Characters in Alphabetical Order
Abhimanyu or Saubhadra: son of Subhadra and Arjuna. He will be killed by the combined attack of all the greatest generals of the Kurus who separate him from the Pandavas and his army, and systematically destroy his weapons, chariot and defenses before slaughtering him.
Arjuna: together with Krishna, who is his intimate friend, he is the protagonist of the Bhagavad Gita. Son of Indra and Kunti, he is the best archer and wins the hand of Draupadi at her svayamvara.
Ashvatthama: son of Drona and Krpa's sister Kripi. At the birth of Asvatthama Drona’s financial condition was very poor, so he went to his Gurukula schoolmate Drupada to ask for help but was rejected and offended, from here his enmity with Drupada started. After the Kurukshetra battle was over, Asvatthama treacherously killed Draupadi’s sons and tried to kill Parikshit who was still unborn; for this act Krishna proclaimed him to be a non-brahmana but merely a brahma-bandhu (relative of a brahmana) and sentenced him to be disgraced for eternity. It is said Asvatthama is still alive.
Bharata: forefather of the Kuru dynasty. He was the son of Shakuntala and king Dushyanta and became a very famous ruler; his name appears in the composite address of his descendants but he does not participate in the battle of Kurukshetra.
Bhima: the second son of Pandu, born from Vayu and Kunti. He was also called Vrikodara because of his formidable appetite. He married Draupadi like his other brothers, and he also married Sisupala’s sister and a rakshasi called Hidimbi, from whom the famous Ghatotkacha was born.
Bhishma: son of Santanu and Ganga, originally called Devavrata. The name Bhishma means terrible and refers to the vow he took to facilitate his father’s second marriage, and its future consequences. He never married nor had any child, but he is considered the Grandsire of the Kurus due to his great personal qualifications and the care and affection he gave to all the descendants of his brothers.
Bhurishrava: one of the three sons of Somadatta, he fights on the side of the Kauravas.
Chalya, Shalya: king of Madra and brother of Madri (Pandu’s wife); he was Yudhisthira’s friend but was tricked by Duryodhana to fight for him.
Chekitana: a relative of Krishna’s family, famous archer in the Yadu’s army.
Dantavakra: son of Vriddhasharma the king of Karusha (kingdom of the Adhirajas). He was born from Kunti’s sister Srutadeva. Previously defeated by Sahadeva, he is not on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but he attacked Dvaraka to avenge his friend Sisupala after the Rajasuya ceremony and was killed by Krishna in a mace duel together with his brother Viduratha.
Drishtadyumna: son of Drupada, born from the sacrificial fire together with sister Draupadi.
Dhrishtaketu: son of Dhristadyumna, nephew of Draupadi and Arjuna, grandson of Draupada. He will be killed by Drona. Another Dhrishtaketu was also present on the battlefield, the son of Sisupala king of the Chedis and friend of the Pandavas, who brought an akshauhini battalion to Kurukshetra; after the war his sister married Nakula.
Dhritarastra: brother of Pandu and father of Duryodhana, he does not take part in the battle of Kurukshetra but gets a full report from his secretary Sanjaya.
Draupadeyas: the sons of Draupadi. Draupadi had five sons from her five husbands; Prativindhya from Yudhisthira, Sutasoma from Bhimasena, Shrutakirti from Arjuna, Shatanika from Nakula and Shrutasena from Sahadeva. All of them were killed by Asvatthama in their sleep after the end of the Kurukshetra war.
Draupadi: was the daughter of king Drupada of Panchala, and therefore she is also called Panchali. Draupadi married Arjuna and his brothers. While they were in exile incognito, Arjuna went to the svayamvara of Draupadi and was the one who came up winner in a very difficult archery test. When he returned home with Draupadi, his mother Kunti thought that the wonderful jewel Arjuna had brought home was some ornament, and told him he had to share the treasure with his brothers. So it was that Draupadi became the wife of all five Pandavas. She had five sons, one from each husband. Draupadi is also a very symbolic character, whose story contains a lot of esoteric meanings. All the five sons of Draupadi were killed by Asvatthama in their sleep after the end of the Kurukshetra war; for this dastardly act Krishna proclaimed him to be a non-brahmana but merely a brahma-bandhu (relative of a brahmana) and sentenced him to be disgraced for eternity. It is said Asvatthama is still alive.
Drona: the acharya to whom Duryodhana is speaking at the beginning of the Bhagavad gita. He was born from the sperm of Bharadhvaja Rishi emitted when the Rishi saw the apsara Ghrtachi; the sperm was kept in a pot (test tube). He studied under Parasurama.
Drupada: king of Panchala, sometimes called Yajnasena. Drupada had a quarrel with his old childhood friend Drona, so he performed a homa with the purpose of getting progeny that could avenge the offenses he had received from Drona and the Pandavas (Arjuna was sent by Drona in a raid against Drupada). From the sacrificial fire, both Draupadi and Dhristadhyumna were born, and both were instrumental in the destruction of Drona and the Kurus.
