Summary: Mahabharata is much more than the family feud between the Kauravas and Pandavas. Short stories from Mahabharata are inspiring, informative, thought-provoking, and multi-layered. Every Parva in the epic has various stories meant to teach human values and spiritual wisdom. From politics to law, accounting, diplomacy, and ethical dilemmas, many concepts of the universe can be…

Mahabharata and Ramayana are the two itihasas in the Hindu Dharma. The former was composed by Vyasa Maharishi while the latter was composed by Rishi Valmiki. Vyasa Maharishi is one of the Chiranjeevis (people who have lived for centuries) and is also known as Krishna Dvaipayana-Vyasa. He recounted the Mahabharata epic to Prabhu Ganesha (Vinayaka), who wrote it down to be passed to future generations. Many short stories from Mahabharata have been shared over the centuries – sometimes to pass on the knowledge and sometimes as bedtime stories for kids. Traditionally, these stories from the Mahabharata were narrated in Hindi and the various regional languages of India. However, since most students study in English nowadays, the stories from Mahabharata in Hindi have taken a backseat and people prefer to read the Mahabharata in English.

The Mahabharata has a story or two for every theme related to human life. While it is not possible to discuss all stories in a single post, we will present some interesting stories from each of the eighteen parvas. You will notice that some of these have been presented as stories from Mahabharata in Hindi for kids, while some have been retold as love stories. Interestingly, even the ones meant for entertainment teach a lesson to the reader. 

Short Stories from Mahabharata         

Mahabharata is divided into eighteen Parvas. The epic is around four times longer than Ramayana. The Adi Parva, or The Book of the Beginning, starts with an introduction and setting. It details how Sauti narrated the Mahabharata to the rishis at Naimisharanya. 

The subsequent Parvas have self-explanatory titles. While they deal with specific events in the lives of Pandavas and Kauravas, the Parvas also have stories from Ramayana, an Itihaasa like the Mahabharata, and the Puranas and characters not directly related to the central plot. 

Note: The timeline in Mahabharata can be confusing, especially in Adi Parva. We can see literary concepts like story-within-a-story used very often in the narration. 

Mathematics in Mahabharata (Adi Parva)

The rishis at Naimisharanya asked Sauti about the number of soldiers, weapons, and animals used by the Pandavas and Kauravas during the Kurukshetra war. Sauti provided the information in a fantastic calculation. He said a total of eighteen Akshauhinis were gathered in the war on both sides. While the Pandavas had seven Akshauhinis and mighty Kauravas had eleven (the Kaurava army was always bigger). 

But what was an Akshauhinis? 

An Akshauhini was a unit of army composed of chariots, elephants, foot soldiers, and horsemen. Each of them played specific roles on the battlefield and had different positions, just like in the game of chess. 

The smallest unit was known as a Patti. One Patti consisted of one chariot, one elephant, five foot soldiers, and three horsemen. 

  • Three Pattis formed a Senamukha.Three senamukhas make a Gulma. 
  • Three gulmas made a Gana.
  • Three ganas formed a Vahini. 
  • Three vahinis were called a Pritana. 
  • Three pritanas came together to form a Camu. 
  • Three camus became an Anikini
  • Ten ankinis were described as an Aksauhini.

So, in short, an Akshauhini consisted of the following: 

  • Twenty-one thousand eight hundred and seventy chariots
  • Twenty-one thousand eight hundred and seventy elephants
  • One hundred and nine thousand three hundred and fifty foot soldiers
  • Sixty-five thousand six hundred and ten horses 

Phew! Imagine that. Is there any wonder the Kurukshetra War is considered one of the biggest wars on the land? 

Also, did you notice how wonderful math was in ancient India? They had a specific term for everything. 

Why Does Ananta Sesha Carry The Earth on His Head? (Adi Parva)

Sesha was the eldest son of Kadru, one of the thirteen wives of Rishi Kashyapa. She gave birth to a thousand resplendent serpents, while her sister Vinata gave birth to Aruni and Garuda. Though most of the serpents inherited Kadru’s wickedness, Sesha was the total opposite. When he heard Brahma had acknowledged Kadru’s curse that the serpents would perish in a fire ceremony in the future, Sesha decided to do penance to change his future. He performed severe penance for years until Brahma himself appeared to give him a boon. 

Sesha told Brahma that he wasn’t wicked like the other serpents, nor did he have hatred for anyone. He wanted to cast off his old life and spend the rest of the days worshiping Brahma. The great creator – Brahma – was very pleased and assured Sesha that his pure heart had already given him what he wanted and that he should ask for a boon for the future. Sesha replied he wanted to always work for Dharma, peace, and love and that his heart should never yield to worldly temptation. 

Brahma agreed and told him to go underground and hold Mother Earth on his hood. That way, he would support her in maintaining the natural balance and order and fulfill his wish of following Dharma. That was how Sesha became Ananta Sesha or Adi Sesha. 

Note: Some short stories from Mahabharata are not related to the central plot but might have a distant influence on them. This particular story connects with the snake sacrifice ceremony conducted by King Janamejaya.



The House of Lac (Adi Parva)

The burning of the house of Lakshagraha is an important incident and one of the well-known short stories from Mahabharata. Yudhistira was crowned the prince of Hastinapura. Naturally, this annoyed Duryodhana and the other Kauravas. They were already furious that their previous attempts to finish off the Pandava brothers were unsuccessful. 

Hence, Dhuryodhana and his uncle Sakuni came up with a nefarious plan. They built a special house for the Pandavas with highly inflammable materials. Their idea was to send the Pandavas, under some pretext, to live there and torch the house. It would finish off the Pandavas and the entire incident would look like an accident.

