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Literature / Mahabharata

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"Whatever is here is found elsewhere. Whatever is not here, is nowhere else."
The Book of the Beginning

The Mahabharata 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 Jerkass, and drowns every single child that she bears as soon as they are 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. Two children result, which are deemed to be the sons of Vichitravirya. Blind Prince Dhritarashtra is the older, but due to his blindness, the right to be an emperor is passed down to the second son, 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. Vyasa's visit also results in a son being born to a servant in the palace called Vidura. He is wise, but since his mother is not a princess, he cannot rise beyond the rank of Prime Minister.

Pandu is cursed by a sage to die childless. As a result, he exiles himself to the forest and Dhritarashtra remains king. Pandu eventually begets five sons by magical means— his wife Kunti has the power to call any God to father her children. Pandu then dies and his sons return to the kingdom. 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 out the Pandavas 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 adds to their dislike of the Pandavas. Duryodana and his uncle, Shakuni, challenge the Pandavas to play 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, plus Draupadi, their wife, and Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.

The Leader/Big Brother Mentor — Yuddhisthira. The hero with many flaws, who nevertheless emerges as The Heart as he realizes the futility of war.
The Big Guy — Bhima. A brutal, violent fighter who is blessed with superhuman strength. He is able to withstand any enemy and fight without surrendering.
The Lancer/Archer Archetype — Arjuna. Filled with doubts regarding the justness of war, he seeks guidance from Krishna in the most famous section of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita.
Tagalong Kids — Nakula and Sahadeva.
The Smart Guy: Krishna. Also the Man Behind the Man and the Xanatos Speed Chess Master of this entire epic.
The Heart- Draupadi. Instead of a peacemaker however, she brings them closer to war.
Shikhandi, formerly Amba, the eldest princess of Kasi, in his previous life. Once Bhishma rejected her, Amba became reborn as Shikhandi to exact revenge for her humiliation.
The Kauravas consist of the numerous sons of Dhritarashtra and their allies. These are the main ones:
The Big Bad — Duryodhana. The leader of the Kauravas, he refuses to return the Pandavas' rightfully owned land after their exile, and ultimately serves as the catalyst for war.
The Dragon — Karna. Technically the real Big Brother Mentor of the Pandavas. He is Kunti's firstborn son (but was abandoned due to his being born out of wedlock), but even after he finds out, he sticks with the Kauravas out of loyalty. The Pandavas find out only after he dies at their hands.
Evil Genius/Evil Uncle — Shakuni. He is the one who persuades Yuddhishtira to continue the dice game, and later persuades Duryodhana to go to war with the Pandavas.
The Brute — Dushasana. He attempts to humiliate Draupadi in front of the court, and remains one of the most brutal fighters in the war.
Subject to countless Alternative Character Interpretation, mostly because of most characters being Jerkass or worse, or some characters being Screwed by Destiny. Countless adaptations have taken place; this epic is often compared to the works of Homer.

Received a 94 episode television adaptation on India’s state run Doordarshan channel from 1988 to 1990. This show remains the Indian TV show with the highest ever viewership. All episodes are available on YouTube with English subtitles.

It also received another adaptation, one year later after the Indian series, in the format of a six-hour long miniseries by British filmmaker Peter Brook. It is notable for its multi-ethnical cast, consisting of not only Indian actors, but also African, Caucasian, Middle Eastern and East Asian actors.

Provides Examples Of:

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     Tropes A-F 
  • Abduction Is Love: Played straight with Ambika and Ambalika. Subverted with Amba, who reincarnates as Shikandi. See No Man of Woman Born.
    • Naga Princess Uloopi abducts Arjuna into her underwater kingdom. Naturally, Arjuna does 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 weakness was not putting on his earrings and armor that he had and worn since birth since they made him immortal.
  • Achilles in His Tent: Bhishma was so pissed at Karna that Karna was sent to his tent and didn't participate in the war until Bhishma's death.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Many from the Kaurava side got an honorable sent-off, one way or another. Because for the Kshatriya, if the option is between honor and dharma, then honor is the better answer.
    • Bhurishravas, otherwise a staunch enemy of Krishna's clan the Yadavas, proves himself more honorable than his Yadava rival Satyaki for not striking down his helpless opponent. Everyone condemns Satyaki forever and the Yadava is cursed to be annihilated by their own hands.
    • Bhishma's fall stops the war for a moment so both sides could come to his side and mourn him.
    • Karna's generosity shames Lord Indra so much in both his life and death that Indra personally praises Karna in front of other gods and never again comes to Arjuna's aid.
    • Beaten and dying, Duryodhana rants about his misfortunes and loses despite trying to uphold dharma as a Kshatriya. None of the Pandavas could retort back and the gods agree with him, showering his dying body with flowers and ascending him to heaven.
