens: some details in the text suggest that Karna has already given up his armour by the time he appears at the graduation ceremony.
Some contend that Karna has his divine powers until just before the Mahabharata war.
Episode 27: The Yaksha Prashna
Near the fag end of the Pandavas’ exile, one day in the forest of Dwaita, the five brothers set out to capture a golden deer in order to help a sage whose possessions were stolen by the animal.
But the deer proves to be elusive. He exhausts, tires and frustrates the Pandavas. While they’re resting under a tree, Yudhishthir requests Sahadeva to go in search of water and bring back some for the rest of the brothers.
Sahadeva leaves and does not return. Yudhishthir sends Nakula, and then Arjuna and Bhima, on his trail. But none of them come back.
Worried – and also curious, because what danger can befall such heroes? – Yudhishthir sets out and finds his four brothers lying prostrate on the bank of a clear lake.
As far as he can see, his four brothers are dead. As he approaches the water, a Yaksha appears and tells him, ‘I told each of your brothers that they cannot drink from the lake until they’ve answered my questions, and they did not listen.’
Yudhishthir does listen, though. He patiently answers all of the Yaksha’s questions satisfactorily, and rescues all his four brothers.
The Yaksha, incidentally, happens to be Yama in disguise. He blesses his son with all the wealth and prosperity in the world, and promises him that their year of incognito will pass successfully.
Episode 28: Entry into Virata’s Court
For their year of hiding, the Pandavas decide upon the kingdom of Matsya, ruled by Virata.
They choose to live in the king’s court and not as common villagers because that would keep them connected to news concerning Duryodhana.
Yudhishthir becomes Kanka and enters the court of Virata as a Brahmin scholar. Bhima is Valala (sometimes called Vallabha) the cook.
Arjuna assumes the form of the eunuch Brihannala and teaches dance to Uttara, Virata’s daughter.
Draupadi offers herself as a Sairandhri to Sudeshna, Virata’s wife and queen. Nakula and Sahadeva take the names of Granthika and Tantripala, so that they can become employees at the king’s stables and cowsheds respectively.
Before they arrive at Virata’s court, they bundle up their weapons and hide them on the topmost branch of a sami tree in the middle of a deserted cemetery.
Episode 29: Kichaka is Killed
The first ten months of the Pandavas’ year of hiding are reasonably smooth. But then, Kichaka, brother of Sudeshna and commander of Virata’s army, catches a glimpse of the Sairandhri Draupadi and desires to possess her.
Draupadi had initially taken a promise from Sudeshna that she would never be expected to enter the bedchamber of the king or any of his noblemen.
She tells Sudeshna that she is the wife of five Gandharvas who take a dim view of such matters.
But now, with her own brother making a request, Sudeshna yields, and sends Draupadi on a pretext to Kichaka’s chamber.
Draupadi warns Kichaka that acts of this sort will prove to be dangerous to him, but of course that makes Kichaka’s desire only stronger.
In a mirror-image of the scene of her disrobing thirteen years ago, Kichaka chases Draupadi into Virata’s hall when the court is in session. He tries to disrobe her in open view, calling her a mere Sairandhri.
And this time too, Yudhishthir watches mutely. But he rises in his seat and instructs Draupadi to leave for Sudeshna’s chambers. ‘Your five Gandharva husbands will come to your aid,’ he promises.
That very night, Draupadi visits Kichaka and tells him to come visit her in the empty dance hall. Waiting for him there is Bhimasena, disguised as Draupadi.
After a long fight, Bhima kills Kichaka and avenges Draupadi’s humiliation.
Episode 30: Brihannala Defends Matsya
At the death of Kichaka, it becomes common knowledge in the region that Virata’s army is now much weaker than it used to be. Duryodhana seizes the opportunity to raid and steal some of the cattle of Matsya.
Assisting him in this project is Susharma, king of the Trigartas. The plan is to launch a two-pronged attack: Susharma will invade the northwestern region of Matsya and draw its army out.
Meanwhile, a division of the Kuru army led by Duryodhana will steal into the city through the northeastern gates to steal its cattle.
However, what the Kauravas don’t know is that Virata has the support of the Pandavas. Valala, Kanka, Granthika and Tantripala ride out with Virata to meet the Trigartan army.
They have no problems defending that part of the kingdom.
But to meet the Kuru army on the northeastern front, there is only Bhuminjaya (also called Uttara Kumara), Virata’s son – and Brihannala the eunuch.
