Symbolical Meaning of the Characters
Pandavas: the five sons of Pandu, Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. The five Pandavas are traditionally considered as five aspects of Shiva. It is not easy to understand Shiva tattva. Shiva is in between Vishnu and jiva, or in other words it is Brahman that manifests in this world and works with material nature.
Yudhisthira: Yama = Yamesvara, symbolizing Vedic Aryan or brahminical culture and tradition. In the court of Virata he is a brahmana who teaches chess (strategy) to the king, associating Dharma with Yama, how to stake one’s life and death in the pursuance of Dharma; in Puri it is the oldest Shiva temple; in Mahabharata he has a discussion with Dharma. Yudhishira married Draupadi as dharma-patni for the performance of brahminical rituals and the strengthening of the clan bonds; he also had a son named Devaka from Pauravi, symbolizing the divine descendence generated for the sake of the dynasty and the kingdom.
Bhima: Vayu = Markandesvara; In the court of Virata he is a cook, associating Vayu with Agni; in Puri it is the tirtha where sraddha is preferably performed (feeding the ancestors rice balls to procure them a new body); in the Mahabharata he talks to Hanuman who says he is his brother. Bhima is also the terrifying all-devouring aspect of Shiva (Bhairava) that is worshiped by non-aryan populations. The wives and sons of Bhima were:
Hidimbi - Ghatotkacha: the dark aspects of the human mind that can also be channeled to carry on the mission of life;
Kali - Sarvagata;
Sisupala’s sister - son Sarabha became king of Chedi, also non-aryan (tribal) in tradition
Arjuna: Indra = Lokanatha; In the court of Virata he is a trans-sexual, associating the main form of Shiva with Ardhanarisvara; in Puri it is the most important and popular temple; in the Puranas Arjuna is assimilated with Nara that appears with Narayana Rishi, as well as with Hanuman that appears with Rama (Arjuna’s flag bears Hanuman). Arjuna is also the kingly aspect of Shiva that unites the various tribes, including the non-Vedic. The wives and sons of Arjuna were:
Subhadra is Bhuvanesvari, the original Mother Goddess, sister (equal) to Vishnu and her son is Abhimanyu;
Draupadi, is worshiped in many places of India as Durga, she marries Shiva in all his forms, taking a particular form to suit each of the various forms of Shiva; in the court of Virata she is the maidservant of the queen, associating the various secondary forms of the Mother Goddess with the cooperation with the highest form of the Mother Goddess, the original Mother;
Ulupi - Iravan (Nagas)
Chitrangada - Babruvahana (Manipuri, Chinese people)
Sometimes the two are switched: Bhima is associated with Lokanatha, and Arjuna with Markandesvara, to signify the greater importance of the contribution of tribal culture from Orissa compared to the contribution of tribal culture from the north-eastern region of India.
Nakula and Sahadeva: the Asvini kumaras (the physicians of the devas) = Nilakantha and Kapalamochana; In the court of Virata they are respectively in charge of cows and horses, associating Vaidyanatha Shiva with Pasupati; pasu is also the animal component of the human being consisting of the mere gross material body. In Puri they are Nilakantha and Kapalamochana, these two lilas are also associated with animalistic tendencies - one the black poison swallowed by Shiva during the churning of the milk ocean, and the other is the slapping of Brahma, with one of the five original heads of Brahma getting stuck to Shiva’s hand. Nakula symbolizes discrimination (expert swordsman), married Karenumati princess of Chedi (sister of Dhristaketu), son was named Naramitra; symbolizing that even non-aryan societies can be friendly and progressive when protected by intelligence and discrimination. Sahadeva symbolizes intuition, married Vijaya princess of Madra and had a son named Suhotra; he killed Sakuni.
Karna: Surya = Surya Narayana, the sixth Pandava is not exactly Shiva but Hari Hara, hidden or not recognized immediately by people. The temple of Surya is not in Puri but in Konark (outside the circle of the five Pandavas).
Pandu: when the fragment of Brahman descends into this world, its natural brilliance becomes pale, and when it consorts with the attachment to material pleasures, it appears to die...
Madri: attachment to material pleasure as energy of the embodied soul, is the cause for its downfall and dies with the material identification, after producing the animalistic mentality (governed by Pasupati).
Kunti: Bhumi, also called Pritha (a name for Bhumi - “the vast”, “the round”); she is adopted, originally the sister of Vasudeva father of Krishna, symbolizing that the real guardian of the land is the one who toils on it; in Puri, Kunti is associated with Gamha Purnima, the day connected to the agriculture and the protection of the cattle; earth is usually referred as the cow feeding all living entities and that needs to be protected by the king.
