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Mahabharata Characters

    
Mahabharata Characters
(found in Maha Multipedia)

Abhimanyu     Son of Arjuna and Subhadra, nephew to Krishna. He was slain in the battle of Kurukshetra when just sixteen years old. He married Uttara, King Virata's daughter, and fathered Pariksit.      

Adhiratha     A leader of the sutas- the caste generally employed as charioteers. He found Karna after Kuntî had cast him away in a basket and raised him as his own son. His wife's name was Radha, and thus Karna was known as Radheya.      

Amba     The king of Kashi's eldest daughter. Bhishma abducted her from her swayamvara along with her two sisters to be his brother's bride. After Amba told Bhishma that she had committed herself to Shalva, Bhishma released her. Shalva rejected her as a wife because she had been touched by another, so Amba developed an intense hatred for Bhishma. She worshipped Shiva and obtained a boon that she would kill Bhîsma in her next life. Amba was then reborn as Shikhandhi.      

Ambalika     The king of Kashi's youngest daughter. She was abducted by Bhishma along with her sisters and married Vichitravirya. After he died, she became Pandu's mother (with Vyasa).      

Ambika     Second daughter of the king of Kashi, abducted from her swayamvara by Bhisma. She married Vichitravirya and, after his death, became Dhritarastra's mother  (with Vyasa).      

Arjuna     Third son of Pandu and Kunti, begotten by Indra. He is famous as Krishna's dear friend. He is known by nine other names: Dhananjaya (winner of wealth), Vijaya (always victorious), Swetavahana (he whose chariot is drawn by white horses), Phalguna (born under the auspicious star of the same name), Kiriti (he who wears the diadem), Bhibatsu (terrifying to behold in battle), Savyasachi (able to wield a bow with both hands), Jishnu (unconquerable), and Krishna (dark-complexioned). The name Arjuna means "one of pure deeds." He is said to be an incarnation of the ancient sage Nara. One of the greatest archers of his generation, Arjuna is described as very handsome and popular with the ladies. Besides Draupadi, he married Subhadra, Ulipi       

Ashwatthama     Son of Drona and Kripi. Said to be a partial expansion of Shiva.      

Bharata     A great king in the dynasty of the moon-god (all kshatriyas are descendents either of Chandra, the moon-god, or Surya, the sun-god) who ruled the earth for thousands of years. It was common during the Mahabharata era to call his descendents by his name. Bharata was born from the union of King Dushyanta and the daughter of Kanva Rishi, named Shakuntala.         

Bhima     Pandu and Kunti's second son, sired by Vayu, the wind-god. Bhima is described as a powerful, large and hugely strong man. His favorite weapon was the mace. After the great war he was installed by Yudhisthira as the crown prince.
Besides Draupadi, he married Hidimbi.

Bhisma     Son of Shantanu and Ganga, known as the "grandfather" of the Kurus. Although he never became king, he officiated at Hastinapur as regent until Vichitravirya was of age. He is said to be an incarnation of Dyau, the chief Vasu. Sanskrit editions of the Mahabharata contain an entire book, the Shanti Parva, devoted to Bhishma's instructions on religion and morality, which he delivered to Yudhisthira while lying on the bed of arrows. Bhisma took a vow of celibacy at a very young age so his father Shantanu could marry Satyavati.       

Devaki     Krishna's mother and the wife of Vasudeva, a chief of the Vrishni clan. Sister of Kamsa, she was imprisoned by him soon after her marriage.      

Dhristadhyumna     Son of King Drupada; Brother of Draupadi; He was born of a sacrificial fire along with Draupadi. His father Draupad wanted a son to destroy his arch enemy Drona.

Dhritarastra     The blind son of Vyasa, born to Ambika. Elder brother of Pandu. He became king in Hastinapur after Pandu retired to the forest. Married to Gandhari, and fathered the Kauravas.      

Drona     Teacher of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Son of Bharadvaja,  married to Kripi and had a son, Aswatthama.
The sage Bharadvaja once caught sight of a beautiful apsara and ejaculated into a pot. Drona was born from that pot.       

Drupada     Father of Draupadi and Dhristadhyumna; King of Panchal; father of Shikhandi; Childhood friend and then arch enemy of Drona.      

