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 answer the question: 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.
(For a more complete analysis of the Mahabharata War, see: 18 Days of the Mahabharata War: A Day-wise Summary.)
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.
Even as Duryodhana rages about how the Pandavas used unfair methods to win the war, Krishna blows on his conch, decrees that the war has come to an end, and tells everyone that the sons of Pandu have won.
(Suggested: What happens after the Mahabharata War?)
However, the Pandavas do not get to enjoy any spoils of the war. On that same night, Ashwatthama massacres the entire Panchala camp and kills everyone in sight.
On the Pandava side, therefore, only the five brothers, Satyaki and Krishna survive the war. Everyone else succumbs.
They also have to contend with Ashwatthama’s curse that renders all of them impotent. Of all the heirs they have, only one survives: the son of Subhadra and Abhimanyu. They name him Parikshit.
After he is beaten by Bhima and after Krishna blows on his conch, Duryodhana 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.
‘What lies ahead of you is a long, hard slog. You’re welcome to try and erase the memory of this war that will endure forever.
‘As for me, I enjoyed my time here on Earth. I lived as king for the best years of my life. And I have earned my death as a hero, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
‘A place in heaven is assured for me. Whereas for you, years and years of suffering await. Who, then, has won this war? You or me?’
When Duryodhana gives this speech, a number of celestial beings emerge from their abodes to shower him with flowers. They declare that Duryodhana was a great king.
Seen from this point of view, Duryodhana is the true victor of the war.
There are many reasons for the Mahabharata war. One of the important ones is the need the Pandavas feel to avenge the humiliation wrought upon their wife, 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.
Throughout the Pandavas’ exile, Draupadi reminds her husbands over and over about all her insults so that their passions do not dim. She extracts from Krishna a promise that all her perpetrators will be punished.
The Mahabharata war, then, is just a method to exact Draupadi’s revenge. Even at the very end, when Ashwatthama kills the Upapandavas, Draupadi sends her husbands out to punish Ashwatthama – even though the war had ‘ended’.
The main victor of the Mahabharata war seen from this lens is therefore Draupadi, because she fulfils her destiny through it.
Anarta is the kingdom ruled by Balarama and Krishna. By Balarama’s decree, Anarta remains politically neutral during the war of Kurukshetra, choosing neither side.
In order to make his position clear, Balarama even goes on a pilgrimage for the entire eighteen days of the war. He returns on the evening of the eighteenth day, just as Bhima and Duryodhana are gearing up for their fight.
Despite this, through Satyaki and Kritavarma, they contribute two akshauhinis of troops to the war. One fights for the Pandavas, the other for the Kauravas.
Krishna also divides his own personal resources equally between the two sides. To the Pandavas he makes himself available as a consultant only, without bearing arms. To the Kauravas he gives his Narayana army.
But the kingdom of Anarta, on the whole, remains neutral. And this neutrality gives them all the momentum going into the aftermath of the war.
In the thirty six years following the war, Balarama and Krishna take Anarta to the absolute pinnacle, making it the most powerful kingdom in the world.
As in most wars, true victory graces those that choose not to fight.
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.
The likes of Drona, Bhishma, Karna and Shalya – despite being good men – are all deserving of being punished because they knowingly picked the ‘wrong side’.
Duryodhana is depicted as the king of the Rakshasas, the most powerful of all evil forces. In order to defeat him, all the gods descend to Earth in various forms and fight under Krishna – who is himself Vishnu incarnate.
If we accept this premise, then the winner of the Mahabharata war is Dharma itself.
Vishnu has come down from heaven in order to restore Dharma to its rightful spot. By defeating the evildoers, the Pandavas and Krishna perform just that very act.
If you liked this post, you may find this interesting also: 18 Days of the Mahabharata War: A Day-wise Summary.