Nikul Joshi
published on 29 July 2016
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Available in other languages: French
Pandavas (by Bob King, CC BY)
Bob King (CC BY)

Pandavas were the five powerful and skilled sons of Pandu, the King of Hastinapur and his two wives Kunti and Madri. Hastinapur is equated with the current modern Indian state of Haryana, south of New Delhi. The Pandavas - Yudhistira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva - are the central characters in the most applauded epic in Hinduism, the Mahabharata. The brothers were famously involved in the Kurukshetra War with their cousins the Kauravas over who would control the throne of Hastinapur, and were, ultimately, victorious.

The birth of the Pandavas is supposedly traced back to 3229 BCE when Yudhistira was born, and to 3226 BCE when Nakula and Sahadeva were born. The most engaging story of the Pandavas can never be dissociated from the formation of social structures and political decisions of current India, due to the influence it has had in the way of functioning and inheriting the values of Dharma established during their reign. The story of the Pandavas influences many cultures, especially of India, in the way many Hindu households makes decisions, assess and implement the moral conclusions of their actions.

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Birth of THE Pandavas

The story of their birth is rather interesting and beyond the general notions of belief. Pandu had two wives, Kunti and Madri. A king was legally allowed to have multiple wives in those times. Interestingly, while hunting in the forest of Hastinapur, Pandu happened to hit with an arrow a copulating deer couple, who were in fact humans disguised as deer in order to enjoy making love in the open. The male deer was Rishi Kidamba who, having being pierced by the arrow, cast a curse on Pandu that he would die the moment he advanced to be intimate with a women. This seriously affected the two wives who were then not able to bear a biological child of their own through Pandu. Pandu then renounced his kingdom and lived in the forest as an ascetic, after giving the throne to his cousin/brother Dhritarashtra, the father of the 100 Kauravas, with whom the Pandavas would wage a war later.

All five Pandavas inherited divine qualities from their celestial fathers.

Surprisingly, Kunti had received a boon in her early adulthood from a fierce and renowned Rishi Durvasa that she could call any of the divine Gods and bear a child. This proved to be very useful and, through the use of mantras given to her by Durvasa, Kunti called upon Yama, the God of Death and Dharma, through whom she gave birth to Yudhistira. She then invoked the Wind God, Vayu, through whom she brought Bhima to the world, later she called Indra, who gave her Arjuna as another Pandava. She then felt pity for Madri, who would otherwise have no child if she did not help her, so with the help of the mantras Madri called upon the twin Ashvins, who bore her Nakula and Sahadeva. Thus, the five Pandavas were born through the combined grace of the curse on Pandu, the boon to Kunti, and the coming of the Gods who helped the two wives bear five children. All the Pandavas inherited divine qualities from their celestial fathers.

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Arjuna Wins Draupadi
Arjuna Wins Draupadi
Unknown Artist (Public Domain)

Contest For Draupadi

The Pandavas were human in nature but had divine qualities which they nurtured and built with the help of their preceptor Guru Drona, a Brahmin Rishi, who was the head teacher of all their education, along with those of the 100 Kauravas, the cousins of the Pandavas. Lord Krishna, who was the son of Kunti's brother, plays an equally central role in supporting the Pandavas during their exile imposed cunningly by the Kauravas. During the Pandavas exile, the King of Drupada organised a contest, called Swayamvar, where his daughter, Draupadi, would marry the one who won the contest. The contest was to hit the eye of the circularly rotating fish in the sky - an imaginary construction - with a bow and string, by looking down on the image of the fish in a water pond below. To add a surprise, there was a sixth Pandava, Karna, who had been born when Kunti, while being single, had called the Sun God Surya to test the mantra, who gave her this magnanimous son. But being single and to save her identity from being maligned, Kunti reluctantly had to abandon Karna who was picked up by a childless couple who worked as a charioteer in Hastinapur. Karna was unmatchable in vigour, knowledge, deeds, charity, and skills of all kinds. Arjuna was the only match for him. Karna too turned up at the contest, but having been denied entry by Draupadi for being a son of unknown parents and a son of a charioteer, Arjuna was the only one to accomplish the feat and win the contest.


