The Mahabharata War: A Complete Guide

18 Days of the Mahabharata War - Featured Image - Picture of a battlefield at the end of a war.

The Mahabharata war, also called the Kurukshetra war, is the climactic event of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. It is fought between two sets of cousins in the Kuru dynasty, the Pandavas (sons of Pandu) and the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra).

Kingdoms like Panchala and Matsya side with the Pandavas. Krishna, the regent of Dwaraka, drives the chariot of Arjuna, the third Pandava, and signals his support for their cause.

The war is fought over eighteen days on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It is won by the Pandavas at the end, but only after unfathomable destruction to lives and wealth on both sides.

In this post, we will record the complete summary of the Mahabharata war.

Contents

Prelude

As the Pandavas and Kauravas begin their preparations for the war, they assemble at Kurukshetra.

The Pandavas set up their camp on the western side of Kurukshetra, so they will face east when they fight. The Kauravas camp on the eastern side.

Both parties agree to a set of rules or guidelines that will govern their behaviour on the battlefield.

Two of the most important rules of ‘just war’ (or Dharma Yuddha) are:

  • Do not attack an enemy when he is unarmed or when he has relinquished his weapons.
  • Do not attack an enemy when he is sleeping.

There are other rules too that codify who must fight with whom, how one must conduct oneself against an enemy, and so on.

But the two rules above are the absolute cardinals.

As we will see, the first rule is broken multiple times during the war. And on the eighteenth day, Ashwatthama trespasses the sacred boundary and kills all of his enemies when they’re sleeping.

On the first day of the war, just before the armies clash, Arjuna has an attack of listlessness. Krishna gives his friend a long lecture about what his duties are and how he should approach them.

This discourse is given the name, The Bhagavad Gita.

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Day 1

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 1.

Yudhishthir seeks blessings. Yudhishthir asks Drona and Bhishma to bless him. The two stalwarts give him the secret to defeating them.

Bhishma tells Yudhishthir that he will refuse to fight against Shikhandi. And Drona reveals that if he is convinced that his son is killed, he will relinquish his weapons.

Yuyutsu crosses over. Yuyutsu, a son of Dhritarashtra by another woman (not Gandhari), crosses over from the Kaurava side and decides to fight with the Pandavas.

Virata loses two sons. Uttara, the prince that accompanies Arjuna during the Gograhana Parva, clashes with Shalya and loses his life. Another son of Virata, Sweta, meets the same fate at the hands of Bhishma.

The sun sets with Bhishma wreaking utter havoc on the Pandava forces. The Kauravas are decisive winners on this day.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 1?

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Day 2

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 2.

Krauncharuma the Crane. Demoralized by the happenings of Day 1, Yudhishthir arranges his forces in the shape of a crane-shaped formation known as Krauncharuma. Arjuna is stationed at the beak of the bird.

Arjuna fights Bhishma. Arjuna realizes that he has to shed his hesitation and face Bhishma properly if the Pandavas are to have any chance of winning the war. The first big battle on Day 2 therefore pits these two warriors against one another.

Drona defeats Dhrishtadyumna. Drona and Dhrishtadyumna engage with each other in a duel. The preceptor easily outsmarts the prince. Just as he is about to kill him, however, Dhrishtadyumna gets rescued by Bhimasena.

Bhimasena routs the Kalingas. Bhima launches himself single-handedly at the Kalinga forces. He kills all their elephants and leaves a veritable graveyard in his wake. He fights with both mace and sword while on foot. He also wields the bow and arrow ruthlessly from his chariot.

Arjuna comes to the fore. The afternoon of the second day belongs to Arjuna. He springs to the rescue of Dhrishtadyumna, who is trapped in a fight with three Kaurava heroes: Ashwatthama, Shalya and Kripa.

When Arjuna joins the fight, Drona and Bhishma also arrive on the scene to support their colleagues. But such is Arjuna’s form that he is able to strike them all with an impressive barrage of arrows.

Bhishma smilingly calls to his forces to retreat. The second day ends with honours about even.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 2?

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Day 3

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 3.

Garuda versus the Crescent. Bhishma arranges the Kaurava forces in the form of a Garudavyuha, the shape of a great eagle named after Garuda, the son of Vinata and the steed of Vishnu. In response, the Pandavas adopt a formation in the shape of a crescent moon.

Shakuni is defeated by the combined might of Satyaki and Abhimanyu. Satyaki loses his chariot to Shakuni’s arrows, but he climbs atop Abhimanyu’s vehicle and the two heroes fight together from one chariot.

Drona and Bhishma attack Yudhishthir, but the latter is able to keep the two Kuru elders at bay with the support of Nakula and Sahadeva.

Duryodhana retreats from the battlefield after being pierced in the breast by an arrow from Ghatotkacha. This strikes fear into the Kaurava soldiers, and the Pandavas push their advantage home.

Duryodhana complains to Bhishma that the grandsire is not fighting at his best. Bhishma angrily retorts that it was Duryodhana who fled the battlefield. Then he decides to turn up the intensity a notch.

Krishna almost fights. Noticing that Arjuna is still holding back from using his full ability against Bhishma, Krishna leaps off his chariot and makes to attack Bhishma. Bhishma says, ‘It is an honour for me to die at your hand, Krishna. Come!’

Arjuna uses the Mahendra weapon. Arjuna placates Krishna, drags him back onto the chariot, and uses the Mahendra weapon to push back the Kaurava forces.

Day 3 ends on this note.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 3?

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Day 4

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 4.

Bhimasena kills ten thousand elephants. He grabs hold of his mace, jumps off his chariot to fight them on foot while uttering roar after roar like a lion.

He is not the least bit ruffled at being surrounded by such a large number of beasts, and he goes about twirling his club like it was a sword.

Many elephants in this division surrender to Bhimasena by kneeling on the ground and laying their trunks out.

Ghatotkacha protects his father. After the carnage among the elephants, Bhima takes a short break to rest. On his return, he clashes with Duryodhana.

The Kaurava draws first blood in this fight, sending arrow after arrow at Bhima and making him swoon.

Bhima’s charioteer, Visoka, takes him away from the scene to a different part of the battlefield where Bhagadatta – the ruler of Pragjyotisha – challenges Bhima and once again causes him to lose consciousness.

Just as Bhagadatta is considering taking the life of his opponent, though, Ghatotkacha arrives on the scene and protects his father.

Dhritarashtra asks a question of Sanjaya as to why the Pandavas are blessed with such powers. Sanjaya replies that the only reason behind the Pandavas’ valour is their staunch adherence to virtue.

Sanjaya then proceeds to recount all the greatness of Krishna, whose support also makes the Pandavas near invincible.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 4?

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Day 5

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 5.

Makara versus Syena. On Day 5, with the majority of the Kauravas still reeling from Bhimasena’s onslaught of the previous day, Bhishma arranges his troops in the shape of an alligator (Makara). In response, the Pandavas adopt the formation of a hawk (Syena).

Bhishma refuses a challenge from Shikhandi, but he fights with great verve against Arjuna and protects the Madras from the Pandava’s onslaught.

Bhima knocks off Bhishma’s crown with a dart of gold. In response, Bhishma cuts off Bhima’s bow in two.

Arjuna spares Ashwatthama when, after a long battle, he has the son of Drona at his mercy. He recalls that his opponent is the son of his preceptor, and that he is a Brahmin by birth. So he chooses to pardon him.

Bhurishrava kills all of Satyaki’s ten sons. Though outnumbered in this challenge, Bhurishrava fights like a man possessed, and tears into the Vrishni princes. This is an important battle because on Day 14, Satyaki will avenge his sons’ deaths in a brutal manner.

Arjuna destroys twenty thousand chariots. Duryodhana sends twenty thousand chariots at Arjuna just as the sun is about to set, but the third Pandava obliterates them all. Later, with Abhimanyu by his side, he fights off the Matsyas and the Kekayas.

The fifth day is thus characterized by a number of small but significant battles. The spoils are about even.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 5?

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Day 6

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 6.

An exchange of arrays takes place. On Day 6, at the behest of Yudhishthir, Dhrishtadyumna arranges his forces in the shape of a Makara. The Kauravas employ the Krauncharuma Vyuha, the same formation that Yudhishthir used on Day 2.