The House of Lac was ready in the city of Varanavata. Duryodhana convinced his father, Dhritarashtra, to send the Pandavas there for the festive celebrations in the city. When they arrived with Kunti, the Kauravas hosted them in the house of Lac as per the plan. Duryodhana even sent his faithful counselor, Purochana, under the guise of house help. Purochana was to set the plan in action when the opportunity arose. 

However, Vidura got a sniff of the plan and alerted Yudhistira. Vidura also sent a trusted miner to dig a secret passage from inside the house to a safe place away from it. Ten days later, the passage was ready. After a hearty feast one night, a woman with her five sons decided to stay back and sleep in the house (unbeknownst to the Pandavas) instead of going away. Even Purochana had consumed too much wine and was in a deep sleep. Sensing their chance, Bheema torched the house himself. 

The Pandavas and Kunti managed to escape through the dark passage. The flames threatened to reach them, but Bheema carried Kunti and urged his brothers to pick up speed. Once they were safe and outside the passage, they were greeted by a man. Vidura had arranged for them to cross the River Ganga and escape into a forest.  

Meanwhile, the citizens suspected that Duryodhana was responsible for the fire. When they found six charred bodies, they lamented that the Pandavas were murdered by the greedy Kauravas. The Pandavas spent the next few months in disguise. The Kauravas were first elated by the news but soon began to be suspicious. Even they knew that killing the Pandavas wasn’t as easy as it seemed. 

Bheema Marries Hidimbi (Adi Parva)

Living in a forest with no shelter wasn’t easy for the Pandavas, but they managed to survive. The brothers took turns to forage for food during the day while Bheema stood guard as their protector all night. A while later, Hidimba, a rakshasa, came across the Pandavas. He loved human meat and wanted to savor the entire family. However, sensing their strength, Hidimba hatched a plan. 

He sent his twin sister Hidimbi to sweet-talk the family and lure them to where the demons lived. Then, he would eat them one by one. Hidimbi agreed, but the sight of the mighty Bheema changed her heart. She fell in love with the strength and valor he radiated. Fearing that her actual looks might push him away, she transformed herself into a beautiful young woman. 

Hidimbi went to talk to Bheema and enquired about his family. Then she expressed her desire to marry him and even warned about her brother’s intentions. However, Hidimba arrived at the scene and realized his sister was no longer on his side. Enraged, he attacked Bheema, who killed him in the combat. Hidimbi mentioned marriage once again. 

Bheema didn’t agree because he was responsible for his family’s safety and did not want to neglect that duty. She then appealed to Kunti, who convinced him to agree to her request. Bheema agreed at last, but with a condition that he would spend only the daytime in her company. Every night, he would guard his family from harm. Hidimbi accepted the condition. She was even more impressed by his loyalty to his family. 

They spent around a year together when Hidimbi gave birth to a half-demon son with a bald head. They named him Ghatotkacha. Since they were in hiding, the Pandavas did not stay in any place for long. After Ghatotkacha was born, they moved to another forest. Hidimbi stayed back with her son. Ghatotkacha grew up into a powerful warrior and ruler of the forest. He loved the Pandavas even though he hardly had any chance to meet them. When the time arose decades later in the Kurukshetra War, Ghatotkacha wreaked havoc on the Kaurava army before being felled by Karna. The Pandavas were heartbroken by his death. 

Bheema Kills Bakasura (Adi Parva)

Another of the famous short stories from Mahabharata is the incident of Bheema killing Rakshasa Bakasura. This event occurred after the Pandavas left the forest to live in a small village called Ekachakra. They were still disguised as Brahmins and did their best to stay under the radar. However, the village was tormented by a rakshasa called Bakasura.

Bakasura was a powerful rakshasa who killed people at a whim and ate them. Unable to survive his attacks, the villagers made a deal with him. They would themselves send food to feed Bakasura. In turn, he wouldn’t kill their families at random. Along with the cartload of rice, Bakasura would also get two buffaloes and the person who took food to him. What else could the poor folk do? 

One day, it was the turn of the Pandavas’ host Brahmin family to provide the food. The family wept and argued about who would go and end up as Bakasura’s meal. The husband said he would, but the wife, Brahimini said she would go. Their young daughter said she would be the one to sacrifice herself. The youngest child, a boy little more than a toddler, grabbed a grass blade and said he would go and kill the Rakshasa. 

Kunti who overheard their cries told Bheema they would have to help the hosts. Bheema asked her to enquire about the reason so that he could find a solution. The Brahmin explained how the villagers made a deal with Bakasura. He added that their king lived far away and was a useless man. He said the Rakshasa would devour the entire family if they didn’t send food as per the deal. Since the Brahmin didn’t know who he could sacrifice from his family, he decided that the entire family would sacrifice their lives at once.

Kunti stepped in and told him that one of her sons would take his place but the Brahmin didn’t agree. He protested that he wouldn’t fall so low as to harm a guest. Kunti assured him that her son was blessed and very powerful and that he had killed many demons in the past. She even said that they had to keep it a secret as per his guru’s orders. After much convincing, the Brahmin relented and allowed Mata Kunti to send one of her sons to the demon.

Bheema was excited to teach the Rakshasa a lesson. Yudhistira didn’t like the risk they were taking. He questioned Kunti how she could sacrifice her son to help others. Moreover, they were in hiding and couldn’t afford to reveal their identities. She told him that she knew exactly what she was doing. They were helping their host and performing the noble act of freeing the village from the clutches of a Rakshasa. Also, Bheema was strong and had already killed Hidimba. Bakasura was no big deal. 

Bheema carried the food to the rakshasa’s place. However, his mouth watered from the scents. So he consumed the food, while loudly calling for the Rakshasa to show his face. Bheema taunted Bakasura and challenged him to a fight. The enraged Bakasura agreed, only to end up dead

Throughout Mahabharata, Bheema killed many powerful rakshasas and men who almost matched him in strength. Hidimba, Bakasura, Jatasura, Kirimira, and Maniman were the rakshasas killed by Bheema. Similarly, Jarasandha, Kichaka, and Dhuryodhana were kings/warriors who found death in Bheema’s hands. Each of these short stories from Mahabharata has lessons about the importance of physical strength as well as the need to stay on the path of Dharma.

