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This article is about mythohistorical figures of India. For the spider genus, see Pandava (spider).
Draupadi and the Pandavas

In the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic text, the Pandava are the five acknowledged sons of Pandu, by his two wives Kunti who was a Yadav and Madri who was the princess of Madra. Their names are Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. All five brothers were married to the same woman, Draupadi.

Together, the brothers fought and prevailed in a great war against their cousins the Kauravas, which came to be known as the Kurukshetra War.


Sahadeva, tge youngest brother, in Javanese Wayang form

The word Pandava is derived from their father's name, Pandu(पाण्डु). So the meaning of the word is- descendants(sons) of Pandu, aka, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. The other epithets of the Pandava group are-[citation needed]

  • Panduputra(पाण्डुपुत्र) - sons of Pandu
  • Pandavakumara(पाण्डवकुमार) - young Pandavas
  • Kaunteya(कौन्तेय) - sons of Kunti(only addressed to Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna. They are also called Partha since Pritha is another name of Kunti. Later Karna was also called Kaunteya when his real identity, as Kunti's son, was came to know after the war)
  • Madreya(माद्रेय) - sons of Madri(only addressed to Nakula and Sahadeva)

The Pandavas[edit]

Draupadi is presented in a parcheesi game where Yudhishthira has gambled away all his material wealth.
  • Yudhishthira: The eldest Pandava brother. His name means one who is steadfast even during war. He is son of Kunti and Dharma, god of virtue, justice and morality. Though he lacked the characteristic combat prowess of a Kshatriya, Yudhishthira was one of the most virtuous men, skilled in the duties of a king and was steadfast in the path of Dharma. He was a good king who along with his brothers, founded the prosperous city of Indraprastha. In consequence of Krishna's machinations and also by the conquest of the world by his brothers, Yudhishthira became the Emperor of the world. He performed two Ashwamedha and one Rajasuya sacrifice. Yudhishthira learnt to control the dice from the Sage Brihadaswa and became good at playing chess. His other names are Ajatshatru(without enemies) and Dharmaraja(admired for virtues).
  • Bhima: The second Pandava brother. His name means of terrible might. He is son of Kunti and Vayu, the god of air and wind, who is known for his might. Bhima has the physical strength and prowess equal to 10, 000 powerful bull elephants and very athletic. Bhima was very aggressive and prone to anger. Of all the brothers, he opposes Yudhishthira for his questionable decisions opposing common sense in the name of Dharma, although Bhima is very loyal to him. Bhima was devoted to his family and was the natural protector. He was a master in wielding the mace. Bhima was also a powerful archer, having fought Drona and Ashwatthama and even defeated Karna on several occasions. Additionally, Bhima was also very skilled in diverse areas of warfare, including wrestling, charioteering, riding elephants and sword fighting. Along with Arjuna, he went on expeditions to conquer the kingdoms in eastern and southern directions. During the Rajasuya Yagna, Bhima subjugated the kingdoms of the eastern direction completely. Bhima slew Krishna's most dangerous enemy, Jarasandha in a wrestling bout and the Matsya commander, Kichaka for molesting Draupadi. During the war, Bhima was most famous for slaying the hundred Kauravas and Duryodhana himself. He was also skilled in chopping wood, cooking, culinary arts and sciences. Bhima's other name is Vrikodara(wolf bellied).
  • Arjuna: The third Pandava brother. His name means of stainless deeds. Arjuna is son of Kunti and Indra, King of the gods and the god of the sky and war. He was very virtuous and avoided unjust acts. He is known for his singleminded concentration and his devotion towards Krishna. Arjuna was more fortunate than his brothers as he was the favourite of Bhishma, popular among people, famous among the gods and attractive to women. Arjuna was the favorite disciple of his Guru Drona, who taught weapons. Arjuna is perhaps the greatest and ambidextrous archer and had mastered archery to the highest possible level. He was rivalled by Bhishma, Drona, Karna and Krishna. In those days, archery was considered to be the foremost of all fighting discipline, and Arjuna's mastery over it contributed to his popularity. Arjuna was a complete master archer, a supreme chariot warrior and had also obtained near perfect mastery over almost all divine, celestial and esoteric weapons, along with their secrets of invoking and recalling them. Arjuna spent five years acquiring and mastering divine weapons from Indra and the other gods. Arjuna also acquired the mastery over the rarest and the most powerful weapon, the Pashupatastra, from Lord Shiva himself. Arjuna and Bhima had conquered the eastern and southern kingdoms. During the Rajasuya Yagna, Arjuna subjugated the northern kingdoms. He defeated the Asura tribes of Nivatakavachas, the Kalakeyas and the Paulomas. Along with Krishna, Arjuna burnt down the Khandava forest. During the Ashwamedha Yagna, Arjuna conquered the entire world. According to Yudhishthira, of all the Pandavas, Draupadi loved Arjuna the most. Krishna gave him the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita. During the Kurukshetra War, Arjuna slew Bhagadatta, Susharma, Sudakshina, Jayadratha, Shrutayu and Karna. He was the only Pandava brother to know the secret of the Chakravyuha military formation. Arjuna was also skilled in playing musical instruments, singing, dancing and poetry. He taught these skills to his daughter-in-law, Uttara. Arjuna's grandson, Parikshit, succeeded the Pandavas as king. Arjuna's names include Gudakesha(conqueror of sleep), Krishna(dark complexion), Shwetavahana(having white horses yoked to chariot), Sabyasachin(ambidextrous archer), Kiritin(having the Kirit crown), Vijaya(ever victorious), Jaya(victorious), Bibhatsu(civilized warrior), Dhananjaya(winner of wealth), Phalguna(born under Phalguna constellation), Jishnu(unconquerable) and Partha(son of Pritha a.k.a Kunti).
