The Mahabharath at a Glance

Note: This story is for those who have partial or no idea about the story of the Mahabharatha and would like to know about it. This is not the entire story. I have merely explained the important parts which you need to know to understand the two poems I have published on this topic previously.
The story:

Pleased with Princess Kunti’s hospitality, the great sage Durvasa blessed her with a boon. He foresaw the difficulties she would face in the future. Thus he granted that whenever she uttered a certain mantra, one of the gods would grant her a child. Being an innocent child herself, she decided to test this new power. She invoked the Sun god and he gifted her a baby. Not knowing what to do with a new born baby, she put the baby in a basket and placed it in the river which carried it away. This child was Karna. He was born with an indestructible and impenetrable armor.

Many years later, Kunti married Pandu. Pandu had another wife, Madhuri. The three of them went to the forest, in exile, as Pandu felt extremely guilty for a mistake he had committed. Pandu was cursed. When he touched one of his wives, he dropped dead. Kunti, however, brought forth 3 sons with the boon she had obtained earlier. They were Yudhistira (from the God of Death and Justice), Bheema (from God of Wind), and Arjuna (from Indra, ruler of heaven). She also brought forth two sons – Nakula and Sahadeva (from the Ashwini twins) – for Madhuri. These were the five Pandavas, protagonists of the Mahabharatha story.

Pandu’s elder brother, Dhirtharashtra, who was blind and jealous, ruled the Kingdom of Hastinapura. He had 100 sons and 1 daughter. They were known as the Kauravas. Duryodhana and Dushasana were the most notorious of them. Corrupted by their uncle Shakuni’s manipulations, they constantly plotted against their cousins – the Pandavas.

After their education under their great guru, Drona, the Pandavas and Kauravas displayed their various skills and expertise of weaponry and mantras, before king Dhirtharashtra. Arjuna was the best at archery in specific. Just as he was being appreciated by all, a young man called Karna appeared and proved himself to be just as good as Arjuna in archery. Arjuna was jealous. The Pandavas mocked him pointing out the fact that he was just the son of a charioteer called Radhe. Duryodhana, who opposed anything the Pandavas stood for, objected to this and welcomed Karna as his friend. He made him the king of a part of his own kingdom. Overtime, Karna and Duryodhana became the best of friends.

Right from childhood, with the help of Uncle Shakuni’s schemes, Duryodhana took every opportunity to trouble or kill the Pandavas. He tried poisoning Bheema, made them a palace of wax and set it on fire over night, abused them with harsh words etc. One day, he invited them to a game of dice – gambling. What I cannot believe is that all the elders of the kingdom, including the king, Acharya Drona, the great Bhishma etc. were present in the hall and could not stop them from doing this. Yudhistira was a man of justice. But even he lost his mind when he sat to play the foul game of dice. Shakuni had rigged the dice. The Pandavas lost everything in this game – their honour, their kingdom, their wife’s (Panchali’s) honour... Dushasana dragged Panchali, by her hair, to the court. And then he began to undress her in front of everyone. Duryodhana laughed at her. Karna, in the bad company of his friends, called her a whore. She cried for help. But no one stirred, despite disapproval. Then she raised both hands and called out to the only one she could trust – Lord Krishna, who was like her brother. Immediately, from out of nowhere, an extension of her Sari arrived endlessly. No matter how much Dushasana pulled her Sari, it would keep coming.

Anyway, the Pandavas were exiled to the forest for 13 years. They spent this time killing demons in the neighbourhood and saving villagers. The last year they had to live in disguise. If they were recognized, they would have to stay there for many more years.

Panchali swore to never tie her hair until the day she soaked it in Dushasana’s blood. But nobody was truly ready for war. Krishna agreed to peacefully negotiate with Hastinapura. Before the king could accept the peaceful negotiation, Duryodhana refused to give the Pandavas land enough for even 5 needles.

Thus the great battle of Mahabharatha took place – to avenge Panchali’s honour and to reinstate justice/ dharma. Many great warrior and good men (including the great Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Karna etc.) had to choose alliance to Duryodhana as the prince of Hastinapura.

