Whatever is here is found elsewhere. Whatever is not here, is nowhere else.
—The Book of the Beginning
is a great Indian epic, part of Hindu Mythology
and a Narrative Poem
primarily about the Civil War
between two factions, the Kauravas and the Pandavas of the Kuru dynasty who are Royal Cousins
. It is popularly said to be written by the sage and Author Avatar
"Ved-Vyasa" (meaning the Arranger of the Vedas).
Though based on earlier oral stories, recording did not begin until around 400 BCE
, according to the most widely accepted theories about its composition.
The Epic starts with King Shantanu, the ancestor of the Kurus falling in Love at First Sight
with (unknown to him) River Goddess Ganga whose condition for marrying him is that he should refrain from questioning her about anything that she does
. Ganga however appears to be a Jerk Ass
and drowns every single child she begets as soon as they were born
. Shantanu finally asks her to stop, only to find out that her sons are holy souls that, who, due to a crime of vandalism that they had committed, were forced to be born as mortal humans, and that by drowning them, she's letting them go back to the place where souls go after having transcended the cycle of rebirth
. Ganga leaves and her son, Devavrata, becomes the apparent heir. Shantanu finds his Second Love
, a young fisherwoman named Satyavati whom he cannot marry due to Parental Marriage Veto
. The Wise Prince
Devavrata promises to step away from the throne and to remain celibate for the rest of his life so that Satyavati's children can inherit the throne. Satyavati is allowed to marry Shantanu. Devavrata is hence called Bhishma or the 'one with a terrible vow'.
Later on, he abducts three princesses from the kingdom of Kasi during a Svayamvara (a marriage ceremony where the princess gets to choose her husband), for his half-brother (the son of Satyavati and Shantanu) Vichitravirya, to marry. Two of the princesses agree to wed his half brother. Amba, the eldest refuses but her lover, Salva, the king of Saubha, refuses to take her back. She is unable to persuade Bhishma to wed her (and thus gain the respect that comes with marriage) and she takes up austerity, vowing to take her revenge on Bhishma which she eventually does.
Vichitravirya dies without an heir to the throne, and as Bhishma is unwilling
to procreate, Satyavati calls on the sage Ved-Vyasa
to impregnate the two widowed queens. Ved-Vyasa is the illegitimate offspring of Satyavati and Parashara, a wandering sage, before her marriage to Shantanu who was brought up by his father. Three children result, and are deemed to be the sons of Vichitravirya. Blind Prince Dhritarashtra is the oldest, but due to his blindness, the right to be an emperor was passed down to Prince Pandu. Dhritarashtra marries the queen of Gandhara, Gandhari who brings along her brother, Chess Master
Shakuni. Pandu, the second son is sickly. He marries Princess Kunti and a second woman named Madri. He begets five children by magical means - his wife Kunti has the power to call any God to father her children. The third son, Vidura is wise, but since his mother was a servant of the Palace and not a princess, he cannot rise beyond the rank of Prime Minister.
Pandu dies shortly after he exiles himself to the forest and Dhritarashtra remains king. The children of Dhritarashtra are called Kauravas and the children of Pandu are called Pandavas. A rivalry quickly develops and Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kauravas, resolves to eliminate his cousins. When Duryodhana attempts to wipe the Pandavas off by tricking them into living in a palace made of lac and then burning it down, they escape and resolve to hide their identity till they are in safe territory. On the way, they marry Draupadi, the Princess of Panchala
. Meanwhile, King Dhritarastra learns of the plot to kill the Pandavas and, obviously displeased with the infighting, gifts them with half the kingdom. This does not please the Kauravas, and only add to their dislike of the Pandavas. Duryodana and his uncle, Shakuni, challenge the Pandavas to play in a dice game where the Pandavas stake and lose their kingdom, wealth, themselves and even temporarily their wife Draupadi (who is married to all five of the brothers). After being humiliated, they are exiled for thirteen years. King Dhritarashtra promises to give back their kingdom if they are not caught by the end of the Exile. His sons, however, are desperate to prevent this. Peace is exhausted and a war ensues.
The Pandavas are five brothers
The Man Behind the Man
and the Xanatos Speed Chess Master
of this entire epic is Krishna
The Kauravas consists of the numerous sons of Dhritarashtra and their allies.
Subject to countless Alternative Character Interpretation
. Mostly because of Moral Dissonance
and most characters being Jerk Ass
or worse, or some characters being Screwed By Destiny
. Countless adaptations have taken place, and this epic is the William Shakespeare
of Indian literature.