The Palace of Indraprastha (Adi Parva)

Arjuna won Draupadi’s hand in the swayamwar, and she ended up marrying the five Pandava brothers. The news soon reached Hastipanura, revealing that the Pandavas did not die in the burning of the house of Lac but had managed to escape. The elders were delighted with this information, although Duryodhana was annoyed by his failure. 

The elders, like Bhishma, Dronacharya, and Vidura knew that the Kauravas would never live in peace with the Pandavas, so they urged Dhritarashtra to divide the kingdom into two so that the Kauravas and Pandavas would be sovereign over independent regions.

When the Pandavas went to seek blessings from Dhritarashtra, he announced that he would give half the kingdom to the Pandavas. However, Dhritarashtra gave them Khandavaprastha, which was the unproductive and arid part of the kingdom. The Pandavas accepted their share gracefully and decided to turn the uninhabitable land into a beautiful and prosperous region. Krishna, as always, offered both help and guidance to the Pandavas.  They cleared the ground, made a truce with the nagas, and killed demons that caused trouble to everyone.


It took a lot of work, but the Pandava brothers managed to achieve the impossible. They built Indraprastha and turned the place alive with trade, commerce, security, and entertainment for people who began to settle in the kingdom. 

A while later, a Brahmin visited Krishna and Arjuna and requested them to satisfy his hunger. He was none other than Agni Deva, who wanted to consume the Kandava forest protected by Indra. The forest was home to many creatures, including Taksaka, the Naga King. He was, however, away from the forest when the burning took place. 

Arjuna requested Agni Deva to bestow them with weapons to do the needful. Agni Deva then summoned Varuna Deva, the protector of the worlds. He asked Varuna Deva to gift the Gandiva to Arjuna and the Sudarshan Chakra to Krishna. He also asked for the powerful chariot gifted by Raja Soma. The chariot was built by Viswakarma and dazzled like the sun. 

Arjuna accepted the Gandiva and thanked the gods. He strung it in a swift move and tested its strength. The twang sound made by the Gandiva caused shivers in those who heard it. Varuna Deva also gave Krishna a Kaumodaki, a majestic club. 

The duo went to Kandava to stand guard on both sides as Agni devoured the forest to his heart’s content. They killed many demons and other creatures and prevented more from escaping. Even the gods came down to fight Arjuna and Krishna were unable to withstand the ferocious onslaught of their attack.

The gods and Indra realized that Khandava had to be brunt as it was fate, and no amount of interfering would stop it. Since Taksaka was safe, Indra ended the fight and went back to heaven with the other gods. Then suddenly, Krishna saw Maya, an asura, trying to escape. He tried to attack him.

However, Maya rushed to Arjuna to seek his protection. Arjuna, following his Kshatriya Dharma took Maya under his protection. He would have fought even Krishna to protect Maya. However, Krishna supported Arjuna’s decision instead of fighting him. 

Agni Deva burned the forest for fifteen days and spared only six lives – Aswasena, Maya, and four birds called Sarngakas. Indra descended from heaven again to give Arjuna a boon. Arjuna asked for celestial weapons, and Indra said he would gladly give them all when the time was right. 

Maya, the asura, was also happy to be saved. He promised to return the favor by constructing the most beautiful and mesmerizing palace for the Pandavas. This building was named the Maya Sabha. It was the most beautiful palace on Earth and equaled the beauty of celestial palaces. It was also the same place where Duryodhana fell into a pool of water, felt insulted, and used it to take revenge on the Pandavas.

How Bheema Kills Jarasandha (Sabha Parva) 

Jarasandha ruled Magadha and was known for his incredible strength. He was an evil king attacking the surrounding kingdoms to grow his empire. When the Pandavas planned for Yudhistira’s Rajasuya yajna, Krishna told them that they would have to overpower the mighty Jarasandha, who already had a lot of allies, and get him out of the way if the Pandavas wanted to succeed with the Rajasuya. In fact, Jarasandha escaped the earlier attempts by Krishna and Balarama and survived to become even crueler. 

With Krishna’s help, Bheema and Arjuna disguised themselves as Brahmins and went to meet Jarasandha. Despite his bad deeds, Jarasandha respected Brahmins and gave them what they asked for. They decided to challenge him to pick one of them for a hand-to-hand combat. Krishna was confident that someone like Jarasandha wouldn’t choose anyone other than the powerful Bheema, who looked sturdy even in disguise. 

As expected the combat began. Jarasandha and Bheema had equal strength and skills. Soon, Bheema overpowered Jarasandha and tore him apart. However, Jarasandha’s two halves of the body always came together like two poles of a magnet and became whole again. When this happened multiple times, Krishna took a blade of grass and showed Bheema a trick. The Pandava brother tore Jarasandha’s body into two and flung the halves far apart on opposite sides. This prevented his body from coming together, and finally, the evil king of Maghada was killed. 

Vikarana Vs. Karna (Sabha Parva)

Draupadi Vastraharan was a pivotal event in Mahabharata. It occurred after Yudhistira lost everything in the game of dice, including himself, his brothers, and even Draupadi. When Dushasana dragged Draupadi to the court, she asked the elders a single question – Did they or didn’t they win her (they being the Kauravas)? 

