Image of the Five Pandavas in Wayang form contributed in the public domain by Gunawan Kartapranata.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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Note: In the previous post, Raja Janamejaya requested Vyasa Muni to narrate the history of his ancestors (the Kurus). Ved Vyasa, in turn, asked his disciple, Vaishampayana, to narrate the Mahabharata.

Vaishampayana begins the story with a brief summary of the Pandavas’ life, in this post.

The Pandavas were born in the forest and lived their early life with their father, Pandu, mother, Kunti, and Madri (Pandu’s second wife). They lived a simple life surrounded by ascetics. However, after their father’s death, the young boys along with their mother, Kunti, returned to their ancestral home in Hastinapur.

Under the tutelage of Guru Drona, they soon gained expertise in archery and other weapons. The Pandava brothers were radiant, good looking, strong, energetic, and possessed sharp minds. This caused immense jealousy in their Kaurava cousins.

Duryodhana, along with being jealous, also saw the Pandavas as a threat to his sovereignty over Hastinapur’s throne. Along with Karna and his maternal uncle, Shakuni, the crooked-minded Duryodhana constantly troubled and harmed the Pandavas by various means. Duryodhana’s ultimate goal was to gain undisputed control over Hastinapur.

Duryodhana tried poisoning Bhima, but Bhima, who had a stomach like a wolf, digested that poison without any hard to himself. On another occasion, Duryodhana tied Bhima when the latter was sleeping and threw him into the Ganges. Bhima did not wake up immediately. He remained asleep in the water for a little while. In this time, he was bitten by virulent snakes all over his body, but he still did not perish. After waking up, he tore apart the ropes and returned to the surface, as strong as ever.

Vidura, the high-minded uncle of the Pandavas and Kauravas, knew of Duryodhana’s evil intentions. He remained attentive to everything that happened in the palace and protected the Pandavas from Duryodhana’s schemes, just like Indra maintains the happiness of all humans while sitting at a distance in the heavens.

Note: Here, we see one more example of Indra’s nobility. He may be insecure about his position and fame in heaven, but he never flinched from his duty towards humans.

However, Duryodhana could not destroy the Pandavas. He made secret plots against the Pandavas, he attacked openly, but no matter what he tried, the Pandavas remained safe. They were protected by the fates. They had taken birth to play an instrumental role in the great war of Kurukshetra, that would happen in the future. Nothing was capable of destroying them.

Utterly frustrated, he sought advice from Karna, Dushasana, and others. Based on their advice, he built a house of lac and convinced his father, King Dhritarashtra, to send the Pandavas to that inflammable house. Even though Dhritarashtra knew Duryodhana’s intentions, he was overcome with affection for Duryodhana and the desire to be the king. Consequently, he found a tactful way to send the five Pandava brothers along with their mother, Kunti, to Varnavata. However, Vidura was aware of Duryodhana’s intentions. He warned the Pandavas in a secret language when they were leaving.

Kunti and her five sons stayed in the house of lac at Varnavata, as the king of Hastinapur, Dhritarashtra, had asked them to. Since they were aware of the danger, they lived very carefully protecting themselves from Purochana, but unbeknownst to him, they caused an underground tunnel to be constructed according to Vidura’s advice. After the tunnel had been completed, they set the house on fire and escaped through the tunnel. Duryodhana’s spy, the evil Virohana, perished in that fire.

Even though the Pandavas had escaped from the house of lac, they were afraid of being discovered by Duryodhana. So, they fled with their mother into the forest. Bhima married Hidimba in this forest after killing her Rakshasa brother. A son called Ghatotkacha was born to Hidimba and Bhima.

From there, the Pandavas went to the town of Ekachakra, where they lived (disguised as brahmacharini) in a brahmana’s house. There, they lived a simple life just like brahmacharins would. It was in this town that Bhima killed a rakshasa called Vaka and brought relief to the dwellers of Ekachakra.

While staying at Ekachakra, they heard about Draupadi’s swayamvara and went to the kingdom of Panchala to participate in the swayamvara. All five Pandavas married Draupadi and lived in Panchala for a year, after which Kunti, Draupadi, and the Pandavas returned to Hastinapur.