Provides Examples Of:
- Abduction Is Love - Played straight with Ambika and Ambalika. Subverted with Amba who reincarnates as Shikandi. See No Man of Woman Born
- Don't forget Naga Princess Uloopi who abducts Arjuna into her underwater kingdom. Naturally, Arjuna did complain...
- Achilles' Heel: the Big Bad Duryodhana's Achilles heel is his thighs and to hit it is to break the rules of War. Not that Bhima cared anyways. Karna's was existing without putting on his necklaces and armor that he had and wore since birth since his earrings and armor made him immortal.
- Achilles in His Tent: Bhishma was so pissed at Karna that Karna was sent to his tent and didn't participate for a part of the War, at least until Bhishma's death.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Chitraganda and Arjuna
- This is Tagore's interpretation and it stuck.
- Another example is Hidimbi and Bhima (she's a Rakshasi, i.e. a demoness, but that's close enough to the trope to count).
- All Women Are Lustful: During Bhishma's sermon on his deathbed, he gives a speech on how women will sleep with anything. Otherwise subverted. The epic in general is sympathetic to women and does not consider this to be true. The Bhagavad Gita generally is against lust in both men and women.
- And Your Little Dog Too: Yuddhistira refuses to enter Heaven without the dog that followed him faithfully. He is rewarded for this after the dog is revealed to be his Father, Dharma (Righteousness)
- Annoying Arrows: Arrows can cut down things like a machinegun fire, but many named characters manage to intercept them, or are wrapped in magical protections, and so on. Consequently, they survive whole rains of incoming arrows.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Krishna.
- Anything That Moves: Almost all the Purus have this as a flaw. Pandu died because he could not help keep his hands to himself. Satyavati's youngest son died because of this. Satyavati's husband had a particular weakness for women near rivers.
- Author Avatar Vyasa himself is the result of the above. Never trust wandering ascetics.
- Almost all Royal Princes in this epic tend to do this.
- Attempted Rape: Kichaka attempts to rape Draupadi in the Matsya Kingdom. Jayadatha attempts to rape Draupadi as well when she is exiled in the forest. After the dice game incident, Duryodhana, Karna, and Dushasana try to rape her in front of their royal court...and her husbands
- Arch-Enemy: Bhima vs. Duryodhana, Arjuna vs. Karna, not to forget Pandu vs. Dhritarashtra
- Artificial Human: There are a lot of Artificial Humans in the Mahabharata which might serve as a metaphor for their fierce character (as the logic goes: if they are made, not born, that explains their awesome character). The Kauravas, the sons of Queen Gandhari and King Dhritarastra were born artificially.
- Drona was born artificially as well. Draupadi was born from a sacrificial fire.
- Artistic License
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Yuddhistira (and everyone else) goes to Heaven.
- Avenging the Villain: Pandavas's five young children are killed in their sleep by Aswattama, Duryodhana's friend. Those poor kids!
- Bad Ass: Almost all the Pandavas. Jarasandh. Krishna was Badass as well. Karna is perhaps one of the greatest examples of this within not just the epic, but also all of Hindu Mythology, managing to steamroll a vast majority of the heroes until his downfall (which would've also been a steamroll if not for a multitude of curses, divine intervention and a myriad of other things).
- Bad Ass Adorable: Krishna, Krishna, Krishna!. In spite of being the most adorable baby and naughty Cheerful Child in the book, he really kicks some demon ass!
- Countless supplementary texts on this show that he's had (and has) a HUGE fandom that's Older Than Feudalism who loves him for all that he did in infancy, childhood, a teenager...and yeah, everything else he's ever done as well.
- Balarama is also this as a child, although he doesn't get as much mention.
- Badass Grandpa: Bhishma is one of the best examples in Hindu mythology. He was absolutely invincible on the battlefield and the Pandavas had to ask him for advice on how to defeat him. ( He promised them that they could always meet him for advice after sunset, and he kept his promises. ) Even after being impaled on a bed of arrows he had the grace to choose the time of his death, and he lay there for days to wait for time which was considered holy(the start of the period when the length of nights start reducing and length of days start increasing i.e around middle of January) before he finally decided to leave the world.
- Badass Driver: Krishna, who decides to be Arjuna's charioteer/
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Purus are screwed up. In more ways than one.