Surprisingly, Vikarana, the third Kaurava brother, supported Draupadi and raised four points. They were as follows: 

  1. Yudhistira staked Draupadi during a game of dice, and gambling was considered a vice. Decisions taken under such influences should not be considered binding. 
  2. Draupadi belonged to all five Pandavas, so Yudhistira alone could not stake her. 
  3. Yudhistira staked Draupadi under Sakuni’s influence and not of his free will. The elders should deliberate on that angle also. 
  4. Finally, Yudhistira already lost himself and no longer had rights, so he could not stake another person. 

However, Karna supported Dhuryodhana’s decision to insult Draupadi and provided a point-to-point rebuttal for the same. He said: 

  1. Though you claim Yudhistira was under the influence of dice, he wasn’t forced into it. He joined the game of free will, which applied to all his decisions during the game. 
  2. Though Draupadi was not his alone, she was the queen of Indraprastha, and she sat beside him for the Rajasuya yajna performed a while ago, which implied he had more than enough right to stake her. 
  3. Since Yudhistira already knew the rules before participating, the blame cannot be placed on Sakuni for suggesting what/whom to stake next. 
  4. A wife is considered to be her husband’s possession just as a child is considered to be its father’s possession till it grows up. Neither a child nor a wife can own property. Therefore, Draupadi was Yudhishthira’s possession and could stake her even though he had lost himself. 

Not satisfied with the insults, Karna called Draupadi a harlot. He said a woman should have only one husband but she had many, which was proof of her character. He also added that dragging her to the court in a single cloth or even naked was more than permissible.  

Then, Karna encouraged Dhuryodhana, who made lewd gestures to Draupadi. Dhuryodhana told her she was his servant and should sit on his lap. Karna also ordered Dushasana to ignore Vikarna and disrobe her. Draupadi prayed to Krishna, who helped her retain her modesty and self-respect. 

Considering this event, it’s rather difficult to understand why some contemporary authors prefer to portray Draupadi as a woman who was head over heels in love with Karna, in their retellings of the epic. 

The Akshayapatra (Aranya Parva) 

The Akshayapatra was a divine vessel gifted to Draupadi when the Pandavas went for their thirteen-year exile. Surya Deva gave the vessel to help the Pandavas have enough food and to serve the guests they might have to feed. The Akshayapatra would continue to give endless amounts of food as long as Draupadi served the food to others. However, once she had her own meal, the Akshayapatra stopped giving more food that day. It would resume generating food the next day, but only until Draupadi took her lunch. To ensure that everyone was properly fed, Draupadi would have her first meal at the end of the day. Thus several days went by without any major incident.

However, the Kauravas, who were always plotting to trouble the Pandavas, came up with a vile plan. They sent Rishi Durvasa and his disciples to camp nearby so that the Pandavas would be forced to offer hospitality. They also made sure the rishi went to the camp later in the day after Draupadi would have had her meal. 

Durvasa was known for his short temper. He would curse anyone who even dared to look at him. When the Pandavas heard this news, they were tense. The Akshayapatra would not give them any more food for the day as Draupadi had just had her meal. Not knowing what to do, she prayed to Krishna, who planned a surprise visit to their ashram. 

Krishna then asked Draupadi to bring the Akshayapatra to him. He spotted a small fragment of Amarnath leaf on the inside of the vessel and ate it. Rishi Durvasa and his disciples were washing themselves in the nearby river at that time. Miraculously, as soon as Krishna ate that leaf, the rishi and his disciples felt full as if they had eaten a sumptuous meal. When they returned to the Pandavas, instead of asking for food, they simply thanked the Pandavas and left happily without consuming a single morsel. 

Draupadi realized it was Krishna’s magic that saved them once again. Many short stories from Mahabharata have Krishna playing a vital role directly or indirectly. 

Note: In many parts of India, people follow the custom of not emptying the rice vessel during meals. The bowl used to cook rice will have at least two to three cooked rice grains even after the entire family eats the meal. They believe that this will ensure continuous availability of food in the house and no one will go hungry. This practice has its roots in this Akshayapatra incident from the Mahabharata. 

The Meeting of Brothers – Bheema and Hanuman (Aranya Parva) 

When the Pandavas were still in exile, Draupadi came across the beautiful Saugandhika flower that traveled, on the gusts of vaayu, towards their ashram from an unknown place. Draupadi was enchanted by the flower’s beauty and immediately remarked she wanted some more of these flowers. She asked if anyone could bring them for her. 

Bheema, the husband who never denied anything to Draupadi, immediately set out in search of those beautiful flowers. He walked deep into the forest and reached mountain ranges filled with large trees, medicinal plants, herbs, etc. The region was visited by Kinnaras and Yakshas and looked mesmerizing. 

As he explored the area, he found an old monkey with his tail blocking the path. Bheema asked the old monkey to move and yield the path so that he could go find the flowers. The old monkey said he was too weak to move his tail and that Bheema should do it himself or step over it. Bheema replied he would not step over as it was disrespectful however, arrogant about his strength, the mighty Pandava broadened his chest and decided to get the tail out of his way. Bheema used all his strength, the strength of a thousand elephants, but he could not move the tail even a minuscule distance. No matter how much he tried, Bheema couldn’t move the tail even an inch. 

He realized that the old man was no ordinary being but someone very powerful. Bheema immediately apologized for his attitude, and the old man turned into his true form and stood before Bheema as Hanuman. Hanuman embraces Bheema saying they were brothers. Both were born to Vayu Deva, the god of wind and he would like to bless him. Hanuman also told Bheema the story of Ramayana to assure him that Dharma would always win. He explained the cyclic process of four yugas and promised to fight the upcoming Kurukshetra War on the Pandavas’ side. That was why Arjuna’s chariot had a flag with Hanuman on it, always protecting the brothers from harm. 

Note: Do you know that Hanuman is one of the Chiranjeevis? Check out some of the selected stories of Mahabharata in English here. 