Bhima kills Drona’s charioteer during a short but fierce battle. Taking the reins of his chariot with one hand, Drona still manages to fight and defeat Bhima.

Bhima ventures deep into the Kaurava ranks, alone. Leaving his chariot behind, taking a mace in his hand, Bhima runs headlong into the Kaurava ranks, eager to kill as many of Dhritarashtra’s sons as he can.

Dhrishtadyumna uses the Pramohanastra. He follows Bhima into the Kaurava formation, and finds his brother-in-law fighting a losing battle against several Kauravas. He then uses the Pramohanastra, which sows chaos into the minds of one’s opponents.

With the Kaurava soldiers fleeing in all directions, Bhimasena is rescued and whittled away back to safety.

Abhimanyu almost kills Vikarna. In a bloody battle during the evening, Abhimanyu shoots arrows furnished with the feathers of the kanka bird at his opponent, which pass through Vikarna’s body and plant themselves in the earth behind him.

Vikarna is teetering on the brink of death, but his other brothers come to rescue him.

Day 6 ends with a duel between Bhima and Duryodhana, in which the former secures an easy victory and the latter is saved by Jayadratha and Kripacharya.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 6?

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Day 7

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 7.

Bhishma uses the Mandala Vyuha. In it, various divisions of the army are mixed together to create a complex pattern that is hoped to prove impenetrable. Next to every elephant are placed seven chariots.

Next to every chariot are placed seven cavalrymen. Behind every horseman stand seven archers, and behind every archer are seven swordsmen holding shields.

There is therefore no isolation of each division, and the enemy intending to break this formation should be well-versed in all kinds of warfare.

Yudhishthir’s response is to counter with the formation called Vajra, named after Indra’s weapon shaped like the thunderbolt.

Arjuna uses the Aindrastra. In a rare moment of bloodlust, Arjuna uses the Aindrastra on a sea of soldiers in the Kaurava army. It is said that the weapon slices through them all, piercing each man with two or three arrows.

Among the thousands of kings and elephants and horses in his path, not even one is left unwounded.

Drona kills Sankha, a son of Virata. The other son of Virata, Uttara, was killed by Bhishma on Day 1. Here, Drona fights both father and son at once, and mercilessly shoots an arrow through the heart of Sankha.

Bhimasena secures a victory over Kritavarma, who is forced to find refuge in the chariot of Vrishaka. Irritated that he is unable to land a decisive blow, Bhima leaves his chariot, and with mace in hand, begins to smash some skulls.

Bhagadatta fights Ghatotkacha in a long and protracted battle. Despite Ghatotkacha’s best attempts with both illusory and earthly weapons, Bhagadatta – perched on his elephant, Supratika – easily vanquishes his foe.

Shalya engages with Nakula and Sahadeva, the sons of his sister. He injures Nakula’s horses, kills his charioteer, and forces him onto the chariot of Sahadeva. The twin onslaught of the youngest Pandavas proves too much for Shalya, though.

He takes a heavy blow on the chest from a dart hurled at him by Sahadeva, and goes into a swoon.

Bhishma battles Yudhishthir toward the evening, and the former uses progressively dangerous weapons against his grandson. Nakula and Sahadeva come up to support their elder brother, though, and the three of them manage to push Bhishma back.

Arjuna clashes for the first time with Susharma and the Trigartan army. He easily wins. This will become a recurring theme for the rest of the war, and the Trigartans will play an important role in the killing of Abhimanyu.

The seventh day ends on this note, with all the great heroes turning away from their primary challengers and flexing their muscles against ordinary soldiers.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 7?

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Day 8

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 8.

Oormi versus Sringataka. Bhishma chooses a broad and shallow array for his troops called the Oormi, which resembles, we are told, the wave of an ocean.

Yudhishthir watches this formation and advises Dhrishtadyumna to arrange his forces in the shape of a horn. This array is called the Sringataka Vyuha.

Bhima fights Bhishma. Bhima pleasantly surprises everyone on the Pandava side by killing the grandsire’s steeds and rendering him immobile. Even with Duryodhana fighting alongside, Bhishma fails to secure victory over the third Pandava.

Death of a Naga Prince. Iravan is a son of Arjuna by a Naga princess called Ulupi. On this day, Iravan brings his large cavalry force to bear upon the Kaurava army, decimating thousands of horses.

Six brothers of Shakuni now ride out to meet the son of Arjuna. Their names are Gaya, Gavaksha, Vrishava, Charmavata, Arjava, and Suka. Iravan kills five of these princes.

Duryodhana sees this and despatches Alambusha to deal with Iravan. Alambusha uses his powers of illusion to masterfully decimate the Naga division supporting Iravan, and proceeds to behead the son of Arjuna.

Ghatotkacha battles with Duryodhana, and manages to land some telling blows. Bhishma sends Drona to support Duryodhana, and the preceptor checks the advances of Ghatotkacha.

Ghatotkacha finds himself surrounded by seven atirathas. Though he fights gamely, he is in clear need of support. Yudhishthir despatches Bhimasena on the quest.

With Abhimanyu and the Upapandavas by his side, Bhima arrives to help his son out. The battle then turns into a generic battle of humans and Rakshasas on the side of the Pandavas, and the seven Kaurava atirathas.

Ghatotkacha employs an illusion as dusk approaches. He creates a vision in which the common Kaurava soldiers see all their fellow warriors being hacked to death by the Pandavas, and their leaders fleeing in fear.

The Kaurava army thus retreats en masse, and it is left to Bhagadatta, the leader of the Pragjyotishas, to stem the flow. He challenges Ghatotkacha and fights him over a long time.

At the end, he manages to secure his victory, and Ghatotkacha’s illusion is broken.

Day 8 ends with Arjuna coming to know of the death of Iravan from Bhimasena. He breaks down and laments all the great heroes that have lost their lives in the war.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 8?

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Day 9

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 9.

On the night of Day 8, Duryodhana proposes to Bhishma that Karna is ready to pick up arms if the grandsire retires from battle. ‘If you are unable to fight the Pandavas at your best, Grandfather,’ he says, ‘lay down your weapons and let Karna show his prowess!’

Bhishma’s pride is wounded by this suggestion. He says he will change his tactics – from the next morning on, he will focus primarily on the army of the Pandavas, and seek to decimate it.

‘Protect me from Shikhandi is all I ask,’ he says. ‘I shall see to it that the Pandavas are left without an army!’

The Sarvatobhadra. This is the formation that Bhishma uses on the ninth morning, called the Sarvatobhadra. It means ‘safe on all sides’. Yudhishthir counters with a variation of the Mandala Vyuha.

Abhimanyu defeats Alambusha. One of the big battles of the ninth morning occurs when Abhimanyu challenges Alambusha to a duel, eager to avenge the killing of Iravan.

This fight grows into a long and terrible one. Alambusha has access to many Rakshasa illusions, whereas Abhimanyu has many celestial weapons in his quiver.

Despite Alambusha’s best efforts, he is unable to make even a dent in Abhimanyu’s armour. After being struck by twenty five arrows at one point, he instructs his charioteer to turn and flee from the scene.

Shalya fights four Pandavas. Duryodhana sends Shalya, the king of the Madras, to attack Yudhishthir. Shalya takes a strong division of his army and challenges the eldest Pandava. Very soon, Nakula and Sahadeva turn up to support their elder brother.

And then Bhimasena enters the fray too. Despite being arrayed against four Pandavas, Shalya does not flinch. He fights a long battle that ends with honours evenly split between the two sides. Yudhishthir is then taken away into the Pandava ranks.

Krishna intervenes again. Bhishma goes on a rampage of destruction against the Somaka forces, hacking them down by the thousands. Krishna watches this and realizes that if Bhishma is allowed to go on for much longer, the Pandavas will not have an army.

He tells Arjuna to prepare to fight Bhishma, but Arjuna’s ambivalence has returned.

Frustrated at his friend, Krishna raises the Sudarshana Chakra above his head and leaps off the chariot. He advances at Bhishma on foot – and all the soldiers surrounding them watch in horror.