- Be Careful What You Say: When the Pandavas brought Draupadi home, Kunti asked them to share whoever they brought equally, thinking that they bought alms. Much confusion ensued and all the five Pandavas married Draupadi. Also can be subject to Moral Dissonance.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Draupadi, the Pandavas's wife, in the Mahabharata yearned for a husband in her previous life. She wanted her husband to be as strong as Vayu, as talented as Indra, as moral as Dharma and as beautiful as the Ashwini twins. She forgot to specify that she wanted * one husband* . As a result, in her next incarnation, she married five men and was the wife of five husbands simultaneously. Her qualities of an ideal husband were satisfied in that the five princes were conceived by Kunti with the aid of five different gods (Bhima from Vayu, Arjuna from Indra, Yuddhistira from Dharma, and Nakula and Sahadev from the Ashwins).
- The young unmarried Kunthi got a mantra that would make any God fall for her, at least for procreation purposes. She was curious enough to say it and the Sun God in consequence came to her. Of course, she could not refuse him and she got pregnant. Since unmarried motherhood, especially to Princesses with precarious status never ends well, she sets adrift her son. He was Karna.
- Because Destiny Says So: Played straight in the original. Subverted in the expansion.
- Being Good Sucks: See "Honor Before Reason"
- The Berserker: Arjuna goes berserk after the Kauravas ganged up and killed his teenage son Abhimanyu. Krishna goes temporarily berserk when he learns that Arjuna was fighting Patriach Bhisma half heartedly. Bhima goes berserk almost continuously in the epic, especially when someone insults Draupadi's honor.
- Best Friends In Law: Krishna is perfectly happy for Arjun to marry his sister Subhadra. In some versions, he is said to be the mastermind behind the plan.
- Big Bad: Duryodhana, with Shakuni as Bigger Bad.
- The Big Guy: Bhima.
- Blind Seer: Subverted with King Dhritarashtra, who was a blind king who was blind to his evil son Duryodhana's actions.
- Blessed with Suck: Bhima has super strength, Arjuna is the best archer there is, Yuddhistira is righteous, yet all these strengths amount to nothing as the Pandavas spend the majority of their lifespan escaping Big Bad Duryodhana's schemes. Only in the end do they finally use their power against their cousins.
- Bhishma, the Patriach of the Purus, has the power to decide the time of his death. Keep in mind, this does not make him immortal and that he still experiences pain. He dies in the Kurushetra War after lying on a bed of arrows for a number of days. He willed his death of course but it is a very very sucky power.
- Karna had earrings and armor that made him immortal yet it never does much for him until the Kurushetra War. And before he can use it in the war, Indra/Krishna asks him to give away his amulet and earrings as charity. He accepts, as it's in line with his vows. Thus, immortality proved to be useless and temporary.
- Drapuadi is married to five men at once, because she wished for all these qualities in a man in a past life (and refused to accept Shiva's caution that it's nearly impossible to squeeze all these attributes into one guy). She becomes The High Queen, but she gets caught in the middle of the conflict between the Pandavas and Kauravas.
- Bowdlerization: The Javanese version removes some of the more squicktastic elements of the original, such as Draupadi being the wife of all five Pandavas. In it, she is Yudhisthira's (and only Yudhisthira's) wife. Probably something to do with the spread of Islam.
- Break the Cutie: Draupadi refused to even consider marrying Karna because of his background as a charioteer's son. She laughed at Duryodana once calling him "a blind son of a blind father". Duryodhana pulls a Who's Laughing Now? during the dice game. She is later humiliated as Duryodhana orders his brother Brute Dushasana to strip her and Dragon Karna calls her a whore.
- This happens to Draupadi a lot because of her legendary beauty. Kichaka, the errant brother of the queen Sudeshna of the Matsya Kingdom tries to assault her when she disguises herself as a servant and when repulsed kicks her in open court. Bhima teaches him a nice lesson in manners later, by stomping him till he dies
- Break the Haughty: Drona's childhood friend King Drupad was humiliated by Drona because of his haughty demeanor and his insults towards Drona.
- Cain and Abel: Duryodhana tried to kill his cousin Bhima by poisoning him as a child.
- Of course, who can forget Arjuna and Karna?
- The rivalry of Arjuna and Karna has parallels with the rivalry of Surya (the Sun god) and Indra (the god who wields thunder and the supreme god) in Hindu mythology. Indra triumphs just like Arjuna does.
- Cassandra Truth: Sanjaya/Vidura tries to get Dhritarashtra to reign in Duryodhana, foreshadowing that he would end the dynasty.