Draupadi and the Pandavas Live in Disguise (Virata Parva)

After successfully completing the twelve years of exile despite the hardships, the Pandavas got ready for the final year that had to be spent in disguise. According to the rules, they would have to repeat the exile if their identities were revealed before the thirteenth year ended. 

To ensure no such thing happened, they decided to stay in King Virata’s kingdom. The Pandavas knew that their Kaurava cousins would continue to track them and do everything possible to reveal their disguise. Each of them took up a role based on their strengths and planned to live independently. However, they also found a way to stay in touch and interact with each other without causing suspicion. 

Yudhistira, the eldest of the Pandavas, disguised himself as a Brahmin named Kanka. He planned to become King Virata’s courtier and use his skills of administration and knowledge of how to play dice to assist the king. He said he would claim to be a friend of Yudhistira if asked about his previous position. 

Bheema said he would become a cook named Ballava. He would also offer additional services like carrying firewood for cooking, taming elephants, and participating in wrestling matches. If asked, he would have said that he worked in the royal kitchens of Indraprastha. This was a great choice as Bheema would stay hidden in the kitchens most of the time, minimizing the chances of being detected just by his sheer size and personality. 

Arjuna said he would be Brihannala, a transgender dancer and musician. He decided it was for the best to use his curse as a boon and hide his true identity. He added he would wear bangles and be fully clothed to hide battle scars and braid his hair. He would claim to be Draupadi’s waiting maid if asked for references. 

Nakula declared he would become the keeper of horses due to his undying love and passion for the beasts. He named himself Granthika and said he would refer to having the same job in King Yudhistira’s kingdom. 

Sahadeva, the other twin, said he would call himself Tantipala and take care of the goushala. He would audit the cows, milk them, care for them, and prevent cattle smugglers from stealing the animals. 

Finally, Draupadi declared she would work as Sairandhri, a lady’s maid skilled in making garlands, hair-dressing, etc. She would claim she was the favorite maid of Draupadi and even worked for Krishna’s wife to convince the queen. 

As planned the Pandava brothers and Draupadi successfully disguised themselves and led normal lives in King Virata’s kingdom. Yudhistira was a member of the king’s court, Bheema took care of the kitchens, Arjuna taught dance to Uttara, Nakula and Shadeva were in the stables, caring for horses and cows. Draupadi could finally relax and keep low as the queen’s maid. 

Life was good until Queen Sudeshna’s brother, the evil Keechaka, arrived for a visit. He spied Draupadi and lusted after her. Draupadi’s resistance and warnings about her Gandharva husbands only made Keechaka more determined to possess her. When none of her pleas worked, Bheema took matters into his own hands and killed Keechaka. This news spread fast, and the Kauravas guessed that the Pandavas were hiding in King Virata’s kingdom. 

The Kauravas first stole King Virata’s cattle followed by a direct attack on his kingdom. They were certain that if the Pandavas were hiding in King Virata’s kingdom they would certainly help the king as a token of gratitude for the refuge he had provided them. Arjuna as Brihannala, became a charioteer to prince Uttar and helped attain victory. Then they reveal themselves to King Virat and thank him for being a good ruler. Delighted to be of help, King Virats offered his daughter Uttara as Arujuna’s wife. Arjuna said he considered Uttara his daughter but would gladly have her as his daughter-in-law. They finalized the marriage between Abhimanyu and Uttara. 

However, the Kauravas, especially Dhuryodha challenged the Pandavas that they were exposed before the thirteen years were over. But, Bhishma intervened and set him right by explaining the calculations and showed that it was more than thirteen years before the Pandavas revealed their identity. Dhuryodhana had no option but to agree.

Krishna as Arjuna’s Charioteer (Udyoga Parva)

The Kauravas and Pandavas started sending messengers to gather allies for the upcoming Kurukshetra war. When it came to Anarta, the Yadhava kingdom ruled by Balarama, things got complicated. Who would Krishna support? Pandavas or Kauravas? 

Arjuna and Duryodhana went to visit Krishna separately and reached Dwaraka almost at the same time. Duryodhana arrived a couple of minutes early. When the guards told them that Krishna was sleeping in his chambers, he went inside and sat beside the bed, close to Krishna’s head. 

Arjuna walked in next. Both were aware of each other’s presence but said nothing. Arjuna stood at the end of the bed, near Krishna’s feet. A few minutes later, Krishna woke up and saw Arjuna first, directly in the line of his sight, and greeted him. He made his stance clear that Anarta would not take sides and choose to sit out as both parties were dear to them. 

However, he offered Arjuna a choice between his army and himself. Though Krishna would not fight the war and wouldn’t pick up a weapon, no matter what. Duryodhana panicked but was relieved when Arjuna chose Krishna. The army went to Duryodhana to fight on the Kauravas’ side. Hence, Krishna became Arjuna’s charioteer and guided him and the Pandavas throughout the war. His lessons became Baghavad Geeta. Krishna even revealed his true avatar-form to Arjuna at one point.

This is one of the short stories from Mahabharata that shows the importance of making the right decisions. Sometimes, one needs to think with their heart and not their mind. Arjuna had Kirshna’s support as he chose with his heart and valued their relationship more than the military support he could get instead.  



The Valiant Death of a Mighty Warrior (Bhishma Parva)

Bhishma, despite his old age, was a formidable warrior with no one to match his skills. The Pandavas knew that defeating him would be almost impossible, but they couldn’t win as long as Bhishma continued to fight on the Kaurava’s side. Nevertheless, Yudhistira decided to go and seek his blessings and ask for advice. 

Bhishma was pleased to see such manners, something the Kauravas never seemed to possess. He decided to grant Yudhistira a boon. Bhishma pondered over the questions and replied that he didn’t see a single man in the Pandava army capable of this valor. He also said that as long as he was willing to fight, no one could defeat him. In his own way, Bhishma offered Yudhistira two clues – one was that they would need to look beyond a man. That’s where Shikandi came into the picture. The second clue was that they would have to emotionally weaken him by eliminating his drive to win or to make him drop his weapons. 