As it turns out, though, that’s enough. In a fantastic display of prowess, Arjuna – in the garb of Brihannala – defeats the entire Kuru army on his own and rescues Matsya’s cattle.
Bhuminjaya performs the role of Arjuna’s charioteer in this momentous battle.
Episode 31: The End of the Virata Parva
After the ‘battle of the cattle’, the Pandavas reveal themselves to Virata. The king is consumed by shame that he has treated the Pandavas and Draupadi as servants all these months.
But the Pandavas are both grateful and magnanimous. Virata offers the hand of his daughter Uttara to Arjuna, but the latter – protesting that it would be improper for a teacher to wed his student – accepts the princess as wife to his son, Abhimanyu.
At the wedding of Abhimanyu and Uttara, the Vrishnis and the Panchalas congregate to bless the couple – and also to strategize about what should happen now with regards to Hastinapur’s throne.
These discussions happen in Upaplavya, the capital city of Matsya. Krishna advocates for peaceful resolution, but Satyaki and Drupada are among those that are clamouring for war.
The Virata Parva ends with the Pandavas actively on the lookout for allies.
Episode 32: Krishna Becomes Charioteer
The biggest and most powerful kingdom besides Kuru is Anarta, whose king Balarama rules from the seaside city of Dwaraka.
Both Arjuna and Duryodhana arrive at Dwaraka at the same time to ask Krishna to fight on their side.
Krishna professes equal love for both the Kauravas and the Pandavas, and makes them this offer:
‘One of you can have me, but only in the capacity of an adviser. I will not fight. The other side can have all of my Narayana sena, the army of cowherds.’
He lets Arjuna have first pick. The latter has no hesitation in picking Krishna. Duryodhana, for his part, is bemused at Arjuna’s choice, and is secretly happy at the lot he has drawn.
Duryodhana then goes to Balarama and asks for support from the army of Anarta. But Balarama hedges and says, ‘Anarta is not going to fight this war, O Kaurava.’
So the official stance of Anarta during the war of Kurukshetra is that of a neutral observer.
All the Pandavas and Kauravas prepare a list of their respective allies, after which the first round of negotiations can begin.
Of all of these allies, the most significant in hindsight is Shalya, who intends to fight on the side of the Pandavas but is tricked by Duryodhana to fight for him.
However, Shalya agrees to act as a spy on Yudhishthir’s behalf. His assigned role is to become Karna’s charioteer at a crucial time in the battle and to sabotage his efforts against Arjuna.
Episode 33: Krishna Makes Peace
Krishna makes one final attempt to broker peace between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
He visits Dhritarashtra’s court in Hastinapur and makes a statement that contains logic, appeals to righteousness, and warnings of destruction.
But none of it works. Duryodhana is stubborn in his belief that Krishna is all empty talk. He cannot consider the possibility that the Pandavas are more powerful than Bhishma, Drona, Ashwatthama, Kripa, Shalya and Karna combined.
Krishna tells Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas are not interested in power. ‘They’re fatherless, O King,’ he says.
‘They want you to be their father. They merely wish to serve at your feet, as your vassals. Please give them five villages in the kingdom and they will be content.’
But Duryodhana scornfully says that he will not part with even a needle’s eye’s worth of land.
He even tries to capture Krishna and to throw him into a dungeon so that he will not be able to help the Pandavas in the war. But Krishna, of course, stops him by displaying his divine form.
Episode 34: The Vishwaroopa
When knowledge of Duryodhana’s intentions dawns upon Krishna, he addresses the prince and says, ‘Duryodhana, you think I am one person, therefore you think you can apprehend me. But look – look at me.’
He enlarges his form to show the entire universe contained in his person. The Adityas, the Rudras, the Vasus, the Saptarishis, Brahma, Rudra, the Yakshas, the Gandharvas, the Rakshasas – everyone is within him.
‘Look at all that is in me, and all that I am in,’ he says. ‘Do you still think you can capture me?’
The kings at the assembly, with the exception of Drona, Bhishma and Vidur, are blinded by this vision, and they all close their eyes. But in their hearts they all realize, by some intangible, magical force, just how powerful Krishna is.
After a few moments of holding this grand pose, Krishna resumes his human form, and with Satyaki on one arm and Kritavarma on the other, leaves the assembly hall to mount his chariot outside.
Episode 35: Karna Rejects a Bribe
On his way back from Hastinapur to Upaplavya, Krishna seeks a private audience with Karna on the outskirts of the city. Here he reveals to Karna the secret of his birth – that he is not the son of Adiratha but of Kunti.