Arjuna placates Krishna. Bhishma welcomes Krishna’s advance, but warns him that he is going to go down fighting. As he fits an arrow to his bow, Arjuna himself jumps off his chariot and runs after Krishna.

Dragging the Yadava prince back to the chariot, Arjuna promises to fight at his best.

With this incident ends the ninth day of the Mahabharata war.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 9?

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Day 10

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 10.

‘How can we kill you?’ This is the question that Yudhishthir and the Pandavas ask Bhishma when they visit the grandsire’s tent that night. They explain that they have to kill Bhishma in order to have any chance of breaking the deadlock.

Bhishma understands their predicament, and tells them that his only weakness is that he has taken an oath not to fight Shikhandi.

Shikhandi becomes the center piece. The Pandavas, after returning to their camp, formulate a strategy in which Shikhandi is the central warrior of the formation the following day. Arjuna and Bhima will protect the Panchala prince’s chariot-wheels.

Arjuna’s primary role for Day 10 is to ensure that no arrow from the Kaurava side reaches Shikhandi. This will in turn allow Shikhandi to doggedly shoot arrows at Bhishma the whole day, knowing that the grandsire will never return fire.

Bhishma takes an oath in Duryodhana’s presence that he will seek out the Pandavas and kill them. ‘I will do this for the food you have given me all these years, O King,’ he says, and rides out to meet the Pandava army on his own.

This begins a cat-and-mouse game on Day 10, with (a) Bhishma wishing to engage with the Pandava brothers, (b) with the Pandavas hiding behind Shikhandi and letting him shoot Bhishma, (c) with the Kaurava warriors defending Bhishma against Shikhandi, and (d) with the Pandava warriors defending Shikhandi against the Kurus.

Bhishma takes one last stand during the evening of Day 10, when he comes face to face with Shikhandi. He positions himself between the two armies and fights on his own, as if wanting to bring the war to an end.

Shikhandi’s arrows are not powerful enough to pierce Bhishma’s armour, so Arjuna takes it upon himself to shoot at Bhishma from behind Shikhandi. Bhishma becomes aware of this, but because of his vow, he is unable to shoot at Shikhandi.

‘I am being felled by Arjuna’s arrows,’ he says. ‘Not Shikhandi’s!’

Bhishma finally falls, and the arrows sticking out from his body holds him in mid-air, making a ‘bed’ for him.

A pillow and water. As Bhishma lies on his bed of arrows, he asks first for a pillow, and then for a gulp of water. Arjuna shoots three arrows into the ground and gently guides Bhishma’s head onto them.

Then he shoots another arrow into the earth to bring forth a stream of fresh water that springs into Bhishma’s mouth. Bhishma proclaims himself satisfied.

Day 10 ends, therefore, with the fall of Bhishma.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 10?

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Day 11

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 11.

Karna returns to Duryodhana’s army and prepares to enter the battlefield. All the warriors that fight for Duryodhana are relieved at the arrival of Karna. They all know that he is the only person with even a theoretical chance of killing Arjuna.

Drona is made commander of the army by Duryodhana. The array that Drona uses on the morning of the eleventh day is called the Saikata, which resembles the shape of a chariot.

The Pandavas, on the other hand, use the Krauncha formation that resembles a crane.

Drona gives Duryodhana a boon. At the beginning of Day 11, Drona gives Duryodhana a wish. Duryodhana says that he wants Drona to bring back Yudhishthir alive as prisoner.

When Drona ask Duryodhana why he does not want Yudhishthir dead, Duryodhana replies, ‘If Yudhishthir dies, we will have to endure the wrath of Arjuna and Bhima. Instead, I want to trick Yudhishthir one more time and send him into the forest again.’

Drona’s quest, therefore, is to capture Yudhishthir by sundown and bring him back to Duryodhana.

Arjuna vows to protect Yudhishthir. When news of this is carried by spies across to the Pandava camp, Arjuna vows to protect Yudhishthir at all costs.

Drona, meanwhile, tells Duryodhana that the only way this can happen successfully is if Arjuna can be tamed.

Bhima fights Shalya. During the forenoon, a mace fight is arranged between Bhima and Shalya. (We must remember that the two of them fight at Draupadi’s swayamvara as well. Bhima wins on that occasion.)

A clearing is made in the battlefield, and all the soldiers surrounding the action stop to watch the two men. A long fight ensues. Both of them lose consciousness at the same time.

Bhima is the first of the two to get back on his feet, though. But before he can land a fatal blow, Kritavarma comes to take Shalya away in his chariot.

Drona almost captures Yudhishthir. Toward the evening, Drona manages to isolate Yudhishthir and defeat him in a ruthless battle. Just as he is about to capture him, though, Arjuna swoops in and saves his brother.

The eleventh day ends with Drona trying and failing to capture Yudhishthir.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 11?

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Day 12

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 12.

Drona is ashamed that he has failed in his quest. He tells Duryodhana that until Arjuna protects Yudhishthir, no one can lay a hand on the eldest Pandava.

Susharma, the king of the Trigartas, then proposes that he will challenge Arjuna early in the morning and lure him away to one edge of the battle so that Drona can focus on his mission.

The Trigartas take on the name of the Samshaptakas – ‘warriors who have sworn to fight to the death’.

Arjuna fights the Narayana Sena. Early on Day 12, the Samshaptakas use a half-moon shaped formation to challenge Arjuna. Supporting them in their thrust is the cowherd army of Krishna, the Narayana Sena.

Arjuna gets into his element now, encouraging Krishna to lead him to his opponents. Showing great skill and utter ruthlessness, he begins to hack his way into the formation, leaving thousands of corpses in his wake.

Meanwhile the Kauravas employ the Garuda Vyuha, while the Pandavas arrange themselves in the shape of a semicircle.

Bhagadatta comes to the fore on Day 12, supporting Drona in his quest to break into the formation of the Panchala army and reach Yudhishthir. With Bhagadatta and Drona fighting together, the Panchala army flees in all directions.

Arjuna, fighting the Samshaptakas, realizes that he has to make a choice: either he can remain where he is and trust the other Pandava warriors to protect Yudhishthir, or abandon this fight and go back to where Bhagadatta is fighting.

He takes the middle route, discharging a large volley of arrows at his foes, causing them to retreat – and then turning around to challenge the king of Pragjyotishas.

Arjuna fights Bhagadatta. A fearsome battle takes place between Arjuna and Bhagadatta. The latter uses the Vishnavastra on Arjuna, but Krishna intercepts it and receives it on his chest.

The weapon turns into a garland of flowers and settles around the neck of the Dwaraka prince.

Arjuna is offended at this gesture by Krishna, but Krishna assures him that the Vaishnavastra is much too powerful to be destroyed by anything in Arjuna’s armoury.

Arjuna kills Bhagadatta. The Vaishnavastra thus neutralized, Arjuna sets about dismantling Bhagadatta’s defences. He first wounds Supratika the elephant, and then topples Bhagadatta to the ground.

Bhima takes on Drona. Meanwhile, Drona is closing in on Yudhishthir. Dhrishtadyumna holds off Drona for a while but is soundly defeated. Bhima then steps up and places himself between his preceptor and his brother.

But Drona is in irrepressible form. After a short battle, swats Bhima away and speeds toward Yudhishthir.

Arjuna returns. Drona is once again closing in on Yudhishthir when he is overtaken by Arjuna, who had just finished killing Bhagadatta. Arjuna leads the Pandava forces against the concerted effort of the Kurus.

He fights and wins battles against Karna and Drona. Such is Arjuna’s prowess that he pushes the Kuru army all the way back to their camp. Not only is Yudhishthir saved, but the Pandavas can even claim victory on this day.

Day 12 ends thus, with Drona failing a second time to fulfil his promise to Duryodhana.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 12?

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Day 13

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 13.

An Impenetrable Array. Drona tells Duryodhana that the Samshaptakas should keep Arjuna away from the action for the whole of the day – not just part of it.

Then he says that for the thirteenth day, he is going to create an impenetrable array called the Chakra Vyuha. He promises to kill at least one Pandava atiratha on this day.

Abhimanyu volunteers to penetrate this Chakra Vyuha on the morning of Day 13, after Arjuna and Krishna are lured away by the Samshaptakas.

