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.
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.
(This dilemma of Arjuna I have tried to summarize in my poem: http://equilibriumoflife.blogspot.com/2011/09/second-thoughts-on-battlefield.html)
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.
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: http://equilibriumoflife.blogspot.com/2011/11/charioteers-son.html)
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, 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.