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Yudhishthira is the eldest of the five Pandava brothers. His mother is Kunti, but his biological father is the god Dharma (because King Pandu can’t have sex with his wife Kunti). As a result… read analysis of Yudhishthira


Arjuna is the third oldest of the five Pandava brothers and arguably the best warrior among them, as well as perhaps the best archer in the world. His biological father is Indra, and he… read analysis of Arjuna


Duryodhana is one of the 100 sons of the king Dhritarashtra. He is the main antagonist of the Mahabharata, instigating and leading a war against five of his cousins: Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhimaread analysis of Duryodhana


Krishna is the mortal incarnation of the god Vishnu. He is one of the strongest and wisest characters in the poem. In the Kurukshetra War, he sides with the Pandavas, acting as Arjuna’s charioteer… read analysis of Krishna


Bhima is the second-oldest Pandava brother, the biological son of a wind god and Kunti. Bhima is famous for being the most brash and violent of all his brothers, and he is able to… read analysis of Bhima
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Dhritarashtra is the head of the Kauravas, and he has 100 sons with his wife Gandhari, with Duryodhana being the eldest and most notable. Dhritarashtra is born blind, which seems to be a symbol… read analysis of Dhritarashtra


Vyasa is a great seer who is traditionally considered the author of the Mahabharata (even though in the text his assistant, Vaiśampayana, does the actual storytelling). He is known for compiling the Vedas (holy… read analysis of Vyasa


Bhishma is a son of the river spirit Ganga, an elder in the Kuru lineage, and one of the most formidable commanders of the Kaurava army. Although he allies himself with Duryodhana, he… read analysis of Bhishma


Aśvatthaman is a warrior Brahmin and the son of Drona. He becomes one of the last commanders of the Kaurava army and is most famous for his deadly night raid against the Pandava army… read analysis of Aśvatthaman


Drona is a warrior Brahmin who instructs both the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the ways of war. He is also the father of Aśvatthaman. During the Kurukshetra war, he sides with Duryodhana, despite… read analysis of Drona


Karna is the son of Kunti and a sun god, but his birth is kept secret and he is not considered one of the Pandavas, despite sharing a mother with some of them. He earns… read analysis of Karna


Draupadi is a princess who is the daughter of Drupada and who eventually becomes the co-wife of all five Pandava brothers. She is a famously dignified and loyal wife, and one of the inciting incidents… read analysis of Draupadi


Within Ugraśravas’s retelling of the Mahabharata, the king Janamejaya listens to Vaiśampayana tell the story of the Kurukshetra War. He is particularly interested in the tale because it describes his ancestors (with Arjunaread analysis of Janamejaya


Abhimanyu is the son of Arjuna and Subhadra. Despite his youth, he is a powerful warrior, although during the Kurukshetra War, a group led by Drona manages to surround Abhimanyu and kill him. His… read analysis of Abhimanyu


Samjaya is the narrator for many of the scenes from the Kurukshetra battle, and he describes what happened each day to his blind king, Dhritarashtra. He constantly reminds Dhritarashtra that the Kaurava losses on… read analysis of Samjaya


Ugraśravas is the narrator for the frame story in the Mahabharata, telling all of the events to Śaunaka, although he is mostly just reporting information that originally comes from Vaiśampayana. He is… read analysis of Ugraśravas


Vidura is a half-brother to Dhritarashtra and one of his most prominent advisers. Known for his wisdom, Vidura favors the Pandavas and tries to persuade Dhritarashtra not to go to war against them, but Dhritarashtra… read analysis of Vidura


Pandu is the husband of Kunti and Madri, and his descendants are called the Pandavas. Technically, Pandu is not the biological father of any of his children due to a curse that he received… read analysis of Pandu


Śakuni is an advisor to Duryodhana, helping him come up with and carry out his plan to rob the Pandavas of their kingdom by exploiting Yudhishthira’s gambling addiction. Śakuni represents the dangers of… read analysis of Śakuni


Ghatotkaca is the half-Rakshasa son of Bhima and the sister of a Rakshasa named Hidimba. He is a bald giant who slays many warriors on the battlefield, sometimes using the power of illusions… read analysis of Ghatotkaca