It so turns out that from among the Pandava warriors left behind to fight against the Kauravas, only Abhimanyu knows how to break open this array. But the catch is that he does not know how to exit it.

Jayadratha obstructs the Pandavas. Bhima, Satyaki and the other Pandavas promise Abhimanyu that they will follow him closely, and that the breach in the array will remain open. But Jayadratha puts in a performance of a lifetime and defends the Chakra Vyuha.

Abhimanyu gets trapped inside Drona’s formation. Once he realizes that his time is up, he takes on a fierce form and brings down six different atirathas and their armies singlehandedly.

Drona resorts to unfair means to bring Abhimanyu down. He gets Karna to break Abhimanyu’s bow from the back. Kritavarma kills the boy’s horses. Kripacharya kills the rear guards.

They force him onto his feet, after which he fights briefly with an abandoned chariot-wheel. He then picks up a mace and has a final fight with the son of Dushasana, who kills him with a heavy blow to the head.

At the end of the day, on his return to camp, Arjuna discovers the truth about his son’s death. And he takes a vow that before sundown on Day 14, he will either kill Jayadratha or consign himself to flames.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 13?

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Day 14 – Day

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 14.

Drona designs yet another impenetrable array to protect Jayadratha from Arjuna. It’s a three-pronged formation, with a Sakata (box) Vyuha, a Padma (lotus) Vyuha, and a Soochi Mukha (eye of the needle) Vyuha laid end to end.

Jayadratha is stationed at the rear end of the needle-point, guarded by six atirathas. Drona himself stands at the entrance of the Sakata Vyuha, so that Arjuna has to pass through him first.

The action of Day 14 is described in three strands: the first is Arjuna penetrating Drona’s formation with a single-minded desire to reach and kill Jayadratha come what may.

Arjuna achieves his objective just as the sun is about to set – with some help and advice from Krishna.

The second strand is Satyaki following Arjuna’s chariot into the Kaurava ranks. Like Arjuna, he also side-steps the challenge posed by Drona at the opening of the Sakata.

Satyaki is sent by Yudhishthir to check on Arjuna and Krishna’s welfare. On his way to finding Arjuna, Satyaki leaves behind a trail of destruction of his own.

The third strand is Bhimasena – on the request of Yudhishthir – following Satyaki to ensure his well-being. Unlike Arjuna and Satyaki who tactfully passed on fighting against Drona, Bhima decides to tangle with the preceptor, and even defeats him.

Bhima speeds through the Kaurava ranks, killing a number of Kaurava soldiers that waylay his path. At the end, he finds Arjuna and Satyaki, and roars at the top of his voice to assure Yudhishthir that everyone is well.

In a battle between Bhima and Karna, the latter takes apart the former and is in a position to land the fatal blow. But at the last moment, Karna remembers his promise to Kunti and lets Bhima go.

Satyaki kills Bhurishrava toward the end of this day, just before Arjuna finds Jayadratha. Bhurishrava had earlier killed all ten of Satyaki’s sons, and this fight he is almost about to kill Satyaki as well.

But Arjuna intervenes at the last moment to slice off Bhurishrava’s arm from behind as he is about to stab Satyaki. Bhurishrava is aghast at this flouting of moral rules, and relinquishes his weapons in a show of protest.

Seething for vengeance, Satyaki kills Bhurishrava even as the latter sits down in a yogic pose to meditate.

All in all, between the three of them, Arjuna, Satyaki and Bhimasena kill a total of seven akshauhinis of Kaurava troops.

Duryodhana is distraught that Drona’s ‘impenetrable array’ has been penetrated by three Pandava warriors.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 14?

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Day 14 – Night

Here are a few important events that happen on the night of Day 14.

Entry of the Rakshasas. The two sides decide that the battle will continue past sundown. Drona wants to recapture the initiative that he has lost with the deaths of Jayadratha and Bhurishrava.

Ghatotkacha brings a large division of Rakshasas to fight on the Pandavas’ behalf. The biggest rivalry that epitomizes this night-time phase is the way in which Ghatotkacha clashes with Alambusha.

Ashwatthama shines. Of all the Kaurava warriors, it is Ashwatthama who faces Ghatotkacha with calm and precision. With everyone else losing their heads around him because of Ghatotkacha’s magic, Ashwatthama stands firm and engages with him in a long battle.

Sahadeva is spared by Karna in a one-to-one battle. This duel begins with good signs for the son of Madri, but Karna slowly dominates his younger brother and eventually spares his life out of respect for the vow he had given Kunti.

Karna and Drona join forces to push the Pandava forces back toward the edge of the battlefield, and it seems for a while that Yudhishthir may get captured.

Yudhishthir wonders why Arjuna is not challenging Karna. But Krishna knows that Karna still has the Vasava Astra with him, which means that is dangerous for Arjuna to face him right now.

So he gives Ghatotkacha a mission to defeat Karna while Arjuna takes up the challenge of fighting against Drona.

Ghatotkacha challenges Karna to a duel. For a long time the two warriors clash with no clear winner emerging. Ghatotkacha, however, is able to use magic to demoralize all the common Kaurava soldiers.

They wail and cry out to Karna that he should use his powerful weapon against Ghatotkacha. Karna is momentarily thrown into a dilemma, but he then decides to use the Vasava dart on Ghatotkacha.

Ghatotkacha dies when the Vasava dart hits him. But as the missile flies in his direction, knowing that his time is up, he swells up to the size of a giant so that he can crush a whole akshauhini of troops underneath his body when he falls.

At the death of Ghatotkacha, Krishna rejoices and proclaims that Karna is no longer a threat to Arjuna’s life. Yudhishthir and Bhimasena grieve the death of the Rakshasa who had done so much in the past to help them.

Soon after, Arjuna proposes that they should all rest. The offer is gladly accepted, and everyone sleeps on the battlefield until sunrise.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on the night of Day 14?

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Day 15

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 15.

Carnage among the Panchalas as Drona, enraged by his failure to first capture Yudhishthir and then to protect Jayadratha from Arjuna, launches himself into the Panchala forces and routs them.

Krishna proposes a plan to thwart Drona. He tells the Pandavas that if Drona is not defeated, the Panchalas and Somakas will be destroyed in a matter of hours.

And Arjuna, who is the only man on the Pandava side capable of matching Drona, is hesitant to fight his preceptor. The only path forward, says Krishna, is subterfuge.

Krishna’s plan is to kill an elephant named Ashwatthama and convince Drona that his son Ashwatthama had been killed. This is by all considerations an unethical act, and Arjuna is quick to disapprove of it.

But Bhimasena is eager, and the other three brothers agree reluctantly. Bhima then kills the elephant and takes the news back to Drona. ‘Your son Ashwatthama has been killed!’ he says. ‘And you insist on fighting. What kind of Brahmin are you?’

‘Ashwatthama is Dead,’ says Yudhishthir to Drona when the preceptor comes to him with the question, knowing that Yudhishthir can never speak an untruth. A short pause after delivering the first sentence, Yudhishthir clarifies: ‘Ashwatthama the elephant.’

But by then Drona has already gone into shock. He does not hear Yudhishthir’s afterthought. He hurls his weapons away, calls out to the remaining Kaurava heroes to fight at this best, and sits down on the terrace of his chariot to meditate.

The plan works as intended. Krishna and Arjuna wish to capture Drona and keep him away from battle, like they have successfully done with Bhishma. But Dhrishtadyumna seizes the opportunity to claim his destiny.

Without taking anyone into confidence, he grabs a sword and climbs into Drona’s chariot. He slices the neck of the preceptor and kills him.

Bhima praises Dhrishtadyumna for having completed his life’s purpose. But everyone else is more critical of the prince’s actions.

Ashwatthama hears of his father’s death, and tries to end the war by using the Narayanastra on Arjuna and Krishna. But Krishna instructs everyone to fill their hearts with peace, thus quelling the weapon.

This comes to haunt Dhrishtadyumna later. Ashwatthama uses this incident as fuel to later perform an unholy act of his own.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 15?

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Day 16

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 16.

Karna becomes commander of the Kuru forces. On the fifteenth night, when Duryodhana throws open the floor for advice among his councillors, Ashwatthama recommends that Karna be appointed the next leader of the army.