On the tenth day of the Kurukshetra War, the Pandavas planned to create a confrontation between Shikandi and Bhishma. Arjuna prevented the Kauravas from helping Bhishma as Shikandi rained arrows on him. Bhishma wondered if the time had come to surrender and let the others fight. A voice from the heavens said yes. 

However, Bhishma declared that he wouldn’t die of an arrow from Shikandi. He would accept death only through Arujna’s arrow. He jumped down from his chariot and grabbed a soldier’s sword as an arrow hit him. He fell to the ground, but his body never touched the earth. Instead, he lay on a bed of arrows. Arjuna made him a pillow by shooting three arrows into the ground. He also shot another arrow into the earth for pure water to spring up and ease Bhishma’s parched throat. 

Bhishma had the boon of Iccha-Mrutyu, which meant he would die only when he wanted to. He announced that he would pass away from his body after Dakshinaya ended and Uttarayana began (after the December Solstice). He lived throughout the war and moved on to heaven after Yudhistira was crowned the king of Hastinapura. 

Note: Read a summary of how Amba becomes Shikandi from short stories from Mahabharata. 

The Narayana Astra (Drona Parva) 

Ashwathama was Drona’s son, one of the seven Chiranjeevis and eleven Rudras. He was devastated by the news of his father’s death, who was killed deceptively by the Pandavas. He swore revenge and invoked the Narayana Astra to kill the Pandavas and their army. Ashwathama had received the astra (weapon) as a boon from Shiva. Some say that he was an incarnation of Shiva, though, in reality, he had only a part of Shiva, whose role was to take the lives of people whose days on the earth had ended. 

The Narayana astra was a powerful weapon that would kill anyone who was armed or had the intention to fight. It wouldn’t harm anybody else. When Ashwathama released the astra, there were tremendous sounds of thunder and lightning. Krishna realized what had happened and quickly asked the Pandava army and other Pandava brothers to drop their weapons. He told them to forget everything about the war for a few minutes and think of something positive/happy. 

The Narayana astra reached the arena and left when it found none with an intent to fight. It couldn’t target or kill anyone from the Pandava side. Krishna and Arjuna were safe as Krishna was Narayana himself, and Arjuna was Nara (human), the one destined to help reinforce Dharma on the earth. Hence, the astra wouldn’t harm them. 

Ashwathama and Duryodhana were not pleased when the powerful astra failed. Duryodhana asked him to release the astra again. However, Ashwathama said the astra would attack the person who released it if used twice. Moreover, many powerful astras can be used only once, making them highly deadly to both parties. One needed to know the exact moment to use an astra to benefit from it. Those with malicious intentions usually ended up with such failed results.

Karna the Commander (Karna Parva) 

After Drona’s death on the fifteenth night, followed by the neutralization of Ashwathama’s Narayana astra, the Kaurava camp had a meeting to regroup and decide the next commander-in-chief. Duryodhana said enthusiasm, skills, opportunity, and policy were four ways to achieve one’s goals. He declared that Karna had all these traits to lead the army to victory. No one opposed his announcement. 

He then called Karna to the front and said that though Bhishma and Drona were experienced and highly skilled, they never really fought hard due to their love for the Pandavas and didn’t mind losing their lives. However, with them out of the picture, the Kaurava army could go full-on to do whatever it takes to win. Karna responded that he would vanquish all the Pandava brothers and even Janardhana (Krishna) or lay down his life fighting for the same. 

On the seventeenth day of the Kurukshetra War, Karna was killed by Arjuna when they had a face-to-face combat. Due to a previous curse from Rishi Parashuram, Karna couldn’t recall the mantra to invoke the mighty Brahmastra to use it against Arjuna. Since he already used the Indraastra against Ghatotkacha, he couldn’t use it again. Additionally, Karna was cursed by Bhudevi that the wheel of his chariot would be stuck in the mud during a crucial moment. 

All three events occurred together during the face-to-face battle. Karna had to get down the chariot and free the wheel. According to the rules of war, Arjuna decided to wait until Karna picked up his arms again. However, Krishna knew that they couldn’t afford to waste time. He reminded Arujana of how Karna insulted Draupadi and brutally killed young Abhimanyu in the Chakravuyh. He made sure Arjuna was red-hot with anger so that he could kill Karna. Finally, Arjuna used the Anjalikastra. The arrow pierced Karna in his chest, causing his ultimate demise. 

Note: Bhudevi’s curse is not a part of Vyasa Mahabharata. It is mentioned in folk versions of the Ithisasa and is usually found among the short stories from Mahabharata. However, it is true that the wheel of Karna’s chariot got stuck in the mud at a crucial moment and played a role in his demise. 



Gandhari’s Gift for Dhuryodhana (Salya Parva) 

Gandhari tied a blindfold to her eyes when she married Dhritrashtra, the blind king. Because of this act, she accumulated a lot of energy and certain powers. On the last day of the Kurukshetra War, she decided to use her powers to protect Duryodhana and make him invincible. She told him to take a bath in the river and visit her naked, without revealing the reason for it. 

Duryodhana obeyed and did as asked. However, Krishna intercepted him on the way and asked why he was walking around naked. When Duryodhana said he was on his way to meet his mother, Krishna chided him saying he was hardly a child to do that. Then, embarrassed by Krishna’s comment, Duryodhana used a banana leaf to cover his manly parts. 

When he announced his presence, Gandhari removed her blindfold and looked at him slowly from the top of his head. She used her accumulated energy to build an invisible armor over his body. However, she was aghast to see the banana leaf covering half his thighs. Duryodhana explained what happened, and she realized that Krishna knowingly made sure Duryodhana would have a weak spot, which could lead to his death. 

