The Mahabharata Characters

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Krishna (KREESH-nuh), An Incarnation (avatar) Of the god Vishnu. Krishna rules the Yadavas, on the northwestern coast of India. He is a close friend of Arjuna. In the great war between the Kauravas (KOW-ruh-vuhs) and the Pandavas (PAHN-duh-vuhs), Krishna acts as Arjuna’s charioteer. When Arjuna feels reluctance to fight and kill his cousins, Krishna convinces him to fight, teaches him basic truths about the universe, and reveals his divine glory. This extended scene is related in the Bhagavad Gita, a major Hindu scripture. In the battle, Krishna does not fight; instead, he encourages and assists Arjuna.


Dhritarashtra (dree-tuh-RASH-truh), who would be king except that being born blind disqualifies him. He eventually does rule because of the death of his brother, Pandu. He has one hundred sons, born in an unusual manner. His sons are known as the Kauravas. His weakness as king is shown in his inability to resist the evil plans of his eldest son, Duryodhana. Dhritarashtra permits the dice game in which Duryodhana wins everything from Yudhishthira, including the other four Pandavas. Dhritarashtra also cannot avert the war in which his sons are all killed.


Pandu (PAHN-dew), Dhritarashtra’s brother. Because of a curse, he cannot lie with his wives, Kunti (KEWN-tee) and Madri (MAH-dree). He dies early in the epic, when he finally lies with Madri. His wives have sons by several gods. These sons (except for Karna) are known as the Pandavas.



(The entire section is 743 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Goldman, Robert P. Gods, Priests, and Warriors: The Bhrgus of the “Mahabharata.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. Analysis of the literary and mythic significance of the tales of the priestly clan known as the Bhrgus, of Bhargavas, whose exploits make up a substantial portion of the text of the Mahabharata. Explores the relationship of the epic to historical events which may have inspired it.

Hiltebeitel, Alf. The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the “Mahabharata.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976. Focuses on the role of the Indian god Krishna in the epic; explains the structure of the work and elucidates its relationship to Indian myth and history.

Hopkins, Edward Washburn. The Great Epic of India. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902. Detailed analysis of the Mahabharata’s organization, its textual history, and its technical qualities. Still exceptionally helpful for understanding the complexity of the story and themes.

Narasimhan, Chakravarthi V. Introduction to The Mahabharata. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Outlines the plot of this complex, rambling work. Highlights the human qualities of the epic heroes and notes the underlying emphasis on the necessity for peace to bring about happiness.

Van Nooten, Barend A. The Mahabharata. New York: Twayne, 1971. Excellent guidebook to the epic. Includes a detailed summary of the story; explains its mythology, and examines the literary history of the work. Assesses the impact of the Mahabharata on modern India and on the West.