In effect, he is the eldest of the Pandavas. ‘If you come to fight on the side of your brothers, O Hero,’ says Krishna, ‘the whole world is yours to rule.
‘You will be king. Yudhishthir and the other Pandavas will love and respect you. Draupadi will be your queen!’
But despite being offered everything that he has ever desired, Karna embraces his destiny and calls himself a Sutaputra.
‘I was born a Sutaputra, Krishna. I will die one. And I will not forsake Duryodhana in this moment of need.’
Krishna leaves Hastinapur empty-handed, therefore. Later, Kunti meets with Karna privately and once again tries to sway him onto the side of the Pandavas. But Karna once again resists.
However, he does give her a promise that he will not seek to kill any of the Pandava brothers except for Arjuna. ‘So no matter what happens in the war, my lady,’ he says, ‘you will still have five sons at the end of it.’
Episode 36: Dhrishtadyumna Leads
Dhrishtadyumna is elected commander of the Pandava forces. There are seven akshauhinis in the army.
The Pandava think-tank considers Drupada and Virata for the post as well, but favour Dhrishtadyumna because of his youth and also his destiny to kill Drona.
On the other side, Bhishma is unanimously elected commander of the Kaurava forces. There are eleven akshauhinis in this army.
Bhishma, however, places a condition that he will only fight if Karna does not. A number of quarrels have arisen between Bhishma and Karna in the past, so the grandsire thinks that these will only detract from the goal of the war.
Before Duryodhana replies, Karna agrees that this is for the best. So it happens that Duryodhana is left without the services of Karna for the first ten days of the war.
Episode 37: Rathas and Atirathas
Duryodhana asks Bhishma at the beginning of the war as to how his army stacks up against the Pandavas’. More specifically, he wants to know who among his warriors are Rathas and who Atirathas.
(An Atiratha is said to be eight times more powerful than a Ratha.)
Kritavarma, Shalya, Drona and Bhagadatta are – according to Bhishma – atirathas. As for himself, he modestly says he doesn’t mind being in either category. But of course, the world knows that he is an atiratha.
On Ashwatthama, Bhishma opines that the warrior is capable of being an atiratha when measured by skill alone. ‘But his mind and temperament,’ he says, ‘is that of a ratha.’
When it comes time to classify Karna, Bhishma mockingly calls him half-a-ratha. This once again sets up a shouting match between Karna and Bhishma, with the former walking out in a huff.
On the Pandava side, Bhishma cites Arjuna in a class of his own, higher even than an atiratha. Bhimasena, Abhimanyu, Dhrishtaketu, Satyaki, and Ghatotkacha are among the important atirathas in that army.
Episode 38: Amba and Shikhandi
At this point, Bhishma also tells Duryodhana about another weakness of his: that he will not fight Shikhandi, the son of Drupada. When Duryodhana asks why, Bhishma replies, ‘Because by birth he was a woman.’
Duryodhana is surprised by this, and to assuage his curiosity Bhishma recounts the tale of Amba, the princess of Kosala whom he had abducted long ago to marry Vichitraveerya.
It so happens that Amba, after being given leave by Bhishma to go to her lover Salva, is rejected by the king on ground of honour.
When she returns to Hastinapur, she finds that her sisters have already married Vichitraveerya, and that the prince is also not interested in marrying her.
Amba then asks Bhishma to marry her, but of course he refuses as well.
Blaming Bhishma for her desperate plight, Amba goes off into the forest and performs severe austerities in praise of Shiva. She receives a boon that she will be able to kill Bhishma in her next life.
Eager for that next life to arrive immediately, Amba kills herself. She takes birth as Shikhandini, a princess in Drupada’s court. Later in life, Shikhandini transforms into a man thanks to a Yaksha’s curse.
Bhishma concludes that because Shikhandi was in fact a woman, he will not fight him.
Episode 39: The Bhagavad Gita
As the armies face off against each other on the field of Kurukshetra, Arjuna gets disheartened upon seeing his uncles, cousins and preceptors lined up against him.
He throws off his Gandiva and tells Krishna that he is unable to fight. ‘What wealth will I enjoy, Krishna,’ he asks, ‘if I gain it by shedding the blood of my kinsmen?’
This acts as a leading question for Krishna to launch into conversation with Arjuna that becomes the Bhagavad Gita.
The two fundamental points of the Bhagavad Gita are:
- Renunciation is the act of renouncing oneself not from action but from consequences of action. Because the result of an action is a combination of many unforeseen events, one must detach oneself from it. One must be wholly attached to action.