In Hastinapur, they were commanded by Dhritarashtra and Bhishma to take half the kingdom and reside peacefully in the barren land of Khandavaprastha. This decision was taken by the elder Kurus to prevent further conflict between the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

The Pandavas went to Khandavaprastha as commanded by the Kuru elders. They were accompanied by their friends and well-wishers, and they also took with them many jewels and precious stones.

The Pandavas converted Khandavaprastha into a beautiful kingdom with their effort and strength. They subjugated several kingdoms around then, but lived virtuously without being affected by their victories. Thus they gradually rise to power, and Yudhishthira as king, the remaining Pandava brothers, subjugated the kingdoms in the four directions. Bhima conquered the East, Arjuna won the north, Nakula subjugated the west, and Sahadeva brought under his control, the southern regions. 

Sometime after that, Arjuna was exiled for eleven years and eleven months. That high-souled Pandava who was gifted with every virtue, lived in the forest and travelled to various places in that time. In this period, Arjuna visited Sri Krishna in Dwarka. There, he married Sri Krishna’s younger sister, Subhadra. 

Soon after that Arjuna and Sri Krishna gratified Agni Deva by burning the medicinal plants and trees in the Khandava forest to cure the latter’s indigestion. Arjuna was able to perform this difficult task with great ease because he was helped by Sri Krishna. After all,nothing is difficult for Vishnu who can conquer any enemy with ease. Pleased with their efforts, Agni Deva gifted Arjuna an excellent bow called Gandiva, an inexhaustible quiver, and a war-chariot with the figure of Garuda.

While burning the forest, Arjuna protected Maya Asura who had sought his refuge. Maya, desiring to do something to repay Arjuna for his protection, built a beautiful palace for the Pandavas in Indraprastha. The palace was decorated with various jewels and precious stones.

When the wicked Duryodhana saw that palace, he felt jealous of the Pandavas. He deceived Yudhishthira in a game of dice with the help of his uncle, Shakuni, and sent the Pandavas to the forest for thirteen years with the challenge that the last year was to be spent in disguise without being discovered.

After completing the exile of thirteen years, the Pandavas returned to claim their kingdom, however, Duryodhana refused to return their land. Consequently, a war was declared and Pandavas regained their kingdom after slaying Duryodhana and his army. Almost all the kshatriyas from both the sides were slayed in this battle.

This is the story of the Pandavas who never acted under any kind of evil influence. This is also the story of the conflict between the Kurus and the Pandavas.

Note: In the next post, Rishi Vaishampayana Describes the Breadth of the Mahabharata and the Benefits of Reading it.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Benefits of Reading the Mahabharata

The 18th parva of the Mahabharata is an extraordinary parva of celestial incidents. It is known as the Svargarohana Parva. This parva has 209 shlokas (verses).

On their ascent up the Himalayas, Draupadi and four Pandavas (Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva) passed away, leaving Yudhishthira to complete the remainder of the ascent alone. 

At one point Yudhishthira noticed a celestial car that had come to fetch him. However, he refused to get in the car without the dog who had faithfully accompanied him on his journey.

The dog was none other than Dharma – the God of justice. Pleased with Yudhishthira’s steady adherence to virtue, he showed Yudhishthira his true form and asked Yudhishthira to get into the celestial car that would take him to heaven.

On the way to heaven, Yudhishthira was first shown hell. There Yudhishthira felt a lot of pain. He also noticed that Draupadi and his brothers were in hell. They were lamenting under the discipline of Yama.

After that, the God of Dharma and Indra showed Yudhishthira the region appointed for sinners. 

Finally, Yudhishthira left his human body by taking a dip in the celestial Ganges and attained residence in the heavenly regions where he lived in joy, respected by Indra and all the other Gods.

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The 17th parva of the Mahabharata is the Mahaprasthanika Parva. This parva has 320 shlokas (verses) divided into 3 sections.

This parva begins with the five Pandavas and Draupadi leaving their kingdom and beginning the great journey to the Himalayas called the ‘Mahaprasthanika’.