Abhimanyu: human effort that remains devoid of higher support, and self confidence that does not measure to the actual difficulties; it is also said he is Chandra (the moon), being subservient to Shiva and dying young just after attaining maturity.
Parikshit: cautiousness, he meets his doom because his usual carefulness is weakened by hunger and thirst, and as a consequence he is bitten by the poisonous snake Takshaka for the curse of an unqualified brahmana.
Dhritarastra: material calculation for selfish benefits that is blind to Dharma and spiritual identity; after losing everything he finally understands that material attachment is illusion...
Gandhari: the material attachment to family and society that makes itself blind, too, for the sake of selfish benefits.
Vidura: the good common sense that is also found in ordinary non-educated people.
Duryodhana: quarrel, some say he was a partial incarnation for the age of Kali.
Duhsasana: lust; Bhima kills him and drinks his blood as also lust can be channeled, sanctified and made harmless through the tantric path
The other sons of Dhritarastra: the various defects and bad tendencies of the conditioned soul.
Duhsala, daughter of Dhritarastra: bad advice; she married Jayadratha the king of Sindhu, who by prophecy would be beheaded. Jayadratha tried to kidnap Draupadi, is defeated by Bhima and performs tapas to get boons from Shiva. He is the one who kills Abhimanyu. Duhsala’s son Suradha gets a heart attack hearing that Arjuna has come for the Rajasuya when the horse enters Sindhu.
Sakuni: scheming political mentality.
Bhishma/the Vasus (the eight material elements of the universe): excessive attachment to material sattva, the instructions he gives to Yudhisthira are about sattva not about transcendence.
Drona: revengefulness; his unplanned and artificial birth symbolizes that there is actually no need for revenge.
Asvatthama: treason and treacherous behavior.
Kripa & twin sister Kripi: impoverishment; a kripana is a miser. They are also born in the same way of Drona; Kripi marrying Drona and having Asvatthama as a son is also symbolical. After the war Kripa was still alive and became Parikshit’s preceptor.
Arjuna’s chariot: the body, drawn by the white horses of the senses. In the chariot of the body the atman sits with the paramatman and can win the battle of life if it allows paramatman to drive him.
Ugrasena: brother of Surasena, is king of Mathura and Dvaraka, father of Devaki and Kamsa; he symbolizes the necessary support of the kshatriyas (the use of force).
Surasena: brother of Ugrasena, father of Vasudeva and Kunti; he symbolizes the necessary support of the kshatriyas (the use of nurturing).
Sisupala: king of Chedi, previously Jaya the gatekeeper of Vaikuntha, Hiranyakashipu and Ravana. He symbolizes envy.
Dantavakra: king of Karusha, previously Vijaya the gatekeeper of Vaikuntha, Hiranyaksha and Kumbhakarna. He symbolizes anger. Dantavakra is son of Kunti’s sister Srutadeva, who married Vriddhasharma king of Karusha. Also had a brother Viduratha (grief). Killed by Krishna in mace duel.
Jarasandha, King of Magadha: killed by Bhima; he was born in two halves and was united by Jara, old age, he kept a number of kings prisoners in a cave. He symbolizes the inability to have a complete vision of life and problems, a defect that can be eliminated by separating one problem or issue from the others and tackling them one by one. Old age tends to confuse people into lumping up and/or superimposing experiences or taking things for granted.
Dhaumya (the guru of the Pandavas): the loyalty to Dharma; some say he was Brihaspati the guru of the Devas.
Virata: help from friends, killed by Drona; it is said he is an incarnation of the Maruts.
Uttara: gratefulness, mother of Parikshit.
The three daughters of the king of Kashi: the material manifestations of the Mother Goddess in human society and life - women. When women are not satisfied by their natural protector (Bhishma) because of man’s attachment to material sattva, they are forced to rely on impotent and weakling second-choice husbands, who are unable to generate the adequate progeny. It is said that when a man is duly attracted to the woman (meaning that the man is sexually stronger than the woman) a male child is generated and will develop the mother’s character. On the other hand, when the man is not sufficiently attracted to the woman within the sexual relationship, a female child is generated and will develop the father’s character.
Amba (Shikhandi): frustration that turns into fighting spirit.
Ambika (Dhrtarastra): frustration that makes one blind to one’s real nature.
Ambalika (Pandu): frustration that turns into fear and weakens one’s real nature.
Susharma: king of Trigarta and brother of Duryodhana’s wife Bhanumati; he took a vow to kill Arjuna but was killed by him. Symbolizes foolishness.