Upon reaching the battlefield and seeing who he was up against, the mighty Arjuna, who had fought many battles before, got cold feet. How could he slay his kith and kin - those who brought him up with so much love and those who grew up with him? He was about to renunciate his kingdom and take up Sanyasa (to become a monk). He figured that it was better to surrender than live with the guilt of slaying his loved ones. 
(This dilemma of Arjuna I have tried to summarize in my poem:

Lord Krishna, who had volunteered to be Arjuna's charioteer, could not stand to watch his dear friend give up so easily. So he shared with him a few words of wisdom. Besides, Arjuna had no idea what Sanyasa even meant. This is the chapter where Krishna sermonized Arjuna with the Bagavad Gita. And finally, to eliminate all doubt from Arjuna’s mind, Krishna took upon his cosmic-multiarmed-gigantic formed and showed him that he was the creator and destroyer and that nothing in this world was against his will. Finally, Arjuna got back his senses and proceeded to fight one of the deadliest battles of the saga.

Karna promised Duryodhana that he will honour their friendship no matter what and fight to his death if necessary. And he did. When Kunti told Karna that he was her eldest son, it was already too late. But he promised her that he will attack none but Arjuna, who he despised the most.

Now, besides his loyalty as a friend, Karna was famous for one great virtue – charity. Anyone who went to him seeking anything would never be permitted to return disappointed. He would offer them anything, be it his life. One day, Indra (ruler of heaven) came to him asking for the indestructible armour he was born with. Without hesitation, he cut it apart from his flesh and handed it over to him. As a return gift, Indra gifted him the Vajraayud/Thunderbolt. This bolt, with which he intended to kill Arjuna, he had to use to kill Bhima’s invincible gigantic son – Gatotgaj.

Once, Karna had approached the great teacher Parashuram for his sacred teachings. Karna was a kshatriya (warrior) and Parashuram hated Kshatriyas. Thus Karna took the guise of a Brahmin. One day, as Parashuram lay down on Karna’s lap for his siesta, a beetle stung into Karna’s lap. He did not budge as he did not want to disturb his teacher’s nap. He bore the pain for a while. However, the blood from his lap overflowed and woke up Parashuram. No Brahmin could ever bear so much pain. Only a Kshatriya could. Thus, on realizing that Karna had deceived him, Parashuram cursed him to forget how to use the Bramaastra when he would need it.

The Bramaastra was a weapon which could destroy even the world. Astras are like nuclear bombs. During the Battle of Mahabharatha, on the field of Kurushetra, when Karna finally confronted Arjuna, his nemesis, he tried to invoke the Bramaastra. But he forgot the mantra. As luck would have had it, his chariot’s wheel broke down. He got down repairing it. Arjuna decided to wait for him to get ready to fight, as killing an unarmed man was unjust/adharm. But Krishna, who was now his Charioteer, reminded him that Karna was among the 7 men who brutally butchered Arjuna’s son, Abhimanyu, during the war. Thus, with no further hesitation, Arjuna struck Karna’s head off with an arrow.

As Karna lay there on the battlefield, a Brahmin walked up to him and asked him for alms. He asked the Brahmin what he could offer him, despite being in such a state. The Brahmin asked for his punya/virtues. Without hesitation, Karna granted him all his punya and even that punya he would receive for this charitable deed.Until then, his charitable virtues had been preventing him from dying.

(This story of Karna, I have tried to summarize in my poem:

In this battle the entire 18 akshauhini (11 on Kavravas’ side and 7 on Pandavas’ side) were wiped out. (An Akshauhini, was an ancient battle formation that consisted of 21,870 chariots (Sanskrit ratha); 21,870 elephants; 65,610 cavalry and 109,350 infantry,[1] as per the Mahabharata (Adi Parva 2.15-23). The ratio is 1 chariot: 1 elephant : 3 cavalry : 5 infantry soldiers. In each of these large number groups (65,610, etc.), the digits add up to 18.)

The only survivors of this battle were the 5 pandavas, and 3 men from the other side – Ashwathama (son of Drona), Kripa and Krithavarma. Lord Krishna had promised not to participate in this war, so his survival doesn’t count.

Note: Images used in this post do not belong to me.