The Kurukshetra War was a war between two families - the Kauravas, led by Duryodhana and their cousins, the Pandavas, led by Yudhisthira as the result of a succession struggle for the kingdom of Hastinapura. The decisive, final battle occurred at Kurukshetra, in the modern state of Haryana, northeast India.
- 1 Kaurava Family
- 2 Pandava Family
- 3 Background
- 4 The Battle of Kurukshetra
The ruler of Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra, had a wife named Gandhari, who wished for 100 sons. Her boon was granted by Vyasa, a sage who wrote the Mahabharata, the story of this war. The eldest of these was Duryodhana, was still younger tha the eldest Pandava - Yudhisthira. Thus (in compliance with succession laws at the time), as eldest of his generation, Yudhisthira, despite the ambitions of Dhritarashtra and Duyodhana, could claim to be heir to Hastinapura. A list of Dhritarashtra's sons can be found here.
The five acknowledged sons of Pandu, Dhritarashtra's younger brother who preceeded his blind brother as king After killing a sage in the act of lovemaking, he was cursed to die whenever he attempted to have intercourse with a woman. He then abdicated the throne to live a life of celibacy with his two wifes, Kunti and Madri. Dhristarashtra succeeded the childless Pandu as king of Hastinapura. He told Kunti of the curse and she was granted a boon by the sage Durvasa to have children
Kunti had been given a special chant which could be used to summon a god of her choice to make her pregnant. She tested this boon originally by calling upon Surya, the sun god. She gave birth to Karna, who she abandoned. Karna eventually fought against the Pandavas unknwoingly and is killed by his half-brother Arjuna as a result of a curse.
The Palace of Lakshagraha
Duryodhana was intensely jealous of the Pandavas and refused to accept them as kin. He, advised by his maternal uncle Shakuni, plotted to remove them. Dhritarashtra was forced to acknowledge Yudhisthira as heir by public opinion. In rage, Duryodhana plotted to murder Yudhisthira. He commissioned a palace to be built, incorporating flammable materials into the structure. He invited the Pandavas and his (paternal) uncle Vidura, to stay there. In the middle of the night, the palace was ignited. However, Vidura uncovered the plot and smuggled himself and the Pandavas out through a tunnel.
They lived disguised as holy men in the forest for a number of years until their got word of an archery contest for the hand of the maiden Draupadi. Arjuna entered the contest and won. They returned home to Kunti and told her they had received "alms". She, being busy with work, told them to share it equally. Thus they obeyed their mother and all five marred Draupadi.
Return to Indraprastha
When Dhritarashtra heard the Pandavas were alive, he invited them back. However, during their absence, Duryodhana became crown prince. To appease both his son and nephew, Dhritarashtra partitioned the kingdom and gave the Pandavas the city of Indraprastha (modern Delhi) to rule over.
The Dice Games
Shakuni convinced Duryodhana to challenge Yudhisthira to a game of dice. Shakuni owned a magic pair of dice that gave him the desired numbers at his will. He used this and his own guile to persuade Yudhisthira to gamble all of his wealth away to Duryodhana. Eventually, they convinced Yudhisthira to gamble away his brothers, then himslef and then Draupadi.
Duryodhana won all the games and so enslaved the Pandavas and their wife. He took her to his father's court, whereupon he and his brothers humiliated her by abusing her. Eventually, Duryodhana ordered her to be disrobed, as she was now a slave with no rights. However, Dhritarashtra and his senior counsellors objected. Draupadi prayed to Vishnu to save her and when Durodhana was unwinding her clothes, Vishnu made them magically increase in length until Duryodhana gave up. Dhritarashtra ordered all the Pandavas' belongings returned to them.
Duryodhana then threatened suicide and coerced his father into inviting the Pandavas for a last game of dice. Tjhe bet was that the loser had to spend 12 years in exile and another incognito. If, during the last year, they were found, another cycle would begin. Due to Shakuni's dice, the Pandavas lost and spent 12 years in the forest and their last disguised as peasants in Virata's kingdom.
After they completed this, they demanded Indraprastha back. Duryodhana refused to give them even 5 villages and so the two sides and their respective allies prepared for a great war, in which only one of the hundreds of kingdoms would remain neutral.
The Battle of Kurukshetra
On the first day, Krishna becomes Arjuna's charioteer and Yudhisthira receives the blessing of his great-granduncle Bhishma (who fights for the Kauravas) to do well in battle. The Pandava army suffered great losses
Day two passe with the Kaurava army suffering great losses
Duryodhana is wounded and Arjuna duels Bhishma to no avail
Eight Kaurava brothers are killed by Bhima. Bhishma advises Duryodhana to sue for peace
Days 5, 6 and 7
Equal casualties on both sides
Arjuna's son is killed whilst Bhima kills eight more Kaurava brothers
Bhishma unknowingly battles Shikhandi (who had been a woman in a prior life), though he had vowed not to. Bhishma is severely wounded by arrows but unable to continue (as he promised his father, Shantanu, not to die until Hastinapura was safe
Karna enters the battle on the Kaurava side to replace Bhishma. Attempts to capture Yudhisthira fail
Arjuna kills the king of Trigarta, Sushama and all his sons
Bhagadatta, king of Prajyotisha, reinforces Duryodhana with thousands of elephants. Abhimanyu, Arjuna's son, is killed combating Drona's (the Kaurava counsellor) forces
Karna kills Ghatotkacha, Bhima's son
Drona single-handedly kills king Virata and king Drupada (Draupadi's father) and defeats Bhima. Krishna tells Yudhisthira that Drona would surrender if his son, Ashwathama, was killed. Yudhisthira kills and elephant of the same name and tells Drona of Ashwathama's death. Drona surrenders but is killed by Dhristadyumna, Draupadi's brother and Drupada's son.
Kunti secretly meets with her first son Karna, telling him of his brothers. He promises to secretly spare them if he encounters them
Karna defeats and spares Sahadeva and Yudhisthira. He is killed, however, by Arjuna. Sahadeva kills Shakuni
Bhima, Nakula and Yudisthira kill the reamining Kaurava brothers, except Duryodhana who hides away. 3 of Duryodhana's warriors massacre the rest of the Pandava army. Only twelve warriors (including the 5 Pandavas, Krishna and Karna's son Vrishakethu). Yudhisthira is crowned king of Hastinapura and, after 36 years, abdicates and is succeedd by Parikshit, Abhimanyu's son. He, Draupadi and his brothers journey to the Himalayas and are welcomed into the Underworld by Yudhisthira's father, Yama.