Monday, March 26, 2012

Mahabharata: A Superficial Study Part 2

The first installment of the post covered the general details of family lineage of the main characters involved in the epic battle. This post however intends to throw light on some lesser known but who had a great role in the outcome of war. Thus begins part 2.

In many stories told, many films made there are a bunch of characters and the success of the story depends upon how well each character is handled. As a center to the storyline, we are supposed to have a protagonist and antagonist, but we also need the supporting characters on both sides to make the events really happen. It is more like a catalyst in a chemical reaction which does not have any chemical impact on the end product but surely helps accelerating or slowing down the rate of reaction.

Considering all these in mind, if there is one story that records the details of its character to the minutest detail, it has to be Mahabharata. It is however limitation of human brain, that on a long run we remember the main characters, but tends to forget some of the key players, without them story would not have been possible. This post will cover some of the similar characters from Mahabharata.

1) Shikhandi

We discussed in last post that Bheeshma abducted 3 sisters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika to be married to his younger brother. The two agreed to get married but Amba didn’t as she was in love with a Prince who was defeated at Swayamvara by Bheeshma. Bheeshma realized his mistake and sent her back to his lover. The prince however rejected Amba as she was abducted by Bheeshma. Heartbroken Amba returned to Bheeshma and asked him to marry her in order to save her from disgrace. Bheeshma however tied by his vow of lifelong celibacy rejected her.

Enraged Amba cursed Bheeshma that a woman will be the reason for his downfall. Amba is reborn in King Drupada’s family as Shikhandini who later by offering prayer to Shiva is turned to a male named Shikhandi.

When Kurukshetra war broke out, being bound by his duties Bheeshma had to take Kaurava’s side. Bheeshma was an undefeatable warrior and continued to massacre Pandava Army. Seeing this Krishna asked Shikhandi to fight with Bheeshma. As a true warrior, Bheeshma could not raise arms on a woman and was shot by Arjun hiding behind Shikhandi.

2) Ashwathama

Now this one had an important role to play in the war. Ashwathama was son of Dronacharya, the teacher who taught Kauravas and Pandavas the art of war. Ashwathama also learnt with the royal princes and was an able warrior himself. Dronacharya taught Arjun the art of invoking and calling back of the most dangerous weapon, the Brahmastra, Ashwathama on the other hand was taught only to invoke it and the art of withdrawing the same was not taught to him. In this context he was similar to Abhimanyu, who knew only the way to enter a wheel shaped war formation known as Chkravyuha but didn’t know how to get out of it.

In the battle Dronacharya fought on behalf of Kauravas bound by his duties towards the state. It was impossible to defeat Dronacharya in the battle and he continued to slay the Pandava army. In order to take Dronacharya off guard, Krishna asked Bheema to kill an elephant in Kaurava army which had a same name Ashwathama and announce that real Ashwathama was killed in battle. Dronacharya came to Yudhisthira to confirm the news during battle. Krishna knew Yudhisthira will never tell a lie, so when he was saying the part which mentioned the elephant, Krishna blew his conch thus muting the conversation. Dronacharya saddened by the death of his son put down his bow and arrow and was shot by Drishtadyumna (Draupadi’s brother).

On the final day of battle Ashwathama was one of the few warriors that survived, in order to avenge the death of Kauravas and his father, he raided the Pandava camp at night when Panadava and Krishna were away and slayed all the remaining warriors with help of Kripacharya and Kritavarma. Ashwathama killed the five sons of Draupadi who were sleeping, thinking them to be Pandavas. Later due to this act of cowardice Ashwathama was cursed to live till the end of the world and suffer with diseases like leprosy. Aswathama is one of the 7 chiranjeevis, the one who lives forever.

3) Barbarika

Barbarika was son of Ghatotkacha and grandson of Bheema. He had made a promise to his mother that he will always fight for the losing side. Barbarika also had 3 infallible arrows received from Shiva which can individually mark and hit targets and finally will return to his quiver. Krishna aware of the fact asked Barbarika to choose a side, to which he replied he will always favour the weak side in the battle. In such a case he would have to keep shifting his selection of side throughout the war and none of the side will actually win. To avoid this dead lock Krishna asked for his head and Barbarika without questioning decapitated his head. Barbarika though wanted to witness the epic battle and on his request Krishna placed his head on top of a hill. Barbarika is thus one of four people who saw Krishna’s Vishwaroopa, others being Arjun, Sanjay and Hanuman.

At the end of battle remaining warriors argued that they were responsible for winning the Great War, to sort out the confusion Krishna took everyone to Barbarika and asked for his opinion to which Barbarika replied that the place from where I was seeing the battle nobody did anything it was Krishna all the way who did everything.

There are innumerable characters that we can list here apart from the one discussed, there is however one thing that you must have noticed the word in bold. Yes the one, Krishna.

There may be number of characters but there is only one axis of rotation, the one.


  1. @Amba/Shikhandi: There is also another story.
    Parshurama asked Bhishma to marry Amba when she went to seek help from him but when Bhishma politely refused it, they fought war for 23 days. Parshurama is chiranjivi and Bhishma had the boon of choosing his time of death. So no one won the war. Lord Shiva then assured Amba that she would be instrumental in Bhishma's death.

    @Ashwatthama: When he knew that Pandavas were not killed in the attack, he invoked Brahmastra. On seeing this Arjuna also invoked Brahmastra. This would have caused catastrophy, so Vyasa rishi asked them to take the astra back. Since Ashwatthama did not know how to take the astra back, he directed it to Uttara (Abhimanyu's wife who had Parikshit in womb). Krishna saved her with his Sudarshan Chakra and cursed Ashwatthama.

    1. Perfectly stated.... This are facts people no longer remember.... great info shared Nikhil...