- Celibate Hero: Traditionally, abstinence matters a lot in Hinduism, but usually it's fasting in various forms (vows of indefinite prohibition are another matter entirely). Thus celibacy is defined differently in the Mahabharata than almost anywhere else. It is described most of all as a lack of sexual lust. Thus, Arjuna, The Hero, is described to be a bramhachari ('celibate') despite marrying Draupadi and Subhadra, sleeping with Chitraganda and various other Naga Princesses because he is sleeping with them only for procreation. Also, warriors were not supposed to refuse any female request for sex. Highly subject to Values Dissonance.
- Played straight with Bhishma.
- The Chains of Commanding: It never ends. It never ends.
- The Corrupter: Shakuni, also crossed with He Who Fights Monsters; he's the cause of everything that turn shit in the epic, all because the Kuru destroyed his dynasty and Bhisma made his sister Ghandari marry a blind man.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Karna is not that powerful or most of the story, but takes many levels in badass by the time of the battle of Kurukshetra, where his defeat by Arjuna requires a pile of curses activating in the critical moment, direct intervention by multiple gods, and his best weapon being already expended to kill one of the most powerful enemy heroes. He also stomps into the ground the rest of Pandavas, before battling Arjuna.
- Cursed with Awesome: Arjuna is cursed by a miffed Goddess to look like a eunuch, but his father Indra changes the curse to make it last exactly one year, to be chosen at Arjuna's behest. It comes in very handy during the year the Pandavas have to live in disguise.
- Chick Magnet: Krishna, Up to Eleven.
- Cosmic Playthings: Everyone in this Epic without exception.
- Cycle of Revenge: Arjuna's mentor Drona is insulted by his childhood friend, King Drupad so he asks Arjuna to teach the Jerk Ass a lesson. Drupad is humiliated in a Bad Ass manner and wants revenge. He gets a son Dhristadyuma to kill Drona and a daughter Draupadi to marry Arjuna.
- Ashwatthama, the son of Drona and a friend of Big Bad Duryodhana kills the five children of the Pandavas, Draupadi's father and brothers when they were sleeping in a tent at the end of the Kurushetra battle to avenge the unjust death of his father and the Kurus in general.
- He also tries to kill Abhimanyu's unborn son, but (depending on version) the child is revived by Krishna or Ashwattama got caught first.
- Essentially, this is the reason of the Kurushetra War in a nutshell beside the Succession Crisis. Bhisma fought, defeat, and left the Ghandara dynasty to starve in dungeon makes Shakuni fans Dhuryodhana's hatred for the Pandava that started from Bhima bullying the Kaurava in their childhood, and it just escalates from there.
- Death by Sex: Pandu is cursed to die by this. And he does.
- Dead Pan Snarker: Karna. To quote Yuddhistira, he was "one whose teeth are spears and arrows and whose tongue is a sword".
- Demoted to Extra: Nakula and Sahadeva can come across like this. Arjuna has many, many side-stories, while Bhima and Yudhistira got leading roles and feature rather prominently in the story. Nakula and Sahadeva, said to be the best swordsmen and the best-looking amongst the Pandava brothers, hardly got any screen time. Of course, it can also me attribured to the Loads and Loads of Characters the prose must cover.
- Determinator: Abhimanyu. A killing machine on the battlefield at the age of sixteen, he had to be cornered by several of the Kaurava side's greatest warriors before he's beaten (completely against all rules of combat). Even after having all of his armor and weaponry shattered, he was still mowing down his enemies with a wheel broken off his chariot by the time he's taken down. Though that might not qualify him for this trope since the alternative was to give up and die.
- Deus ex Machina: Probably the only reason Arjuna survives the war. Justified in that his charioteer, Krishna, is...you know...God, and everyone knows it.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Karna managed to knock back Arjuna's chariot despite the protection of two gods at once. Which also involved moving Avatar against his will—thus obliviously doing a wonder while just trying to get at Arjuna.
- Disc One Final Boss: Bhishma, Karna, and Drona.
- Divine Parentage: The Pandavas are fathered by the Gods. Yuddhistira's father was Dharma (the God of righteousness), Arjuna's was Indra (the supreme god of the heavens) and Bhima's was Vayu (the wind god). Nakula and Sahadeva are fathered by the Ashwini twins (who are just renown for their beauty). Karna's father was Surya, the Sun God.