- Of all the most debilitating ills of the human mind, the two most important are fear of failure and expectation of success. In order to achieve peace of mind, a man must learn to let go of both of these.
After the Bhagavad Gita has been imparted to Arjuna, the hero regains his confidence and once again picks up the Gandiva.
Episode 40: The Kurukshetra War Begins
At the beginning of the war, Yudhishthir rides out in his chariot over to the other side of the field in order to seek blessings from Bhishma and Drona.
During this time, both these warriors give subtle hints on how to defeat them. Bhishma says that he will not fight a woman, and Drona reminds Yudhishthir that he cannot be defeated until he is forced to lay down his weapons.
Krishna approaches Karna and offers him one last chance to switch sides. Karna refuses.
Yudhishthir makes a general call to everyone in the battlefield to say that if anyone wishes to switch sides, this would be a good time. Yuyutsu, one of the brothers of Duryodhana, comes over to fight on the Pandavas’ side.
No reason is given for Yuyutsu’s late change of heart. But in hindsight, it turns out to be an excellent personal decision. He ends up becoming one of the few men to survive the war.
Next, the two sides agree upon the general rules of ‘righteous combat’ – or Dharma Yuddha. After this, the battle commences.
Episode 41: Krishna Almost Fights
The first ten days of the Mahabharata war are perhaps the least eventful. Bhishma fights in such a manner that the balance never really shifts between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
On two separate occasions, Arjuna finds it impossible to fight against Bhishma, and both times Krishna threatens to fight.
Bhishma welcomes this act of aggression from Krishna, because he knows that once Krishna fights, the battle will come to an end.
At the end of Day 9, Krishna tells the Pandavas that it is impossible to win the war without first removing Bhishma from battle.
Together, they go to Bhishma’s tent in the Kaurava camp and ask him how he can be killed.
And Bhishma tells them that the only way is to fight him while using Shikhandi as a shield.
Episode 42: Bhishma Falls
On the tenth day of the war, the Pandavas arrange their forces such that Shikhandi is always going to be facing Bhishma. The idea is for Arjuna to fight alongside Shikhandi so that Bhishma can be eliminated.
Despite this, Bhishma fights with such intense fervour that he alone appears to be the one sliver of hope for peace on the battlefield. He stations himself between the two armies like a mountain, irrepressible.
Krishna once again encourages Arjuna to execute the plan properly. Fighting from behind Shikhandi, Arjuna shoots thousands of arrows that pierce Bhishma.
As he begins to waver, Bhishma announces: ‘I am falling to the shafts of Arjuna, not Shikhandi!’
With arrows sticking out of his body, Bhishma finally falls and remains suspended in mid-air. His head is unsupported and falls off to the back.
He asks Arjuna to arrange for a pillow, which the third Pandava does by shooting three arrows into the earth and lifting the grandsire’s head to rest on them.
Bhishma doesn’t quite die until long after the war is finished. But this effectively removes him from the battlefield. From the next day onward, it is Drona who commandeers Duryodhana’s forces.
Episode 43: Drona Creates the Chakravyuha
Two important events happen on the eleventh day of the war: Drona becomes commander, and Karna returns to the fold.
The fighting takes on a more ruthless form with Drona at the helm. The preceptor promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthir, but on the eleventh and twelfth days, he fails because of Arjuna’s intervention.
This twelfth day of battle is also notable for the death of Bhagadatta, the ruler of Pragjyotisha whom Bhishma classified as an atiratha. He meets his death at the hands of Arjuna.
On the night of the twelfth day, he makes a vow that he will kill at least one Pandava atiratha on the thirteenth day. In order to facilitate this, he creates an impenetrable array shaped like a chariot-wheel – called the Chakra Vyuha.
Drona also assigns the task of distracting Arjuna to the Trigartan army led by Susharma. These soldiers take the vow of death on this evening, and they acquire the name of Samshaptakas (‘those who have vowed to conquer or die’).
Episode 44: Abhimanyu Dies
On the thirteenth day of battle, with the Chakravyuha taunting the heroes on the Pandava side, Yudhishthir turns to young Abhimanyu to help them penetrate the array.
Abhimanyu agrees to take on the mantle, but he reminds Yudhishthir that he knows only to enter the Chakravyuha, not to exit it. Arjuna had not yet taught him that skill.
Bhimasena, Satyaki, Nakula and Sahadeva assure Abhimanyu that they will follow him closely into the Vyuha. ‘All you have to do is enter it, my son,’ says Bhima, ‘and we will break it open.’
