These are unknown and lesser-known facts from the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is one of the two greatest epics of India, the other being the Ramayana.
Mahabharata is all about the rivalry between the Kauravas and the Pandava brothers 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 is sure to have some poetic licenses and communication distortions for an epic of this large proportion and size. Yet it has been compiled with accuracy and retold multiple times.
Still, there are many lesser-known facts from The Mahabharata that you will be amazed to know. I highly recommend reading the historicity of Mahabharata to get an insight into the factual aspects of the great epic.
25 Interesting lesser-known facts from The Mahabharata you probably didn’t know before now.
1. Mahabharata was initially 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 also included 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 Pandava, Sahdev had the power to see into the future
Sahadev, Panadava’s youngest brother knew everything about the future and all events of the Kurukshetra war. He even knew about the outcome of the war and who will die and survive in the war. But he chose to remain 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 also mentioned as an astrologer and a genius.
There is also a funny incident, as soon as he realized that he knew everything about the future, he ran towards his brothers and his mother to tell them everything when a stranger stopped him.
It was none other but Lord Krishna. He 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. 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
Also, 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 named him Suyodhan. He was interested in Mace’s fight.
After completing his primary education from Guru Dronacharya, he went to Balram for higher learning in 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 narrated by Vedvyas and was 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
Interestingly, Vikarna was the third son of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra –also the third most reputable of Kauravas after Duryodhana and Dussasana.
Despite his apprehensions, Vikarna still fought on the Duryodhana side during the Kurukshetra War. Bhishma even named him 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 — 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, 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 taken 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 – 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 (Terrible)
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 performed the Agnihotra Rite daily. Then Karna informed Brahmana about his inadvertent act and apologized for it.
Then 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, and Greece were also a part of it.
The war caused widespread destruction, totally destroyed the social structure, and even raised a question mark on the survival of humanity. But that was 5000 years earlier.
11. Balram was the father-in-law of Abhimanyu
Abhimanyu was the son-in-law of Balarama. Abhimanyu’s wife Vatsala was the daughter of Balarama. He wanted that Vatsala should marry Laxman who was Duryodhana’s son.
Abhimanyu and Vatsala both loved each other and wanted to get married. Abhimanyu took the help of his brother Ghatotkacha. Ghatotkacha knew magic and he by his magic tricks went to Laxman’s marriage and terrified the groom.
He then took Vatsala with him and flew away and went to his brother Abhimanyu. Laxman was very upset from all this and he vowed that he will not marry throughout his life. Due to this Duryodhana was full of anger.
12. The five golden arrows that could have killed all Pandavas
At the time of war as Bhishma who was on the side of Kaurava was accused by Duryodhana of doing any harm to Pandavas and favoring them. On hearing this, Bhishma became very angry and in his anger, he took five gold arrows and filled it with mantras.
He vowed that the Pandavas would die before Sunset. On the other day Duryodhana suspected that Bhisma would never do anything wrong with them so, he took those arrows with him.
Lord Krishna reminded Arjun that Duryodhana had promised him of boon and he should ask him for five golden arrows. When Arjun asked him about the arrows Duryodhana was shocked and asked him how did he know about those arrows then Arjun replied “Krishna”.
13. Bhim taunted Dhritrashtra and Gandhari after the war
Dhritarashtra and Gandhari retired to the forest 15 years after Yudhisthir’s coronation. The main reason for this was Bhim’s taunts, which depressed them.
14. 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 to court.
15. Seven Maharathis of a Chakravhyu did not kill Abhimanyu
Although it is believed that the seven Maharathis of a Chakravhyu were the reason for Abhimanyu’s death, this is also not the complete truth.
Abhimanyu had actually killed one of the seven Maharathis(warriors), who was Duryodhan’s son. Angry at this, Dharamsan, the son of Dushasan had killed Abhimanyu.
16. 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 the epic Mahabharata.
The importance of the place is attributed to the fact that the Kurukshetra War of the Mahabharata was fought on this land.
The region currently lies very near to Indian capital New Delhi, in the state of Haryana.
However many people do not know that Mahabharata was not the first war that was fought in the region or on the battlefield. It was the battle between Bhisma Pitamah and Lord Parshuram who himself is considered to be a reincarnation of Load Vishnu, which was fought earlier.
