See for an
extensive description of the various dynasties
of the Pândavas and Kauravas
until the appearance of Lord Krishna
S'rîmad Bhâgavatam, Canto 9, Chapters 20 to 24.
Brief biographies of some main characters in the Mahâbhârata
and Bhâgavata Purâna (S'rîmad Bhâgavatam)
Mahâbhârata, The Greatest Spiritual Epic of All Time,
Retold by Krishna Dharma (Torchlight Publishing)
S'rîmad Bhâgavatam - http://srimadbhagavatam.org
Bhagavad Gîtâ - http://gita.srimadbhagavatam.org
ABHIMANYU: The son of Arjuna and Subhadrâ. Said to be an incarnation of the moon-god Soma's son. He was slain in the battle of Kurukshetra when just sixteen. He married Uttarâ, King Virata's daughter, and fathered Parîkchit. [SB: C1:4,17,18; C3:3]
ADHIRATHA: A leader of the Sutas, the caste generally employed as charioteers. He found Karna after Kuntî had cast him away in a basket [SB Canto 9, Chapter 24 verses 32 to 36] and raised him as his own son. His wife's name was Radha, and thus Karna was known as Radheya.
AGNIVESHA: A rishi who underwent severe austerities on Mount Mahendra. He was expert in the use of weapons, and both Drona and Drupada studied under him. He received the agneyastra (fire weapon) from the rishi Bharadvaja, and passed it on to Drona.
AKRÛRA: Krishna's uncle and a famous Vrishni. He was a commander of the Yadava army and also acted as one of Krishna's advisors [SB C10-38 & 40]
ALAMBUSHA: A râkshasa who fought for Duryodhana in the Kurukshetra war. He was Baka's brother, and bore enmity toward Bhîma because Bhîma slew his brother. He killed Arjuna's son Iravan, and was himself killed by Bhîma's son, Ghatotkacha.
AMBA: The king of Kâs'î's eldest daughter. Bhîshma abducted her from her swayamyara to be his brother's bride. Having already committed herself to Shalva, Bhîshma released her. When Shalva rejected her as a wife because she had been touched by another, she developed an intense hatred for Bhîshma. She worshipped S'iva and obtained a boon that she would kill Bhîshma in her next life. She was then reborn as Shikhandhi.
AMBÂLIKÂ: The king of Kâs'î's youngest daughter. She was abducted by Bhîshma from her swayamvara and married Vichitravirya. Later she became Pându's mother by union with Vyâsadeva.
AMBIKÂ: Second daughter of the king of Kâs'î, abducted from her swayamvara by Bhîshma. She married Vichitravirya and, after his death, became Dhritarâshthra's mother by union with Vyâsadeva.
ANGARAPARNA: A Gandharva chief; also known as Chitraratha, who met the Pândavas when they were fleeing from Varanavata after the burning of the lac house.
ARJUNA: Third son of Pându and Kuntî, begotten by Indra. He is famous as Krishna's dear friend and he heard the Bhagavad Gîtâ from Him. He is known by nine other names: Dhananjaya (winner of wealth), Vijaya (always victorious), Svetavahana (he whose chariot is drawn by white horses), Phalguna (born under the auspicious star of the same name), Kiriti (he who wears the diadem), Bhibatsu (terrifying to behold in battle), Savyasachi (able to wield a bow with both hands), Jishnu (unconquerable), and Krishna (dark-complexioned). The name Arjuna means "one of pure deeds." He is said to be an incarnation of the ancient sage Nara. [SB: C1:7,8,9,10,12,14,15,17; C2:7; C3:1]
ASHVINI KUMARAS: Twin gods who act as celestial physicians. They fathered Nakula and Sahadeva through Madrî. [SB: C2:1,5,6; C3:6]
AS'VATTHÂMÂ: Son of Drona and Kripî. When he was young, his father was impoverished. Some of As'vatthâmâ's friends, knowing that he had never tasted milk, once gave him a cup of water mixed with flour and told him it was milk. The boy drank it and danced in glee, saying "I have tasted milk!" His father saw this and was cut to the quick. It was this incident that inspired him to go to his old friend Drupada and beg. As'vatthâmâ is said to be a partial expansion of S'iva.
BABRUVAHANA: Son of Arjuna and Chitrangada, who became the ruler of Manipura.