Duhsasana: one of Duryodhana’s brothers. He lusted after Draupadi and he dragged her by her hair, half-dressed, into the assembly hall of the Kurus with the intent of exposing her naked in public.
Duryodhana: the eldest son of Dhritarastra who systematically refuses to recognize the royal rights of his cousins the Pandavas and repeatedly tried to assassinate them. Dhritarastra’s wife Gandhari became pregnant at the same time as Kunti, and when she heard that her sister in law had given birth before her, she became so angry that she hit her own belly in rage, thus causing the premature birth of a formless lump of flesh. Vyasadeva was called to the rescue and he divided the lump into 100 small containers, and from each of those containers the bit of flesh developed into a fully formed baby.
Jayadratha: sworn enemy of Arjuna and the Pandavas; he was the king of Sindhu and he had been defeated by Arjuna during the svayamvara of Draupadi when he tried to kidnap her. According to a prophecy he would be beheaded, so his father Vriddhakshetra cursed whoever would let his head fall to the ground to die. To solve the problem, Arjuna sent the chopped head of Jayadratha’s directly into Vriddhakshetra’s lap. Jayadratha married Duhsala, the daughter of Dhritarastra and sister of Duryodhana, and had a son called Suradha, who became the king of Sindhu but had a heart attack when he learned that Arjuna had come to challenge him during is Rajasuya campaign.
Karna: son of Kunti and Surya the Sun God. He is the great tragic hero of the Mahabharata and his story exemplifies the damage that can be created by actions dictated by fear rather than love and truthfulness. When Karna was born, Kunti was very scared of what people may say about her having a child in secret, so she abandoned the baby who was later adopted by the sudra charioteer Adhiratha and his wife Radha (therefore Karna is often called Radheya). During his entire life Karna struggled torn between the general prejudice and the discordant opinions about his birth, and his actual guna and karma that inevitably pushed him to carry on with his actual duty in society as a great warrior and a king. His guru Parasurama cursed him because he had not presented himself as a kshatriya he really was (considering his actual guna and karma) and he found himself morally obliged to serve the evil king Duryodhana who had publicly recognized and endorsed his real qualifications, bestowing him the title of vassal king. If Kunti had only recognized Karna as her first-born son at his birth there would have been six happy Pandavas and the horrors of Kurukshetra might have been greatly reduced. Karna’s story is one of the many scriptural examples that illustrate the disastrous results of a bad choice.
Kichaka: a general in the army of Virata, he is not on the battlefield of Kurukshetra because he had already been killed by Bhima for molesting Draupadi.
Kripa: test-tube son of Saradvana Rishi and the Apsara Janapadi. His twin sister Kripi married Drona. He survived Kurukshetra and became the preceptor of Parikshit.
Kritavarma: commander in chief of the Yadu army, who fought by order of Krishna on the side of Duryodhana. He survived the war and died at Prabhasa during the destruction of the Yadu dynasty.
Kunti: king Kuntibhoja did not have children, so he adopted the sister of Vasudeva (father of Krishna), who was then called Kunti. Vasudeva’s father, the friend of king Kuntibhoja, was called Surasena. When she was a young girl, Kunti had the opportunity of serving Durvasa Rishi, a very powerful ascetic, who gave her a mantra to call any Deva to her presence. Out of curiosity, young Kunti called Surya and gave birth to Karna, who was radiant like the sun and already decorated with a natural armor and earrings. Scared, Kunti abandoned the baby to the waters of the Ganga river, putting him inside a floating reed basket.
Kuntibhoja: foster father of Kunti the mother of the Pandavas. He allied with the Pandavas.
Nakula and Sahadeva: the two twin sons of the Asvini kumaras and Madri, who had borrowed from Kunti the power to call a Deva and have a son from him.
Purochana: a henchman of Duryodhana, he built the shellac house where the Pandavas and their mother Kunti were sent for holidays and that according to the plan was to be set on fire to kill them. However, the Pandavas were alerted by Vidura and they dug a tunnel under the house and escaped, while Purochana himself died in the fire. Thus he is not present on the battlefield.
Sakuni: Gandhari’s brother, uncle of Duryodhana. He planned the fixed dice game to take away everything from the Pandavas. He is not on the battlefield.
Sanjaya: the secretary and assistant of Dhritarastra, relates to him what is happening on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. We know that Sanjaya was a disciple of Vyasa and was a clairvoyant.
Satyaki: another name of Yuyudhanu (see Yuyudhana), he belongs to Krishna’s Yadu dynasty and in Dvaraka he is Krishna’s charioteer and a very famous archer and warrior.
Sikhandi: previously Amba the eldest daughter of the king of Kashi, she was reborn as Sikhandi with the purpose of killing Bhishma. It is said that she found balance (became a man) with the help of the yaksha Sthunakarna. Her hatred for Bhishma started when, after accepting him as the winner of her svayamvara, she found out she would not be marrying him but his impotent brother; she then returned home with the intention of marrying Shalva, a warrior she liked, but Shalva felt offended in his pride and rejected her. In her new birth as Sikhandi, she was born from king Drupada; it seems she was a transsexual (who married and had children). She was treacherously killed by Asvatthama after the end of the war.
