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.
Yudhishthira (yew-DEESH-tee-ruh), the oldest son of Pandu and the rightful ruler. His actual father is the god of rightness and truth, Dharma. Yudhishthira is committed to truth and justice, but he cannot resist Duryodhana’s challenge to a dice game. He is clearly cheated during the gaming but will not stop until he has lost all of his possessions, himself, his brothers, and their common wife, Draupadi.
Bhima (BIH-muh), the second son of Kunti. His father is Vayu (VAH-yew), the god of the wind. Because of the wind’s great strength, Bhima is the strongest man in the world. He is not especially bright, but he is good-hearted. He also has an enormous appetite for food and drink. Being Vayu’s son, Bhima is a half brother to Hanuman, a monkey god from another Indian epic, The Ramayana. Both Bhima and Hanuman can change size.
Arjuna (UHR-jewn-uh), the third son of Kunti. His father is Indra (EEN-druh), a warrior god. Because of his father, Arjuna is a great warrior, especially as an archer. He has the ability to shoot thousands of arrows nearly simultaneously. Arjuna leads the Pandavas in many ways. After Yudhishthira’s loss at dice, the Pandavas must spend thirteen years in exile and a fourteenth in disguise. Arjuna is transformed, by a curse, into a dancing girl during this year.
Nakula (NAH-kool-uh) and
Sahadeva (suh-huh-DAY-vuh), the last two Pandavas, sons of Madri by the Asvins (UHSH-veens), twin gods associated with healing and horses. They do not play as large a role as the sons of Kunti.
Karna (KAHR-nuh), Kunti’s first son. His father is Surya (SUHR-yuh), the sun god. Born with natural armor, Karna is abandoned by his mother. When he finally comes into contact with her and his brothers, he is very hostile. Karna becomes an ally of Duryodhana. As a warrior, he seems the equal of Arjuna.
Draupadi (DROW-puh-dee), the common wife of the Pandavas. This unusual arrangement results from Kunti telling Arjuna that he must share with his brothers. When Yudhishthira loses her in the dice game, Kunti protests cleverly that, having lost himself already, Yudhishthira cannot lose her.
Duryodhana (dewr-YOH -duh-nuh), the first son of Dhritarashtra. He seeks to take the kingship from Yudhishthira. Early in the epic, he plots to burn the Pandavas alive in their house. When this plot fails, Duryodhana plans the dice game. He seeks to find and kill the Pandavas during their exile. He is dishonorable and unjust, the opposite of...
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