But foiling that plan is Jayadratha, the king of the Sauviras, who stations himself at the mouth of the Chakravyuha and makes sure that it remains intact even after Abhimanyu has entered it.
As a result, Abhimanyu finds himself alone inside the Chakravyuha. He unleashes a torrent of destruction on the Kaurava forces, killing a whole akshauhini of troops.
But at the end, against the combined might of Drona, Karna, Kritavarma, Shalya, Ashwatthama and Kripacharya, Abhimanyu falters and dies.
Drona thus keeps his promise to Duryodhana – of killing one Pandava atiratha.
Episode 45: Arjuna Takes an Oath
On the evening of the thirteenth day, as Arjuna returns after a whole day of fighting the Samshaptakas, he immediately realizes that Abhimanyu has been killed.
After breaking down in sorrow and berating his brothers for not being able to protect ‘a mere child’, he asks Yudhishthir to narrate to him exactly how Abhimanyu met his death.
On hearing the story, Arjuna reaches the conclusion that the person most responsible for Abhimanyu’s death is Jayadratha.
He takes an oath that he will kill Jayadratha by the end of the fourteenth day – or consign himself to flames if he fails.
When Jayadratha hears of this, he considers fleeing and protecting himself from Arjuna’s wrath. But Duryodhana assures him that the entire Kaurava army on the fourteenth day will be vested with one purpose: of keeping him safe.
Drona, for his part, designs yet another ‘impenetrable’ array in three layers: a Sakata Vyuha (or a box formation), a Padma Vyuha (a lotus formation), and a Soochi Mukha Vyuha (a needle formation) laid end to end.
He places Jayadratha at the very end of the tip of the needle, right at the back, surrounded by six atirathas.
Episode 46: Arjuna Kills Jayadratha
On the fourteenth morning, the first warrior Arjuna faces is Drona at the mouth of his array. After tarrying with him for a bit, on Krishna’s urging, Arjuna passes his preceptor without fighting him.
Once inside the formation, Arjuna makes a beeline for Jayadratha, killing Vinda and Anuvinda of Avanti, and also defeating Kritavarma.
At a point in time, when his horses get tired, he jumps off the chariot and fights on foot while Krishna tends to the beasts.
A battle occurs between Duryodhana and Arjuna in which the former wears a special armour created for him by Drona. Because of it, all of Arjuna’s arrows slip off the breastplate instead of piercing it.
Despite this, Arjuna defeats his enemy by aiming his arrows at his fingernails and wrists.
When he reaches Jayadratha, Krishna tells Arjuna that Jayadratha’s father Vriddhakshatra has earned a boon that whoever causes his son’s head to hit the ground will have his own head shattered into a thousand pieces.
So Arjuna beheads Jayadratha with an arrow, and sends the severed head into the air higher and higher with a continuous volley of shafts.
He causes the head to fly out of the battlefield into the nearby forest, and onto the lap of Vriddhakshatra, who happens to be performing his austerities there.
Thus Arjuna manages to kill both Jayadratha and Vriddhakshatra at the same time.
Episode 47: Satyaki Kills Bhurishrava
While Arjuna is fighting deep inside the Kaurava ranks, Yudhishthir finds himself worrying about his younger brother. He sends Satyaki on Arjuna’s trail with instructions to report back with news.
Satyaki assigns the protection of Yudhishthir to Bhima, and sets out to penetrate Drona’s array. Like Arjuna, he also passes the preceptor without fighting him.
Once inside, though, he lets loose on the Kaurava forces with such venom that he kills a whole akshauhini of troops.
Just as he spots Arjuna, though, Satyaki gets into a battle with Bhurishrava. The latter gains ascendancy in the duel, and just as he is about to cut off the head of Satyaki, Arjuna severs the raised arm of Bhurishrava with an arrow shot from behind.
Bhurishrava is thunderstruck that Arjuna has resorted to such unfair means of attack. With his head hung in disappointment, he renounces his weapons and sits down to meditate.
Satyaki then seizes the opportunity to pick up a sword and cut off Bhurishrava’s head with one savage swipe.
This incident draws plenty of rebuke from everyone, including Arjuna and Krishna. But Satyaki is unrepentant. Later, Dhrishtadyumna will also kill Drona in a similar way.
Episode 48: Bhima Roars
While Satyaki and Arjuna are inside Drona’s array, Yudhishthir is once again worried for the both of them. He sends Bhimasena in their wake with instructions to yell at the top of his lungs when he spots the two warriors.
Bhima sets out like Arjuna and Satyaki before him, but at the mouth of the array, when he confronts Drona, he chooses to fight and defeat him instead.