  • 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 Cloth Unravels: Used by Krishna to save Draupadi from being stripped by her own in-laws. The cloth keeps unravelling, but Draupadi remains clothed.
  • 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.
  • Anyone Can Die:
  • 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 and her brother Dhristadyumna were born from a sacrificial fire.
  • Artistic License
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Yuddhistira (and everyone else) goes to Heaven.
  • Attempted Rape: Kichaka attempts to rape Draupadi in the Matsya Kingdom. Jayadratha attempts to rape Draupadi as well when she is exiled in the forest. After the dice game, Duryodhana, and Dushasana try to rape her in front of their royal court...and her husbands
  • Avenging the Villain: The Pandavas' five young children are killed in their sleep by Aswattama, Duryodhana's friend. Those poor kids!
  • Author Filibuster:
    • The Bhaghavad Gita. Krishna literally stops time in order to explain the nature of dharma and humanity's relationship with the gods to Arjuna. Not a bad thing of course— it's one of the most popular parts of the epic and often treated as a stand-alone religious text in its own right.
    • As Bhishma lies on his deathbed, the Pandavas turn to him for advice. Because he can delay the time of his death, he spends weeks there waiting for the proper moment, and uses the time to stop all action and deliver many chapters' worth of parables about how to live. Many of these parables have aesops about respecting and supporting Brahmins, who of course were the people editing and compiling different versions of the text.
  • Badass 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 Boast: Duryodhana goes out with one of these, and it is glorious.
    Duryodhana: "I have studied, made presents according to the ordinance, governed the wide Earth with her seas, and stood over the heads of my foes! Who is there so fortunate as myself?! That end again which is courted by Kshatriyas observant of the duties of their own order, death in battle, hath become mine. Who, therefore, is so fortunate as myself?! Human enjoyments such as were worthy of the very gods and such as could with difficulty be obtained by other kings, had been mine. Prosperity of the very highest kind had been attained by me! Who then is so fortunate as myself?! With all my well-wishers, my friends and my younger brothers, I am going to heaven, O thou of unfading glory! As regards yourselves, with your purposes undone and torn by grief, live ye on in this unhappy world!"
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Kurus 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.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • Draupadi, the Pandavas' wife, in the Mahabharata yearned for a husband in her previous life. In one version of the story, 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).
    • In another version of the story, Draupadi (in her previous incarnation) was so eager for a husband that she asked for one five times before the god she was talking to could get a word in edgewise. He then informed her that since she'd asked five times, she'd get five husbands. She protested that she only wanted one, but it was too late.
    • 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.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: This is why Karna swears fealty to Duryodhana after the latter makes him a crown prince and the Pandavas mistreat him.
  • Becoming the Mask: At first, Duryodhana only pretended to like Karna so he could use his great skills against the Pandavas. Over time, he came to genuinely love him as a brother.
  • Being Good Sucks: See "Honor Before Reason"
  • Berserk Button: Duryodhana doesn't take insults against him well, but he can cope with them through very gritted teeth. Insulting his family and friends however (especially his parents) is an absolutely suicidal venture.
  • 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 the Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Every character in the work is an incarnation of either a deva or an aśura, or at least a child thereof. Even minor ones.
  • 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 patriarch of the Kurus, 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 them away as charity. He accepts, as it's in line with his vows. Thus, immortality proved to be useless and temporary.
    • Drapaudi 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 ancient Javanese opposition to polyandry.
  • 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 strikes 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. Drupad also failed to fulfill a childhood promise to Drona and refused to recognize him as his friend.
    • Several of Arjuna's tales outside of the war have him suffer this; in one case he claims that a bridge of arrows that he builds would withstand a monkey's weight (Hanuman in disguise) and nearly burns himself when he fails.
  • Cain and Abel: Duryodhana tried to kill his cousin Bhima by poisoning him as a child.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: After accidentally killing a holy man and his wife, (who were using magic to turn into deer and have sex), Pandu is cursed to die if he ever approaches his wives with sexual intent. The temptation eventually becomes too much and he perishes from the enchantment.
  • Cassandra Truth: Sanjaya/Vidura tries to get Dhritarashtra to rein in Duryodhana, foreshadowing that he would end the dynasty.
    • After surviving Duryodhana's attempt on his life, Bhima is told by Vidura to keep it a secret as the sequence of events (getting drugged, tossed into a river, rescued by Nagas who removed the poison and gifted him with Super-Strength) would sound too contrived to be believable.
  • 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.
  • Chosen Conception Partner:
    • Pandu is cursed to die when he has sex, and therefore cannot have children with his wives. As they still long to have children, Pandu and his wives contrive to ask the gods to make Pandu's wives pregnant. In this way Pandu's wives Kunti and Madri eventually give birth to five sons, with Pandu himself advising his wives which god they should pray to for a child each time.
    • Vichitravirya died childless. So his widows had to go to Vyasa to conceive children, Dhritarashtra and Pandu.