Sikhandin is the child of Drupada, originally female and named Sikhandini but eventually transforming into a new body and taking on a new male identity with the name Sikhandin. Sikhandin plays a role in… read analysis of Sikhandin

Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika

Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika are three sisters that Bhishma kidnaps and forces to have children with Vyasa (since he himself is celibate). Amba closes her eyes during sex, giving birth to the blind Dhritarashtraread analysis of Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika


Ganga is a strikingly beautiful seer who is actually the goddess of the Ganges River in mortal form. When Pratipa encounters her one day, he is overcome by her beauty but ultimately decides that to… read analysis of Ganga


Uttara is Virata's son. When the Pandavas are living in Virata's city, Duryodhana mounts an attack. Because Virata has been drawn away from the city, Uttara is in charge, so he rushes into battle… read analysis of Uttara
Minor Characters
Kunti is the mother of the five Pandavas and Karna. She raises the Pandava brothers after the death of her husband and their father, king Pandu, although, due to a curse on Pandu, he is not the biological father of any of Kunti’s children.
Gandhari is the wife of Dhritarashtra and the mother of his 100 sons, including Duryodhana. In order to be more like her blind husband, she voluntarily wears a blindfold.
Indra is the king of the gods in Hinduism. He rules over a heaven where all the virtuous characters go at the end of the story, and he is the biological father of the Pandava brother Arjuna.
Nakula and Sahadeva
Nakula and Sahadeva are the youngest of the Pandava brothers. They are twins, the biological children of twin gods and Pandu’s second wife Madri. Both prove themselves to be skilled swordsmen during the Kurukshetra War, although their elder brothers all play a more prominent role.
A creator figure, Brahma is one of the supreme gods in Hinduism. While he is associated with learning and knowledge, he also created some of the most powerful celestial weapons.
Vishnu is one of the supreme gods of Hinduism. He often takes the form of a mortal avatar, and he spends the majority of the Mahabharata as Krishna.
– Śiva is one of the supreme gods of Hinduism and often associated with destruction. Aśvatthaman prays to Śiva before his night raid and is able to kill almost an entire army by taking them by surprise.
Bharata is the son of Duhshanta and Śakuntula. He founds the famous Bharata lineage, which includes both the Kauravas and the Pandavas and which gives the Mahabharata its name.
Vasu is an ancient king and huntsman who accidentally impregnates a river spirit that gives birth to twins, one of whom is Satyavati.
Parikshit is a Kuru king and the father of Janamejaya. As a newborn, he gets killed by Brahma’s Head, but Krishna revives him.
Rama Jamadagnya
Rama Jamadagnya is a warrior Brahmin who kills all of the Kshatriya warriors 21 times because he believes it will restore balance to the universe.
Madri is the second wife of Pandu and mother of Karna and also the twins Nakula and Sahadeva. After Pandu dies from touching her (due to a curse), she kills herself and leaves her children with Kunti.
Śaunaka is the chief of a group of seers in the Naimisha Forest, and he listens to Ugraśravas’s re-telling of the Mahabharata.
Kripa is a Brahmin seer who assists Aśvatthaman on the night raid by guarding the entrance to the Pandava camp and killing people who tried to escape.
Takshka is a deadly snake king who kills Parikshit, motivating Janamejaya to hold the snake sacrifice.
Śakuntula is a beautiful woman who attracts the attention of King Duhshanta when he sees her in the forest. She is devastated when he seemingly forgets about her after marrying her, but eventually they get back together and have a son name Bharata, who founds the Bharata lineage.
Śamtanu is an important ancestor of the Pandavas and Kauravas who marries Satyavati and gives birth to Bhishma as well as to eight sons with Ganga, whom she immediately drowns because they are a group of deities called the Vasus who need to return to their immortal forms.