BAHLIKA: Younger brother of Shantanu. He lived a long life and was an advisor to Dhritarâshthra. He became a commander in Duryodhana's army during the Kurukshetra war. He was finally killed by Bhîma.
BALARÂMA: Son of Vasudeva and Rohinî. Said by the Vedas to be an eternal form of the Supreme Lord who sometimes appears in the material world to enact pastimes. More information about him can be found in the Bhâgavata Purâna (S'rîmad Bhâgavatam-Canto 10).
BHARATA: A king in the dynasty of the moon-god (all kshatriyas are descendents either of Candra, the moon-god, or Sûrya, the sun-god) who ruled the earth for thousands of years. The earth planet has been named after him, and it was common during the Mahâbhârata era to call his descendents by his name. Bharata was born from the union of King Dushyanta and the daughter of Kanva Rishi, named Shakuntala. The story of their marriage and Bharata's birth is recounted in the Mahâbhârata's Adi Parva.
BHIMASENA: Pându and Kuntî's second son, sired by Vayu, the wind-god. After the great war he was installed by Yudhisthhira as crown prince. A story is told in the Skanda Purâna that Bhîma became a little proud after the war, considering that it was by his own power that he had achieved success in the war. All his brothers attributed their success to Krishna. Wanting to curb Bhîma's pride, Krishna took him on Garuda and traveled a long way to the south, where they came to a great lake many miles wide. Krishna sent Bhîma to find the source of the lake. Bhîma ran around its perimeter, but could not discover its source. As he ran he encountered a number of powerful Asuras. Bhîma found himself unable to defeat them and he ran to Krishna for shelter. Krishna lifted and threw the lake away and dispersed the Asura's (celestial demon). He said to Bhîma, "This lake was contained in Kumbhakarna's skull, the Rakshasa killed by Râma in a previous age [see Ramakatha Rasavahini-2, Ch. 8b]. The warriors who attacked you were from a race of demons who fought with Ravana against Rama." Bhîma's pride was thus curbed.
BHÎSHMA: Son of Shantanu, known as the "grandfather" of the Kurus. Although he never became king, he officiated at Hastinapura as regent until Vichitravirya was of age. He is said to be an incarnation of Dyau, the chief Vasu. The original text of the Mahâbhârata contains an entire Parva, the Shanti Parva, devoted to Bhîshma's instructions on religion and morality, which he delivered while lying on the bed of arrows. [See SB, Canto 1, Ch. 9]
CHITRASENA: King of the Gandharvas who taught Arjuna the arts of singing and dancing while he was in heaven. He later captured Duryodhana, whom Arjuna and Bhîma had released. Chitrasena was also the name of a king of Trigarta who fought with the Kauravas, and also the name of one of Karna's sons.
DEVAKÎ: Krishna's mother and the wife of Vasudeva, a chief of the Vrishni clan. Details of her life can be found in the Bhâgavata Purâna Canto 10, Chapter 1 [see also: Bhagavatha Vahini, Ch. 44]
DHAUMYA: An ascetic rishi who became the Pândavas' guru and guide. The younger brother of Devala, another famous rishi.
DHRISTADYUMNA: Son of Drupada, born from the sacrificial fire. Said in the Vedas to be an expansion of the fire-god, Agni.
DHRISTAKETU: A son of Sisupala, king of the Chedis, who befriended the Pândavas and supplied them with an akshauhini division of troops for the Kurukshetra war. He was slain by Drona. After the war, his sister married Nakula. He was said to be one of the celestial Vishvadevas incarnating on earth.
DHRITARÂSTRA: The blind son of Vyâsadeva, born of Ambikâ after the death of her husband, Vichitravirya. He became king in Hastinapura after Pându retired to the forest. He was the father of the Kauravas. In the Bhâgavata Purâna it is said that, after practicing yoga, he achieved liberation, merging into the Supreme Brahman at the end of his life [SB : Canto 1, Ch. 13].