- Door Stopper: And how! The Mahabharata itself Lampshades this, saying it was supposedly so long that a God had to be brought in as the scribe.
- At almost 100,000 verses, the only complete translation of the book has 2,114 chapters in 18 books, with an estimated word count of over 1.8 million in the original book. And that does not consider the complexities of having it written entirely in Sanskrit poetry.
- Downer Ending: How to list the ways. All the Kauravas die but they die with almost all the Pandavas's mentors, teachers and revered patriarchs. Then the Pandavas's five children are killed during sleep due to Ashwattama, the son of their teacher Drona, who wanted to revenge the villain. Of their many children and grandchildren, only the unborn child of teenage Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, survives. The Pandavas's mother dies in a forest fire. After their death, they ascend to the heavens but not before being put through a crazy amount of tests. Duryodhana, the Big Bad is enjoying himself in Heaven. Their last heir dies sometime after the Kurushetra War due to a snakebite because he tried to mock a meditating sage.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Duryodhana loves his mother Gandhari though he never listens to her. Subverted in the case of Karna though not completely as he promised Kunti that he would only try to kill Arjuna out of her five children and will not spare the other four though he won't kill them.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: Also kind of Kill 'em All. After the 8 day long battle of Kurukshetra, involving just shy of 4 million! warriors, only 8 of the Pandavas and 3 of the Kauravas remain alive.
- Actually, it was spread over 18 days, but that does nothing to help the probability of getting 4 million men of fighting age in one battle. That doesn't count any support personnel.
- The Mahabharata isn't explicit on how its calculated, but Yudhisthira tells Dhritharashtra that the official head count at the end stood at an astounding 1,660,020,000, including animals. One billion six hundred and sixty million. It is explained off by auxiliary books that the 4 million only consisted of the core army while the actual was 'way bigger'. No need to imagine the old king's response...
- The destruction of the Yadus has an estimated head count of 560 million. Which would put the full death toll at over two billion.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Subverted. Princess Kunti gets pregnant before marriage. Princess Amba, Ambika and Ambalika are kidnapped at their marriage ceremony to marry Satyavati's son. Princess Draupadi decides to marry five men at once and her life is full of suck.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Inverted... if you ask a Filipino anyway. Mainly because "Mahabarata" kinda sounds like "Mahaba ata" (or This is long) considering that this is an Epic, it makes sense.
- Fan Fic: Local adapters of Mahabharata tend to add their own spin to the legends, ranging from the subtle to the not. One of the most pronounced aspect of this is Draupadi's status: in the original version she was the wife of all the Pandavas, while in the Javanese version she is the wife of Yudhistira alone. This fact bit her on the behind in the end; she died during the Pandava's pilgrimage to the Mahameru in the foothills of Himalaya, because she had feelings for Arjuna throughout her marriage.
- And that doubles as an example of Fan Fic being Older Than Print; the Javanese version (named Kakawin Bharatayuddha) dates back to the year 1157 CE.
- Fate Worsethan Death: Ashvathama.
- Feuding Families: The Kauravas and the Pandavas.
- Gentle Giant: Ghatotkacha, Bhima's son by Hidimba who is a giant (as in the giant race) princess.
- Good Versus Evil: Every character in the work is an incarnation of either a deva or an aśura, or at least a child thereof. Even minor ones.
- Grey and Gray Morality: Some people who read this epic insist that the whole conflict was basically about nuances of interpretations of Dharma (duty). If you don't get it, don't despair—most of the participants probably didn't get it either, until they died. Also, all described characters has a specified good enough reason to be there; almost everyone on the battlefield was there out of loyalty. And Jerk Asses are everywhere.
- Guile Hero:
- Krishna is the Chess Master behind much of the action and The Man Behind the Man for the Pandavas.
- Yudhistir's ability to solve riddles and his philosophical knowledge gets all five brothers out of sticky situations more than once.
- Vidur is able to reason with and manipulate the weak-willed Dhritarashtra on several occasions to obtain a favourable bargain for the Pandavas.
- Half-Human Hybrid: A lot of the heroes.
- Heir Club for Men: Heirs are wanted very badly by Purus. VERY VERY BADLY.
- Heroic BSOD: Arjuna just before the battle, when he faced the fact it is going to involve killing his teachers and most of his family. Lead to a major lecture in the Bhagavad Gita.