On their way, they reached a place called the sea of red waters. On the shores of the sea, they met Agni. Arjuna worshipped Agni and returned his famous bow, Gandiva, to Agni. 

Note: You may remember that the bow was given to Arjuna by Agni when Arjuna had helped the latter devour the Khandava forest with his flames.

As they ascended the Himalayas, Draupadi and four of the Pandavas dropped dead one after the other, leaving Yudhishthira alone on the journey. However, Yudhishthira being the son of Dharma continued his journey alone without looking back at his deceased family.

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The 16th parva of the Mahabharata is called the Mausala Parva. It is a parva of painful incidents. This parva contains 320 shlokas divided into 8 sections.

The Mausala Parva describes how the Vrishni race met its end and the impact this painful event had on Arjuna.

The brave warriors of the Vrishni race, who bore as trophies several scara on their bodies from all the battles they had fought, were compelled by the fates to drink alcohol and behave in a way that incurred the wrath of a brahmana. This brahmana cursed them, as a result of which they killed each other with eraka grass. It seems surprising that warriors could slay each other with grass, but such was destiny that blades of eraka grass became fatal and thunderous weapons in their hands.

In the fight that ensued, Balarama and Krishna caused the extermination of their race. However, after the destined actions were performed, they themselves had to succumb to the path laid out by the all-destroying time and breathed their last with the rest of the Vrishni warriors.

Arjuna went to Dwaraka upon hearing the sad news. After performing his maternal uncle Vasudeva’s funeral, he saw several heroes of the Vrishni race lying dead in the place they had been drinking. Arjuna also cremated the great Krishna, Balarama, and other main members of the Vrishni race. These events left a deep impact on Arjuna’s mind.

After creating the dead, Arjun returned to his kingdom with the survivors of the Vrishnis – the women, children, the aged, and other people. This journey back to his kingdom too was filled with difficult events. They faced a major calamity, Arjuna’s bow (Gandiva) was disgraced, and so were his celestial weapons.

Witnessing so many unhappy events, and being unable to protect the remaining Vrishnis, Arjuna became depressed. He lost all sense of hope and meaning in life. Seeing Arjuna’s state, Vyasa Muni advised him to meet Yudhishthira.

The parva ends with Arjuna asking Yudhishthira’s permission to leave worldly life and adopt the sanyasi’s way of living. 

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Credits: Image credit to M. V. Dhurandhar who made the original image available in the public domain.

The 15th parva of The Mahabharata is called  Asramvasika Parva. This parva contains 1506 shlokas divided into 42 sections.

In this parva, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari accompanied by Vidura, left Hastinapur and retired to the forest.

The virtuous Kunti also left her sons’ palace to join Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, and Vidura in their journey to the forest.

Through the grace of Vyasa Muni, Dhritarashtra was able to meet (in the forest) the spirits of his children, grandchildren, and other princes who had perished in the war. This meeting helped Dhritarashtra overcome his sorrow, after which he and Gandhari acquired the highest fruit of their earthly merits.

The wise Vidura, who had always been on the side of Dharma, also attained the most meritorious state.

The learned Sanjaya (the son of Gavalgana), who was also the most skilled minister of the Kuru court, attained the blessed state.

The parva ends with sage Narada informing Yudhishthira about the extinction of the Vrishni race. This was the race, Sri Krishna belonged to.

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The Anusasana Parva is the 13th parva of the Mahabharata. It consists of 8000 shlokas divided into 146 sections.

This parva describes how Yudhishthira was finally able to make peace with himself after hearing Bhishma’s deep explanation of a king’s duties.

The Anusasana Parva provides an even more detailed treatment of the rules, explained by Bhishma, in the previous parva.

It also gives us greater insight into the rules regarding Dharma and Artha.

Next, it goes on to describe the rules related to gifts and donations.

This parva also describes individual duties, rules of conduct, and the merit of truth. 

It tells us about the immense merit of Brahmanas and cows.

Finally, in relation to duties, this parva explains how to understand the correct duty that needs to be performed in the context of time and place.

The Anusasana Parva also tells us about the importance of Brahmanas and cows.