DRAUPADÎ: Daughter of Drupada, king of Panchala, and wife of the five Pândavas. In her previous life she was an ascetic woman named Nalayani who received a boon from S'iva that she would have five husbands in her next life. The epitome of womanly skills, she once gave advice on how to serve a husband to Satyabhama, one of Krishna's principal wives. She was said to be an expansion of the Goddess Lakshmi. Also known as Panchali. [SB: C1:7,8,12,13,15,16; C3:1]
DRONA (DRONÂCÂRYA): The Kurus' martial teacher. The sage Bharadvaja once caught sight of the Apsara Ghrtachi and, as a result, semen fell from his body, which he caught in a pot. Drona was later born from that pot. He was taught by Agnivesha and Parasurama. Said to be an expansion of Brihaspati, the celestial seer and preceptor of the gods.
DRUPADA: King of the Panchala province in Bharata. He was a staunch ally of the Pândavas, respected as the seniormost king among their allies. He formed an enmity with Drona after the latter had come to him for charity and had been refused. Drona finally killed him in the Kurukshetra war. Drupada was also known as Yajnasena, and is said to be an expansion of the celestial Maruts.
DURVASA: A powerful rishi famous for his quick temper. The Purânas and Mahâbhârata contain many stories about Durvasa. He is particularly famous for having granted Kuntî the boon that she could summon any god to do her will, which resulted in the births of the Pândavas from five principal deities. He is said to be an expansion of S'iva.
DURYODHANA: Eldest of Dhritarâstra's sons and leader of the Kauravas. From childhood he formed an enmity with the Pândavas, which later resulted in the Kurukshetra war. He was killed by Bhîma and went to the heavenly planets as a result of his adherence to kshatriya duties. He was said to be an expansion of Kali, the god presiding over the dark age.
DUSHASHANA: Duryodhana's eldest brother and one of his inner circle of close advisors. He grievously offended Draupadî and the Pândavas, and as a result Bhîma vowed to kill him and drink his blood. He did so during the great war.
EKALAVYA: Son of Hiranyadhanu, a Nishadha tribal chief. He became quite skilled in archery by worshipping Drona, but he was ultimately cursed by him. He was killed by Krishna.
GANDHÂRI: Daughter of the king of Gandhara, who became Dhritarâstra's wife. Having once pleased Vyâsadeva by her service, she was blessed by the sage that she would have one hundred sons. After marrying the blind Dhritarâstra, she covered her own eyes with a cloth for the rest of her life. She is thus famous as one of the most chaste ladies in Vedic history. She died in the forest with her husband and Kuntî.
GANGA: A goddess who appears in this world as the river Ganges. She was Bhîshma's mother. Her origin is described in various Vedic texts, including Bhâgavata Purâna (see SB, Canto 5, Ch. 17) and Ramayana [Ramakatha Vahini]. The river water descends from the spiritual world after touching Lord Vishnu's foot and is thus considered sacred.
GHATOTKACHA: The son of Bhîma and the Rakshashi Hidimbi. He became a leader of the Rakshasas and assisted the Pândavas in the Kurukshetra war. Karna killed him with Indra's celestial Shakti weapon.
INDRA: King of the gods, also known as Purandara and Shakra. The Vedas contain numerous stories about this deity, who became Arjuna's father.
JARASANDHA: King of Magadha and a powerful enemy of Krishna. His father, Brihadratha, once approached a sage to seek a blessing to have a son. The sage gave him a mango, which the king divided into two, giving half to each of his wives. They each gave birth to half a child, and the king threw away the halves. A Rakshashi named Jara later found the two halves and joined them together, whereupon the body came to life. The child was then named Jarasandha, meaning 'joined by Jara.' The Bhâgavata Purâna describes the history of his inimical relationship with Krishna. He was killed in a wrestling match with Bhîma. [SB, Canto 9, Chapter 22, verse 8]
JAYADRATHA: King of Sindhu who married Dhritarâstra's daughter Dushala. When he was born, a heavenly voice announced that he would be a powerful warrior but would be beheaded by an enemy of unparalleled strength. His father, Vridhakshetra, then cursed whomever would cause his son's head to fall to the ground to himself die, his own head shattering into a hundred fragments. He was killed by Arjuna at Kurukshetra.