  • The Corrupter: Shakuni, also crossed with He Who Fights Monsters; he's the cause of everything that turns to shit in the epic, all because the Kurus destroyed his dynasty and Bhishma made his sister Gandhari marry a blind man.
  • Cosmic Playthings: Everyone in this epic without exception.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The Kurushetra War could have been avoided in several ways alas...
    • Krishna does all that he can to prevent a war between the Pandavas and Kauravas by serving as an emissary. Even so, Gandhari points out that he could have stopped it outright by using his full powers as an avatar or his kingdom's military might which was larger than the forces of the Pandavas and Kauravas combined, and curses him for not doing that when the war is over and no one has truly won. That said, Duryodhana is absolutely obstinate in refusing to make any concessions to the Pandavas. If Krishna had directly intervened, her one hundred sons would have died to his chakra, rather than versus the Pandavas.
    • The Pandavas offer that they and their descendants will never again push for their claim for the throne if Duryodhana gives them five small villages so their sons could at least inherit something. Duryodhana rejects it, claiming that he won't part with even a needle point of land.
    • After the negotiation fails, Sahadeva consults with his omnipotent wisdom on other ways the war can be avoided. The wisdom claims that the war can be prevented by giving the throne to Karna, imprisoning Shakuni and Khrisna forever, and then exiling both the Pandavas and Duryodhana. It is rejected because a) Karna would never accept that his best friend is deprived of his rights and b) the Pandavas are too prideful to let the son of a charioteer become king.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Karna is not that powerful for 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 the 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.
  • Cycle of Revenge:
    • Arjuna's mentor Drona is insulted by his childhood friend, King Drupad so he asks Arjuna to teach the Jerkass a lesson. Drupad is humiliated in a badass 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 brother when they were sleeping in a tent at the end of the Kurushetra battle to avenge the unjust death of his father.
    • He also tries to kill Abhimanyu's unborn son, but (depending on version) the child is revived by Krishna or Ashwatthama got caught first.
    • Essentially, this is the reason of the Kurushetra War in a nutshell beside the Succession Crisis. Bhishma fought, defeated, and left the Gandhara dynasty to starve. This makes Shakuni fan Duryodhana's hatred for the Pandavas that started from Bhima bullying the Kauravas in their childhood, and it just escalates from there.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Karna. To quote Yuddhisthira, he was "one whose teeth are spears and arrows and whose tongue is a sword".
  • Defeat by Modesty: Gandhari's last-ditch blessing to Duryodhana would have made him completely invulnerable had Krishna not shamed him into covering his thighs and privates as he claimed appearing before his mother buck-naked would have been a shameful thing to do.
  • Demoted to Extra: Nakula and Sahadeva can come across like this. Arjuna has many, many side-stories, while Bhima and Yudhisthira get 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 get any screen time. Of course, it can also be attributed to the multiple 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, know...God, and everyone knows it.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Given the ability to summon a god to father a child, Kunti tries it out before she gets married and ends up setting the resulting child adrift on a river.
  • 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 an Avatar against his will—thus obliviously doing a wonder while just trying to get at Arjuna.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Bhishma, Karna, and Drona.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Draupadi laughed at Durodhyana. So he attempts to rape her.
  • 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.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Ulupi drags Arjuna underwater and propositions him, threatening to commit suicide after his initial refusal. Even though she's a total stranger, Arjuna considers this romantic and sexy. Compare this to the scene where Durodhyana threatens to rape Draupadi, a show of cruelty so enraging that several other Kshatriyas (including Krishna, who is literally virtue incarnate) declare war on him.
  • Downer Ending: How to list the ways. All the Kauravas die but they die with almost all the Pandavas' mentors, teachers, and revered patriarchs. Then the Pandavas' five children are killed during sleep due to Ashwatthama, the son of their teacher Drona, who wanted to avenge his father. Of their many children and grandchildren, only the unborn child of teenage Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, survives. The Pandavas' 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.
  • Dying Curse: Hunting in a forest, Pandu shoots his arrows at a mating couple of deer. However the deer are actually the sage Kindama and his wife who have assumed deer shape for a change. Dying, Kindama curses Pandu to die if he ever has sexual intercourse again. Even though Pandu evades the curse for many years by leading a life of asceticism, the curse comes true at long last.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Ekalavya, who despite being blind becomes the greatest archer in the world by listening in on Drona's lessons echoing in the mountains while he's meditating and then begins practicing with a bow, is one of the cases of this being possible for even Badass Normal characters and not just those with Divine Parentage.
  • 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 spare the other four.