After defeating Drona, Bhima fights and kills Vikarna, the brother of Duryodhana who supported Draupadi during her disrobing. Bhima sheds a few tears at his cousin’s death, and speaks kindly to the corpse before marching on.
A long, drawn-out battle takes place between him and Karna, during which they trade blows back and forth. At the end, however, Karna has Bhima at his mercy, but lets him go in order to honour his promise to Kunti.
At the end of Bhimasena’s quest, he meets Arjuna and Satyaki. As promised, he lets out a leonine roar that carries all the way back to Yudhishthir and gladdens his heart.
In all, Arjuna, Bhima and Satyaki kill seven akshauhinis of Kaurava troops on this fourteenth day, plunging Duryodhana into despair.
Episode 49: Karna Kills Ghatotkacha
Battle continues into the night on the fourteenth day. The Rakshasas enter the fray, with Ghatotkacha using his entire array of illusions and weapons to terrorize the Kaurava army.
Ashwatthama is the one warrior who is able to hold Ghatotkacha back. The son of Drona distinguishes himself repeatedly on this night, taking on the entire horde of Rakshasas single-handedly and giving Duryodhana some respite.
After this defeat, Krishna gives Ghatotkacha a mission to attack and kill Karna, which the Rakshasa eagerly accepts.
The battle between Ghatotkacha and Karna is a terrible one. Karna proves to be more than a match for the son of Bhima, but the magical illusions and visions conjured by Ghatotkacha put the fear of hell into the minds of the Kaurava soldiers.
They all cry out in help, calling to Karna to rescue them. ‘Use your Vasava dart,’ they say. ‘If we don’t survive today, there will be no battle against Arjuna tomorrow.’
Karna, in a moment of weakness, draws out the Vasava weapon and hurls it at Ghatotkacha, killing him on the spot. This brings about a whoop of delight from Krishna, because now Karna is no longer a threat to Arjuna.
Episode 50: Drona Dies
On the fifteenth morning, Drona turns up in a fearsome avatar to and begins to use all his skills against the Panchala and Somaka forces.
Krishna tells Yudhishthir, ‘If the preceptor continues to fight like this, you will have no army left.’
When Yudhishthir asks Krishna how Drona might be defeated, Krishna replies, ‘If he is convinced that Ashwatthama is dead, then he will surely renounces his weapons.’
So Bhima goes away and kills an elephant named Ashwatthama. He returns to tell Drona that Ashwatthama is dead. When Drona continues to fight, Bhima taunts him and asks:
‘What kind of Brahmin are you, who continues to fight despite knowing that his son is dead?’
Drona is not sure that Bhima is speaking the truth. So he asks Yudhishthir if it is true. ‘Is Ashwatthama dead?’
And Yudhishthir replies, ‘Yes, Ashwatthama is dead.’ In a lower voice, he adds: ‘The elephant.’
But of course, Drona has already gone into a state of shock at Yudhishthir’s confirmation. With a loud shout of encouragement for all the Kaurava warriors, he announces that he is setting aside his weapons.
He sits down in the terrace of his chariot to meditate. Dhrishtadyumna picks up a sword and beheads Drona, even as Arjuna is calling out, ‘No!’
Episode 51: Arjuna Kills Karna
After Drona’s death, Karna becomes the commander of Duryodhana’s troops. During the entirety of the sixteenth day, he tries in vain to fight and beat Arjuna.
At the end of the sixteenth day, he asks Duryodhana to appoint Shalya as his charioteer. His reasoning is that the only thing that separates him from Arjuna is the quality of the charioteer.
Duryodhana agrees to this proposal, and though Shalya is taken aback that he is being asked to man the chariot of a Sutaputra, he puts on a brave face and agrees to do it – not least because he has promised Yudhishthir that he would.
Throughout the seventeenth day, Shalya fills Karna with taunts, and he keeps singing the praises of Arjuna and Krishna.
Even during the battle between the two, Shalya offers no support to Karna, and therefore becomes one of the reasons for Karna’s defeat.
During the final battle, a Naga named Aswasena also makes an appearance. He is one of the survivors of the conflagration at Khandava, and he has come to avenge his mother’s death.
He transforms into an arrow and asks Karna to shoot him in Arjuna’s direction.
But just as the arrow is about the hit Arjuna in the head, Krishna stamps with his foot on the chariot, causing it to sink a couple of inches. The arrow therefore knocks off Arjuna’s crown instead.