- When his teenage son Abhimanyu is killed by six grown-up Kauravas, he goes crazy.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Happens to all the Pandavas during the Kurushetra battle. Leads to Yuddhistira What Have I Done speech
- Honor Before Reason: Nearly everyone, including the Big Bad, take their vows extremely seriously. So when both sides break mutually agreed rules of war during the battle of Kurukshetra it is a very big deal.
- Ironically, subverted with Krishna. He is a combination of Chessmaster and Guile Hero, but he is also a god, so all of the warriors' posturing is ostensibly to satisfy Him. Yet he comes off as the Only Sane Man when he advises the Pandavas to break their oaths with his strategies.
- The High Queen: Draupadi. She is a bit Yandere, a bit Defrosting Ice Queen, a bit Lady Macbeth and a bit of everything else. It's hard to classify her. She vows revenge on the Kauravas for her humiliation and gets it but in the process loses her five children, her father and both her brothers.
- Hot-Blooded: Karna. It's In the Blood, of course. He seeks heroic skills and exploits, but also can't keep his mouth shut when he has something to say. Karna did not only offended Draupadi in the dice incident, but also apparently annoyed the hell out of Bhishma, extinguishing any trace of respect Bhishma could ever have for his warrior's abilities, which led to Achilles in His Tent situation.
- Hypocrite: Arjuna absolutely loses his shit after his son is killed by the strongest warriors of the Kaurava faction. Later, he gleefully shoots off Karna's son Vrishasena's arms before decapitating him with a massive smile on his face.
- I Gave My Word: Yuddhishtira gave his word never to back down from a challenge; this is a doubly huge issue because he is a Kshatriya, for whom such promises are very much Serious Business. He is challenged to a rigged game of dice and has to gamble away his brothers, his wife, and everything he possesses or rules.
- Irony: Draupadi had wished in her past life for a husband with all these great qualities, and Shiva told her it was very difficult (though not exactly impossible) to find one man with all those qualities. Karna is the one guy with all those qualities at once...and he can't be with Draupadi because of his social status.
- It's Personal: Everything is personal.
- I Want Grand Kids: The conflict in the epic is set in motion because of the Puru desire to have as many grandkids as possible. Queen Satyavati wants Puru heirs really really soon and she is willing to do anything to get them. So she makes her very teenage son sleep with two adult women until he dies. Then she makes her stepson Vyasa impregnate his two widowed wives almost immediately even when Vyasa asks her to wait for a year. Of course, the sons who were born were blind and sickly. The first son conceives his sons artificially and the second son asks his wives to bear children from the Gods.
- Karmic Death: No one is spared from a Karmic Death! Not even Krishna.
- Which is very inconsistent with other parts of the book like the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna shows that he is not only God, but the very form of time itself who ultimately creates and devours universes! The Bhagavatam's take on that is that he had everyone fooled by faking a death scene when he actually went back to his abode of Vaikuntha. Being the Master of Illusion he is, he has often fooled everyone including the gods as to who he is throughout the book.
- Not inconsistent. First, there is a difference between the mortal body and the soul. YMMV. The Death of Krishna's kinsmen and Krishna's death are necessary for the fullfilment of Gandhari's promise which does eventually occur in the Mahabharata. Krishna's ascension to heaven and the sinking of Dwarka lead to Arjuna's BDSD and the renunciation of the Pandavas. It also signifies the end of an age and the start of a new age.
- Subverted with Aswatamma who instead suffers a Fate Worse Than Death via Who Wants to Live Forever?.
- Long-Lost Relative: Karna, Pandavas's other half-brother. He was informed only in a context of the possibility to overtake the whole mess from Pandavas as the first child of Kunti, rendering the whole conflict moot and from this position resolve it as he see fit. Being a Hot-Blooded warrior as opposed to a Magnificent Bastard, he met such news without any enthusiasm and chose to stick with his feudal obligations, friends and his stables-bound foster family.
- Lost Him in a Card Game: The infamous dice game; see I Gave My Word. Earlier, Vinata loses herself to her sister Kadru betting on the color of the tail of a horse whose fur Kadru had replaced.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: What is listed here are just some of the more important ones.
- Mail Order Bride: Madri. Her brother is given a bride price for her marriage to Pandu. Ironically, she becomes the favorite wife of Pandu.
- Moral Dissonance - Cannot even count.
- Moses In The Bull Rushes - Karna is actually the son of the unwed Kunti. He is set afloat in the river with armor and earrings that make him immortal.