    • Duryodhana accidentally sets the stage for the war when, during their childhoods, he insulted the Pandavas about how their mothers were "whores" as they had been impregnated by five different gods instead of their actual cursed father, Pandu. Yudhishthira, famed for his honesty, retaliated by calling his mother a widow. This scared Duryodhana, who believed that his father had somehow died when he wasn't looking or that he would die very soon, so he went to Bhishma for help. The following investigations caused Bhishma to imprison and torture Gandhari's family, leading to Shakuni's grudge against both clans and his schemes to exacerbate the coming conflict to catastrophic levels.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: After the 18 day long battle of Kurukshetra, involving just shy of four million! warriors, only eight on the Pandavas' side and three on the Kauravas' remain alive.
    • 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. It is explained off by auxiliary books that the four 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.
  • 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.

     Tropes F-R 
  • Fan Fic: Local adapters of the Mahabharata tend to add their own spin to the legends, ranging from the subtle to the not. One of the most pronounced aspects 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 Yudhisthira 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 the Himalayas, because she had feelings for Arjuna throughout her marriage. In the original, she falls because she is partial to Arjuna.
    • 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.
  • Fatal Flaw: Several of the major characters here have their own flaws.
    • Lust for power and egomania. Duryodhana was Driven by Envy and resentment of the Pandavas, as this jealousy ultimately caused him to develop an ends-justifies-the-means Machiavellian mentality that slowly destroyed him.
    • Dronacharya has a near-fatal flaw in his own Hair-Trigger Temper.
    • Yudhishtra was the eldest and wisest of the Pandavas, yet he took his righteousness and selflessness too far to the point he failed to protect his wife Draupadi in the dice game.
    • Karna made his friendship and loyalty to Duryodhana higher than anything else, even higher than his own morals.
    • Dhritarashtra's excessive love for his 100 sons made him too emotionally blind to realize which direction they were going and he frequently forgave them for their transgressions.
    • Bhishma's extreme but blind loyalty to the kingdom prevented him from criticizing his superiors, most notably when he refused to intervene in the dice game.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Krishna curses Ashwatthama with immortality, a painfully deteriorating body, and with becoming an Unperson who is ignored by all.
  • Feuding Families: The Kauravas and the Pandavas.
  • Friendly Enemy: Played straight with Bhishma and Karna. An Unbuilt Trope with Krishna who, while ever-affable, you shouldn't listen to if he's on the opposing side as no matter how good his suggestions are, he is still your enemy and everything he does is in service of his allies. Part of the leadup to the Bhagavad Gita is him delivering a deconstruction of this trope from the other side: a Friendly Enemy is still an enemy. Just because Arjuna's friends and family are among the Kauravas doesn't mean they're not still a threat to the preservation of dharma on Earth.
  • Gentle Giant: Ghatotkacha, Bhima's son by Hidimba who is a giant (as in the giant race) prince.
  • God and Satan Are Both Jerks: The Pandavas have divine parentage while the Kauravas have more infernal roots. By the end of the story, each side is more-or-less as terrible as the other.
  • 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 have a specified good enough reason to be there; almost everyone on the battlefield was there out of loyalty. And Jerkasses are everywhere.
  • Guile Hero:
    • Krishna is the Chess Master behind much of the action and The Man Behind the Man for the Pandavas.
    • Yudhisthira's ability to solve riddles and his philosophical knowledge gets all five brothers out of sticky situations more than once.
    • Vidura 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.
  • Handicapped Badass: Ekalavya is a blind orphan somehow surviving in the mountains near where Drona gives the Pandavas lessons who can listen in on their lessons from a long distance. Just by hearing the men training and listening closely to Drona's advice, he becomes a greater archer than any of them. When Drona finds out, he gives Ekalavya an ultimatum of death for dishonoring him in accidentally teaching a lower caste, or Ekalavya cutting off the thumb on his bow hand.
  • Heir Club for Men: Heirs are wanted very badly by Kurus. VERY VERY BADLY.
  • Heel Realization: Losing his brothers and his friends makes Duryodhana admit to how his wickedness robbed him of all he held dear, but in the same breath he points out that that doesn't make the Pandavas "good" by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Arjuna just before the battle, when he faced the fact that it would involve killing his teachers and much 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 Yudhisthira's My God, 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.
    • Karna refuses to stop supporting Duryodhana, even after learning that he will be fighting his brothers, because he swore fealty to the latter. Lampshaded by Duryodhana, who says he would have supported his best friend as king if he had known.
    • 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.
  • 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. That said, he fought Vrishasena one on one while Abhimanyu was ganged up on by many warriors breaking the code of war.
  • I Gave My Word: Yudhishtira 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 who was strong, talented, morally upright, and good-looking, 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.
    • More so than his own, Duryodhana feared the mortality of his parents because of their relative frailty compared to the rest of their family (Bhishma, the Pandavas, the Kauravas, etc). They both outlive him and many of their "stronger" kinsmen.
  • I Want Grand Kids: The conflict in the epic is set in motion because of the Kuru desire to have as many grandkids as possible. Queen Satyavati wants Kuru 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.
  • Jerkass:
    • Arjuna, who was a Royal Brat that could not tolerate a warrior in any other caste being superior to him. He only Took a Level in Kindness after the war and suffered several Break the Haughty moments courtesy of Krishna.
    • Drona is this to lower-caste boys that want to be his pupils. He even orders Ekalavya to chop off his thumb when the latter surpasses Arjuna.
    • Duryodhana, though he also practices Pragmatic Villainy that earns him power.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Duryodhana gets support from Karna, The Ace in combat, because the Pandavas made it a point to Kick the Dog with Karna for being a charioteer's son. You don't disrespect those below you, because it may come back to haunt you later. He also raises a very valid defense in his withholding of the kingdom from the Pandavas due to the fact that because none of them were conceived by their father Pandu, none of them have any royal blood to lay claim to the throne with. However, that last point is weak since neither Dhritarashtra nor Pandu were born of royal blood to begin with, being conceived through Vyasa.
    • Yudhisthira in his Never My Fault moment points out that Kunti should have told the brothers before the battle that Karna was her son as well and thus their half-brother, because they unknowingly committed fratricide. Though it may not have helped since when she spoke to Karna, he refused to change his allegiance and only promised to target Arjuna instead of all the Pandavas.
    • Gandhari in her What the Hell, Hero? speech to Krishna points out that he could have routed this conflict if he had desired to do so, being a god. Hence Krishna accepts her curse that his family house will be torn asunder the way hers was.
  • Karma Houdini: Following the death of Duryodhana, Ashwatthama, Kripa and Kritavarma murder a bunch of the Pandavas in their sleep, including the children. Although Ashwatthama and Kritavarma get their comeuppance, not only does Kripa not get punished, he ends up as one of the ones who lives through the Kaliyuga.
    • Despite all his sins Duryodhana ends up in Heaven.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Both the Pandavas and the Kauravas break the rules of combat during the war. While they don't suffer at the time, they certainly do after. Aswathamma wipes out the Pandava children, ensuring no one will enjoy the spoils of war. He is then cursed with immortality and permanent outcast status. Meanwhile, only a handful of Kauravas survive, including Karna's youngest son.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: How Arjuna defeats Karna. Arjuna shoots Karna when his chariot is broken and he is on the ground, a violation of the rules of war.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Dhritarashtra is born blind because his mother kept her eyes shut during his conception. Pandu is born sickly because his mother was pale and trembling with fear.
  • Lawful Stupid: Many characters in the epic come off this way at times, due to large amounts of Honor Before Reason. Many of the Kaurava allies love the Pandavas and end up fighting against them due to technicalities of vows they made, ultimately dying pointlessly.
    • Shalya ends up fighting for the Kauravas despite being Pandu's brother-in-law and a great lover of the Pandavas due to an egregious case of Honor Before Reason. Duryodhana throws a great feast for Shalya, who is so grateful he promises to fight for whoever provided it. When Shalya learns that his enemy Duryodhana is the one who gave the feast, he is bound to his word, and ends up dying for it.
    • A crowning moment of this comes when Arjuna swears to kill anyone who criticizes his martial prowess. After Yudhisthira gives him a stern talking-to after a day's battle, Arjuna becomes enraged and tries to kill Yudhisthira, his own beloved brother, because of this vow. Krishna has to talk him down and explain that no, you shouldn't always follow through on promises like that.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: While on his deathbed, Bhishma delivers lots of advice and wisdom to Yudhisthira and his brothers in the form of parables that all end in An Aesop. Many of the Mahabharata side stories are part of this segment.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Karna goes into the war knowing that either Duryodhana wins or Yudhisthira does, and either way it will be a bloodbath. Then he has to waste a celestial weapon on a victory, and senses that it was his last chance to kill Arjuna. The night before he dies, Parashurama comes to him in a dream. Karna bitterly calls him out for cursing him, since he didn't even know he was a Kshatriya when serving as the man's student, but Parashurama had an explanation for the cruelty. He says that if Karna weren't cursed, then Duryodhana would win and the world would fall into chaos. This allowed Karna to go into battle, knowing that he wouldn't return alive.
  • Light Is Not Good: Krishna and the Pandavas are divine creatures of great beauty and strength. In the end, they wind up being less honorable and just slightly better than the vaguely demonic and less sightly Kauravas.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Karna, the Pandavas' oldest brother. He was informed only in a context of the possibility to overtake the whole mess from the 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: Gandhari was fated to have her first husband die prematurely. To circumvent this, her family had her marry a goat and kill it to have this destiny harmlessly play out. Unfortunately, to maintain her viability as a bride of high-standing, they withheld that information from her horoscope and when Bhishma found out about the deception, he had them imprisoned and slowly starved them to death with Shakuni as the only (and very vengeful) survivor.
  • 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.
  • Mail-Order Bride: Madri. Her brother is given a bride price for her marriage to Pandu. Ironically, she becomes the favorite wife of Pandu.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Shakuni, who manages to play on everyone else's flaws to push the kingdom into Civil War. Significantly, he takes advantage of Yuddhisthira's gambling addiction to convince him to raise the stakes during the dice game and bet the entire kingdom, which ends up forcing the Pandavas into exile, and later uses Duryodhana's resentment of the Pandavas to instigate the Kurukshetra War.
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: Duryodhana and his 99 brothers, plus a lone sister and a half-brother.
  • Meaningful Name - Pandu means "pale". He was a sickly child. Bhishma means "terrible vowed". Draupadi "daughter of Drupad" is called Yagnyaseni which means "born of a sacrifice" 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.
  • 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 God, What Have I Done?: Most of the Pandava brothers after they learn that Karna was their brother, especially Arjuna who murdered Karna. Arjuna subsequently Took a Level in Kindness to take care of Karna's only living son and offer him the crown.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: Since Krishna's a living god, any treachery perpetrated by the Pandavas, no matter how objectively heinous, is made honorable by his divine right. These include, but are not limited to, shooting your enemy in the back, hitting below the belt, and outright flagrant deception.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Inverted. Krishna is perfectly happy to have Arjuna fall in love with his sister Subhadra. He goes out of his way to encourage Arjuna to abduct her, as the quickest way to put an end to all arguments with his brother Balarama about whether Subhadra should be married to some other prince. Balarama is annoyed by this.
  • Nested Story: The entire Mahabharata is presented as Ugrasrava Sauti reciting how Vaishampayana recited the story to Emperor Janamejaya (great-grandson of the Pandavas).
  • Never My Fault: Yudhisthira after learning that Karna was his brother curses his mother for keeping it a secret. He curses all women to be unable to keep secrets, though you can say that he failed.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Dronacharya's doting over his pet apprentice, even against the Pandavas' 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, a grudge against the Pandavas, and half a brain to get an alliance or feudal obligations from the lad who (Drona suspects) has 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.
    • Kunti attempts to get Karna to reveal himself as her oldest son to prevent the battle. This only makes Karna promise not to kill four of his brothers, which leads to his death in turn as he faces Arjuna and Krishna. What's more, Arjuna is horrified when he learns that he committed fratricide.
  • No Hero to His Valet: To his subjects, Duryodhana was a wonderful prince and a promising scion of the throne. Sadly, while they still loved him, his parents and Bhishma were always dogged by the knowledge that the boy's nobility hung on a very thin thread and when it came time to name a successor to the kinghood, they couldn't bring themselves to make it him.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Karna
  • No Man of Woman Born: Amba died and was reincarnated as Shikhandini/Shikandi just to pull a variant of this on Bhishma.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Both Kunti and Draupadi are lauded as holy virgins, both in and out of universe. Neither one of them are actually virgins.
  • 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.
  • OOC Is Serious B Usiness: Duryodhana is motivated by a desire to claim the throne. He refuses to share even a small portion. Then he finds out after Karna's death that Karna was actually the rightful heir and refused to tell anyone because he promised to serve Duryodhana. In fact, this revelation would have made the Pandavas stand down since they would give the throne to their oldest brother. The man tearfully says that if Karna had told him, Duryodhana would have ceded his claim and supported his best friend as the king.
  • Out with a Bang: Having been cursed by the sage Kindama to die in the act of intercourse, Pandu abdicates the throne and leads a life of asceticism in a forest. Years later Pandu is walking in the forest with his wife Madri, when he is overwhelmed by desire for Madri and has sex with her; true to the curse, he dies immediately afterwards.
  • Parental Abandonment: Karna's and the Pandavas' 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.
  • Parents as People: Kunti tries to reason with Karna and ask him to reveal himself, to atone for abandoning him and to stop the war before it begins. She means well in wanting none of her sons to die, but as Karna points out, his "brothers" haven't exactly been brotherly or kind and they want this fight. Plus, if she truly cared, she wouldn't have abandoned him in the first place. The most she can do afterward is ensure that he gets a proper funeral.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Krishna. The work is filled with irony in that the Honor Before Reason warrior code that the Kshatriyas built is regularly subverted and outright broken by the god it's meant to honor. He came to Earth to do good and defeat evil, by any means necessary. Once war becomes inevitable, he exhorts Arjuna to fight sincerely, even against beloved family, for the greater good of all mankind.
  • 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) five husbands, her virginity is restored whenever she takes a bath. Thus she is worshipped as one of the Five Holy Virgins.
  • Revenge Before Reason: On the 18th Day, Duryodhana is completely defeated and knows it. He surrenders to the Pandavas when they corner him, saying that he'll peacefully retire to live in the wilds of the kingdom after he gives dominion of it over to them. The wrathful brothers reject his offer and challenge him to a Duel to the Death to make his loss official. Duryodhana is a good sport about it, even picking Bhima as his opponent to settle their old grievances despite having a huge advantage over any other Pandava brother, but they cheat to win and leave him to die from his injuries.
  • Royal Bastard: The epic has a rather unusual by modern standards conception of what counts as legitimacy due to all the Divine Parentage and Vows of Celibacy going on. Many characters, such as the Pandavas, are not actually the biological sons of their official father but are nevertheless considered legitimate because they are descended from their official father's wives. However, Vidura was born to a servant woman who swapped in for one of Bhishma's wives, so he is not considered legitimate, and serves as an advisor to the other royals rather than ruling as a king like Bhishma's other sons Pandu and Dhritarashtra.

     Tropes S-Z 
  • Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!: The Pandavas justify their increasing deviation from the rules of warfare with the way Abimanyu was unlawfully overwhelmed by Kaurava warriors. By the time the war's over, every side has broken the rules so many times you'd be surprised there were any in the first place.
  • Serious Business: Curses from the truly wronged and just.
  • She's a Man in Japan: In the Javanese version, Shikhandi's known as Srikandi, a full-blown warrior who just traded her femininity to become Shikhandi instead of a girl who literally changed her sex into a man.
  • 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 (she 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, Devas and Asuras 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.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: While they loathed one another, both Duryodhana and Arjuna thought to sneak into Krishna's kingdom (and bedroom) to curry his favor for the upcoming war once he woke up. On the same night. They also agreed not to come to blows for fear of waking him prematurely.
  • Stronger with Age: To the point where the epic might be one of the originators of the Old Master trope. Chances are, if there's an old man on the battlefield at the Kurukshetra War, he's there to fuck everyone in his immediate vicinity up.
    • 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 a time which was considered holy (the start of the period when the length of nights start reducing and the length of days start increasing i.e around middle of January) before he finally decided to leave the world.
    • Bahlika, who counts by being of fighting capability despite being Bhishma's uncle, i.e, the older brother of Bhishma's father.
    • Brihadatta, who is so old that he had to tie a headband to keep his skin folds from obscuring his vision, yet while riding his elephant (itself basically a fierce Kaiju of a elephant that makes Bhima, who kills elephants for sport and his giant son Ghatotkacha running for their lives and nearly killed Arjuna if not for Krishna taking the arrow aimed at Arjuna for him).
  • Succession Crisis: Upon the return of the Pandavas, Dhritharashtra is pressured by Bhishma into making Yuddhishthira the crown prince due to the fear that Duryodhana's darker nature would one day overtake his attempts to overcome it. This actually causes Duryodhana to try and assassinate his cousins and to try and remedy that issue, Dhritharasthra decides to just give the Pandavas only half of the kingdom instead. A brief period of peace followed, but it was such a fragile tranquility that all it took was a few pithy insults and petty schemes to bring it all toppling down into outright war.
  • Super Powerful Genetics: The sons of Kunti inherited aspects of their real fathers, gods. The Pandavas got superhuman amounts of all the qualities Draupadi wished for. Karna was so magnamimous that he is described to be exactly like his father, the Sun God Surya.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Despite divine intervention occurring left and right, there is still a whole lot of reality-biting people in the posterior.
    • Sage Kidamba and his wife decide to transform into tigers, then go really close to Pandu’s vacation home for their tryst. Did it not occur to him that humans might see and hear a pair of tigers prowlin’ and growlin’ and not retaliate violently to protect themselves?
    • Pandu fires off an arrow into the wild, at a noise he imagines to be a wild animal, without checking if it is indeed what he thinks. He ends up killing Rishi Kindam and his wife.
    • Karna, frustrated at receiving Parashuram’s curse, just fires off an arrow into the wild, not caring whether it might hit something. Ends up biting him on the ass in the worst way possible, when his arrow strikes and kills a calf - which is one of the worst transgressions one can commit according to Hindu rules. He receives the curse which will bring about his doom.
    • Krishna admonishes the Pandavas to play dirty when necessary to win. This leads the other side to play dirty to win too, hence their slaying of Abhimanyu, their commando raid at night etc.
    • The Pandavas sneak into Jarasandha’s court pretending to be poor supplicant Brahmins. However, all the saffron robes can’t disguise the calluses in Arjuna’s hands from all that archery. No wonder they get found out.
    • Krishna tells Karna that Kunti is his real mother, in an attempt to get him to end the war. The thing is that she abandoned him and raised his younger brothers so that he was raised by charioteers; while Karna is respectful towards her, he in turn points out that they haven't been the nicest towards him and that the only mother he knows is the one who took him in and showed him love. He says that no one must know because Duryodhana has his loyalty, and says he'll only kill Arjuna. Kunti understandably is devastated that she made things worse.
  • The Wise Prince: Bhishma but he could not be the heir because of The Promise. Yuddhishthira of the Pandavas also qualifies.
  • 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 and Draupadi 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.
