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Nearly every main character in Mahabharata is flawed. This might be deliberate, given how the work illuminates the challenges of living in this particular yuga, the Hindu designation for the age in which people live. The flaws of the characters are meant to show how we, the readers, should avoid...

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Nearly every main character in Mahabharata is flawed. This might be deliberate, given how the work illuminates the challenges of living in this particular yuga, the Hindu designation for the age in which people live. The flaws of the characters are meant to show how we, the readers, should avoid such qualities and seek immediate refuge under the divine guidance of Lord Krishna.

Mahabharata shows characters capable of great feats, but undermined by specific character flaws. Dhritarashta, the Kaurava monarch, is a skilled warrior and a very wise king. His flaw is his excessive love for his sons. He forgives all of their transgressions and refuses to be a parent when they need redirection. The king is both physically and emotionally blind when it comes to his sons, specifically Duryodhana. His flaw of failing to speak out against adharma, that which is contrary to the restorative spirit of the universe, is one of his defining characteristics.

Duryodhana's flaw is his vengeance towards the Pandavas. As seen in his relationship with Karna and his brothers, Duryodhana is capable of great respect and loyalty, but, like his father, he is emotionally blind. The intensity of his anger towards the Panadavas never relents. Duryodhana's wrath destabilizes the kingdom. It compels him to wage a war where no one wins and where the glory of royalty is forever tainted.

The great sire Bhishma's flaw is also distinctive. He was one of the most honorable souls. Bhishma was well-learned, profoundly talented, and extremely committed to the Hastinapura kingdom. His flaw is when he refuses to criticize Duryodhana and Sakuni for their dice game and their subsequent humiliation of the Pandavas. When Draupadi is disgraced, Bhishma's loyalty to the kingdom makes him silent. Bhishma's never-ending support of the kingdom prevented him from criticizing those in positions of power. Through Bhishma's flaws, we learn the danger of allowing institutional adharma.

Even the Pandavas, the supposed "good guys," are flawed. Yudhisthira is one of the greatest rulers possible. He is wise, judicious, and extremely respectful. His weakness for games of chance leads him to play in the extremely disastrous dice contest. Even when losing badly, he continues to play because he does not want to lose face, waging more and more without any limitation. Arjuna is the most brilliant and talented of warriors. He receives the word of Lord Krishna in the form of the Bhagavad-Gita. Still, Arjuna is subject to bouts of insecurity, vanity, and boasting at the expense of others. Bhimasena is a gifted fighter, but engages in a form of blood lust as he avenges the wrongs done to his family. When he slays Duhsasana, Bhima publicly drinks his blood.

In the midst of such greatness matched with such flaws, Lord Krishna appears. He reminds the characters and readers not to be attached to the fruits of our labor. People are simply to do their duties in his name and put everything else at his lotus feet. It seems so very simple an instruction. The flaws of the characters in the Mahabharata, show it requires a lifetime, and perhaps even more, to master.

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