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.
(For the full summary of the war, see: 18 Days of the Mahabharata War: A Day-wise Summary.)
In this post, we will look all the warriors that have 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.
Read on to know more about these heroes.
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.
Karna chooses not to land the final blow on his blood-brothers because of his promise to Kunti. Just before the war begins, Karna gives Kunti his word that he will only seek to kill Arjuna among the Pandavas.
Despite his status as the most powerful warrior of the world, Arjuna also finds himself in situations where he is rendered helpless.
For instance, in his battle against Bhagadatta, the Pragjyotisha king hurls a Vaishnavastra at Arjuna. Krishna notices that the weapon is strong enough to destroy Arjuna, so he intervenes and receives the blow on his chest.
When Ashwatthama uses the Narayanastra, Krishna once again protects Arjuna and the rest of the Panchala army.
Finally, during his final battle against Karna, Aswasena the Naga disguises himself as an arrow and speeds toward Arjuna. In the nick of time, Krishna stamps on the chariot and causes its wheels to sink into the earth.
The arrow – instead of hitting Arjuna on the forehead – knocks off his crown instead.
Krishna places himself in the charioteer’s seat of Arjuna’s vehicle. Now, this can mean two things:
- Since Arjuna is the most powerful warrior of the two sides, and since the chariot is indestructible, one can argue that Krishna has chosen the safest position in Kurukshetra.
- On the other hand, since Arjuna is likely to draw fire from all quarters, and since he is expected to participate in all violent battles, one can argue that Krishna occupies Kurukshetra’s most dangerous spot.
Regardless of your opinion on the matter, Krishna does end 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.
Toward the end of the war, after Bhima had defeated Duryodhana, Krishna’s life is momentarily placed in danger (without his knowledge) because of the coup that Ashwatthama plans on the Panchala camp.
But Krishna takes the Pandavas and spends the night with them on the bank of the river Oghavati. He gives no reason for this decision, only informing his cousins that the riverbank is a ‘sacred place’.
If Krishna and the Pandavas had spent the night at the camp instead, they would have either succumbed to Ashwatthama or withstood his attack and killed him.
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, with both armies arrayed against one another, Yudhishthir makes an announcement (probably a formality in all wars) that anyone wishing to switch sides should do so in that moment.
Yuyutsu, along with his division of the army, takes up Yudhishthir on the offer. No reason is given for this behaviour, and none of the characters are heard discussing the matter ever again.
The implication is that Yuyutsu wishes to fight on Yudhishthir’s side because he finds the Pandavas more aligned to his values. But any number of theories can be spun to explain his choice.
On the last day of the war, 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.
Yuyutsu lives a long life, serving Yudhishthir as courtier for thirty six years after the war. Then, when the Pandavas leave on their final journey, they appoint him chief advisor to Parikshit, the new king.
Satyaki is one of the kings that Krishna brings with him into the war. Despite Anarta’s official position that it will remain neutral, Balarama gives the individual Yadava chieftains the freedom to choose whether or not to fight.
Satyaki 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. There are mentions that Satyaki is indeed Arjuna’s disciple, though no details are given about when and where they built that association.
Satyaki’s moment of glory arrives on the fourteenth day, when Yudhishthir sends him on a mission – deep into the Kaurava ranks – to find Arjuna.
He undertakes a lone journey into Drona’s ‘impenetrable’ array, and kills thousands of Kaurava soldiers at the same time.
During this quest, he comes face to face 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.
At the end of the eighteenth day, Satyaki accompanies Krishna and the Pandavas to Oghavati. He thus escapes Ashwatthama’s rage.
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.
It is unclear why Kritavarma chooses to fight on Duryodhana’s side. One possible explanation is that Krishna instructs him to do so, reasoning that since Satyaki is fighting for the Pandavas, it is important for Kritavarma to fight against them.
Otherwise, Duryodhana may have just reason to complain that Anarta is siding with the Pandavas despite declaring itself neutral.
In any case, Kritavarma participates in many small battles – most notably, he is one of the atirathas to hunt Abhimanyu down – but does not engage with any of the strong warriors on the Pandava side.
Arjuna does fight with him briefly on the fourteenth day, but the battle ends without a clear winner.
Kritavarma also helps Ashwatthama secure revenge on the eighteenth night. While the son of Drona massacres the sleeping Panchala soldiers, Kritavarma stands guard at the entrance and kills all men who try to escape.
Kritavarma and Satyaki, ironically, lock horns on a minor Kurukshetra matter thirty six years later. Their argument escalates into a full-blown civil war that destroys the Vrishnis.
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.
Ashwatthama distinguishes himself on many occasions during the war. Among the most notable of his performances is the way in which he tackles the threat of Ghatotkacha during the fourteenth night.
After he plunders the Panchala camp on the night of the eighteenth day, he flees as the Pandavas chase him.
He fights against Arjuna and releases a Brahmastra that renders all the Pandava women infertile. This enrages Krishna, who curses Ashwatthama that he will roam the earth for centuries with a wound in his forehead that will never heal.
The Pandavas then take the gemstone from Ashwatthama’s forehead to Draupadi, as proof that he had been defeated.
Ashwatthama’s long life, therefore, is not a gift but a curse. The Pandavas and Krishna intend to kill him, but they decide that a life of pain is more horrible than death.
Kripa is the brother of Kripi, wife of Drona. He is therefore Ashwatthama’s maternal uncle.
He and Kripi are found during Shantanu’s time in the forest as infants, playing on a clump of heath. Shantanu gives them their names and rears them at the palace.
Kripa becomes the first preceptor to the Pandavas and Kauravas. He is therefore called Kripacharya.
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.
But when he sees that Ashwatthama is not in the mood to listen, he performs his duty by following the orders of his commander. (Duryodhana, before dying, appoints Ashwatthama the commander of his forces.)
Like Kritavarma, Kripa also stands guard while Ashwatthama is killing thousands of men, and ensures he kills his fair share of people who try to escape from the Panchala camp.
Kripa continues to live at the Kuru palace during Yudhishthir’s reign.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered