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Kurukshetra War, or Kurukshetra Yudh, is an epic war that narrates the dynastic struggle for succession between two groups of cousins, the Pandavs and Kauravas.
This epic Mahabharata War was fought for the throne of Hastinapura, the capital of the Kuru Kingdom. The war has been described very beautifully in the Hindu epic (poem) Mahabharata, narrated by Rishi Vyas, an essential character in this world’s greatest epic.
This article will explore how this epic war was fought and what went behind the chronicle of various events during the war.
First, let’s look at the Kuru Clan and how it came into being.
The Kuru Clan
The Kuru Clan came into existence in the Middle Vedic Period (c.1200- c.900 BCE), in the aftermath of “Battle of the Ten Kings,” as an alliance and merger between the kings of the Bharata and Puru Kingdoms.
Kurukshetra region became the centre of power, and the Kurus became the central rulers in the Vedic Period. Kurukshetra became the political centre, and the Kuru remained dominant throughout 1200 to 800 BCE.
Asandivat (Assandh in modern Haryana) became the kingdom’s first capital later on. However, Indraprastha (today’s modern Delhi) and Hastinapur became important cities in the Kuru Kingdom and the Kurukshetra War.
The Kuru Family Tree
King Kuru is considered the ancestor of the Kuru Clan. However, the Kuru Kingdom or Kuru Pradesh was laid by King Shantanu, son of King Pratipa, who belonged to the Lunar Dynasty of Bharata Kingdom.
Shantanu was married to Ganga, an incarnation of the holy Ganges, who bore him a son named Devrath. Devrath went on to be known as Bhishma and became the guardian of the Kuru Throne.
Bhishma was blessed with a boon of immortality by his father as Bhishma had renounced his right to the throne for the sake of Satyawati’s children. He had the choice to depart for his heavenly abode as per his wish.
After some time, King Shantanu fell in love with Satyawati, the princess of the Matsya Dynasty and was known as Fish Princess.
He married Satyawati and was later blessed with Chitrangada and Vichitraarya. Chitrangada was the eldest among the heirs and succeeded the throne after Shantanu’s death.
Vichitraarya was married to Ambika and Ambalika, two sisters from the Kashi KIngdom. However, he died before he could bear a child to any of his wives.
Thus the Kuru Pradesh was left without any successor causing despair in the kingdom.
To free the kingdom from despair and an uncertain future, Ambika and Ambalika bore two sons through NIYOG ( an ancient Indian historical tradition where a woman requested a revered man for helping her bear a child in case the husband was incapable of bearing children or was not alive).
They requested Rishi Vyas for the same, who blessed them. Thus, were born Dhritrashtra and Pandu, whose children in future became the reason for the breakup of the Kuru Dynasty and the epic Kurukshetra War (Mahabharata War).
Dhritarashtra was blind by birth, and hence despite being the eldest son, he was not granted the right to succeed as the ruler. Pandu, the younger one, became King hence regarded as King Pandu.
Dhritrashtra married Gandhari, the princess of Gandhar who was blessed with a boon by Rishi Vyas to bear a hundred sons. Thus, after their marriage ceremony was solemnized, Gandhari gave birth to a hundred sons after being pregnant for two years. These hundred brothers were called The Kauravas or Kaurava Brothers.
Pandu had two wives, Kunti and Madri. Both gave birth to the Pandavas through the invocation of various diets. Kunti gave birth to Yudhishtira (dharma raja), Bhima and Arjuna by invocating Lord Yama, Lord Vayu and Lord Indra.
On the other hand, Madri gave birth to Nakul and Sahdev, the Pandu twins, by invocation of Lord Aswini, the lord of medicine.
The Pandu brothers (Pandavas) married Draupadi, daughter of King Drupad of Panchal Kingdom. She was the common wife of the Pandavas. Only Arjuna has married his ladylove Subhadra, the sister of Lord Krishna and Balrama of Dwarka Kingdom.
Arjuna and Subhadra’s son Abhimanyu was the eldest among the UpaPandavas (junior Pandavas). He was married to Princess Uttara of the Matsya Kingdom, daughter of King Virat. She bore him a son who was named Parikshit.
The last known heir in the Kuru Clan was King Janamejaya, son of King Parikshit and Queen Madravati. After Janamejaya’s reign, the Kuru Clan is believed to have ended.
Now, we will look at the reasons and the aftermath of the famous Mahabharata war that changed the entire scenario in the Indian subcontinent.
Why was the Kurukshetra War fought?
The Kurukshetra war, also known as the Mahabharata war, took place between two rival families of the same clan- The Kurus.