As guessed, Bheema hit his mace on Duryodhana’s thigh and killed him. While technically this was wrong, there was a reason for it. Here, we have to remember how Duryodhana gestured for Draupadi to sit on his thigh after the Pandavas lost the game of dice. The same thigh, a symbol of arrogance and weakness, became the reason for his demise. 

Saving Uttara’s Unborn Baby (Sauptika & Aisika Parva) 

When Ashwathama found out about Duryodhana’s death, he went on a killing spree and butchered many people, including the Upapandavas. He then proceeded to release the Brahmastra to wipe out the Pandava generation. His weapon turned the remaining Pandava women barren and eliminated the chances of their family continuing. Even though he couldn’t kill the Pandavas he intended to make sure they wouldn’t have an heir. 

However, Uttara, Abhimanyu’s widowed wife, was pregnant with the future heir of the Pandavas. Ashwathama targeted her womb to destroy the unborn child. Krishna intervened by preventing the Brahmastra from taking the unborn’s life. He then cursed Ashwathama for committing the grave sin of attempting to murder a life that hadn’t even been born. Krishna said that killing a living person for revenge could be understood, but trying to kill an unborn who hadn’t committed any crime was the biggest sin. 

Krishna cursed Ashwathama to live as a weak man with multiple wounds and festers on his body until the end of Chaturyuga. He would lead a loveless and painful life, roaming the world as a loner.  

After Pariksit’s birth, Krishna saved him again and gave a fresh lease of life to the newborn. 

Note: There’s been talk of people spotting Ashwathama even today. However, this is unlikely based on certain calculations and a version of Mahabharata.

Dhritarashtra’s Hug for Bheema (Stri Parva) 

After the Kurukshetra War ended, the Pandavas met Dhritarashtra to seek his blessings. However, at that time, Dhritrashtra was filled with grief for his dead sons despite knowing that they were in the wrong. Well, he was a father, after all. 

When Yudhishthira approached Dhritrashtra, the old king hid his pain. He hugged and blessed Yudhishthira. But Dhritarashtra had immense anger towards Bheema, who killed Duryodhana. When he turned to hug Bheema, Krishna silently pulled Bheema aside and placed an iron statue in front of Dhritarashtra. This statue was the same one Dhuryodhana had used during his daily practice for combat. Dhritrashtra hugged the statue with his mighty strength and crushed it into pieces. Yet, he immediately felt guilty and fell to the floor, asking for forgiveness for killing Bheema.

Krishna revealed the truth and told Dhritrashtra that he shouldn’t follow in his sons’ footsteps of hating the Pandavas. Wasn’t that what led to the war in the first place? Dhritrashtra controlled his grief and apologized once again. This led him to reconsider his life. Later, he decided to move into a forest ashram after Yudhistira was crowned the king of Hastinapura. Of course, Gandhari was still fueled by rage and cursed Krishna before she, too, realized her mistake. If they hadn’t given Dhuryodhana a free rein and ignored all his mistakes, they wouldn’t have lost him. 

Jajali Learns Humility and Dharma (Santi Parva) 

Dharma is a recurring topic in Mahabharata. Yudhistira, during his conversation with Bhishma, asked him to summarize the importance of Dharma. Bhishma told Yudhistira a few stories. One of them was about the sage Jajali and how he learned humility. 

Jajali lived in a forest like a recluse and performed severe austerities every day for years. Over the years, he became arrogant about his ability to live with the stars, waters, seas, and planets. Despite being a learned Brahmin, he boasted about his abilities and became arrogant. He often asked if there was anyone as good as himself. 

One day, some pisachis heard him and responded that there was indeed someone better, who goes by the name Tuladhara. Jajali went to meet his man to determine if the words of the Pisachis were true. 

Tuladhara was a spice and herb trader in Varanasi. He saw Jajali and welcomed him with delight. Jajali asked how a trader could be better than him and how he was able to acquire as much knowledge. Tuladhara replied that he didn’t know the intricacies of the scriptures but followed the ethical code of conduct in his life like paying fair rates, not cheating or taking advantage of anyone, and helping those who genuinely need help. He said he wasn’t bothered about the past or future but did what was right at all times. Jajali then understood the true meaning of leading an ethical life. 

Bhishma told Yudhistira that Dharma doesn’t mean following the scriptures but doing what was morally right and could be learned from day-to-day life. There are several such short stories from Mahabharata, exploring Dharma and its various facets. 

Bhishma’s Final Demise (Anusasana Parva)

Finally, the time had arrived for Bhishma to leave his material body. He saw Yudhistira crowned as the ruler of Hastinapura. As the Uttarayana punya kala (the sun’s northward journey soon after the December Solstice) began, Bhishma said he was ready to leave his mortal coil. He wished Yudhistira good luck in ruling the kingdom with the precepts of dharma. He then asked Krishna for permission, saying that he knew Krishna was none other than Narayana. 

Krishna bid him farewell and said that Bhishma had lived according to his vows and led an unblemished life. Krishna called him a royal sage and told Bhishma that he was the second Markandeya. This was why death waited for him to decide when he wanted to leave his human body. Ganga mourned the death of her son along with the entire kingdom. 

Krishna reminded her that Bhishma was not a mere mortal and had to take birth as a human only because of a curse. He also consoled her that the mighty Bhishma wasn’t killed by Shikandi but by Arjuna (Dhananjaya). Everything happened according to fate. 

Pariksit’s Birth (Asvamedhika Parva) 

Yudhistira had begun ruling Hastinapura. The kingdom and the Pandavas were finding some semblance after a period of turmoil and losses. Uttara was six months pregnant when she went early into labor and gave birth to a stillborn. The poor princess suffered a lot of trauma, which possibly led to this. 