Yudhistira's name indicates steadfastness at all times, even at war when things are most difficult. As he was the son of Yama, he was the most righteous and steadfast, a follower of Dharma in all walks of life, and shining like the brilliant sun in the knowledge of law, ethics, and morality. He was the most righteous of the brothers never having spoken a lie in his life, except during the final war where he was made to suppress the loud truth through neutrality. He was such a steadfast man of righteous deeds that his chariot while moving would remain a few inches above the ground. Unfortunately, due to this fondness for righteousness, he was duped during a game of dice with the Kauravas to gamble his wife Draupadi and lost her. His deeds are enormous and he is the only one of two examples (the other is Lord Rama) off the practice of righteousness in all modes and conditions of life, even if that meant killing oneself.

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Bhima was the son of the Wind God Vayu, indicating the fierce force and braveness that he inherited. He was the mightiest of the brothers, both in physical prowess and in skill and speed. He was fond of eating and often took the lion's share of the shared meals of the Pandavas. He was fond of cooking, was a great cook and employed himself as a chief cook in the last year of the Pandavas exile where they were to supress their identity and live unknown to the world. He was the one who took an oath to kill the 100 Kauravas as a result of losing the game of dice and watching helplessly their only wife, Draupadi, getting disrobed by Dushashana, younger brother of Duryodhana.

Arjuna During the Battle of Kurukshetra
Arjuna During the Battle of Kurukshetra
Unknown (Public Domain)


Arjuna was the mightiest in skills, matchless in knowlegde, skills, and saintly temper, possessed of divine weapons, and the major responsibility of winning the Kurukshetra war was given to him, as he had Lord Krishna as his charioteer and adviser. His divine weapons, when used, vanquished even the most renowned and skilled warrior. He was the best pal of Lord Krishna, and the recipient of the divine knowledge from Krishna, often called the Bhagavad Gita. During their exile, he endured the most severe austerities and sacrifices and pleased Lord Shiva to appear, who willingly presented him with a divine weapon for his war.


Nakula, being the son of the Ashvins, was the most skilled with animals, especially horses and elephants. He was compared to the Lord of Love (Cupid) Kamadeva as he looked beautiful and a woman-charmer. He was steadfast in his conduct, had superior knowledge of health and cures for many of life's threatening diseases. He, along with Sahadeva, saved Karna's life during the war on Kunti's request, when Karna donated his chest weapon to Indra, Arjuna's father in an act of charity. He was an excellent sword fighter, equipped with the best of knowledge pertaining to sciences, warfare, and unusual weapons.

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Sahadeva was the second son of the Ashvins and Madri, and he was the wisest and most mysterious character of the Pandavas. Pandu, while on his deathbed, requested him to eat his flesh so that he could get all his knowledge, and thus Sahadeva was then able to foresee the future with diminished clarity and saved the Pandavas lives on many occasions. He was the best in cattle prevention and their growth, was a great sword fighter like Nakula, and had acquired all requisite knowledge of Dharma and righteousness.


Karna was the eldest of the Pandava brothers and the sixth Pandava, discovered only at his deathbed in the war by his younger brothers. He was matchless in skill, weapons, charity, and could remain undefeated even by the gods. He took his training from Lord Parasurama, a fierce Brahmin and the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Karna was the son of the Sun God and likewise was most brilliant and outstanding, both in knowledge and warfare. He was the only one who could see through the Sun for hours without disturbance, being his son. He could have been undefeated in the war, but only the cunning advice of Lord Krishna to Arjuna to kill him while being disarmed brought his life to an end. Throughout his life, he was called a Suta putra or a child with unknown parents, and Radha adopted him when he grew up. He was incomparable in charity and once also gave his entire palace away to be burned down to help the citizens of his kingdom. Such was his merit that his power to giveaway never vanished and prosperity never left him.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Joshi, N. (2016, July 29). Pandavas. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Joshi, Nikul. "Pandavas." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 29, 2016.

MLA Style

Joshi, Nikul. "Pandavas." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 29 Jul 2016. Web. 15 Apr 2024.