Sisupala or Sunitha: the king of Chedi (present time Madhya Pradesh south of Yamuna). Sisupala himself is not on the battlefield of Kurukshetra because he was killed by Krishna with sudarshana chakra during the first Rajasuya. He was an ally of Duryodhana and Jarasandha of Magadha, and rival of Krishna (who was his uncle’s son); He is the son of Kunti’s sister Srutadeva, who married the king of Chedi Damaghosha. He coveted Rukmini, insulted Krsna, the Pandavas and Bhishma at Rajasuya, stole sacrificial horse of Vasudeva, raped the mother of Akrura, raped the wife of Babhru, raped the daughter of his uncle king of Visala (fiance of king of Karusha). The kingdom of Chedi was famous for its founder Uparichara Vasu, who was Indra’s personal friend and established a special festival in his honor, consisting in erecting a bamboo pole and decorating it with cloth, garlands, ornaments and scents. He diverted the waters of river Suktimati (from which the capital of Chedi took its name) from mountain Kolahala and thus obtained a wonderful wife Girika. Girika’s brother became the general of the Chedi army. Uparichara Vasu also had a son from a fisherwoman, who founded the Matsya dynasty, and a daughter from which Satyavati is said to descend. From the kingdom of Chedi also came Dhrishtaketu (son of Sisiupala) and his sons, who participated to the battle of Kurukshetra, as well as Damaghosha, Suketu, Bhima's wife and her son Sarabha, and Nakula's wife Karenumati.
Somadatta and his son Bhurishrava: father and son found themselves in the opposite armies to fight against each other. Somadatta fought for Duryodhana and Bhurisrava fought for the Pandavas. Somadatta was a relative of the Kurus (son of Bahlika, brother of Santanu). King Pratipa, the descendent of Kuru, had three sons: Devapi (that could not ascend the throne because of a serious skin disease, so went on to become a Rishi), Bahlika (renounced the throne and went to maternal grandfather's kingdom) and Santanu (who became king). The kingdom of Bahlika was allied with Duryodhana and was famous for its horses and because its inhabitants did not follow the Vedic rules. Several other non-Vedic kingdoms participated to the war of Kurukshetra, such as the Nishadas, Pulindas, Andhakas, Khasas, Sakas, Tanganas, Kambhojas, Yavanas, Paradas, Kalingas, Amvasthas, Pishachas, Barbaras, Mlecchas, Trigartas, Sauviras, Daradas, Malavas, the Salvas. Within the Bahlika regions were the two non-Vedic kingdoms of Madra and Anga; Shalya was the king of Madra (brother of Madri wife of Pandu) and Karna was made the king of Anga by Duryodhana.
Subhadra: Krishna’s sister, foster daughter of Vasudeva. She was actually born from Yasoda and Nanda in Gokula and Vasudeva carried her back to Mathura into Kamsa’s prison when he exchanged baby Krishna, leaving him in Gokula in her place. As Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva, was in Gokula at that time in the house of Nanda for shelter and protection, it is sometimes said that Subhadra was actually born from Rohini like Balarama, and not from Yasoda. All these relations also have a deep symbolic meaning that should be studied later on. Subhadra was married by Arjuna with Krishna’s help and against Balarama’s will, who had arranged her marriage with Sisupala. Arjuna kidnapped Subhadra while she was visiting a temple before proceeding to her marriage, on the marriage day. Actually Subhadra had fallen in love with Arjuna already because for 4 months Arjuna had stayed incognito in the Yadu’s palace disguised as a sannyasi, and he had long and affectionate interactions with Subhadra, to whom he had disclosed his real identity. Subhadra’s only son is Abhimanyu.
Uttamaujas: a great general in the army of king Draupada.
Vidura: it is said that Mandavya Rishi was unjustly accused of robbery and executed by being pierced with a spear; when he went to Yama he protested and was told that in his childhood he had killed an insect by piercing it with a blade of grass, then he cursed Yama to take birth as a sudra.
Vikarna: one of the sons of Dhritarastra, he was the only one who spoke in defense of Draupadi when she was insulted in the assembly of the Kurus.
Virata: the king of Matsya, in whose palace the Pandavas remained incognito for one year; he is the father of Uttara, the wife of Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna). He brought an akshauhini of warriors and was killed by Drona.
Yudhamanyu: a prince of Panchala.
Yudhisthira: the son of Kunti; with the permission of her husband Pandu, Kunti called Dharma (Yama) and had a son from him. He is the eldest of the Pandavas (excluding Karna) and therefore the King.
Yuyudhana: also called Satyaki; a member of the Yadu dynasty and highest ranking general of Krishna’s army (that fought against the Pandavas); he studied martial arts with Arjuna. He survived the war and died at Prabhasa with the other Yadus.