  • Nakula: The fourth Pandava brother. His name means the charming one. Nakula is the son of Madri and the Ashwin twin Nasatya. He was attractive, humble, diplomatic and helpful. During the Rajasuya Yagna, Nakula conquered the Western direction. During the Kurukshetra War, Nakula slew many warriors including many sons of Karna. Nakula and his younger twin brother, Sahadeva, were excellent sword fighters. Nakula was also a master of equestrian arts and sciences, skilled in wielding unusual weapons, in chariotry and in riding horses.
  • Sahadeva: The fifth and the youngest brother of the Pandavas. His name means "equal to a thousand gods". Sahadeva is the son of Madri and the Ashwin twin Dasra. Sahadeva was the wisest and the most mysterious and introverted of all Pandava brothers. Along with Nakula, Sahadeva was also a master in sword fighting. He was also skilled in fighting and taming wild bulls. Additionally, he was a skilled cowherd, capable of maintaining cattle, treating their diseases, assessing their health, milking them and in producing milk products. Sahadeva acquired mastery over the science of Dharma, religious scriptures and other branches of knowledge under the tutelage of the Sage Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods. During the Rajasuya War, Sahadeva conquered the southern direction, up to the kingdom of Lanka. During the Kurukshetra War, Sahadeva slew the wicked Shakuni and his son, Uluka.
  • Karna: The unknown Pandava. His name refers to his congenital earrings when he was born. Karna is son of Kunti and Surya, god of Sun. He was born when many years ago before Kunti's marriage to Pandu and the subsequent birth of the Pandavas. When she was unmarried, Kunti rashly tested the power of Durvasa's mantra, invoking Surya. Bound by the power of Durvasa's mantra, Surya sired Karna with Kunti. Karna was born with congenital armour and earrings, which granted him some immunity to divine weapons. Kunti abandoned Karna, who was found and raised by a family of charioteers. Though Karna was wealthy, he was never given the status of a Kshatriya and was ridiculed by people for his desire of being a warrior. Karna was known to be charitable, firm in his principles and his unswerving loyalty. In his childhood, he befriended Duryodhana which lasted into a strong and enduring friendship and brotherhood. However, this resulted in Karna supporting Duryodhana's evil schemes against the Pandavas. Along with the royal princes, Karna learnt to wield weapons from Drona. When Karna desired to learn divine weapons and advanced archery lessons from Dronacharya, the latter rejected him for not being a Kshatriya and for having bad company with Duryodhana. Humiliated, Karna swore revenge on Drona and decided to study from Drona's own martial guru, the legendary Parashurama, who also happened to be Bhishma's martial guru as well. Fearing Parashurama's wrath, Karna lied his identity of being a Brahmana. Parashurama welcomed Karna and rigorously trained him in martial disciplines. Guru Parashurama himself declared Karna to be his own equal. However, Parashurama discovered Karna's lies and cursed him to forget the Brahmastra when he needed it the most. Karna returned to Hastinapur, much to everyone's surprise. Duryodhana crowned Karna as the King of Anga and knew him to be a powerful ally against the Pandavas. Despite Karna's initial defeats and failures against the Pandavas, he did achieve many accomplishments. Karna helped Duryodhana kidnap the princess of Kalinga in her Swayamvara and he singlehandedly defeated all the kings in battle. When criticized by Bhishma, Karna pointed out that Bhishma too had done the same thing in the past. Karna was the only warrior to defeat and humble the powerful Jarasandha in battle. Jarasandha for the first time and only time, surrendered to Karna and made an alliance with him. When Bhishma ridiculed Karna for his pathetic combat prowess, Karna single handedly conquered the entire world and made Duryodhana the emperor. During the Kurukshetra War, Bhishma declared that the Pandavas were invincible. Karna proved him wrong by vanquishing Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva on many occasions during the battle. Yudhishthira was mortally afraid of Karna. Despite Parashurama's curse, Karna was able to invoke the Brahmastra albeit with great difficulty. Urged by Krishna, Arjuna beheaded Karna when he was trying to pull his chariot wheel from the mud. Karna possessed the might of 10, 000 elephants and was a great master in archery, surpassing even Dronacharya. When Kunti revealed Karna's true origin to the Pandavas, they were completely devastated. Yudhishthira nearly lost the will to rule the kingdom after finding the truth about Karna.[citation needed]