Struggle between two family groups for dynastic succession to the throne of Kuru Kingdom led to the epic battle of Kurukshetra. The two rival groups were Kauravas and Pandavas. This war destroyed the entire Indian subcontinent, also called Bharata.
Kuru Pradesh was divided into two parts- Dhritrashtra ruled one, and his sons Kauravas and the other half of the kingdom was ruled by Yudhishtira, the eldest brother of the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra’s kingdom’s capital was Hastinapur, while Yudhishtira’s capital was Indraprastha.
The foremost reason for the war ~
1. The game of dice
The main reason for which the Mahabharata war took place is believed to be a game of dice (Chopat) that took place between Duryodhana and Yudhishtira.
The game was organized by the maternal uncle of the Kauravas, Shakuni, brother of Gandhari and prince of Gandhar Kingdom. Duryodhana won the game by deceit, forcing Yudhishtira to lose his kingdom, his crown, brothers, even his wife Draupadi in the gamble.
2. Draupadi’s honour attacked
Draupadi was humiliated by the Kauravas in the court of Hastinapura in the presence of all the courtesans. Dushasana dragged Draupadi to the court and tried to disrobe and attack her honour, only to find an eternal layer of clothing.
Seeing their lovely wife being humiliated on the court, the Pandavas vowed to take revenge for the disgrace. It is believed that when Dushasana tried to disrobe Draupadi, she prayed to Lord Krishna for saving her honour. Lord Krishna blessed Draupadi and held her honour.
Historical facts state that while Draupadi was brought disgrace, Arjuna vowed to slay Karna. In contrast, Bhima vowed to break Duryodhana’s thighs, tear apart Dushasana’s chest and drink his blood.
3. Exile of thirteen years
The Pandavas were sent into exile for thirteen years, the last year being “agyaat vaas,” i.e., the thirteenth year of the exile had to be spent by the Pandavas without being discovered and recognized.
However, on the Last Day of the thirteenth year, the Kauravas claimed that Pandavas had been discovered before they could complete their exile and refused to return to their kingdom.
This infuriated Pandavas, and they decided that they finally had to end the evil deeds of the Kauravas. Hence, began the mighty “Kurukshetra War,” a war that would change the destiny of Bharata Varsha (the ancient Indian subcontinent).
“Kurukshetra” literally means the “land of Kurus.” Kurukshetra was decided upon as the battleground, hence the name “Kurukshetra War.”
Kurukshetra was also called Dharmkshetra (the field of Dharma or Righteousness). The war was a Dharma War, fought to end Adharma and establish the reign of Dharma.
It is believed that any sin committed on the grounds of Kurukshetra was forgiven on the grounds of the sanctity of the place. Hence, the two parties decided on Kurukshetra as the battleground.
How has Kurukshetra War been described in the Mahabharata?
Kurukshetra war has been described in the Mahabharata as “Jaya,” structured in the form of a dialogue between King Dhritrashtra and his advisor and charioteer Sanjaya, who was granted a boon of sight for eighteen days of the war by Rishi Vyasa.
Sanjaya described all events chronologically and narrated the incidents during the war to the blind King DhritrKingra.
And the war begins: Mahabharata
Sanjaya starts narration
In the beginning, Sanjaya describes the entire foreground of war.
He describes the battleground which has been finalized for the Kurukshetra war.
Krishna tries to avert Kurukshetra War
The clan elders requested Shri Krishna, the Rajadharma lord of the Yadava Kingdom, to put some sense in the younger generation to avoid the war. Krishna agreed to the request and went to Hastinapur on a peace mission.
Lord Krishna asked Duryodhana to seek peace. He tried to persuade the Kauravas not to fight the war and cause bloodshed. He wanted to show the logic and the destruction that would come to the clan due to the war.
Krishna advised Duryodhana to seek Divine blessings and embark on a journey of peace (Dharma and righteousness).
Krishna couldn’t persuade the Kauravas to refrain from fighting the war despite numerous attempts.
Though the Kauravs had decided not to pay any heed to Krishna’s advice, they, however, invited Vasudeva (Lord Krishna was also known as Vasudeva) to accept their invitation and retire in their royal palace for the night.
Vasudeva kindly refused the invitation stating that he had arrived at the palace at the behest of the elders and was an ambassador of the Pandavas.
Duryodhana was enranged as Krishna had refused to accept their invitation. To take revenge, he planned to captivate Krishna and humiliate, insult him in the royal court of Hastinapura, in front of all the courtesans.
He resolved to defame Krishna as an attack on the royal prestige of the Pandavas and declare the start of the war.
