Here is a synopsis and summary of the Mahabharat story.

Patheos offers PDF downloads of the Mahabharat story.

Book Details

Prose version: The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa
Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Pratap Chandra Roy, 1885

In Verse: Mahabharata - Epic of the Bharatas
Translated by Romesh Chunder Dutt
Elm Press, 1899

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Mahabharata Summary

bharat mapBharat Varsh

Two sons, Dhritarashthra and Pandu, are born to Vichitravirya, king of Kurus. Dritrashtra is the elder, but because he is born blind, he is disqualified from becoming king and Pandu takes his place. Dritrashtra is married to Gandhari, who, out of love and respect for her blind husband, willingly keeps herself blindfolded day and night. Once, while hunting in the forest, Pandu is cursed by a sage that he will die if he ever became intimate with a woman. Since he is childless at the time, he leaves the kingdom to his brother and goes into the forest with his wives to perform penance.

In the forest, Kunti and Madri invoke varous gods to beget five sons - Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna for Kunti, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva for Madri. They are known as the Pandavas. Pandu dies shortly, when the sage's curse took effect as Pandu and Madri, inflamed by passion, embrace. Madri burns herself on Pandu's pyre and Kunti returns to Hastinapur, the capital of the Kuru clan. Since the Pandavas are the rightful heirs to the throne of Hastinapur, this is deeply resented by the sons of Dhritarashthra, the Kauravas, especially Duryodhana the eldest.

Duryodhana’s bitterness and hatred boil out when he is just a teenager, and he continuously seeks and wishes death upon the Pandavas. His hatred is nourished by his slippery uncle, Shakuni. An idea of Shakuni’s character can be gathered from his advice to Duryodhana, “Duryodhana, God gave speech to man not to express himself, but to hide what is in his mind. Aided by Shakuni, Duryodhana executes many plots to surreptitiously kill the Pandavas, but thanks to their luck, capabilities and some outside interventions, they escape unscathed. Some of these outside interventions came from unusual quarters. One such was the revival of a poisoned Bhima by the Nagas or snake people, when they give him Navapashana, an elixir made of nine deadly poisons mixed together in precise combinations. Navapashana is still prepared today among the siddhas and yogis of South India.

With hatred and animosity growing between them, the Pandavas and Kauravas grow up in Hastinapur and learn various martial skills from their teacher Drona. Karna, the eldest son of Kunti who was born to and abandoned by her when she was just a teenager, also enters the story. Though an exemplary archer, everyone believes him to be the son of the charioteer who found the baby Karna and raised him as his own child. No one but Kunti knows the truth and she keeps it to herself out of shame and fear. In fact, Karna is now the rightful heir to the throne, though no one knows it except Kunti. Karna is befirended by Duryodhana, who sees his archery skills as a valuable counter to Arjuna's archery.

As the story progresses, the Pandavas are forced into hiding in the forest to escape the Kauravas’ assassination attempts. During their time in the forest, Arjuna wins the hand of Draupadi, the child of Drupada, the powerful king of Panchala. Due to an inadvertant reply from Kunti, Draupadi becomes the common wife of all the Pandavas. Guided by Krishna, the divine incarnate and the Pandavas' cousin, the Pandavas slip through the many traps laid by Duryodhana and return to claim one half of the kingdom. But Yudhisthara, the eldest Pandava, has a weakness for gambling, and Shakuni, a master of the dice game, tricks him into gambling away his wealth, kingdom and even Draupadi, whom the Kauravas attempt to dirobe. She is only saved by Krishna's Grace. In shame for allowing such a thing to happen to a woman's honor, the elders of the court cancel the entire game and return everything to the Pandavas, only to have Yudhishthira lose it all over again!

Bereft of their wealth and honor, the five brothers, their wife, and mother, are forced into an exile of twelve years, plus one year incognito (during which they narrowly escape detection), after which they return to reclaim their half of the kingdom. Of course, the Kauravas refuse. This inevitably leads to the Kurukshetra war, the “mother of all battles” where every king in the land had to choose sides. It is just before the beginning of the war that Krishna imparts the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna and gives him the Vishwaroopa Darshana, a glimpse of the divine.

The war lasts eighteen days, each filled with unremitting bloodshed. The Kaurava army has 11 akshaunis or divisions of soldiers and the Pandavas have 7, making a total of 18. There also happen to be 18 chapters in the epic. The first day belongs to the Kauravas, while the second belongs to the Pandavas. The third day falls to the Kauravas again as Bhishma (Vichitravirya's brother), the Kaurava commander and the eldest of the Kuru clan slays many Pandava soldiers. On day four, Bhima slays eight of the Kauravas. Arjuna's son Iravan is killed on day eight. On day nine, Krishna, who had promised not to take up arms and would stay as Arjuna's charioteer, loses his temper with Bhishma for using powerful divine weapons (astras) against common soldiers. He takes his sudarshan chakra to slay Bhishma, but Arjuna pacifies him. The Pandavas plot to remove Bhishma from the war since his prowess is wrecking havoc on the Pandava army. Bhishma is a man of many morals and would never raise a weapon when faced by a woman, so the Pandavas place Shikhandi as a shield in front of Arjuna when he fights Bhishma on the tenth day.

Shikhandi was a princess Amba in a previous birth and was abducted by Bhishma along wiht her sisters to marry Vichitravirya. However, Amba had sworn to marry only king Shalya, and so Bhishma returns her to Shalya's kingdom. However, Shalya loses interest in Amba after her abduction and spurns her. Amba goes weeping to Bhishma and demands that he make up for his rash abducion by marrying her. Bhishma will have nothing of the sort since he has taken a vow of celibacy. Amba, distraught and broken, takes her life, promising to bring death Bhishma in her next life. Using Shikhandi as a shield, Arjuna takes Bhishma down, thus fulfilling Shikhandi/Amba's vow.

On the thirteenth day, Abhimanyu, Arjuna's son is killed unfairly, when he is attacked by many warriors at once, a ploy that is against the rules of conduct in battle. Both sides begin to drop all codes of conduct from this point and the war turns increasingly ruthless and unscrupulous. On day fourteen, Arjuna takes a vow that he will kill Jayadratha - one of those responsible for Abhimanyu's death - before the sun sets, or take his own life. The Kauravas rally around Jayadratha and prevent Arjuna from coming anywhere near him. As the day ends, Krishna creates an illusion of sunset by raising a dust storm, deceiving the Kauravas into thinking that they have managed to protect Jayadratha. However, the sun is still up, and while the Kauravas are busy rejoicing, Arjuna takes Jayadratha's head off. On Day fifteen, Drona decimates the Pandava army, and Yudhisthara, the ever-truthful, is forced to lie to Drona that Ashwathama (Drona's son) has been killed. Drona drops his arms in grief and sits in meditation, and Drishtadyumna (Draupadi's brother and son of Drona's sworn enemy Drupada) beheads him.

bharat mapBheeshma lies on a bed of arrows.

Dushasana, the second eldest among the Kauravas and the one most involved in trying to disrobe Draupadi, is killed by Bhima. On day seventeen, Karna is killed by Arjuna. On the final and eighteenth day, Yudhisthara kills Shalya and Shakuni is killed by Sahadeva. Bhima breaks Duryodhana's thighs and leaves him for dead. The war is won by the Pandavas but it is not much of a victory. Many of their family and friends are dead, in fact none of their sons survive the war. The story winds down with the aftermath of the battle, and the kingship of Yudhisthara.

Other Resources

1. Mahabharata Stories

2. Leela - An exploration of Krishna's Path by Sadhguru. A free weekly webstream.

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