KAMSA: Maternal uncle of Krishna who usurped the throne from his father, Ugrasena. He was killed by Krishna [SB C10-44]. Details of his life are found in the Bhâgavata Purâna. [Bhagavata Vahini: 35,38,39,43,44]
KARNA: Firstborn son of the Pândavas' mother Kuntî from her union with the sun-god [SB Canto 9, Chapter 24 verses 32 to 36]. He became the chief support and best friend of Duryodhana, who made him king of Anga. He was killed by Arjuna at Kurukshetra and went to the sun planet. Other names of Karna include Vasusena, Vaikarthana and Radheya.
KAURAVA'S: Another name for the Kuru's.
KRIPA (KRIPACHARYA): Son of the sage Saradvan, who was once practicing asceticism in the forest when he saw the Apsara Janapadi. He passed semen, which fell into a clump of reeds, and a boy and girl were born from it. They were named Kripa and Kripi. They were found and brought to Shantanu, who was later told of their origin by Saradvan. Kripa was taught Dhanurveda, the martial arts, by his father, and he became one of the Kurus' martial teachers. He survived the Kurukshetra war and counseled the Pândavas when they ruled the world. Later, they appointed him preceptor of their grandson, Parîkchit.
KRISHNA: Said by the Vedas to be God, the Supreme Person, who is the origin of all other incarnations of the Godhead such as Vishnu and Nârâyana. The Bhâgavata Purâna [Srîmad Bhâgavatam] contains extensive descriptions of his qualities and activities. He spoke the Bhagavad Gîtâ to Arjuna at the beginning of the Kurukshetra war. [SB: C1:3,9,10,11,12,14, etc. and Canto 10 'Summum Bonum' - Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead]
KRITAVARMA: A chief in the Yadu dynasty. A devotee of Krishna, he was the commander of the Yadu army. Krishna offered the army to Duryodhana for the Kurukshetra war, and thus they and Kritavarma fought against the Pândavas. Kritavarma survived the war, but was later killed at Prabhasa during a fratricidal quarrel among the Yadus.
KUNTÎ: The Pândavas' mother. She was the sister of Vasudeva, Krishna's father. Her own father, Surasena, had given her as a baby to his close friend King Kuntibhoja, who had no children. She was named Prithâ at birth, but became better known as Kuntî after being raised by Kuntibhoja. [See SB, Canto 1, Ch. 8]
KURU: Ancient king and founder of the Kuru dynasty. Due to his performance of sacrifice and asceticism at the site, the place known as Kurukshetra, named after Kuru, is considered sacred.
KURUS: (Kaurava's) Sons of King Dhritarâstra, hundred in number, where Duryodhana is the most known. Opponents in the battle of Kurukshetrawith their nephews the Pândava's, who were also Kuru's, descendants of Kuru.
KURUKSHETRA: ['Field of labor'] A holy pilgrimage place going back to the oldest Vedic times; close to present New Delhi in India. Place where the war, described in the Mahâbhârata, took place and where Krishna spoke His Gîtâ to Arjuna.
KUVERA (VAISHRAVANA): God of riches and one of the four universal protectors or Lokapalas. Known as the celestial treasurer.
MAHÂBHÂRATA: Epic of the battle of the aristocrats in the Vedic culture during the pastimes of Krishna, out of which the Gîtâ has been taken.
MARKENDEYA: An ancient rishi said to have lived through thousands of ages. The Mahâbhârata contains many stories about him.
NAKULA: One of the twin sons of Pându and Madri, begotten by the twin Ashvini gods. He was a maharatha (a warrior capable of contending with ten thousand other warriors) warrior renowned for his expertise with a sword. He conquered the western regions of Bharata, before Yudhisthhira's Rajasuya sacrifice. Along with Draupadî, he married a princess of Chedi named Karenumati.
NÂRADA: A celestial sage also known as Devarshi, or the rishi among the gods [see for example: SB - Canto 1 : Ch. 4] He is famous as a devotee of Krishna and frequently assists Him in His pastimes on earth. The Vedas contain innumerable references to Nârada's activities and teachings.
PÂNDAVAS: The five sons of King Pându and Queen Kuntî: Arjuna, Sahadeva, Nakula, Bhîma en Yudhisthhira.
PÂNDU: Father of the Pândava's born to Vichitravirya's widow queen Ambalika by the grace of Vyâsadeva.
PARASARA: A powerful rishi, grandson of Vasishta, who fathered Vyâsadeva by conceiving him with Satyavati when she was still a maiden. Once Satyavati ferried the sage across a river and he was attracted by her beauty. He asked if he could have union with her, promising that by his mystic power she would not lose her virginity. She agreed and they united on an island in the middle of the river, which Parasara shrouded from view by creating volumes of mist. Vyâsadeva was immediately born and grew at once to manhood.
PARAS'URÂMA: A rishi said to be an empowered incarnation of Vishnu. He is famous for having annihilated all the kshatriyas of the world after his father, Jamadagni, had been killed by a king named Kartavirya. An expert in the Vedic military arts, he was the martial teacher of Bhîshma, Drona and Karna. The Mahâbhârata contains various stories about his exploits. [see: Ramakatha Rasavahini, ch. 8 and SB, Canto 9, Chapter 15]
PARÎKCHIT: Posthumous son of Abhimanyu, the Pândavas installed him as king in Hastinapura when they retired. He was named Parîkchit, meaning 'the examiner', as the brahmins said he would come to examine all men in his search for the Supreme Lord, whom he saw while still an embryo in his mother's womb [see Bhagavatha Vahini, Ch. 2]. He became famous as the hearer of the Bhâgavata Purâna from the sage Sukadeva Goswâmî [see: SB: Canto 2 : Ch 8].
SAHADEVA: The youngest Pândava. One of the two twin sons of Madri fathered by the Ashvini gods. He conquered southern Bharata before Yudhisthhira's Rajasuya sacrifice. Famous for his perceptive powers and intelligence, he was appointed as Yudhisthhira's personal advisor after the Kurukshetra war. Besides being married to Draupadî, he married a princess of Madra named Vijaya.
SAÑJAYA: Dhritarâstra's charioteer and secretary. Although he belonged to the Suta caste (a class of s'ûdra generally employed as a charioteer), he was a spiritually advanced disciple of Vyâsadeva, who gave him the power to see the events during the Kurukshetra war. Consequently, he narrated all the battle scenes to Dhritarâstra. [BG:1]
SATYAKI: A Vrishni hero who became Arjuna's martial disciple. He was a close friend of Krishna. A powerful mahâratha, he fought for the Pândavas at Kurukshetra, surviving both the war and subsequent massacre of sleeping soldiers by As'vatthâmâ. He died at Prabhasa during the fratricidal battle among the Yadus.
SATYAVATÎ: Mother of Vyâsadeva (from the union with Paras'ara Rishi).
SHAKUNI: Son of King Suvala and brother of Gandhari. Acted as close confidant and mentor to Duryodhana. Although a powerful kshatriya, he preferred cunning and underhanded methods to open combat. Said to be an expansion of the deity presiding over the Dvapara age (third in the cycle of four ages), he was slain at Kurukshetra by Sahadeva.
SHALVA: King of Saubha. He fought Bhîshma for Amba's hand after Bhîshma kidnapped her from her swayamvara. Due to his strong friendship with Sishupala, whom Krishna killed, he became Krishna's enemy. He attacked Dwârakâ in the huge airplane he had received from S'iva. Said to be an incarnation of the Asura Ajaka, Krishna killed him [SB C10-76&77]
SHALYA: Ruler of Madra and brother of Pându's second wife Madri. Although the Pândavas' friend, and having a particular friendship with Yudhisthhira, he was tricked by Duryodhana into fighting for the Kauravas at Kurukshetra. Said to be an incarnation of the Daitya Samhlada, Yudhisthhira killed him in the war.
SHANTANU: Great grandfather of the Pândavas and Kauravas, and Bhîshma's father from his union with Ganga. After retirement, he went to Mount Archika in the Himalayas and practiced asceticism, finally attaining liberation. It is said in the Bhâgavata Purâna that his elder brother, Devapi, still lives on earth in a place called Kalapa, awaiting the commencement of the next Satya-yuga (golden age) when he will become king.
SHIKHANDHI: Son of Drupada and a reincarnation of Amba. He was born as a woman and later became a man by the grace of a Yaksha named Sthunakarna. Remembering his enmity from his previous life, he vowed to kill Bhîshma. It was due to him that Arjuna was able to approach and finally slay Bhîshma. As'vatthâmâ killed him during the night slaughter of the sleeping Pândava warriors.
S'IS'UPÂLA: King of Chedi and an avowed enemy of Krishna. The Bhâgavata Purâna describes his previous existence as Jaya, a gatekeeper in the spiritual Vaikunthha world. Due to a curse, he and his brother Vijaya had to take birth in the material world for three lives as demons (his other two incarnations were Hiranyâksa [SB: C2:7, C3: 13,14,17,18,19,20; C5:18; C6:6] and Râvana - [Ramakatha Rasavahini, Chapter 10]). Krishna killed him at Yudhisthhira's Rajasuya sacrifice [SB C10-74]
S'RÎMAD BHÂGAVATAM: (Bhâgavad Purâna), 'The Story of the Fortunate One'. The Krishna-'Bible', spoken by S'ukadeva Gosvâmî, the son of Vyâsadeva, who laid down the story of Krishna. This book of approx. 18.000 verses describes the importance of bhakti-yoga as everything and for everybody and also the whole life of Lord Krishna and other avatâra's of Vishnu. Contains brief the purpose of the Vedic scriptures. (Legend, 18 very old books about the history of this planet and other planets).
SUBHADRÂ: Krishna's sister, (daughter of Devakî and Vasudeva) said to be an incarnation of Yogamâyâ, the Lord's personified spiritual energy. Her birth is described in the Bhâgavata Purâna. She married Arjuna [SB: 10-86] and they had a son named Abhimanyu. Unlike her co-wife Draupadî, no details are given in the original text about how she ended her life. [see also: Krishna Bhajan: Jagannâtha Swâmi]
SUSHARMA: King of Trigarta and brother of Duryodhana's wife, Bhanumati. He led a huge army and concentrated on fighting Arjuna during the Kurukshetra war, having taken a vow to kill him. He was slain by Arjuna.
ULUPÎ: Daughter of the Naga king Kauravya, who became Arjuna's wife. They had a son named Iravan, who was killed at Kurukshetra. She married Arjuna during his one year exile from Indraprastha, only spending one day with him after their wedding. She was reunited with him in Hastinapura after the war.
UTTARA: A princess of Virata whom Arjuna taught dancing during his final year of exile. She married Abhimanyu and their son was named Parîkchit.
VASUDEVA: Krishna's father, after whom Krishna (Vâsudeva) himself is named. [SB, C10-3] Details of his life and previous births are given in the Bhâgavata Purâna. [see also Bhagavata Vahini, Ch. 44]
VIDURA: Son of Vyâsadeva and a palace maidservant. He was said to be an expansion of Yamarâja, the lord of justice. Once a rishi named Mandavya was mistaken for a robber. The king arrested and punished him by having him pierced by a lance. The sage later went to Yamarâja and asked why this had happened and was told that in his childhood he had pierced an insect with a blade of grass. Hearing that he had received punishment for a mistake made when he was still an ignorant child, the sage cursed Yamarâja to take birth on earth as a s'ûdra. Thus he became Vidura. [SB: C1:13; C3:2,4,5,10,13,20; C4:13,31]
VIRATA: King of Matsya, where the Pândavas spent their final year in exile. He joined with the Pândavas in the Kurukshetra war, bringing an akshauhini divison of warriors. Drona killed him in the battle. He was said to be an expansion of the celestial Maruts.
VYÂSADEVA: The sage who authored the Mahâbhârata. [See SB : Canto 1, Ch 5] Born from the union of Paras'ara Rishi and Satyavatî, he is known as Dvaipâyana because he was born on an island (see Paras'ara). He compiled the Vedas and is said to be an empowered incarnation of Vishnu. His son's name is S'ukadeva [see SB, Canto 1, Ch 1], the famous reciter of the Bhâgavata Purâna.
YADU: Ancient king and founder of the Yadu dynasty, in which Krishna appeared. Details of Yadu's birth and life are given in the original text of the Mahâbhârata and also the Bhâgavata Purâna.
Yudhisthhira: Eldest Pândava, born from the union of Kuntî and the god Dharma. He performed a Rajasuya sacrifice which established him as world emperor. [SB, C10-74] Famous for his adherence to virtue and truth, he is also known as Dharmaraja, as well as Ajatashatru, which means "one who has no enemies." After the war he ruled the world for thirty-six years and was succeeded by Parîkchit. [SB: C1:7,8,9,10,12,13,14,15,17; C3:1,2,3,]