Despite the elders’ warning to control his anger and not act foolishly, Duryodhana chose not to listen to the royal men and ordered his soldiers to catch hold of Vasudeva and put him behind bars. The moment soldiers tried to catch hold of Vasudeva, he showed his divine form in the royal court.
Lord Krishna cursed Duryodhana that due to his arrogance and foolishness, his doom was destined in the hands of Bhima, who had pledged to break his thighs. Destiny had already decided the defeat of the Kauravas.
Vasudeva returned to the Pandu putras and narrated the series of events that had taken place in the Kuru Mahasabha. He informed Pandavas that now the war was inevitable and that it had become necessary for the battle to establish the reign of Dharma, virtue and righteousness.
War preparations begin
There was no choice but to fight the war, so both rival parties started preparing for the same.
Arjuna and Duryodhana both approached Lord Krishna in Dwarka for his help. Duryodhana, Balrama’s pupil, had his support while Krishna wanted to support Arjuna and his brothers.
Since both Kauravas and Pandavas were adamant about getting Krishna’s support, Krishna had to find a way through the critical situation. Hence, Krishna suggested that one party of the two rivals would get Krishna’s Yadav army (Narayani Sena), while the other would get Krishna himself.
The royals decided that the one among Duryodhana and Arjuna would first approach Krishna early next morning, would get the first choice of choosing between the army and Krishna himself.
When both Duryodhana and Arjuna visited Krishna, they found him sleeping peacefully on his couch. Both rivals decided to wait for Krishna to awake.
Duryodhana, being the arrogant one, considered himself equal to Krishna. He chose to sit on a seat at Vasudeva’s head and waited for him. On the other hand, Arjuna saw Krishna as his mentor and inseparable friend. Hence, he chose to sit on the ground near Krishna’s feet.
When Krishna woke up from his sleep, he saw Arjuna and gave him the first right to choose between the Narayani Sena and Krishna himself. However, Krishna made it clear that he would not fight in the war himself and accompany as a non-combatant.
Duryodhana feared that since Arjuna was given the first right, he would choose the mighty Narayani Sena while he would be left with no option but to choose Krishna, unarmed.
But, Arjuna being Arjuna, chose Krishna, his mentor and dearest friend, over the army. Seeing the turn of events, Duryodhana considered Arjuna foolish but was also happy that he now had the mighty, unbeatable Narayani Sena to himself.
Next began the mission of gathering their respective allies to support the war. Apart from contacting their individual friends and allies, some members of the Kaurava army tried to take over the rival party’s allies.
The Pandava Army
Yudhishtira sent out his brothers in all four directions to gather an army. Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sehdeva headed out in different directions and started organizing their allies and armies.
After much struggle, the Pandavas gathered 7 Akshouhini army with their allies. Contingents started coming in from their allies and other parts of the Bharat Varsha.
Pandavas and their allies
The allies of the Pandavas army consisted of the kingdoms of Panchal, Dwarka, Kasi, Kekaya, Magadha, Chedi, Matsya, Pandya and Yadus of Mathura.
Each battalion in the 7 Akshouhini armies was headed by Drupada, Virata, Abhimanyu (Arjuna’s Son), Shikhandi, Satyaki, Nakula and Sehdeva.
Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandi and Draupadi’s brother, was appointed as the supreme commander of the Pandava army.
The Pandavas, Upapandavas, Drishtadyumna, Drupada, Virata, Abhimanyu, Shikhandi, Satyaki, Ghatotkacha, Kuntibhoja were the prominent warriors of the Pandava army.
The Kaurava Army
Kaurava army gathered a total of 11 Akshouhini armies. Duryodhana and other chieftains requested Bhishma to become the supreme commander of the Kaurava army.
Bhishma accepted to become the supreme commander on the condition that he would not attack the Pandav brothers.
The second condition that he put forward was that Karna (Kunti’s firstborn before Yudhishtira) would not fight under his command in the battle. His only purpose was to serve as the bodyguard of Duryodhana.
The Kauravas accepted the conditions as they had no other choice. They needed Bhishma to command the mighty Kaurava army with his expertise and intelligence. Duryodhana appointed Bhishma as the supreme commander of the Kaurava army.
Kaurava Army and its Allies
The Kaurava army’s allies consisted of Pragjyotisha, Kalinga, Anga, Kekaya, Sindhudesa, Avanti in Madhyadesa, Gandharas, Bahlikas, Mahishmati, Kambojas and a few more from ancient Bharat Varsha.