  • Together in Death: Combined with Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence, it's the ultimate fate of the feuding Pandavas and Kauravas; stuck together in paradise for eternity.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Combined, oddly enough, with Morality Pet. While Karna's friendship with Duryodhana makes him crueler, it in turn makes Duryodhana a better man.
  • Unicorns Prefer Virgins: In English translations, the wilderness ascetic Ekaśṛṅga is often translated as Unicorn (one-horn), because he has a single horn on his head. Ascetics can make any wish of theirs come true if they are doing well with their asceticism, which can include taking the gods' place. As Unicorn becomes a successful ascetic, the gods send a drought as punishment and a local king decides to end Unicorn's asceticism by sending his daughter to seduce him. As Unicorn had never seen a woman before the princess arrives, he is fascinated and gets tamed by her. This is the Ur-Example for the trope. It's not the first reference to a one-horned beast, but it's the first case of a one-horned character who can be tamed by virgins and the medieval legend can be traced back to the Indian prototype (which appears first in iconography and not the Mahabharata but the Mahabharata is the oldest text).
  • Unstoppable Rage: Happened several times.
    • 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 the patriarch Bhishma half-heartedly.
    • Bhima goes berserk almost continuously in the epic, especially when someone insults Draupadi's honor.
  • Ur-Example: Had this poem been better known in the Western World, it very well could have been the originator and namer of several tropes. Those being
    • Absurdly High-Stakes Game - the dice game in which the stakes are simple items, then a king’s chariot, then a thousand maidservants, then the entire treasury, then the kingdom and finally the freedom of the Pandavas and Draupadi. It is also quite possibly the first ever example of Lost Him in a Card Game and Wager Slave
    • Achilles' Heel - could have been called Duryodhan’s Thighs, as both served as a weak point to be attacked.
    • Achilles in His Tent - could have been called Karna in his Tent, as long before Achilles stewed in his tent, Karna stewed in his tent for similar reasons - and as a result, his side was militarily weakened too.
    • Badass Driver - long before any badass got behind the wheel of a car, Krishna sat behind the reins of a chariot that carried Arjuna into battle.
    • Bewildering Punishment - Parashuram’s curse on Karna to forget all his knowledge when he needs it the most, just for displaying a great deal of pain tolerance, is quite possibly the first ever instance of this trope.
    • Evil Uncle - could have been called The Shakuni and in India, this phrase is still in usage.
    • The Gambling Addict - may as well be called The Yudhistir
    • Long before a Godzilla Threshold required an army to deploy its most destructive weapon, Ghattotgaj required Karna to waste his single use Shakti weapon on the young demon.
    • Inadequate Inheritor - could have been called The Dhritharashtra.
    • Incompletely Trained - could have been called The Abhimanyu
    • Bhishma could have become the trope namer and trope builder for I Gave My Word, My Country, Right or Wrong, My Master, Right or Wrong and Honor Before Reason
    • Rules Of Engagement - this is the first ever work in which parties to a conflict actually sit down and agree to various rules that govern the war that is to be fought.
    • War Is Hell - As stated below, the Kurukshetra War was one of the first that showed just how much suffering and misery war can bring - even to the victorious side.
  • Villainous BSoD:
    • Duryodhana on Karna's death. 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.
  • Villainous Valor: The Kauravas demonstrate this, which means that Krishna has to encourage the Pandavas to break several rules of combat and honor.
  • 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. He accepts his fate with grace.
  • War Is Hell: Probably the oldest known example. The battle between the Pandavas and the 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), stains his honor when he participates in dogpiling Abhimanyu; Yuddhisthira 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 badass. He also picks this year as the year he must spend as an eunuch.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Yuddhisthira was renowned for his honesty and his resolve in never telling a lie. Krishna figures out that the only way to kill Drona, their teacher, who was fighting on Duryodhana's side, was to state falsely that his son Ashwathamma had died. Bhima kills an elephant named Ashwathamma and proclaims loudly that he has killed Ashwathamma. Not believing him, Drona turns to Yuddhisthira to confirm it. Yuddhisthira lies, saying that Ashwathamma is dead, adding "The man or the elephant" in a whisper. This led to Drona losing heart and his subsequent death. Because of this, Yuddhishthira's chariot that floated an inch above the ground as a sign of his godly nature falls 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 avenges herself by reincarnating as Shikandi whose only purpose is to kill Bhishma.
    • Draupadi as well.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The 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 was rejected by the royals for being a commoner. Since he disguised himself as a Brahmin in order to learn from his teacher, his teacher, who refused to teach Kshatriyas, curses him, saying that he would forget all his learning at the time of his most critical need. Later on, he accidentally kills a Brahmin's cow. The Brahmin curses him saying that he too would be killed when he was as helpless as the cow. 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 confesses he was her child and extracts The Promise from him that he would not kill any of his brothers 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.

Alternative Title(s): The Mahabharata