As for the result, none of the great warriors could defeat the other. Such a great warrior that Bhisma Pitamah was!
17. 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 was stopped by God. He was a blessed astrologer and able to see the future
18. 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.
19. Arjuna could not even defeat thieves
Arjuna is considered one of the greatest warriors of all time. However, not many many people know that many of the Krishna, (Yes Lord Krishna, there is another background to it) wives were kidnapped by robbers out of lust (cupidity).
Some of them resisted, some vanished, some were saved and some surrendered. This incident happened in today’s Punjab region.
Arjuna was unable to defend the wives of Krishna from common robbers after Krishna’s departure to Vaikuntha. His bow became heavy and he forgot all his mantras. The 8 main wives committed suicide. The others were kidnapped by robbers.
20. Bhima’s son was denied the throne like Dhritarashtra
Bhima had one surviving son named Sarvaga by Balandhara, who was not given the throne despite being much elder than Parikshit. He became the ruler of Kashi (his mother’s land) instead.
Interestingly the same happened with Dhrirashtraya, his uncle, who was denied the throne due to his blindness and later became a pretext for the Kurukshetra war.
History seems to have repeated itself, without giving consequences though. It is easily one of the lesser-known facts from the Mahabharata.
21. Ekalavya was Krishna’s cousin
Ekalavya was the tribal prince of the Magadha and the leader of the tribe was the adoptive father of Ekalavya called Vyatraja Hiranyadhanus.
Not many people know that he was actually the biological 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 soon be reincarnated and take revenge on Drona. This person was Dhristadyumna (who killed Drona).
22. Arjuna had once saved Duryodhana
Duryodhana had gone to the Dwaita forest to humiliate the Pandavas with all the servants from Indraprastha. There the Gandharva Chitrasena and his apsaras were enjoying themselves in the pond.
Duryodhana asked Chitrasena to abandon the pool but as he refused, a heated argument broke out between them. Chitrasena attacked Duryodhana.
The Pandavas who were nearby asked Chitrasena to let Duryodhana alone. Chitrasena who was a friend of Arjuna spared Duryodhana but not before tying him with vines and setting him on his horse.
Duryodhana though humiliated, thanked Arjuna and asked him what he wanted for the turn he had done to him. Arjuna said that he would ask Duryodhana some other time.
Remember the five arrows that could kill Pandavas. Arjuna could ask for them because of the promise made during this event.
23. The Powerful Chariot of Krishna
Krishna rode a chariot that was heavily potent and once when Arjun was done with the war, Krishna asked him to get off the chariot first, and then he got off.
As soon as he got off, the chariot exploded –Like a big explosion. That’s when he explained to Arjun why he asked him to get off the chariot first.
Saibya, Sugriva, Meghapuspa, and Balahaka were the names of horses that were ridden by Lord Krishna and linked to Arjun’s chariot. All the horses were owned by him.
24. Bhisma Pitamah was cursed by a woman
Bhishma Pitamah, also called the Ganga Putra, had been cursed by Shikandi while he was young. He had rejected her love and so she had taken an oath to kill Bhishma. Bhishma could not be killed unless he lowered his bow in the battle. He wouldn’t lower his bow against anyone but a woman.
Also, no woman was allowed to enter the battle. Shikhandi was born a woman and raised as a man. Bhishma refused to battle with Shikhandi.
Arjuna used the situation and shot a hundred arrows to the ground as there was no way the Pitamah could be killed. Pitamah had the gift of choosing his moment of death.
25. Chausar isn’t only a game of luck
It is a common misunderstanding that the game of Chausar which has a critical role in Mahabharata is a game of rolling the dice where chance and luck play a critical role in the victory.
In fact, Chausar is a game of strategy and application. Shakuni does deserve some credit here.
He was the master of the game who no one else could defeat. This however also became one of the reasons for the Mahabharata war.
There are famous stories amongst kings passed on from generation to generation about kings who played this splendid game.
One particular tale tells of a King who had 2 trained mice called “Sundhree and Mundhreee”. This king would distract his opponent with details, stories, and tales.
He would then casually utter “Sundhree and Mundhree”; at this point, the mice would come and move the pieces around without the opponent noticing.