Durvasa     A powerful rishi famous for his quick temper. The Puranas and Mahabharata contain many stories about Durvasa. He is particularly famous for having granted Kunti the boon that she could summon any god to do her will, which resulted in the births of the Pandavas from five principal deities.

Draupadi     Wife of five Pandavas; daughter of Drupad, king of Panchala. Born from a sacrificial fire at the same time as Dhristadhyumna. Won in a swayamvara by Arjuna. Also known as Panchali (She who is from Panchal), Krishnaa (The Dark One) and Yajnaseni (she who is born from a sacrificial fire).      

Duryodhana     Eldest son of Dhritarastra sons and leader of the Kauravas. Born to Gandhari from a boon she got from Vyasa. He was one of a hundred sons and one daughter, incubated in jars filled with ghee.       

Dushasana     Brother of Duryodhana and son of Gandhari. He dragged and attempted to disrobe Draupadi.      

Dushala     Daughter of Gandhari and Dhritarastra; Lone sister of the hundred Kauravas.      

Gandhari     Wife of Dhritarastra, she blindfold herself after the marriage. Mother of hundred Kauravas and Dushala; Sister of Shakuni; Daughter of the King of Gandhara. She pleased Vyasa and was blessed with a hundred sons. Gandhari is famous for being one of the most chaste ladies in Vedic history. She cursed Krishna at the end of the war.      

Ganga      Married to Shantanu; Mother of Bhishma; Goddess of the sacred river, Ganga. She killed her first seven sons (they were celestial souls cursed to be born as humans). She could not free the eighth soul, Bhishma.      

Ghatotkatcha     The son of Bhima and the raskshasi (demoness) Hidimbi. He became a leader of the Rakshasas and assisted the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. Karna killed him with Indra's celestial Shakti weapon.    

Jayadratha     Son-in-law of Dhritarastra and King of Sindhu kingdom; Married to Dushala, sister of the Kauravas.
When he was born, a heavenly voice announced that he would be a powerful warrior but would be beheaded by an enemy of unparalleled strength. His father, Vridhakshetra, then cursed whomever would cause his son's head to fall to the ground to himself die, his own head shattering into a hundred fragments. Jayadratha was killed by Arjuna at Kurukshetra to avenge Abhimanyu. Arjuna chopped his head off in such a way that it went and landed on the father's lap.      

Kamsa or Kansa     Maternal uncle of Krishna who usurped the throne from his father, Ugrasena. He was killed by Krishna. Details of his life are found in the Bhagavata Purana.
 
Karna     Eldest son of Kunti, sired by the Sun God; Friend of Duryodhana; Raised by a charioteer when his mother abandoned him at birth. Karna was a tremendous archer, famed for his generosity and loyalty. He pledged hiumself to Duryodhana and became an enemy of the Pandavas. Karna had a passionate rivalry and hatred for Arjuna in particular.      

Kripacharya     Teacher of Pandavas and Kauravas but ended up fighting for Kauravas.
Son of the sage Saradvan, who was once practicing asceticism in the forest when he saw the apsara Janapadi. He passed semen, which fell into a clump of reeds, and a boy and girl were born from it. They were named

Kripa and Kripi (sister married to Drona). The two children were found and brought to King Shantanu. Kripa was taught Dhanurveda, the martial arts, by his father, and he became one of the Kurus' martial teachers. Kripa survived the Kurukshetra war and counseled the Pandavas when they ruled the world. Later, they appointed him preceptor of their grandson and heir, Pariksit.      

Krishna     Incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who delivered Bhagavad Gita; cousin of Kunti; Friend and Charioteer of Arjuna; Chief councilor of the Pandavas. Born to Devaki and Vasudeva in a prison cell, but brought up by Yashoda.
       
Kunti     The Pandavas' mother. She was the sister of Vasudeva, Krishna's father. Her own father, Surasena, had given her as a baby to his close friend King Kuntibhoja, who had no children. She was named Pritha at birth, but became better known as Kunti after being raised by Kuntibhoja. She married Pandu.      

Kuru     Ancient king and founder of the Kuru dynasty. Due to his performance of sacrifice and asceticism at the site, the place known as Kurukshetra, named after Kuru, is considered sacred.

Madri     Second wife of Pandu; Mother of Nakul and Sahdeva; daughter of King Shalya.      