The Kauravas use the Makara formation for Day 16, while the Pandavas counter with the crescent-moon.

Arjuna continues to fight the Samshaptakas. The battle between the thousands of Samshaptakas on one side and Arjuna on the other resembles that between the Daityas and Indra.

Crowds of Siddhas, Charanas and Rishis gather in the heavens to watch this sight of one man obliterating an entire army, and they heap blessings on him.

Arjuna enters into a duel with Ashwatthama. The son of Drona comes up to lead the Samshaptakas against Arjuna. While the two warriors get sucked into a long and protracted fight, Arjuna manages to kill thousands of Samshaptakas while at the same time keeping Ashwatthama at bay.

Finally, the son of Kunti manages to cut off the reins tethered to Ashwatthama’s horses, and secures his victory.

Arjuna kills a king of Magadha named Dandadhara and his brother named Danda. On this day, Dandadhara torments thousands of Panchala and Somaka soldiers from atop an elephant, much like Bhagadatta. But Arjuna makes short work of him.

Nakula challenges Karna to a duel, and after a period of matching the son of Radha blow for blow, begins to fall behind. He loses his bow to Karna’s arrows, and when he is about to flee, Karna places his bow around Nakula’s neck.

‘Do not fight those who are superior to you, child,’ says Karna. ‘Run away to where Janardana and Arjuna are fighting.’

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 16?

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Day 17

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 17.

Karna analyzes his strengths and weaknesses relative to Arjuna and comes to the conclusion that the only thing that is disadvantaging him is the quality of his charioteer. While Arjuna has Krishna manning his horses, Karna only has an unnamed fellow.

Karna requests Duryodhana to secure the chariot-driving services of Shalya. Duryodhana manages this, but not without consternation on part of the Madra king.

Shalya taunts Karna throughout the day while driving his vehicle. He draws the son of Adiratha into needless arguments, and sings the praises of Arjuna and Krishna at every opportunity.

Karna fights through a large Panchala division to come face to face with Yudhishthir. They challenge one another to a duel, and for a while Yudhishthir is able to hold his own against his elder brother.

But as the battle progresses, Karna dismantles Yudhishthir’s defences. As Yudhishthir turns around and flees, Karna gives chase. Catching up to Yudhishthir, Karna places a hand on the Pandava’s shoulder, and – to honour the promise given to Kunti – spares him.

A relieved Yudhishthir finds refuge deep within the Pandava ranks.

Yudhishthir and Arjuna get into an argument toward the end of the day. Arjuna and Krishna arrive at Yudhishthir’s tent when the latter is nursing his injuries. Yudhishthir misunderstands the reason behind Arjuna’s visit: he thinks that Arjuna has already killed Karna.

But on realizing that Karna still lives, Yudhishthir says a few unkind words to Arjuna. Arjuna is angered by his elder brother too.

Krishna makes peace between the two, and as a compromise, gives Arjuna permission to say anything against Yudhishthir that he has been harbouring in his mind.

After this, Arjuna takes Yudhishthir’s blessings and re-enters the battlefield to fight Karna.

As dusk approaches, the big fight begins between Arjuna and Karna. A Naga called Aswasena makes an appearance and tells Karna that he is willing to become an arrow in his quiver because he wishes to kill Arjuna.

Karna obliges, but Krishna ensures that the arrow misses its mark. And Karna refuses to shoot the same arrow again.

Later, Karna’s chariot-wheel sinks into the earth and Shalya refuses to help him. Karna is forced to attend to the matter himself. In that vulnerable moment, prodded by Krishna, Arjuna shoots an arrow that beheads Karna.

Day 17 of the Mahabharata war ends thus with the death of Karna.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 17?

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Day 18 – Day

Here are a few important events that happen on Day 18.

Shalya is made the commander of Duryodhana’s forces, and he fights for a few hours at the head of a strong Madraka force. But the spirit has already left the Kuru army, and very soon Yudhishthir makes a vow that he will kill Shalya.

With Nakula and Sahadeva guarding his chariot-wheels, he challenges Shalya. The Madra king gives a good account of himself against the three Pandavas for a while, but soon Yudhishthir gains ascendancy.

Finally, Yudhishthir kills Shalya.

Duryodhana disappears shortly after the death of Shalya. As the Kuru army goes helter-skelter, Bhima goes on a rampage killing all the remaining sons of Dhritarashtra.

Meanwhile, Sahadeva fulfils the oath he took during the dice game and kills Shakuni.

Arjuna finally kills Susharma and finishes off the last of the Samshaptakas. The long-running rivalry between the Pandavas and the Trigartan force thus comes to an end.

Duryodhana is found by the Pandavas at the bottom of a lake situated just outside the Kurukshetra battlefield. Yudhishthir throws a challenge at Duryodhana that he can fight any of his brothers in a single combat, with the condition that the winner will be given the kingdom.

Thus a final mace-challenge is set up between the arch-enemies, Bhima and Duryodhana. Krishna reveals to Arjuna that Duryodhana has been practising all his life for this day, so he clearly has an edge over Bhima.

After watching Bhima struggle for a while, Arjuna finally signals to him that Duryodhana can only be defeated by unfair means.

Bhima gets the hint, and at the next available opportunity, strikes Duryodhana’s thigh with his mace and brings him down.

Notwithstanding Duryodhana’s loud protests that many rules of fair fighting have been flouted, Krishna blows on his conch and declares the war at an end, and the Pandavas victors.

After the Pandavas leave the scene, however, Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma come to meet the still-alive Duryodhana. At Ashwatthama’s insistence, Duryodhana anoints him the next commander of his army.

As far as Ashwatthama is concerned, therefore, the war is not yet over.

Detailed Summary: The Mahabharata War: What happens on Day 18?

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Day 18 – Night

Here are a few important events that happen on the night of Day 18.

Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma make their way to the Pandava camp. On their way, watching an owl peck the life out of a group of fledgling birds in a nest gives Ashwatthama the idea to raid the Panchalas while they’re sleeping.

Kripacharya is at first against this ploy. But Ashwatthama states that his mind is made up regardless of who supports him or not.

Outside the camp, Ashwatthama sees the waiting figure of Shiva, who blesses him with all his energy. Using Shiva’s favour, Ashwatthama massacres the sleeping people in their tents.

Shikhandi, Dhrishtadyumna, the Upapandavas… they all succumb to Ashwatthama’s rage.

After the deed is done, Ashwatthama returns to Duryodhana and gives him the good news. Duryodhana is overjoyed. He dies with a smile on his lips.

Detailed Answer: The Mahabharata War: What happens on the night of Day 18?

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Aftermath

In the morning, on the bank of the river Oghavati, Yudhishthir receives the shocking news that the Panchalas and Somakas have all been killed by Ashwatthama.

When they arrive at the camp, Draupadi is already there, mourning the deaths of her brothers and sons. She tells Yudhishthir that the war is not finished until this final act is avenged.

The Pandavas and Krishna follow Ashwatthama’s chariot-trail, and find him hiding in the hermitage of Vyasa. Here, Arjuna challenges him and they begin to fight.

Ashwatthama uses the Brahmastra at Arjuna, and when Vyasa asks him to retract it, he claims that it is beyond his capability to do so. He directs the weapon at the wombs of the Pandava women, instantly rendering them all sterile.

The foetus growing inside Uttara’s womb also dies because of this, but Krishna promises to bring him back to life.

Krishna places a curse on Ashwatthama at this moment, telling him that he will never die and that he will roam the Earth without friends or well-wishers.

Yudhishthir finally becomes king of Indraprastha, but he has to now rebuild the empire after the horrific losses of war.

For thirty six years the Pandavas rule the Earth, and then, after the sinking of Dwaraka and death of Krishna, they set out on their own final journey.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 55: Ashwatthama is Cursed.)

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How many soldiers died in the Mahabharata war?

In an answer to Dhritarashtra’s question, Yudhishthir claims that 1 billion and 660 million men have lost their lives in the war. But a more careful examination of the numbers reveals that the death toll is more likely to be around 5.76 million, with a mortality rate of around 96%.

In all, eighteen akshauhinis of soldiers assemble at Kurukshetra to fight the war. This includes eleven akshauhinis on the Kaurava side and seven on the Pandava side.