After this, Karna’s chariot gets stuck in the mud. When he asks Shalya to drag the wheel out, Shalya refuses. Karna himself has to jump off the vehicle to lift it back to hard ground.
He asks Arjuna for a few moments of respite.
But Krishna advises Arjuna to shoot at Karna right then. The arrow from Arjuna beheads Karna and kills him.
Episode 52: Duryodhana Disappears
After the death of Karna, Shalya is anointed commander of Duryodhana’s forces. For about half a day he holds the battle together, but around afternoon of the eighteenth day, he meets his death at the hands of Yudhishthir.
At around the same time, seeing his numbers dwindle, Duryodhana flees the battlefield and hides at the bottom of a lake.
Meanwhile, Arjuna finally ends his long-standing battle with the Samshaptakas by killing Susharma, the king of the Trigarta army. Sahadeva also fulfills his vow of killing Shakuni.
Yuyutsu, the brother of Duryodhana who had chosen to fight on the side of Yudhishthir, now enters the city of Hastinapur to carry the news of the Pandavas’ victory to the people and to the women of the royal house.
Episode 53: Bhima Defeats Duryodhana
The Pandavas find Duryodhana at the bottom of the lake, and force him to come out to fight. Yudhishthir makes him an offer that he can fight any one of the Pandavas, and if he wins, he can have the kingdom back.
Krishna is enraged at this gesture of foolishness from Yudhishthir. Though Duryodhana chooses Bhima to fight against, Krishna wonders whether Bhima is strong enough to defeat Duryodhana in single combat.
Bhima, of course, is confident. Once the fight begins, though, he realizes that Duryodhana’s skill with the mace is second to none.
As the fight wears on and on, Krishna tells Arjuna that the only way they can triumph is if Bhima hits Duryodhana below the belt.
Arjuna slaps at his thigh meaningfully when he catches his brother’s eye next. Bhima gets the message, and at the next available opportunity brings the full weight of his mace on Duryodhana’s thighs, crushing them.
Duryodhana angrily admonishes Krishna for all the unrighteous acts that had been committed on his watch, but Krishna just brushes them off and declares that the Pandavas have emerged victorious in the war.
Episode 54: Ashwatthama Rages
The Pandavas leave Duryodhana and go back to the battlefield, where Arjuna’s chariot burns. Krishna reveals that but for his magic, the chariot would have been destroyed long ago.
Meanwhile, Ashwatthama, Kritavarma and Kripacharya visit Duryodhana outside the lake. Duryodhana anoints Ashwatthama as the next commander of his army.
That night, Krishna takes the Pandavas to the bank of the river Oghavati on some pretext. Ashwatthama prays to Lord Shiva and gains the power to raid the Pandava camp on his own.
He kills Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandi, the Upapandavas, and the entire remnant of the Pandava army. In one night, Ashwatthama wipes out all the Panchala and Somaka forces.
Around dawn, he returns to Duryodhana and gives him the news. Duryodhana is ecstatic that Ashwatthama has achieved what Bhishma and Drona had failed to do.
‘I am a happy man now, Ashwatthama!’ he proclaims, and dies with a smile on his face.
Meanwhile, news of the massacre reaches Yudhishthir by River Oghavati. The Pandavas are deeply saddened by the turn of events. Draupadi exhorts her husbands to avenge the death of her sons by killing Ashwatthama.
Episode 55: Ashwatthama is Cursed
The Pandavas and Krishna set out on Ashwatthama’s trail and catch up to him at Vyasa’s hermitage.
Here a battle takes place between him and the Pandavas. Arjuna and Ashwatthama simultaneously release the Brahmastra.
Vyasa intervenes and requests both warriors to withdraw their weapons. Arjuna does so. But Ashwatthama claims to lack the skills for doing this.
Vyasa therefore directs the weapon toward the wombs of the Pandava women, destroying their fertility.
Krishna however promises that the line of the Pandavas is not going to go extinct. He proclaims that the son of Uttara and Abhimanyu will be born under his protection, and that he will become king after Yudhishthir.
For Ashwatthama, Krishna has a curse. ‘Wander over the earth like a wretch, Ashwatthama,’ he says, ‘without companions, carrying with you the stench of pus and blood wherever you go.’
The Pandavas bring back Ashwatthama’s jewel to Draupadi as proof that they have indeed vanquished him. Ashwatthama thus becomes one of the chiranjeevis.
Episode 56: Gandhari Curses Krishna
When the Pandavas visit Gandhari to pay their respects, the queen blames Krishna for the destruction caused by the war. ‘If you wanted, Krishna,’ she says, ‘you could have prevented it.’