Bhima, the second Pandava, powerful warrior

The story begins with the introduction of the brothers' parents. Amongst the primary antagonists was Duryodhana(loosely translated as unconquerable), the eldest of Kauravas and Pandavas' cousin. He was the eldest of 100 brothers known as the Kauravas, who were born to the blind king of Hastinapura Dhritarashtra and his queen Gandhari(princess of Gandhara).

The Pandavas were born to Kunti and Madri by the boon given by Durvasa, which was given to Kunti that she can have a son of any god which she respect without having any marital affair. After the marriage of Madri, Pandu voluntary renounced royal life, in order to do penance for having accidentally killed the sage Rishi Kindama and his wife. At his death, Rishi Kindama cursed Pandu that he will surely die if he attempts to have sexual relationships with his wives. Because of this curse, Kunti had to use her boon to get sons. She gave birth to three sons, Yudhishthira from God of Dharma. Bhima from God of Wind and Arjuna from Lord Indra. At the request of Pandu she shared this boon with Madri to get her sons, the twins Nakula and Sahadeva from Gods Ashvins.

After the death of Pandu and Sati of Madri, Kunti brought Pandavas back to Hastinapur. As children, the Pandavas and Kauravas often played together. However, Bhima(one of the Pandavs) was always at odds with the Kauravas, particularly Duryodhana, who refused to accept the Pandavas as his kin. This usually led to much tension between the cousins. Insecure and jealous, Duryodhana harboured intense hatred for the five brothers throughout his childhood and youth, and following the advice of his maternal uncle Shakuni, often plotted to get rid of them to clear his path to the lordship of the Kuru Dynasty.