An Akshauhini thus contains 21,870 chariots, the same number of elephants, 109,350 soldiers that fight on foot, and 65,610 horsemen.

If we take the Akshauhini numbers from earlier in the post, we have the following details to consider:

  • Total number of elephants: 393,660
  • Total number of chariots: 393,660
  • Total number of infantrymen: 1,968,300
  • Total number of horses: 1180,980

We may assume that an elephant may carry three people on it (the warrior, a mahout and a bodyguard). From descriptions of chariot-warriors, each chariot seems to have four people on it (the warrior, two rearguards, and a charioteer).

A horse typically will carry only one person.

So the total number of individual men who fought in the war comes to: 5,904,900. Let’s round that up to 6 million.

In an answer to Dhritarashtra, Yudhishthir says that around 240,000 people survived the war. Therefore, the total number of people who died during the war is 5.76 million (6 million minus 240,000).

Detailed Answer: How many soldiers died in the Mahabharata war?

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What is the age of Krishna during Mahabharata war?

Krishna is fifty years old at the time of the Mahabharata war, assuming he left Vrindavan as a fifteen-year-old boy. He is thirty four at the time of Subhadra’s wedding, thirty six at the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile, and forty nine when they return. He dies at the age of eighty six.

In order to arrive at a reasonable estimate for Krishna’s age during the war, we have to make some assumptions about various incidents of his life.

For instance, we assume:

  • He is fifteen years old when he kills Kamsa.
  • At the time of Mathura’s migration westward to flee from Jarasandha, he is seventeen years old.
  • It takes him four years to unify the Vrishnis, set up Dwaraka, and bring Anarta to a stable state.
  • At Draupadi’s swayamvara, therefore, he is twenty one.
  • At the time of Subhadra’s marriage to Arjuna, he is thirty four. This is because of Arjuna’s twelve-year exile.
  • At the time of the dice game, Krishna is thirty six years old.
  • The Pandavas return after thirteen years, so by then Krishna is forty nine.
  • Assuming war preparations take a year, Krishna is fifty years old by the time the war begins.

Krishna’s death occurs thirty six years after the end of the Kurukshetra war.

In response to Gandhari’s curse, Anarta perishes in a shockingly violent civil war – in which Krishna and Balarama participate. Krishna is eighty six years old at the time of his death.

Detailed Answer: What is the age of Krishna during Mahabharata war?

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Why was the Mahabharata War fought?

The main reasons why the Mahabharata war was fought are: (1) Bhishma vow of celibacy, (2) Bhishma’s favouritism toward Pandu and his sons, (3) Dhritarashtra’s love for Duryodhana, (4) Drupada’s revenge against Drona, (5) Yudhishthir’s promise to be non-confrontational, (6) Duryodhana’s ruthlessness, and (7) The need for good to triumph over evil.

There are many reasons for the Mahabharata war. But the seven main ones are:

Bhishma’s vow. Bhishma takes a vow of celibacy in order to clear the path for Shantanu to wed Satyavati. Satyavati’s children thus become kings of the Kuru dynasty instead of Bhishma’s.

If Bhishma had become king after Shantanu, there would have been no conflict for the throne.

Bhishma’s favouritism. After the births of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, Bhishma displays partiality toward the former even though he is the younger prince.

Bhishma displays plenty of partiality toward the Pandavas as well – a fact that Duryodhana laments over often. If Bhishma had been fairer in his affections, the Mahabharata war could have been averted.

Dhritarashtra’s love. This is often considered one of the most important reasons for the Mahabharata war: the inability of Dhritarashtra to rein in the passions of his eldest son, Duryodhana.

Whether Dhritarashtra is motivated by love for his son or anger toward Bhishma, we do not know.

But his refusal to confront Duryodhana ends up emboldening him, and finally causes the Mahabharata war.

Drupada’s revenge. The relationship between Drona and Drupada has a significant impact on the political ties between Kuru and Panchala.

Drona enlists the help of the Kauravas and Pandavas soon after their graduations to invade Panchala, and to imprison its king Drupada. This incident angers Drupada, and he performs a sacrifice in which he is gifted with Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna.

The former is destined to destroy the Kuru dynasty, the latter to kill Drona.

Yudhishthir’s promise. Early on during his reign as emperor, Yudhishthir hears a prophecy from Vyasa that the Kuru dynasty is going to destroy itself by infighting.

Yudhishthir then takes a vow that for the next fourteen years, he will not disobey any instruction or command given him by any of the Kuru elders.

This leads directly to his passive acceptance of everything that occurs during the dice game.

Duryodhana’s ruthlessness. When Krishna comes to offer peace to Hastinapur toward the end, just before the war, he says that the Pandavas will be content with just five villages.

If Duryodhana agrees to this offer, the war will not take place. Dhritarashtra will continue to be king, and the Pandavas will serve the old man as his kinsmen.

But Duryodhana says no. It has to be either war or nothing.

Good versus Evil. Throughout the Mahabharata story, there is a sense of inevitability about the war. We’re told right at the beginning that a great war will happen between the forces of good and evil.

The Pandavas – the eventual victors – represent ‘good’. The Kauravas – the eventual losers – represent ‘bad’.

In this frame of reference, the Mahabharata war is a necessary cleansing of all that is bad in the world.

Detailed Answer: 7 Reasons Why the Mahabharata War was Fought.

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Who was Karna’s charioteer in the Mahabharata War?

On the seventeenth day of the war, Karna asks Duryodhana to make Shalya his charioteer, thinking that having a good charioteer will make him as powerful as Arjuna. Shalya thus agrees to drive Karna’s vehicle, but sabotages his master’s efforts at every turn, becoming one of the main reasons for his death.

Shalya is the brother of Madri and the king of the Madra kingdom. He is therefore the maternal uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva.

Before the war, Yudhishthir gives Shalya very specific instructions regarding Karna.

‘There will be a battle to the death between Arjuna and Karna during this battle, O King,’ says Yudhishthir. ‘On this occasion, contrive to become the charioteer of Karna, and do all that you can to weaken him.’

On the eve of the seventeenth day, Karna proposes that he will fight Arjuna the next day. In order to elevate his power to equal that of Arjuna, he asks Duryodhana to give him the services of Shalya as charioteer.

‘Arjuna and I are comparable in skill and weapons, O King,’ he tells Duryodhana. ‘But he is invincible only because his charioteer – Krishna – is much better than mine. If you can give me the king of Madra as charioteer tomorrow, I will defeat Arjuna.’

This is exactly the scenario that Yudhishthir has predicted before the war began.

Shalya finds himself in the perfect place from which to sabotage Karna’s efforts during the battle with Arjuna.

During the course of the entire day, therefore, Shalya engages Karna in several pointless arguments. Instead of supporting Karna, he confronts him on various points – and even sings the praises of Arjuna and Krishna.

Thus, he becomes one of the main reasons for Karna’s death.

Detailed Answer: Who was Karna’s charioteer in the Mahabharata War?

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How many days did the Mahabharata War last?

The Mahabharata war is fought over eighteen days. It is broken down into five phases: (1) Bhishma Parva, from Day 1 to Day 10, (2) Drona Parva, from Day 11 to Day 15, (3) Karna Parva, on Days 16 and 17, (4) Shalya Parva, on Day 18, and (5) Sauptika Parva, on the eighteenth night when Ashwatthama raids the Panchala camp.

The Mahabharata war is fought over eighteen days and five phases.

The first is the Bhishma Parva, that lasts from the first day till the end of the tenth day. During this time, Bhishma fights as the commander of the Kaurava army.

This period of the war is characterized by Arjuna’s growing hesitation at fighting his grandfather. Krishna gets frustrated at this, and on the tenth day, masterminds a tactic by which Bhishma is removed from the battlefield.

Then comes the Drona Parva, which begins at the start of Day 11 and ends on the evening of Day 15. During this time, Drona leads Duryodhana’s army.

This is easily the most violent phase of the battle. Drona oversees the killing of Abhimanyu. He also decrees that the war should continue into the night of Day 14.

The Pandavas use a lie to force Drona to relinquish his weapons. Dhrishtadyumna then beheads Drona when he is meditating.

