Mahabharata is one of the two great epic poems of India. The other is the Ramayana. The Mahabharata is the longest poem in the world, made up of 220,000 lines divided into 18 sections. It was written in Sanskrit, the ancient sacred language of India, but it has been translated into many modern Indian languages because the story it tells is popular throughout India. Versions of the story of the poem have been shown on television both in India and in many other countries. The word Mahabharata means Great King Bharata.
The poem tells of the rivalries, disputes, and battles between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, two branches of the Bharata dynasty. The father of the Kauravas was called Dhritarashtra. Because he was blind he could not become king. His younger brother Pandu, father of the Pandavas, came to the throne instead. One day while on a hunting expedition, Pandu accidentally killed the wife of a sage, who got enraged and cursed Pandu that if ever he had sexual intercourse with any woman, he would die that very instance. Pandu later renounced his crown to become a religious hermit and went to the jungle with his two wives, Kunti and Madhvi.
But one day, Pandu couldn't resist himself and had sex with Madhvi and thus died. Madhvi too self immolated herself and walked into her husband's funeral fire leaving behind her two sons Nakul and Sahadeva in custody of Kunti who already had three sons Yudhishtira, Bheem and Arjun. Thus, the five sons of Pandu, known as the Pandavas grew up in the guardianship of Kunti who is still remembered in modern Indian households as the ideal mother. Afterward, Dhritarashtra eventually became king.
The sons of Dhritarashtra, the Kauravas, and their cousins, the five sons of Pandu, grew up together. But there was always great rivalry between the two families. This rivalry turned into deep resentment when it came to a question of who should inherit the kingdom. The maternal uncle of the Kauravas, Shakuni the king of Gandhar, was the prime person who kindled a fire of jealousy in the hearts of the Kauravas against the Pandavas and thus, is a major key to the battle of Mahabharata. After a bitter quarrel, the Pandavas were exiled.
The poem goes on to describe their many adventures, including a stay at the court of King Drupada. There, each of the brothers married his daughter, Draupadi. During their exile, the Pandavas met Krishna. They later recognized Krishna as an incarnation of the god Vishnu, whose power and advice strengthened the Pandavas in their subsequent battles against the Kauravas. When the Pandavas returned from exile, they shared the kingdom with the Kauravas, but it was an uneasy peace. The eldest Pandava brother, Yudhishtira, played dice with the eldest Kaurava called Duryodhana. Duryodhana was helped by his uncle Shakuni and always used loaded dice. As a result, Yudhishtira lost everything, including his wife Draupadi, and the Pandavas were once more forced into exile.
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