Apart from the the above allies, the Kaurava army was also accompanied by Guru Drona and his son Aswatthama, Jayadratha (Kaurava’s brother-in-law), the Brahmin Kripa, Kritavarma, Shalya, Sudakshina, Shakuni, Bahlika, Bhagadatta, Bhurishravas and many others who had pledged their loyalty towards Hastinapura and King Dhritrashtra.
The course of the War
Historical facts state that the year when the Kurukshetra War took place, three solar eclipses had taken place in 30 days, which is considered an ill-omen.
Formation of the Armies
The Pandava Army
Yudhishtira and Arjuna formed their army in the shape of Diamond or Vajra. The Pandava army being smaller than the Kauravas, the warriors planned to engage a single person with as many enemies as possible. They, too, planned an element of surprise for the rival army.
The Kaurava army was formed by the supreme commander Bhishma himself. 10 Akshouhinis were placed under various commanders in the form of a phalanx, while the remaining one, Akshouhini, was placed under the direct command of Bhishma, the unbeatable.
Moments before the war
Just as the war was about to start, Arjuna felt weak as he realized that he would have to attack his beloved grandsire Bhishma, in whose laps they had spent their childhood and learnt the art of warfare in their young adulthood.
Then there was his favourite and respected Guru, Acharya Drona, who taught Arjuna archery and made him the most excellent archer in the entire universe.
The thought of fighting a destructive war with his kinsmen, friends, teachers and elders sickened Arjuna. Arjuna requested Krishna to bless him with knowledge of right and wrong and grant him his divine blessings.
Sri Krishna showed Arjuna his actual Vishvarupa (Universal Form) on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
The Recital of Bhagavad Gita
Sri Krishna reminded Arjuna about his duties. This conversation before the war between Arjuna and his Madhava forms the Bhagavad Gita. It is the central depiction of Krishna guiding his Arjuna on the battlefield.
Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna not to fall weak on the thought of facing his kinsmen. This war was for the sake of establishing Dharam Yuga, for the end of Adharma and to show people the difference between righteousness (Dharma) and unrighteousness (Adharma).
By reciting Bhagavad, Gita Krishna displays the level of adharma among the people to Arjuna.
The Eighteen Days of Mahabharata
The war began with Bhishma and others from the Pandavas and Kauravas blowing their respective conch-shells (Shankhas)
Day 1 ~ Pandavas suffer heavy losses.
The first day of the war began with the Kauravas creating havoc in the Pandava Army. Bhishma commanded his army to march forward and fought with his entire might, leaving the opponents not a match for him.
Seeing Bhishma wreaking havoc on the army, Abhimanyu marched towards Bhishma and attacked him. But the young lad was not a match and was defeated by his great-grandsire Bhishma.
Bhishma killed numerous soldiers, leaving the Pandava army completely shattered. Uttar, King Virat’s son, was killed in the combat in a bid to save Yudhishtira. Yudhishtira was shattered at sight and felt guilty.
Krishna consoled him, stating that the victory would eventually be on his side no matter the losses.
Day 2 ~ Defeat of the Kauravas
On the second Day, Kauravas advanced towards their rivals in full confidence. However, Arjuna was ready with a plan to reverse the previous day’s losses.
Arjuna fought a fierce battle with Bhishma, which went on for hours. Hence, Arjuna attacked Bhishma with all his might. Krishna steered Arjuna towards Bhishma’s chariot.
Bhishma’s charioteer was attacked, leaving his horses startled, which caused the horses to flee the scene, taking off with Bhishma. Unfortunately, Bhishma had to leave the battlefield, unable to control the horses eventually.
The Kauravas were defeated, and Pandavas won the second Day.
Day 3 ~ Celestial Weapons were used
Celestial weapons were used in great numbers on the third day. Both forces attacked each other with all their might, none willing to give up. Ghatotkacha, Bhima’s son, attacked Duryodhana from the rear and fled him from the battlefield.
On the other hand, Arjuna destroyed a significant chunk of the opponent’s army.
Bhishma used his celestial weapons and attacked Arjuna and his armies. Arjuna’s armies could not bear the grunt of Bhishma’s fury and felt defeated. Krishna told Arjuna to use his Gandiv in response to Bhishma’s weapon to save his armies.
Arjuna headed towards Bhishma. The duel went on for hours, causing immense bloodshed. But before any result could be achieved, the Kauravas withdrew back at sunset along with Drona and Bhishma.
Bhishma showered these arrows to attack Krishna and Arjuna. But Krishna, through his skill, steered Arjuna’s chariot and saved themselves from the attack.
The Pandavas won the third day too.
Day 4 ~ Duryodhana is advised to seek peace.
The fourth day of the battle, too, saw a horrendous fight on both sides. Kauravas and Pandavas were attacking each other continuously.