As soon as Drona dies, Duryodhana appoints Karna the commander of his army. This begins the Karna Parva, on the morning of the sixteenth day.

It ends with the death of Karna at the end of Day 17. Karna dies at the hands of Arjuna after an intense battle.

Day 18 begins the Shalya Parva, with Shalya taking over from Karna. He burns brightly during the morning, but loses his life to Yudhishthir in the afternoon.

Bhima and Duryodhana have a climactic mace-fight. During this, Bhima cheats and crushes Duryodhana’s thighs with his weapon.

This brings the war to an official close. The Shalya Parva ends. Ashwatthama then takes matters into his own hands and conducts a night-time attack on the Panchala camp. He massacres everyone in sight.

These events are recorded in the Sauptika Parva.

Detailed Answer: How many days did the Mahabharata War last?

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Who survived the Mahabharata war?

The eleven warriors that survive the Mahabharata war are: (1) The five Pandavas, (2) Krishna, (3) Yuyutsu the half-brother of the hundred Kaurava brothers, (4) Satyaki the Vrishni chief who fights alongside Arjuna, (5) Kritavarma the Vrishni chief who fights for Duryodhana, (6) Ashwatthama the son of Drona, and (7) Kripa.

For a war that logs so many casualties, it is indeed noteworthy that all five Pandavas escape from it with their lives intact.

However, they have their share of close shaves. Yudhishthir, Bhimasena, Nakula and Sahadeva all find themselves at the mercy of Karna at various points in the war.

But Karna chooses not to kill them.

Krishna also ends up alive by the end of the war. On a few occasions – notably during Arjuna’s battles with Bhishma, Drona and Bhagadatta – Krishna gets injured. But he always shrugs these wounds off.

Yuyutsu is a son of Dhritarashtra but his mother is not Gandhari. He is often considered one of the Kauravas but strictly speaking, he is not.

At the start of the war, Yuyutsu chooses to fight on Yudhishthir’s side.

On the last day, with numbers thinning and the result foregone, Yuyutsu sets out to the royal palace of Hastinapur to break the news to Gandhari and Dhritarashtra.

This is why he does not spend the night at the Panchala camp. Therefore he escapes death by Ashwatthama’s hand.

Satyaki, the Vrishni king, chooses to fight on the side of the Pandavas. He brings an akshauhini of troops with him.

He is often cited as the most skilful archer on the Panchala side after Arjuna. He has a close encounter with Bhurishrava, an uncle of the Pandavas.

The two of them participate in a violent fight, and at the end, Satyaki is about to be killed but he is rescued by Arjuna – at Krishna’s bidding.

Kritavarma is the other chieftain among the Vrishnis who chooses to fight the Kurukshetra war. He brings an akshauhini of troops to help Duryodhana’s bid.

Kritavarma also helps Ashwatthama secure revenge on the eighteenth night. He stands guard at the entrance of the Panchala camp and kills all men who try to escape Ashwatthama’s onslaught.

As the son of Drona, Ashwatthama fights under his father’s shadow until the old man’s death. The manner of Drona’s killing infuriates him to the point of taking a vow that he will kill Dhrishtadyumna by any means necessary.

After he plunders the Panchala camp on the night of the eighteenth day, he flees as the Pandavas chase him.

During this battle, Krishna curses him that he will roam the earth for centuries with a wound in his forehead that will never heal.

Kripa is the brother of Kripi, wife of Drona. He is therefore Ashwatthama’s maternal uncle.

In the Mahabharata war, he fights on Duryodhana’s side – naturally – but does not exert himself in any noteworthy battles. At the end, he tries to talk Ashwatthama out of the night-time massacre of the Panchalas.

Like Kritavarma, Kripa also stands guard while Ashwatthama is killing thousands of men on the night of Day 18. Kripa continues to live at the Kuru palace during Yudhishthir’s reign.

Detailed Answer: 11 Warriors who Survived the Mahabharata War.

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Who is responsible for the Mahabharata War?

A number of characters are directly or indirectly responsible for the Mahabharata war. Of these, the most important ones are Bhishma, Kunti, Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana, Yudhishthir, Draupadi and Krishna.

Bhishma is one of the stalwarts of the Kuru race. For the welfare of this father, he takes the terrible vow of Brahmacharya, and gives up his right to the throne of Hastinapur.

But his indecision, and his inability to be impartial between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, make him one of the most responsible parties for the war.

Kunti is rightly celebrated as a strong feminine character who raised the Pandavas on her own, in the absence of Pandu. But by transferring her ambitions onto her sons, she becomes one of the causes of the Mahabharata war.

Though she never openly challenges Gandhari or Dhritarashtra, she privately lets her sons know that as the eldest son of Pandu, Yudhishthir is the rightful future king.

She encourages rivalry between the boys, and uses the Kaurava princes as props to unify her sons.

Dhritarashtra’s contribution to the Mahabharata war consists in his reluctance to rein in his eldest son, Duryodhana.

Duryodhana himself becomes directly responsible for the war when he refuses to give his cousins even five villages of his kingdom. He stubbornly says, ‘It is either going to be war or nothing!’

Throughout the Mahabharata, Yudhishthir is depicted as being reluctant to engage in violence. But he is also a conflicted man: while his rational mind shuns violence, a part of him wishes to become emperor, and to enjoy the power that comes with it.

He takes a vow of compliance in order to avoid conflict with the Kauravas. But that very act makes him and his brothers exploitable. Duryodhana makes full use of this and sends them away into exile.

Draupadi is one of the main causes of the war without her volition. Her birth occurs in a sacrifice motivated by revenge. And her life’s purpose is to destroy the Kuru dynasty.

Finally, we come to Krishna. Gandhari makes a pronouncement against Krishna that despite being powerful enough to stop the war, he has chosen not to do so.

That is the nature of Krishna’s responsibility with respect to the war. Though he does not do anything to actively cause it – and indeed, he tries his best to prevent it – the argument is that he did not do enough.

Detailed Answer: Who is responsible for the Mahabharata War?

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What was the final event of the Mahabharata War?

The Mahabharata war ends with a three-part climax: (1) Bhima defeats Duryodhana, after which Krishna declares the war ended; (2) Ashwatthama kills the Upapandavas and Panchalas at night, against the rules of war; (3) The Pandavas defeat Ashwatthama, and Krishna curses him with immortality.

On the evening of the eighteenth day of the war, the Pandavas ferret out a hiding Duryodhana from the bottom of a lake outside Kurukshetra. A mace-fight is set up between him and Bhima.

Despite being evenly matched, Bhima falls behind in this battle. Eventually, prodded by Krishna, Arjuna signals to Bhima to employ an unfair move.

Bhima catches the sign, and crushes Duryodhana’s thighs with his mace. This brings the war to a close – officially.

But Ashwatthama has other ideas. He tells Duryodhana to make him commander of the army – though the ‘army’ contains only three people at this point.

He then goes to the Panchala camp at night and unleashes a torrent of violence upon his sleeping enemies. In this project, he is aided by Lord Shiva.

As far as Ashwatthama is concerned, the war has ended with his act.

But Draupadi has other ideas. When it comes to light that the Panchala camp has been razed to the ground, Draupadi mourns the death of her brothers and sons.

As her grief gives way to anger, she addresses Yudhishthir and says, ‘The war cannot be finished until Ashwatthama is punished!’

The Pandavas give chase, find Ashwatthama, and fight him. Arjuna wins a battle with him, and they bring back his gemstone as proof that he has been defeated.

This soothes Draupadi. Meanwhile, Krishna curses Ashwatthama that he will become a wretched immortal. The war ends properly on this note.

Detailed Answer: What was the final event of the Mahabharata War?

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13 Important Events of the Mahabharata War

The thirteen most important events of the war are: (1) Krishna almost fights; (2) Bhurishrava kills Satyaki’s sons; (3) Arjuna removes Bhishma; (4) Drona promises Duryodhana; (5) Abhimanyu dies; (6) Arjuna kills Jayadratha; (7) Satyaki kills Bhurishrava, (8) Karna kills Ghatotkacha; (9) Drona dies; (10) Arjuna kills Karna; (11) Bhima defeats Duryodhana; (12) Ashwatthama rages, and (13) Krishna curses Ashwatthama.