Virata is the king of the city where the Pandavas spend their 13th year of exile in disguise in his court (following their gambling loss to Duryodhana).
– Jayadratha is an ally of Duryodhana who plays an important role in the death of Abhimanyu in battle, motivating Arjuna (Abhimanyu’s father) to decapitate Jayadratha in revenge.
– Dhrishtadyumna kills Drona while he mistakenly believes that his son, Aśvatthaman, is dead. Later, Aśvatthaman gets revenge on Dhrishtadyumna by ritualistically killing him without a weapon so that he is denied the glory of dying in battle.
Satyaki is an ally of Yudhishthira who ends up being one of the few survivors of the Kurukshetra war. He dies of a curse many years after the war that causes his allies to turn against each other.
Kali is the personification of evil and bad luck, whose name is associated with the Kali Age, a period of decline that begins after the events of the Mahabharata.
Uttanka is a great ascetic seer who is most famous for being one of the few people to see Krishna’s true form while out in the desert.
Narada is a distinguished seer who tells stories with important moral lessons to Yudhishthira.
Duhshanta is the king who falls in love with Śakuntula after seeing her in the forest. Their son is Bharata, head of the Bharata lineage.
Paraśara is a great seer who becomes the father of Vyasa.
Satyavati is the daughter of Vasu and the mother of Vyasa. (She is different from the Satyavati who marries Śamtanu.)
Drupada is the father of Draupadi and an ally of the Pandavas. He gets killed in battle by Karna.
Balarama is the brother of Krishna. He stays neutral during the Kurukshetra war and doesn’t always approve of Krishna’s actions. He is also the one who suggests a duel of clubs between Duryodhana and Bhima.
Kicaka is a general of Virata’s who attempts to rape Draupadi. Bhima tricks and murders him.
Subhadra is a wife of Arjuna and the mother of Abhimanyu. She is also Krishna’s sister, solidifying Arjuna’s close connection with Krishna.
Yayati is an ancient king who gives birth to Puru, an ancestor of the Kuru lineage.
Dharma is a god who personifies dharma and gives birth to Yudhishthira with Kunti.
Savitri is a princess named after a goddess who, through persistence, eventually gets the god of death (Yama) to revive her dead husband.
Devayani is the wife of Yayati, and an ancestor to the Kuru lineage.
Puru is the youngest son of Yayati and an ancestor of the Kauravas and Pandavas.
Pratipa is an ancestor of the Kauravas and Pandavas who arranges for his son Śamtanu to have several sons with Ganga.
Yama is the god of death. Warriors who become particularly deadly in battle often get compared to Yama.
Salya is the commander of the Kaurava army for a brief time before Yudhishthira kills him.
Hidimba is a Rakshasa that Bhima slays.
Astika is the son of a snake goddess who intervenes in Janamejaya’s snake ceremony to convince him to spare the life of Takshka.
Prativindhya, Sutasoma, Śrutakirti, Śatanika, and Śrutasena
Prativindhya, Sutasoma, Śrutakirti, Śatanika, and Śrutasena are the five sons of Draupadi, one with each of the five Pandava brothers. They all get killed during Aśvatthaman’s night raid of the Pandava camp.
Vasishtha and Viśvamitra
– Vasishtha and Viśvamitra are powerful seers with a fierce rivalry. Viśvamitra curses Vasishta and forces him to eat his own sons.
– Jarasamdha is a rival king that Yudhishthira kills relatively early in his reign.
Markandeya is a seer who tells stories to Yudhishthira about the power of asceticism.
– Śisupala is the king of the Cedi kingdom who is born with extra eyes and arms and who eventually fulfills his destiny of being killed by Krishna.
Sudeshna is the wife of Virata and queen of his kingdom.
Baka is a Rakshasa who terrorizes a town until Bhima kills him.
Kritavarma is a Kaurava ally who assists Aśvatthaman during his night raid, guarding the camp exit with Kripa.
Śukra is the father of Devayani and an ancestor of the Kuru lineage.
Riśyasringa is a seer who becomes part of a king’s plot to get rainfall back to his dry kingdom.
Vaiśampayana is Vyasa's pupil and the primary narrator of the Mahabharata. When Vyasa tells Janamejaya an abbreviated version of the epic tale during a snake sacrifice, Janamejaya declares that he wants to hear the entire thing, so Vyasa instructs Vaiśampayana to narrate all 100,000 verses