This plotting took a grave turn when Dhritarashtra had to relent to the will of the masses and rightfully appointed his nephew Yudhishthira as crown prince. This went against the personal ambitions of both father and son(Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana) and drove Duryodhana into such a rage, that he enthusiastically agreed to an evil ploy by Shakuni to murder Yudhishthira. Shakuni commissioned the construction of a palace in Varnavrata, secretly built by incorporating flammable materials into the structure, most notably lacquer known as Lac. This palace was known as Lakshagraha. Duryodhana then successfully lobbied with Dhritarashtra to send Yudhishthira to represent the royal household in Varnavrata during the celebrations of Shiva Mahotsava. The plan was to set the palace on fire during the night while Yudhishthira would likely be asleep. Yudhishthira left for Varnavrata, accompanied by his four brothers and mother Kunti. Fortunately for Pandavas, the plan was discovered by their paternal uncle Vidura, who was very loyal to them and an extraordinarily wise man. In addition, Yudhishthira had been forewarned about this plot by a hermit who came to him and spoke of an imminent disaster. Vidura arranged for a tunnel to be secretly built for the Pandavs to safely escape the wax palace as it was set afire.

Pandavas' Journeying With Their Mother

After their flight from the wax palace, the five brothers lived in the forests for some time, in the disguise of Brahmins. They heard from a group of travelling sages about a contest(Swayamvara) being held in the Kingdom of Panchala that offered the princess Draupadi's hand in marriage to the winner. The Swayamvara turned out to rely on the skills of archery and Arjuna, who was a peerless archer, entered the competition and won. When the brothers took Draupadi to introduce her to their mother, they announced to Kunti that they had arrived with excellent alms. Kunti was busy with some work, and replied without turning to look at Draupadi(who was the alms referred to) ordering the brothers to share the alms equally amongst the five of them. Even when uttered erroneously, their mother's word was supreme for the Pandavas, who then agreed to sharethe princess, who was subsequently married to all five brothers.

When Dhritarashtra heard that the five brothers were alive, he invited them back to the kingdom. However, in their absence, Duryodhana had succeeded in being made the crown prince. Upon the return of tPandavas, the issue of returning Yudhishthira's crown to him was raised. Dhritarashtra led the subsequent discussions into ambiguity and agreed to a partition of the kingdom "to do justice to both crown princes". He retained the developed Hastinapur for himself and Duryodhana and gave the barren, arid and hostile lands of Khandavaprastha to the Pandavas. The Pandavas successfully developed their land and built a great and lavish city which was considered comparable to the heavens, and thus came to be known as Indraprastha.

Reeling under the loss of half the lands of his future kingdom, Duryodhana's jealousy and rage were further fueled by the Pandavas' success and prosperity. Eventually, Shakuni sired yet another ploy and got Duryodhana to invite the Pandavas over to his court for a game of dice(gambling). Shakuni was a master at gambling and owned a pair of dice which magically did his bidding and produced numbers desired by him. Owing to this, bet after bet, Yudhishthira lost all of his wealth and eventually, his kingdom in the game. He was then enticed by Duryodhana and Shakuni to place his brothers as bets. Yudhishthira fell for it and put his brothers on stake, losing them too. He then placed himself as a bet and lost again. Duryodhana now played another trick and told Yudhishthira that he still had his wife Draupadi to place as a bet and if Yudhishthira won, he would return everything to the Pandavas. Yudhishthira fell for the ruse and bet Draupadi, losing her too. At this point Duryodhana ordered that Draupadi, who was now a slave to him, be brought to the court. None of the Pandavas fought for their wife's honour. Duryodhana's younger brother Dushasana dragged Draupadi to the royal court, pulling her by her hair, insulting her dignity and asserting that she, like the Pandava brothers were now their servant. This caused immense anguish to all the great warriors seated in the court, but each of them, namely, Bhishma(grandsire of the clan), Dronacharya (teacher/guru of Kauravas and Pandavas) and Kripacharya except Vidura remained silent. Duryodhana then ordered Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi before everyone as a slave girl has no human rights. The elders and warriors in audience were shocked but did not intervene. As Dushasana began to disrobe her, she prayed to God to protect her honour and Lord Krishna protects her by providing her garments an unending length.Finally as the blind king Dhritharasthra realized that this humiliation could prompt Draupadi to curse his sons, he intervened, apologizing to Draupadi for the behaviour of his sons and turned the winnings of dice game back over to the Pandava brothers, releasing them from the bondage of slavery.

Arjuna shooting at the eye of a fish to win Draupadi in marriage, Kalighat painting

Incensed at the loss of all that he had won, Duryodhana threatened suicide and coerced his father into inviting the Pandavas for one last round of gambling, the terms of which were that the loser would be condemned to 12 years of exile into forests and a 13th year to be spent incognito and if the cover be blown during the 13th year, another cycle of 13 years would ensue. Obeying their uncle's orders, the Pandavas played the round and again lost to Shakuni's cheating. However, this time, their patience had been nearly pushed to its edge. During the 12 years of exile in the forest, they prepared for war. Arjuna performed penance and won the entire gamut of celestial weapons(Divyasatras) as boons from the Gods. The 13th year was spent masquerading as peasants in the servitude of the royal family of Virata, the king of Matsya. Upon completion of the terms of the last bet, Pandavas returned and demand their kingdom to be rightfully returned to them. Duryodhana refused to turn Indraprastha over. For the sake of peace and to avert a disastrous war, Krishna proposed that if Hastinapur agrees to give the Pandavas only five villages, they would be satisfied and would make no more demands. Duryodhana vehemently refused, commenting that he shall not part even with land as much as the point of a needle. Thus, the stage was set for the great war, for which the epic of Mahabharata is known most of all.

The war was intense and was fought for 18 days over the course of which both parties worked around, bent and even broke rules of warfare. At the end, all 100 Kaurava brothers and their entire army was slain, with only four surviving on their side. The Pandavas too lost several allies but the 5 brothers survived. After having won the war Yudhishthira was crowned the king.[citation needed]

Death Of Pandavas[edit]

Yudhishthira and His Dog, Ascending to Heaven

Pandavas ruled Hastinapur for 36 years and established a righteous Kingdom. Shortly after death of Lord Krishna, they all decided that the time has come for them to renounce the world as the age of Kali yuga had started.

So the five Pandavas and Draupadi left to the path of liberation. For this purpose they all climbed the Meru Mountain which leads them to the Swarga Loka. Unfortunately on their way, all except Yudhisthira slipped and died one by one. Yudhisthira was accompanied by a dog who was no one Lord Yama himself.

The first to die was Draupadi, she was imperfect because she preferred Arjuna over her other husbands.Then it was Sahadeva, imperfect because he was smug about his knowledge. Followed by Nakula, imperfect because he was arrogant about his good looks. Then fell Arjuna, imperfect because he was always jealous of other archers. And then, Bhima, imperfect because he was a glutton. Only the eldest pandava, Yudhisthira, reached the door of Swarga Loka carried on Lord Indra's chariot. On reaching Heaven he did not find either his virtuous brothers or his wife Draupadi. Instead he saw Duryodhana, Bhishma, Dronacharya etc. and their sons.

He wanted an explanation from Lord Yama, the lord of death. Lord Yama explained that because the Kauravas died as warriors on the battlefield they have been allowed into heaven. This earned them so much merit and credit that it wiped out all their debts. Yudhisthira demanded to know where his brothers and his wife were. He was then taken to hell. Lord Yama explained that they were experiencing the reactions of their actions but it was temporary. Once the debt has been repaid, they will join them in Swarga. Yudhisthira loyally met his brothers, but the sight and sound of gore and blood horrified him. Though initially he was tempted to flee, he mastered himself and remained after hearing the voices of his beloved brothers and Draupadi calling out to him, asking him to stay with them in their misery. Yudhisthira decided to remain, ordering the divine charioteer to return. He preferred to live in hell with good people than in a heaven of his enemies. Eventually this turned out to be another illusion to test him.[citation needed]

Krishna's Help To Pandavas[edit]

Five Pandavas in Wayang form. From left to right: Bhima, Arjuna, Yudhishthira, Nakula and Sahadeva. Indonesia Museum, Jakarta.

Krishna, being a well wisher of the Pandavas, helped them in various ways during the time of their ordeals.

Parents Of Pandavas[edit]

Kunti leading Gandhari. Description: Gandhari, blindfolded, supporting Dhritarashtra and following Kunti when Dhritarashtra became old and infirm and retired to the forest. A miniature painting from a sixteenth-century manuscript of part of the Razmnama, the Persian translation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata

The first three of the Pandavas were the sons of an Yadava Kunti(Pandu's first wife) and the younger two were the sons of Madri(Pandu's second wife). Since Pandu had been cursed to die if ever he had intercourse with a woman, the actual fatherhood of the children is traditionally attributed to various gods, in virtue of a boon that Kunti had received from sage Durvasa and had transferred to Madri. Thus-[citation needed]

(Karna was also born of Kunti and was son of Surya, the solar God).

Pandu shoots Kindama, who is disguised as a deer

Description By Draupadi Of Pandavas[edit]

Portrait of Nakula, the Pandava brother, circa 1725-1750

The Pandava brothers were collectively married to Draupadi. On one occasion, Draupadi was kidnapped and abducted from a hermitage in the forest by the wicked king Jayadratha. When her husbands learned of the crime, they came in hot pursuit. Seeing them approach, Jayadratha asked Draupadi to describe them. Angrily, Draupadi told the king his time was up and that the knowledge would do him no good. She then proceeded to give the description. (Mahabharat, Book III: Varna Parva, Section 268.)

  • According to Draupadi, Yudhishthira possessed a "complexion like that of pure gold, possessed of a prominent nose and large eyes and endued with a slender make." Master of the spear. He was just, had a correct sense of morality and was merciful to surrendering foes. Draupadi counselled Jayadratha to run to Yudhishthira and to beg for forgiveness.
  • Draupadi described Bhima as tall and long-armed. In a display of ferocity, he was "biting his lips and contracting his forehead so as to bring the two eyebrows together." The master of the mace, his superhuman feats had earned him great renown. "They that offend him are never suffered to live. He never forgets a foe. On some pretext or other he wreaks his vengeance."
  • Arjuna she praised as the greatest of archers, intelligent, second to none "with senses under complete control." Neither lust nor fear nor anger could make him forsake virtue. Though capable of withstanding any foe, he would never commit an act of cruelty.
  • Nakula, said Draupadi, was "the most handsome person in the whole world." An accomplished master swordsman, he was also "versed in every question of morality and profit" and "endued with high wisdom." He was unflinchingly devoted to his brothers, who in turn regarded him as more valuable than their own lives. The name Nakula generally means full of love and the male characteristics implied by the name are: Intelligence, Focus, Hard-Work, Handsomeness, Health, Attractiveness, Success, Popularity, Respect and unconditional Love.
  • Finally, Sahadeva was the youngest of the brothers and like the others formidable in war and observant of morality. Master of the swords "Heroic, intelligent, wise and ever wrathful, there is not another man equal unto him in intelligence or in eloquence amid assemblies of the wise."[citation needed]

Karna, son of Kunti and Surya, killed by his own brother Arjuna

In Literature[edit]

Harivamsa Purana(8th century CE) narrates the Jain version of their story.[1]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]