The parva ends with the ascension of Bhishma to heaven.

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The Aswamedhika Parva is the 14th parva of The Mahabharata. This parva contains 3320 shlokas (verses) divided into 103 sections.

The battle was over and the Pandavas had established their noble rulership.

This parva begins with the excellent story of Samvarta and Marutta. 

After that is the event where the Pandavas discover a golden treasure.

This is followed by the birth of Parikshit who was revived by Krishna after being burnt by Ashwattham’s celestial weapon in Uttara’s womb.

This is followed by Yudhishthira conducting the Ashwamedh yagna and releasing the sacrificial horse.

Arjuna followed the horse and battled with any prince who seized it.

One of the princes who seized the horse was Arjuna’s son with Chitrangada (king of Manipur’s daughter). This son, whose name was Vabhruvahan, was more than a match for Arjuna, and the battle that followed proved to be highly risky for Arjuna.

The Ashwamedhika Parva ends with the story of the mongoose when the horse-sacrifice was performed.

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The 12th parva of The Mahabharata is the Shanti Parva. 

This parva contains 14,732 shlokas (verses) divided into 339 sections.

Yudhishthira felt depressed after the war. He mourned the death of his family members: granduncles, uncles, cousins, teachers, and so many loved ones who had perished in that terrible war. He was overcome with a sense of gloom and helplessness at the loss.

In this state, Yudhishthira approached Bhishma and various rishis for guidance. In response, Bhishma, who was still on the bed of arrows, explained various systems of duties to Yudhishthira. These systems contained teachings worthy of kings who sought such knowledge.

Bhishma explained the contextual nature of duties in relation to specific times and circumstances. He also explained the reasons for specific duties and actions.

Bhishma also spoke about the mysteries of final liberation (moksha).

The person who understands these teachings attains complete knowledge of everything that is worth knowing.

By understanding these, a person attaineth to consummate knowledge. 

This parva is considered to be the favorite parva of wise people.

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Note: The Stri Parva is the 11th parva of The Mahabharata. It’s the parva where those who lost their loved ones in the war, feel and express intense sorrow.

This parva has 775 shlokas (verses) divided into 27 sections.

The Stri Parva begins with Dhritarashtra of prophetic eye asking to hug Bhima with the intention of crushing him. However his plan was foiled by Krishna who put an iron statue, instead of Bhima, in front of the blind king. Dhritarashtra crushed that statue.

Then Vidura consoled the greatly disturbed king with wise words about the moksha. 

After Dhritarashtra felt calmer, he and the ladies of the house went to the battlefield.

What followed was the uncontrollable crying of the ladies who had lost their loved ones in the battle.

On the battlefield, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra were overcome with so much anger that they list their consciousness.

The kshatriya ladies saw the heroes: their sons, brothers, and father’s lying dead on the battlefield. Gandhari was overcome with such immense wrath when she saw her dead sons and grandsons, that Krishna had to step in to pacify her.

Then all the deceased kings were cremated with due rites by Yudhishthira the virtuous.

Then, water was offered to the souls of the deceased princes. At this moment, Kunti revealed that Karna was her son.

Whoever reads this parva is moved to sorrow and tears.

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Note: The 10th parva of the Mahabharata is called the Sauptika Parva. It’s the parva of ignoble incidents.

This parva has 870 shlokas (verses) divided into 18 sections. The Sauptika Parva contains within it another parva called the Aishika parva.

The great charioteers, Kirtivarman, Kripa, and Ashwattham went to the battlefield in the evening after the Pandavas had left. There, they saw Duryodhana laying down with his thighs broken and covered in blood.

Upon seeing Duryodhana in such a state, Ashwatthaman, who was known for his terrible anger, vowed to kill Panchalas, Pandavas, and all their allies. He promised to not take off his armour until his foes were vanquished.

After making the promise to Duryodhana, the three warriors entered a huge forest and sat under a banyan tree at night. There, they saw an owl killing several crows one after the other. When Ashwattham, whose heart was already filled with anger, saw this, he immediately decided to slay the sleeping Panchalas to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Drishtadyumna.