Bhima killed eight brothers from the Kauravas and had started to fulfil his oath of killing all the 100 brothers by himself.
Duryodhana was grief-stricken at the loss of his brothers and went to Bhishma to seek Advice on how to defeat the Pandavas. Bhishma advised Duryodhana to seek peace; adharmarma was with Pandavas, who couldn’t be beaten.
Day 5 ~ Bhima rescues Satyaki
The slaughter went on the following day too. Arjuna killed thousands of soldiers whom Duryodhana had sent for the attack. Bhishma fought with all might and tried to defeat Bhima, but the duel remained inconclusive for the Day.
Satyaki was attacked by Drona and couldn’t withstand his attacks. Bhima came to his rescue and drove him away from the battlefield.
Day 6 ~ Kauravas face defeat
On the sixth Day, the Kaurava army faces immeasurable loss at the hands of their rivals. Bhima penetrated the Kauravas formation and caused a stampede in the army, breaking its formation.
The Day ended with the Kauravas facing defeat.
Day 7 ~ Pandavas face defeat
The seventh day saw Pandavas facing defeat.
Day 8 ~ Kauravas once again is defeated
On the eight-day, Bhima killed 17 sons of King Dhritrashtra. The Pandav army attacked Kauravas, killing thousands of soldiers.
The day too, ended with Kauravas being defeated.
Day 9 ~ Advice to use Shikhandi as a weapon against Bhishma
The ninth day saw Pandavas being advised to use Shikhandi as a weapon on the battlefield. The war was not turning in favour of the Pandavas as Bhishma was still on the battlefield.
Hence, they resolved to use Shikhandi as a weapon against Bhishma to defeat him.
Day 10 ~ Bhishma’s Death
On the tenth day, Shikhandi came down on the battlefield. Bhishma found Shikhandi standing firm in front of him. Arjuna positioned himself behind Shikhandi, attacking the weak points on Bhishma’s chariot.
Pandavas attacked Bhishma immediately with a shower of arrows that pierced through his body on finding the opportunity. Bhishma laid down his weapons due to a curse he was granted years back. It had been already destined that Shikhandi would become the reason for Bhishma’s death.
The eldest of the Bharata race fell from his chariot and lay on a bed of arrows. The rivals stopped fighting for the Day as a matter of respect to their slain grandsire.
It is said that Bhishma died on the First Day of Uttarayana after securing the future of Hastinapur in the hands of Pandavas and establishiDharmarma.
Day 11 ~ Arjuna defeats Drona.
The supreme commander of the Kaurava army, Drona, took hold of the reins of the army on the eleventh day. He engaged in a duel with Arjuna.
In the beginning, Arjuna failed to defeat Drona. But with his intelligence and determination finally, Arjuna succeeded in defeating Drona and saving his brother Yudhishtira’s life.
Day 12 ~ Arjuna and Bhagadatta fight it off.
Drona was enraged at being defeated and was not satisfied with the result. He ordered the Samsaptakas to keep Arjuna busy and drive him away from the battlefield.
Arjuna managed to defeat them before the afternoon and then faced Bhagadatta, ruler of Pragjyotisha. Bhagadatta fought with Arjuna riding on his gigantic elephant named Supratika. Arjuna riding on his elephant, Arjuna shot at his opponent, defeating and killing the antagonist.
The horrendous fight continued the following 6 days, killing all sides. Abhimanyu was killed on the 13th Day, leaving the Pandavas in grief.
Duryodhana and Dushasana were the last of the Kauravas to be killed by Bhima, thus fulfilling his oath of killing all 100 brothers.
After the fierce battle, the only royals who remained alive were Yudhistira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, Sehdeva, Krishna, Uttara, Satyaki, Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, Yuyutsu, Vrishakethu, and Kritvarma, Draupadi and Subhadra.
Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit was granted the boon of life by Krishna in Uttara’s womb. Prakshit would become the future King of HasKingpur after Yudhishtira, who ruled for 36 years.
After ruling for 36 years, Yudhishtira and his brothers and Draupadi left for their heavenly journey in the Himalayas to find heaven.
Note 1: Ashwatthama’s Curse
Since Ashwatthama had committed heinous sins which could not be forgiven, Krishna cursed Ashwatthama to live till the end of the time in the poorest of the state possible.
Note 2: Arjuna Wijaya Monument
Arjuna wijaya statue is located in Central Jakartaka.
It depicts a scene from Mahabharata, where Krishna can be seen riding the chariot with Arjuna mounted on it, holding a bow and arrow. Eleven divine horses drive the chariot.
Well, this is all that happened in the Kurukshetra War. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed reading this article.