- The five Pandava brothers, among whom ARJUNA and YUDHISHTHIRA are best known, are central characters in the great Indian epic the MAHAB-HARATA. Their name is a patronymic derived from their father’s name, Pandu. Through Pandu they descend from the ancient king Kuru and the more ancient progenitor BHARATA. Although they are considered Pandu’s sons, they were not his natural sons, since a curse had been placed upon their father that he would die if he had sex with a woman. Their mother, Kunti (also known as Pritha, an aunt of KRISHNA), used boons she had previously received to bear children with several of the gods.Kunti bore YUDHISHTHIRA, the eldest, by the god DHARMA; BHIMA by the wind god; and ARJUNA by INDRA. Kunti gave her remaining boons to Madri, Pandu’s junior wife; the latter bore the youngest and least famous Pandavas, Nakula and Sahadeva, by the divine celestial twins, the ASHVINS. The five Pandavas shared a secret brother, Karna, who was born to Kunti by the Sun god, before her marriage to Pandu. Karna had been put into a reed basket and left to float away on a river.After Pandu died while attempting inter-course with Madri, his brother Dhritarashtra, though blind, became regent. Pandu’s sons were still considered the legitimate heirs, but Dhri-tarashtra’s 100 sons, known as the KAURAVAS (descendants of Kuru—as were the Pandavas) and led by the eldest son, DURYODHANA, began plotting to destroy their cousins, the five Pan-davas. Duryodhana, for instance, tried to poison Bhima but failed. The story of the epic revolves around the struggle for the kingdom between the Pandavas and their cousins. The conflict culminates in the great Bharata war, in which the Pandavas are triumphant, but with frightening losses.Further reading: Peter Brook, director, The Mahab-harata (videorecording), produced by Michael Prop-per (Chatsworth, Calif.: Image Entertainment, 2002); William Buck, The Mahabharata (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); J. A. B. van Buitenen, The Mahabharata, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973–78).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.