The Mahabharata is one of the two greatest epics of India, the other being the Ramayana. Mahabharata is all about the rivalry between Kauravas and Pandava brother for the throne, which led to the most dreaded battle called the Kurukshetra War. Lord Krishna recited the great Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna just before the face-off. The Hindu epic has been told and retold for ages and sure to have some poetic license and communication distortions for an epic of this large proportion and size. Yet it has been compiled with accuracy and told multiple times through digital medium now. Still, there are many lesser-known facts from The Mahabharata that you will be amazed to know.
1) Mahabharata was originally known as Jaya (‘Jayam’)
Mahabharata was not called so, until very recently. It was originally known as Jayam or Jaya. The original epic was called Jaya, then it was called Vijaya, then Bharata and finally Mahabharata. Jaya had about twenty-five thousand verses while the final form had over one hundred thousand verses. Jaya was about spiritual victory, Vijaya was about material victory, Bharata was the story of a clan and Mahabharata included also the wisdom of the land called Bharat-varsha.
What began as an auspicious idea, ended up becoming massive documentation of realities that frightened the common man. Many modern scholars, writers, and playwrights, exhausted and overwhelmed by the maze of stories of the final version of the epic, are convinced that the Mahabharata is only about the futility of war.
2) The youngest Padava, Sahdev could see the future.
Sahadev, Pandava youngest brother knew everything about the future and all events of the Kurukshetra war. He knew about the outcome of the war but remained silent as he was cursed to die if he revealed anything. There are some versions of Mahabharata which claim that Sahadeva ate his father’s flesh or brains to receive such knowledge. On the other hand, he is mentioned as an astrologer and a genius. There is also a fun incident. As soon as he knew everything, he ran towards his brothers and his mother to tell them everything when a stranger stopped him. It was Krishna. Krishna asked him to keep quiet and never tell anybody anything voluntarily. Also, he should reply to every question with a question.
Sahadev had no choice. Hence he always knew everything but couldn’t say anything to anyone. This is one of the hidden facts about Mahabharata.
3) Duryodhana’s real name was Suyodhana.
The rest of the Kaurava clan was Sushaasana, Suchala, and so on and not the Dusshaasana, Dusshala, etc. that we are familiar with. They were all given nicknames to suit their bad reputation. Words starting with Du in Hindi and Sanskrit have a negative undertone and the opposite is true for words starting with Su. Another theory is that when Duryodhana was born, his father Dhritrashtra name him Suyodhan. Suyodhan was interested in Mace’s fight. After completing his primary education from Guru Dronacharya, he went to Balram for higher learning of the art of Mace fight.
In the final practice session, Suyodhan defeated Balram. This made Balram very happy and hence he gave the title of ‘Duryodhana’ to him which means – ‘A warrior which cannot be defeated’.
4) Vedvyas is not a name but a post.
We all know that Mahabharata is composed by Vedvyas and written by Lord Ganesha. Vedvyas is not a name but a post given to those who had knowledge of Vedas. There were 27 Vedvyas before Krishnadweepayan. And Krishnadweepayan was the 28th Vedvyas, who was given this name because he had a wheatish skin color like Lord Krishna and he was born on an island.
5) Not all Kauravas were against the Pandavas in the war.
Two of Dhritarashtra’s sons, Vikarna and Yuyutsu did not approve of Duryodhana’s actions and had actually protested against Draupadi being staked in the game of dice. Interestingly, Vikarna was the third son of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra, also the third most reputable of Kauravas after Duryodhana and Dussasan. Despite his apprehensions, Vikarna still fought on the Duryodhana side during the Kurukshetra War. Bhishma even named him as one of the great warriors on the Kaurava side.
While Yuyutsu was the only son of Dhritarashtra with Vaishya aka Sughada/Sauvali, his wife Gandhari’s maid. He was the paternal half-sibling to Gandhari’s children, Duryodhana and the rest of the 100 Kaurava brothers and their sister Dushala.
Before the start of the battle of the Kurukshetra War between Kauravas and Pandavas, Yuyutsu shifts from Kauravas to the Pandava camp and ultimately, he was the only Kaurava brother and son of Dhritarashtra who survived the Kurukshetra war.
6) In Mahabharata, Vidur was the avatar of Yamraj.