Nakula     Son of Madri and Pandu, known for patience      

Pandu     Younger brother of Dhritarastra; husband of Kunti; Father of the Pandava's born to Vichitravirya's widow queen Ambalika (by Vyasa).

Parasara     A powerful rishi, grandson of Vasishta, Father of Vyasa. Satyavati ferried the sage across a river and he was attracted by her beauty. Parasara asked if he could have union with her, promising that by his mystic power she would not lose her virginity. She agreed and they united on an island in the middle of the river, which Parasara shrouded from view by creating volumes of mist. Vyasa was born immediately, fully grown.

Parashurama     A rishi said to be an empowered incarnation of Vishnu. He is famous for having annihilated all the kshatriyas of the world after his father, Jamadagni, had been killed by a kshatriya named Kartavirya. An expert in the Vedic military arts, Parashurama was the martial teacher of Bhishma, Drona and Karna.

Parikshit     Posthumous son of Abhimanyu, heir of the Pandavas. Pariksit means 'the examiner', as the brahmins said he would come to examine all men in his search for the Supreme Lord, whom he saw while still an embryo in his mother's womb.

Sahadeva     Second son of Madri and Pandu; The youngest Pandava. One of the two twin sons of Madri fathered by the Ashvini gods. He conquered southern Bharata before Yudhisthira's Rajasuya sacrifice. Famous for his perceptive powers and intelligence, he was appointed as Yudhisthira's personal advisor after the Kurukshetra war. Besides being married to Draupadî, he married a princess of Madra named Vijaya.      

Satyavati formerly Matsyagandha   Mother of Vyasa (from the union with Parasara Rishi), -Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Step-mother of Bhisma. She married Shantanu.       

Sanjaya     Dhritarastra's charioteer and secretary. Although he belonged to the suta caste, he was a spiritually advanced disciple of Vyasa, who gave him the power to see the events during the Kurukshetra war. Consequently, he narrated all the battle scenes to Dhritarastra.

Shakuni     Younger brother of Gandhari; maternal uncle of Duryodhana; An expert dice player.      

Shantanu or Santanu     Great grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas; Father of Bhishma, Chitranga and Vichitravirya; Married to Ganga and Satyavati.      

Sishupala     King of Chedi and an avowed enemy of Krishna. His mother got a boon from Krishna that he would forgive Shishupala a hundred times. Krishna killed him at Yudhisthira's Rajasuya sacrifice.      

Subhadra     Krishna's sister, (daughter of Devaki and Vasudeva). She married Arjuna and they had a son named Abhimanyu. Unlike her co-wife Draupadi, no details are given in the original text about how she ended her life.      

Uttara     Princess of Virata, pupil of Arjuna as Brihhannala (his disguised identity as the eunuch dance teacher during the Pandavas final year of exile). She married Abhimanyu and their son was named Pariksit.      

Vasudeva     Krishna's father, husband of Devaki.      

Vidura     Son of Vyasa and a palace maidservant; Brother to Dhritarstra and Pandu; counsel to the King of Hatinapur. Vidura was said to be an expansion of Yamaraja, the lord of justice. Once a rishi named Mandavya was mistaken for a robber. The king arrested and punished him by having him pierced by a lance. The sage later went to Yamarâja and asked why this had happened and was told that in his childhood he had pierced an insect with a blade of grass. Hearing that he had received punishment for a mistake made when he was still an ignorant child, the sage cursed Yamaraja to take birth on earth as a sûdra. Thus he became Vidura.      

Virata     King of Matsya- where the Pandavas spent their final year of exile in disguise. Virata's daughter Uttara married Arjuna's son Abhimanyu and so Virata joined the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. Drona killed him in the battle.       

Vyasa     The sage who authored the Mahabharata. Born from the union of Parasara Rishi and Satyavati, he is also known as Krishna Dwaipayana because he was born on an island and dark skinned. Father of Dhritarastra and Pandu. Grandfather of the Pandavas and Kauravas.      

Yudhisthira     Eldest Pândava, born from the union of Kunti and the god Dharma. Famous for his adherence to virtue and truth, he is also known as Dharmaraja, as well as Ajatashatru, which means "one who has no enemies." After the war he ruled the world for thirty-six years and was succeeded by Pariksit.  

Scan of the family tree found in J.A.B. van Buitenan's Mahabharata translation.