Though this list is by no means exhaustive, it gives a good summary of all the important ‘beats’ of the Mahabharata war.

During the first ten days, Krishna almost fights against Bhishma on two occasions. The second of these occasions spurs a discussion between the Pandavas, and leads directly to the tactic that they ultimately use to defeat Bhishma.

On Day 5, Bhurishrava, the son of Somadatta and the grandson of Bahlika (Shantanu’s elder brother), kills ten of Satyaki’s sons.

They reprise this rivalry on Day 14, when Satyaki beheads Bhurishrava after the latter had relinquished his weapons. This becomes a kernel of the quarrel between Satyaki and Kritavarma many years later, which leads to the fall of Dwaraka.

On Day 10, Arjuna removes Bhishma from the battlefield, and paves the way for a more ruthless phase of fighting.

As the eleventh day dawns, Drona gives Duryodhana a promise that he will do his utmost to capture Yudhishthir alive and bring him back as prisoner to the Kaurava camp.

This gives rise to the Samshaptakas, who will play an important role in Abhimanyu’s death later.

On Day 13, Abhimanyu dies deep within Drona’s Chakra Vyuha. This is by far the most important event of the war because it unshackles Arjuna from his reluctance to fight.

On Day 14, Arjuna fulfils his oath and kills Jayadratha just as the sun is about to set. Drona then decrees that the fighting should continue into the night.

Also on Day 14, Satyaki takes his revenge on Bhurishrava. But the manner in which he beheads his opponent when he is meditating draws plenty of criticism. Later, Satyaki and Kritavarma come to blows on this point.

During the night-time battle of Day 14, Karna kills Ghatotkacha with the Vasava dart. Thus, he becomes vulnerable to Arjuna – much to Krishna’s delight.

On the late afternoon of Day 15, Drona dies after surrendering his weapons to Yudhishthir’s lie.

As evening approaches on Day 17, Arjuna finally kills Karna, even as the sun of Surya appeals for mercy.

Toward the end of Day 18, Bhima defeats Duryodhana by crushing his thighs with the mace. Krishna declares this to be the end of the war.

But Ashwatthama rages into the night and kills the remainder of the Panchala army singlehandedly. He is helped in this dark quest by none other than Lord Shiva himself. As retribution, Krishna curses Ashwatthama that he will become a wretched wanderer for the rest of eternity.

Detailed Answer: 13 Important Events of the Mahabharata War.

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Who won the Mahabharata War?

The official winners of the Mahabharata war are the Pandavas. But other characters, kingdoms and concepts have been nominated for the title. Among these, the prominent ones are Duryodhana, Draupadi, Anarta, and Dharma.

The official winners of the Mahabharata war are the Pandavas. Specifically, it is Yudhishthir who wins back from Duryodhana the kingdom he had lost fourteen years before.

The Pandavas are declared winners of the war by Krishna after Bhima defeats Duryodhana and crushes his thigh with the mace.

But Duryodhana, after he is beaten by Bhima, rises from his wounded state to deliver one chilling message of warning to Yudhishthir.

He says, ‘You may think you have won the war, Yudhishthir, but look around you. You inherit nothing but a wasteland. You have widowed thousands of women. For years from now, the funeral pyres will continue to burn.’

He declares himself as the victor of the war.

Another possible ‘true victor’ of the Mahabharata war is Draupadi. Draupadi is born to Drupada, but she is not his biological daughter. Drupada performs a sacrifice to seek vengeance upon Drona and the Kuru dynasty.

He receives Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi as gifts. Dhrishtadyumna’s destiny is to kill Drona. Draupadi’s is to bring about the destruction of the Kuru race.

The war, therefore, can be seen as a simple fulfilment of Draupadi’s life’s purpose.

Meanwhile, Anarta, the kingdom of Balarama and Krishna, gains a lot of power because of the Mahabharata war – just by the simple fact that it does not fight in it.

Lastly, the Mahabharata war is characterized by Krishna as being a fight between good and evil. In his opinion, the Pandavas are on the side of Dharma, and the Kauravas on the side of Adharma.

In this model, everyone fighting for the Pandavas is automatically on the side of Dharma, and everyone fighting for the Kauravas is on the side of Adharma.

Seen from this point of view, the true victor of the Mahabharata war is Dharma itself.

Detailed Answer: Who won the Mahabharata War?

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What happened after the Mahabharata War?

After the Mahabharata war, the following events occur: (1) Gandhari curses Krishna; (2) Yudhishthir becomes king; (3) Gandhari, Kunti, Vidura and Dhritarashtra die; (4) Thirty six years later, the Vrishnis die in a civil war; (5) Krishna and Balarama die; (6) The Pandavas fail to reach heaven, with the exception of Yudhishthir.

After the Sauptika Parva (the last of the war books), there are eight more books in the Mahabharata.

What actually happens in them? Here’s a quick summary:

  • The widows and orphaned women of Hastinapur and other kingdoms assemble at Kurukshetra to mourn their men.
  • Yudhishthir is crowned king, and Bhishma instructs the new king on matters such as politics and economics.
  • Bhishma dies.
  • Yudhishthir performs the Ashwamedha Sacrifice. Portents appear that the end of Dwapara is approaching.
  • Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti retire into the forest with Vidura. The four of them die in a fire.
  • The Yadavas are destroyed by in-fighting. Krishna and Balarama die.
  • The Pandavas and Draupadi give up their kingdom and attempt to reach heaven in their mortal bodies. All but Yudhishthir fall to their deaths while climbing up Mount Meru.
  • Yudhishthir passes one final test to gain entry to Amaravati in his human form.

In all, thirty six years pass between the war and the final end of the Mahabharata.

Detailed Answer: What happened after the Mahabharata War?

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21 Battle Formations used in the Mahabharata War

The Mahabharata War references many different formations by name and shape, but very little is known is about their tactical and strategic uses. Of these, the Chakra Vyuha (wheel formation), the Mandala Vyuha (circle formation), the Garuda Vyuha (eagle formation) and the Sarvatobhadra Vyuha (‘safe from all sides’) are the most prominent.

The Mahabharata war is not just an account of two armies going at one another without plan or reason. It is a carefully orchestrated sequence of moves and counter-moves.

Central to each side’s strategy is the spatial arrangement in which they choose to fight on every day of the battle. These are typically described by the Sanskrit word ‘vyuha’, which means ‘plan’.

Here is a quick and dirty list of all battle formations used in the Mahabharata war:

  • Sarvatomukhi Danda Vyuha or the ‘Outward Facing’ Formation – used by the Kauravas on Day 1
  • Krauncharuma Vyuha or the Crane Formation – used by the Pandavas on Day 2, and by the Kauravas on Day 6.
  • Garuda Vyuha or the Eagle Formation – used by the Kauravas on Days 3 and 12.
  • Ardhachandra Vyuha or the Semicircle / Crescent Formation – used by the Pandavas on Days 3, 12 and 16.
  • Makara Vyuha or the Alligator Formation – used by the Kauravas on Days 5 and 16, and by the Pandavas on Day 6.
  • Syena Vyuha or the Hawk Formation – used by the Pandavas on Day 5.
  • Mandala Vyuha or the Circle Formation – used by the Kauravas on Day 7, and by the Pandavas on Day 9
  • Vajra Vyuha or the Diamond Formation – used by the Pandavas on Days 1 and 7.
  • Oormi Vyuha or the Ocean Wave Formation – used by the Kauravas on Day 8
  • Sringataka Vyuha or the Horn Formation – used by the Pandavas on Day 8
  • Sarvatobhadra Vyuha or the ‘Safe from all Sides’ Formation – used by the Kauravas on Day 9
  • Asura Vyuha – used by the Kauravas on Day 10
  • Daiva Vyuha – used by the Pandavas on Day 10
  • Chakra Vyuha or the Chariot Wheel Formation – used by the Kauravas on Day 13
  • Sakata Vyuha (Box Formation), Padma Vyuha (Lotus Formation) and the Soochimukha Vyuha (Needle Face Formation) – used by the Kauravas on Day 14

More on these in the below post!

Detailed Answer: 21 Battle Formations used in the Mahabharata War.

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Further Reading

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