As per the Mahabharata, Vidura was the half-brother to the kings Dhritarashtra and Pandu of Hastinapura, born the son of the sage Vyasa and Sûdri, a lady-in-waiting to the queens Ambika and Ambalika of the city. He was a great scholar of Dharma Shatra and Artha Shastra. Due to the curse of Rishi Mandavya’s he had to be born as a human.
7) Abhimanyu had the soul of a demon.
Abhimanyu was actually the soul of a Daitya (demon) named Kalyavana. Krishna after burning Kalyavana to death had captured his soul and took him to Dwaraka only to stuff him into a cupboard. According to Krishna, Abhimanyu was an incarnation of a very powerful demon named (Kalayvan) who was capable of killing him at a later point. Abhimanyu’s only weakness is his partial knowledge of Chakravyuha. Hence the Chakravyuha was indeed launched to kill Abhimanyu as this was the only way by which Abhimanyu could attain Moksha. Therefore, Krishna never imparts the knowledge of how to come out of Chakravyuha to him.
8) Bhishma Pitamah’s real name was Devavrata.
When Devavrata was a young man, his father Shantanu went on a hunt and fell in love with a local fisherwoman, Satyavati. However, Satyavati’s father lay down a tough condition that he would only let him marry her if her sons became heirs to his throne. Shantanu returned to his kingdom heartbroken. Devavrata, unable to see his father in this sad state went to persuade Satyavati to marry his father, offering to step aside as the heir. Satyavati was not satisfied. Even if he steps down, she argued, his sons may claim the throne later. So, Devavrata took a vow never to marry or reproduce and came to be known as Bhishma.
9) It was a Brahmana’s curse that killed Karna.
Karna, once when practicing the Shabdbhedi Arrow, mistook a cow for a wild animal and shoots it down. The Brahman to whom the cow belongs is distraught and curses Karna that he will be killed by his enemy when his attention is diverted when he is not in combat. This curse materializes when Karna is busy removing the chariot wheel from the mud and is shot by Arjuna. When Karna went to Mahendra Parvat. He was practicing Archery with his Vijaya bow and then he inadvertently slew a Homa cow of a Brahmana who has performed Agnihotra Rite daily. Then Karna informed that Brahmana about his inadvertent act and apologized for it.
Then that Brahmana cursed Karna that Karna’s chariot wheel will be swallowed by the earth and he will be totally heedless and his head will be cut off by the warrior whom he always challenges, for whom he was striving so much.
10) Mahabharata was a world war.
The real fight was not just between Pandavas and Kauravas, forces from Rome, Greece were also a part of it.
The war caused widespread destruction, and totally destroyed the social structure and even raised question mark on the survival of humanity. But that was 5000 years earlier.
11) Karna was the main culprit in Draupadi Haran (disrobing).
The disrobing of Draupadi was instigated by Karna not Duryodhan. Duryodhan has been remarkably quiet during the entire episode except while asking Draupadi to come in court.
12) The first battle of Kurukshetra was not Mahabharata.
Indian Hindu sacred book Puranas mentions, Kurukshetra as a region named after King Kuru, the ancestor of Kauravas and Pandavas, as depicted in epic Mahabharata. The importance of the place is attributed to the fact that the Kurukshetra War of the Mahabharata was fought on this land. However many people do not know that Mahabharata was not the first war that was fought in the region or the battlefield. It was the battle between Bhisma Pitamah and Lord Parshuram who himself is considered to be a reincarnation of Load Vishnu, was fought earlier.
As for the result, none of the great warriors could defeat the other. Such a great warrior that Bhisma Pitamah was.
13) Pandu’s Knowledge transfer and cannibalism.
Pandu (Father of Pandavas) wished his sons must eat his flesh post death so that all the knowledge may transfer to them which he had collected after so many years. Only Sahadeva ate a piece; the moment he ate he was able to see the future but stopped by God. He was a blessed astrologer and able to see the future.
14) Arjuna had two more wives apart from Draupadi.
Arjun’s ‘pilgrimage’ for breaking his marital laws with Draupadi earned him three more wives. They were Chitrangada (Manipura), Ulupi (Naga) and Subhadra.
15) Ekalavya was actually Krishna’s cousin.
No many people know that he was the son of Devashrava (brother of Vasudeva) who got lost in the forest and was found by a Nishada Hiranyadhanu. Ekalavya died protecting his father during Rukmini Swayamvar. He was killed by Krishna. For his great sacrifice of Gurudakshina, Krishna blessed Ekalavya that he would be soon reincarnated and take revenge on Drona. This person was Dhristadyumna (who killed Drona).