Then she curses him that the Yadavas will also meet the same fate as the Kurus, that they will all perish through decadence and infighting.
‘No external force will be needed to destroy Dwaraka, O Krishna,’ she says. ‘That is my will.’
Krishna accepts these words with calm.
Later, when the Pandavas are paying their respects to the dead, Kunti tells her sons the truth regarding Karna’s birth.
The Pandavas are grief-stricken at the thought that they have plotted against and killed their own elder brother.
Yudhishthir curses the women of the world that they will since lose their ability to keep secrets. The implication, of course, is that from then on, women have been given to gossip.
Episode 57: Arjuna Fights Babruvahana
Yudhishthir performs the Ashwamedha sacrifice to celebrate his return to power. Arjuna is tasked with accompanying the sacrificial horse.
During the wandering of the horse, they venture into the kingdom of Manipura, where Arjuna’s son Babruvahana is king.
The young man comes out to welcome his father, but Arjuna admonishes him for speaking so kindly to the keeper of the sacrificial horse.
Left with no choice, Babruvahana dons his armour and fights his father. The battle is so violent and well-matched that Babruvahana ends up killing Arjuna.
No damage is done, though. Ulupi, Arjuna’s Naga wife, appears on the scene at that moment and revives her husband.
She reveals that this death at the hands of his son was necessary for Arjuna to atone for the death of Bhishma.
Also, she clarifies that because Arjuna lost only to his son and not to an unrelated person, his title of ‘Vijaya’ is not rendered invalid by this defeat.
Episode 58: Dhritarashtra Dies
A short while after the Ashwamedha sacrifice of Yudhishthir, Bhimasena – in an unguarded moment – brags in open court about how he killed his cousins the Kauravas in the war.
These words travel to Dhritarashtra in due course and cause the old man to consider leaving for the forest. Once he has made up his mind, though, his wife Gandhari prepares to go with him. So do Sanjaya, Vidura and Kunti.
After a while, the Pandavas visit the four elders in the forest. Yudhishthir has a private moment with Vidura during the latter’s final moments. Vidura dies with no fuss or fanfare, leaning against a tree and breathing his last.
Dhritarashtra, Kunti and Gandhari give up their lives by offering themselves to a forest fire.
Sanjaya, at the time he is heard of last, is at Vyasa’s hermitage lost in austerities of his own.
Episode 59: Krishna and the Yadavas Die
For thirty six years, Yudhishthir rules over the kingdom of Indraprastha. Then, three sages – Kanva, Vishwamitra and Narada – arrive together in Dwaraka.
They’re welcomed with due respect, but one of the grandsons of Krishna named Samba dresses up as a pregnant woman and plays a trick on the sages.
The sages of course see through the ruse, and curse the entire Vrishni clan with destruction.
When he hears of the news, Krishna is not in the least surprised. He recalls Gandhari’s curse and begins to make preparations for Dwaraka’s ultimate demise.
The kingdom of Anarta devolves into a place where men and women become sinful and guileless. Krishna takes his people to the seashore, where – inebriated with wine – a fight erupts between the various factions that had once been united under Balarama.
Before long, they’re all attacking and killing one another. Krishna and Balarama join in, beheading their own kinsmen by the thousands.
After this massacre is complete, Balarama gives up his own life. Krishna returns to Dwaraka, sends a message to the Pandavas about what has happened, and himself goes to the forest.
There, a hunter named Jara mistakes Krishna’s foot for a deer’s and shoots an arrow through it. Krishna dies shortly afterward.
Episode 60: The Pandavas Die
After the death of the Yadavas, the Pandavas also decide that their time has come. Entrusting the task of ruling Indraprastha to Parikshit (the son of Uttara), Yudhishthir sets out on his final journey accompanied by his brothers and wife.
They intend to reach heaven in their mortal bodies. But as they ascend Mount Sumeru, one by one they fall to their deaths. Draupadi is the first to fall – followed by Sahadeva, Nakula, Arjuna and Bhima.
Yudhishthir – in the company of a stray dog – alone reaches the top of the mountain, where Indra welcomes him besides a golden chariot. ‘Forsake the dog and come with me, O King,’ says Indra. ‘Heaven is yours.’
But Yudhishthir refuses to leave the dog alone. Then it is revealed that the dog is actually Yama in disguise. This is the final test of Yudhishthir, after which he is taken to heaven in his mortal body.
Thus, Yudhishthir becomes the only character in the Mahabharata who does not die before he attains heaven.
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