When he approached the entrance of the Pandava camp, he saw a huge and dangerous looking rakshasa guarding the camp. He tried using his weapons on the rakshasa guard, but when his attacks proved futile, the son of Drona worshipped Lord Shiva to pacify the rakshasa. With the rakshasa pacified, the three warriors entered the Pandavas’ camp and slew all the sons of Draupadi, the Panchalas including Drishtadyumna, and all the Pandavas’ allies. Everyone in the camp perished that night except the five Pandavas and Satyaki. They were saved because they followed Krishna’s advice.

When Draupadi learned about the deaths of her father, brother, and sons, she was so distressed that she decided to end her life by fasting. 

Bhima, of terrific strength, moved by Draupadi’s words, immediately took his mace and chased after Drona’s son.

Drona’s son got scared when he saw a furious Bhima chasing him. Out of fear and also motivated by fate, he discharged a celestial weapon at Bhima, uttering the words, “This is for the destruction of all the Pandavas.” Krishna immediately neutralised those words by saying, “This shall not be.” Immediately after that, Arjuna neutralised the weapon by discharging another weapon at it.

Seeing Ashwattham’s wicked intentions, both Krishna and Vyasa Muni cursed him. An angry Ashwattham also responded by pronouncing curses on them.

This parva ends with the Pandavas removing the jewel from Ashwattham’s head, after which they boasted of their success and gave the jewel to the grieving Draupadi to reduce her sorrow.

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Duryodhana appointing King Shalya as the commander-in-chief of his army

Note: The Shalya Parva is the 9th parva of the Mahabharata. It describes the events of the last day of the Mahabharata war when Shalya was the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army.

This great Vyasa wrote 3220 shlokas (verses) divided into 59 sections, in this parva. 

After all the great warriors (Bhishma, Drona, and Karna) had been slain, Duryodhana appointed King Shalya as the commander-in-chief of his army.

The parva begins with a description of encounters between various warriors on the last day of the war. These encounters also include the battle between Yudhishthira the just and King Shalya of Madra in which Shalya met his end at the hands of Yudhishthira.

This was followed by a battle between Shakuni and Sahadev in which Shakuni lost his life.

With almost the entire Kaurava army vanquished, a battle-worn Duryodhana went to a lake and stretched there to calm his mind for some time. However, Duryodhana was spotted by some bird-hunters who reported the matter to Bhima.

Having learnt the whereabouts of Duryodhana, the intelligent Yudhishthira went to the lake and began calling out to Duryodhana with harsh and insulting words. Duryodhana, who was not accustomed to being addressed rudely, became angry and came out of the lake. 

This was followed by a battle between Duryodhana and Bhima. Both warriors fought with clubs.

Very soon, Krishna’s brother Balarama (who was also a friend of Duryodhana) arrived at the place where the two warriors were engaged in a terrible battle of clubs.

The sacredness of Saraswati is narrated at this time.

The fierce encounter between Bhima and Duryodhana finally ended when Bhima threw his mace with all his might on Duryodhana’s thighs and mortally wounded the latter.

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Note: The 8th parva of the Mahabharata is the Karna Parva. This parva deals with two and a half days of the war when Karna was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army after Drona’s death.

This parva contains 4964 shlokas divided into 69 sections.

The Karna Parva begins with the appointment of Karna as the commander and Salya (king of Madra) as his charioteer.

Next is narrated the story of how the asura, Tripura was vanquished.

This parva contains the quarrel between Karna and his charioter, Salya, where they insulted each other with words and parables. 

The high-souled son of Drona, Ashwattham, slayed a warrior called Pandya in this parva.

Other warriors who met their end in this parva were Dandasena and Darda.

After that, Yudhishthira and Karna engaged in a one-on-one combat. This move was very risky for Yudhishthira.

Then came the quarrel between Yudhishthira and Arjuna in which Arjuna was pacified by Krishna.

The next incident in this parva was the battle between Bhima and Dussasana. Bhima vanquished Dussasana and ripped open his chest to drink blood from Dussasana’s heart to fulfil his vow to Draupadi.

The Karna Parva ends with the death of Karna at the hands of Arjuna.

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