- Meaningful Name - Pandya means "pale". He was a sickly child. Bhishma means "terrible vowed". Draupadi "daughter of drupad" is called Yagnyaseni which means "born of fire" and "Ayonija" which means that "one is not born of a woman". Naturally she is a fearsome character to behold.
- Duryodhana's name was originally Suyodhana (He who is beneficient/good in war) but he seemed to be such an antithesis of his name that he was mockingly called Duryodhana (He who is bad to fight against). The name stuck.
- Kind of a bilingual subversion is "Arjuna" - you could think it means "Archer", since the words are so close. (Nope, it's "bright", "shining" or such.)
- Men Are the Expendable Gender - Played absolutely straight. Typical of almost all Hindu mythology.
- Mr. Exposition - Sanjaya, with divine assistance.
- Mr. Fanservice: Arjuna. Too many women fall for him during his travels.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Author Avatar Vyasa is sympathetic to women in the epic who have to transgress monogamy or have had children out of wedlock. His mother Satyavati gave birth to him before marriage. Kunti was pregnant before marriage and she was absolved of any wrongdoing by Vyasa. Similarly when Kunti consults the scriptures on whether having three sons with various gods could lead to a bad reputation, he states that as long as the number of gods she summoned were less than four, she would not have a problem with her reputation. Draupadi is insulted by Karna for having five husbands and is condemned in the eyes of the Kaurava audience because of this though she is considered holy by the Brahmins (who refused to work for a day because of the insult to her honor) and worshiped as part of the five "virgins". According to the philosophy advocated in the Mahabharata, virginity is a state of mind.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Inverted. Krishna is perfectly happy to have Arjun fall in love with his sister Subhadra. He goes out of his way to encourage Arjun to abduct her, as the quickest way to put an end to all arguments with his brother about whether Subhadra should be married to some other prince.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dronacharya's doting over his pet apprentice, even against Pandava's own long-term interests. Eklavaya is a potential rival to our star? Let's cripple him! The guy can be taken into the ranks effortlessly instead? Never mind, the championship is what's important. Karna wants to lock horns with our buffalo among the men? Let's tell him off in the worst way possible. It sounds like an invitation for anyone with land to spare, grudge against Pandava and half a brain to get an alliance or feudal obligations from the lad who (Drona suspects) have a good chance to wipe the floor with Arjuna? Oh, Suyodhana-Duryodhana is here too? Never mind, it's all about the sport. Never mind what can happen in the next tournament, too.
- No Man of Woman Born: Amba died and was reincarnated as Shikhandini/Shikandi just to pull a variant of this on Bhishma.
- Offing the Offspring: The Goddess Ganga does this by killing her children. She later explains that she did this because the children were souls of cursed saints who wanted to be liberated from this birth. She could have at least informed her husband.
- Parental Abandonment: The Dragon Karna's and Pandava's mother Kunti abandoned him as she was unwed. Kunti herself was given in adoption by her real father to his close friend and was thus abandoned.
- Princessin Rags: Draupadi, after her husbands lost the kingdom of Hastinapur.
- Pyrrhic Victory: It's not "returned with a triumph" as much as "limped out of the blood bath".
- Duryodhana says as he lay dying,"I have studied, given charity, governed the wide Earth with her seas, and stood over the heads of my foes! With all my well-wishers, and my younger brothers, I am going to heaven. As regards yourselves, with your purposes unachieved and torn by grief, live in this unhappy world!"
- Reality Warper: A possible interpretation: Arjuna got too excited about how cool he is—his salvo knocked Karna's chariot 10 steps back, Karna's attack moved his only 2 steps back! Krishna asks him to remove Hanuman's flag from the chariot, walk away a little and look back. When Arjuna returned and asked why he saw only a pile of kindling there, Krishna explained that's what should have happened, but the direct protection of gods offset the result.
- Reset Button: Although Draupadi has (and sleeps with) 5 husbands, her virginity is restored whenever she takes a bath. Thus she is worshipped as one of the Five Holy Virgins.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: All of them!
- Revenge by Proxy: Aswathamma
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Played straight with Draupadi and the younger Kunti.
- Another Beautiful woman is Satyavati who used her beauty to her advantage (became a queen and had a learned illegitimate son who could give her offspring.).
- Someone to Remember Him By: Arjuna's teenage son Abhimanyu's wife was pregnant when he died. The child was the only heir of the Pandavas who happened to be alive after the Kurushetra War.