The entire family was aghast and worried. This baby was their only hope to continue the Kuru clan after the destruction in the Kurukshetra War. Despite Krishna’s timely intervention, the Brahmastra had managed to harm the unborn. 

When Krishna and Balarama arrived at the kingdom, they were greeted by a worried Kunti who shared her fears with Krishna and urged him to do something to save the child. 

Krishna went to Uttara’s chambers and saw the stillborn child. He picked up the little one and placed his palm on the baby’s chest. He said the child would live and continue the lineage. Krishna then blessed the child with his own life, as he knew that the time to end his avatar was around the corner. Thus, the Pandava clan continued through Pariksit, who ruled for thirty-six years before being bitten by Takshaka. Janamejaya, his son, was made the heir to the throne after his demise. 

Dhritarashtra Renounces Kingdom (Asramavasika Parva) 

After Yudhistira was made the king of Hastinapura, Dhritrashtra announced that he and Gandhari would go and live in the forest for the remaining of their lives. He waited for the right moment to leave the kingdom as per the decision he made earlier. 

He informed the same to the citizens of the kingdom and assured them that they would be safe under Yudhistira’s rule. People thanked him for being their ruler and said that even Duryodhana was a good king despite his flaws. They told Dhritrashtra that they had no anger or hatred towards any ruler and knew the kingdom would be protected by the Kurus. 

Dhritarashtra then asked Yudhistira for funds to perform the yearly rites of the elders (Bhishma, Drona, Bahlika, etc.) when in the forest. While Bheema wasn’t ready to forgive Dhritarashtra for blindly supporting his sons at the cost of others, Yudhistira was more forgiving. He didn’t believe in holding grudges. 

As Dhritrashtra and Gandhari got ready to leave for the forest, the Pandavas were surprised to see Kunti follow them. In fact, she led them as the couple had no vision. Kunti then told Yudhistira to take care of his brothers, do what Draupadi approved of, and be a just ruler. She said that whatever she had done was to ensure they rightfully got their share of the throne and not because she harbored hatred for the Kauravas. 

The trio bid goodbye and went to lead simple lives away from politics and drama for their remaining years. Vidura and Sanjaya accompanied them to their destination at Rishi Satayupa’s ashram. They decided to stay back to take care of Dhritarashtra. 

End of Krishna Avatar (Mausala Parva)

Thirty-six years passed as normalcy returned in Hastinapura and Dwaraka. However, it was time for the end of the yuga, and things spiraled into chaos again. Though the catalyst for this was the curse by the three sages – Kanva, Vishwamitra, and Narada, the seeds were sown when Gandhari cursed Krishna after the death of her sons in the Kurukshetra War. 

As fights erupted in Dwaraka and people went mad killing each other, Balarama was on the seashore, ready to exit his mortal body and go back to the Naga loka. Krishna knew his time to leave his mortal body had also come. He had already made preparations to send the women and children to safety and hoped things would hold until Arjuna came to take the refugees. Yet, he also knew none of his clan would survive to continue the legacy. 

 Krishna went into the forest and was ready to end the avatar-life he had taken for the benefit of all life. Soon, a hunter named Jara arrived and spotted Krishna’s toe. He mistook it for a small animal and shot his arrow. As Krishna bled, Jara realized his error. He was devastated. But Krishna comforted him that it was meant to happen. His soul left the body and went back to Vaikuntam to his original form of Maha Vishnu. 

A strange occurrence happened after Krishna passed away. Arjuna realized that none of his weapons and skills were useful in saving Dwaraka. He managed to protect some women and children, but they were kidnapped by bandicoots and Arjuna watched helplessly, unable to save a single person. Then Dwaraka sank, which became a tipping point. Arjuna and the Pandavas decided to renounce the kingdom and begin their heavenly journey. 

Note: Jara was King Vali in his previous birth. Rama killed Vali by hiding behind a tree as the former fought his brother Sugriva. Since Rama’s act was incorrect according to the laws of war, he said he would accept the consequences when the time came. The ‘time’ arrived in another yuga when Rama was born as Krishna and had to end his avatar on the earth. 

Yudhistira and the Dog (Mahaprasthanika and Svarga Parvas)

Sometime after Krishna left his body, the Pandavas also decided to hand over the kingdom to Arjuna’s grandson, Pariksit, and left Hastinapur for the final journey of their life. On their journey to heaven, Draupadi and the Pandava brothers fell one by one on the slopes of the Himalayas. None of them except Yudhistira reached the gates of heaven in their mortal form and without dying. Indra welcomed him and asked him to step on the chariot to go inside the gates. 


Yudhistira enquired about his brothers and Draupadi. Indra assured him that they were already in heaven and waiting for him, albeit in their non-human forms. Then, Yudhistira looked at the dog that had been following him throughout the journey. However, Indra denied entry to the dog, saying it was not allowed. 

When Yudhistira persisted, Indra tried different tactics to convince him. Yudhistira was adamant that the dog was alive and hence, his responsibility, which he could not simply brush off and move on. Finally, the dog transformed into Yamadharma Raja, who was also Yudhistira’s father. Yama was pleased by Yudhistira’s dedication to his responsibilities and sent him through the gates of heaven with Indra. Another reunion of sorts occurred in heaven, and more questions about Dharma and Karma were answered. 

This is one of the well-known short stories from Mahabharata about Yudhistira.

To Sum Up 

The short stories from Mahabharata contain many lessons that help people lead righteous lives. They teach us about dharma, swadharma, purusharthas, and a lot more. These stories also show that humans make mistakes but have the choice to correct their actions and become a better version of themselves. 

Mahabharata ends with another reminder that anyone who reads the epic or listens to it will attain Punya. Of course, that doesn’t mean one can commit crimes and nullify them by reading Mahabharata. After all, the epic also shows how we have to face the consequences of our actions.