- Story-Breaker Power: Karna, which is part of why he was Achilles in His Tent'd for the first eleven days of the war. He's so strong and skilled that he can match Arjuna and Krishna simultaneously with seemingly ease even after losing his armor, and Krishna claims that even if all the world's men, Deva and Asura were to battle him at once, they would be defeated. Some versions of the epic even illustrate Karna as a Mahamaharathi, a title of combat prowess otherwise reserved for Vishnu and Shiva.
- Super Powerful Genetics: Sons of Kunti inherited aspects of their real fathers, Gods. Pandavas got superhuman amounts of all the qualities Draupadi wished for. Karna was so magnamimous that he is described to be exactly like his real father, the Sun God Surya.
- Succession Crisis: plays into the entire epic.
- The Wise Prince: Bhishma but he could not be the heir because of The Promise. Yuddhistira of the Pandavas also qualify.
- Striparva (or the Chapter of the women) where Abhimanyu's widowed teenage wife weeps as she tries to assemble his cut bodyparts and pleads with her love to remember her in heaven is one.
- To Hell and Back: Yuddhishthira finds that his enemies are enjoying themselves in Heaven. He decides to visit Hell as he could not find his family in heaven and finds his brothers, Draupadi and Karna in hell. He refuses to leave Hell until he finds out that this is another test and goes back to Heaven with the rest of his family.
- Tragic Villain: Poor Karna...
- Villainous BSOD: Duryodhana on Karna's death and his brothers'. His whole body is wet with crying.
- Dhritharashtra suffers breakdown after breakdown as the war unfolds which culminates in making an epic lamentation over all the mistakes the Kauravas had done. It concludes in an epic depression from which he never recovers.
- What Measure Is a Mook? - Over 1.5 million soldiers are said to have taken part (not counting support, the baggage train, etc). As said above, only eleven survive. Most of these mooks are there just to show how badass or evil a character is.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Krishna receives this from Gandhari after Karna dies. She curses him that, just as her house was destroyed by strife, so too will his house. It worked.
- War Is Hell: Probably the oldest known example. The battle between Pandavas and Kauravas not only ends up in a horrible bloodbath of mutual annihilation, many previously honorable characters are so consumed by hatred and desperation, that they betray their principles (even Karna, who, mind you, gave up the gift of immortality and invulnerability before the battle, to live in accordance with his vows and not have an unfair advantage in battle), stains his honor when he participates in dogpiling Abhimanyu; Yuddhistira who was basically defined by his honesty, resorted to participating in cruel deception, as described below.
- Warrior Prince: All the Pandavas and Kauravas.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Arjuna dresses as a female in his thirteenth year in disguise. This is not treated as something unnatural mostly because Arjuna is Bad Ass.
- Will Not Tell a Lie: Yuddhistira was renowned for his honesty and his resolve in never telling a lie. Krishna figures out that the only way to kill Drona, their Obi Wan teacher, who was fighting on Duryodhana's side, was to state falsely that his son Aswatamma died. Bhima killed an elephant named Aswatamma and proclaimed loudly that he killed Aswatamma. Not believing him, Drona turned to Yuddhistira. Yuddhistira at that time lied, saying that Aswatamma, the elephant died, whispering the word elephant. This led to Drona losing heart and his subsequent death. Yudhistira's chariot that floated an inch above the ground as a sign of his godly nature fell back to earth.
- Interestingly he lies because Krishna (i.e. God) tells him to, so he still ends up following the laws of God anyway.
- Woman Scorned: Amba. She venges herself by reincarnating herself as Shikandi whose only purpose is to kill Bhishma.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: Mahabharata mentions king Kakudmi a.k.a. Raivata, who went to Brahma to ask for advice on to whom he should marry his daughter. After waiting a short time, Kakudmi was able to plead his request to Brahma. Brahma laughed, informing him that while he had waited, 108 yugas had passed on earth, and all the candidates that Raivata had considered suitable son-in-laws had died long ago.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Poor Karna! He is rejected by the Princes for being a commoner and was rejected by his teacher for being a Prince. Since he opted for a disguise in order to learn from his renowed mentor, his teacher cursed him, saying that he would forgot all the things he learned at the time of his most critical need. If that was not enough, taking advantage of his generosity, Indra asks him for his armor and earrings that made him immortal. His mother finally confessed he was her child and extracted The Promise from him that he would not kill any of his halfbrothers save Arjuna. Then his charioteer flees when the wheel of his chariot is stuck in mud. All these mindscrews by fate changes him from an Anti-Hero to a Tragic Hero.