Comprising of a hundred thousand verses, this is the world's longest epic and acknowledged to be the most fascinating. As one of the inviting stepping stones into the vast and deep oceans of Eastern philosophies, the Mahabharata serves as an eye-opener to both the spiritual and the material ethos of the Hindu religion. Upon the death of the king, the younger prince Pandu is made king as Dritharashtra, his elder brother, is blind. Pandu has five sons by his two wives Kunti and Madri -- they are the Pandavas. Dritharashtra has a hundred sons -- they are the Kauravas -- the eldest being Duryodhana. Pandu incurs a curse and lives in the forest with his wives where he dies and Madri follows him. Since Pandu has proven to be a good king and since Yudhishtra, his eldest son, is older than Duryodhana, the kingdom is given to Yudhishtra much to the heart-burn of the Kauravas. They question,
"When our father should have rightfully been king, your father took the throne. Now return it to us!" The Pandavas answer,
"Like you argue for your father, so it is for us. Yudhishtra is the elder of the lot. Still, because you do not seem to want amity, we shall split the kingdom in two." Accordingly, there is a conference where there are some wily political games and the Pandavas are given the crusty Indraprastha and the Kauravas get the creamy Hastinapura. Still, in a short while, the Pandavas manage to churn out cream in their territory, causing people to compare the two kingdoms. Egged on by their maternal uncle, Sakuni, the Kauravas' greed is fanned and they invite the Pandavas to a gambling game of dice, Yudhishtra's weakness. Sakuni plays as proxy and wins Indraprastha for the Kauravas and further succeeds in sending the Pandavas in exile to the forest for twelve years followed by a year to be lived incognito -- all with a set of dice! And so they go to the forest -- the five brothers and their wife, Draupadi. It is a life of difficulty and turmoil but the brave Pandavas face it all courageously. Twelve years in the forest and a year of life in disguise, without being found out, were spent. The Pandavas use this time to learn wisdom, gain powers of the mind and spirit, helping those that need it and so on. In short, all these years do not go in vain. They now return to Hastinapura and claim their territory. Duryodhana laughs and refuses it. Being virtuous and wanting to avoid a battle, the Pandavas agree to settle for a smaller kingdom. Again this is refused and again the request for a village until finally, Duryodhana says: Not an iota of land for you wretched beggars! Now begone! This was too much. Nothing short of war could solve the problem now. The Pandavas gather support on the one side and the Kauravas on the other.
In the meanwhile several diplomatic missions are sent in attempt to buy peace, but the Kauravas are firm in their resolve to rout the Pandavas out. They feel,
"If we give an inch to these five, their sons would usurp the kingdom from our sons. No way!" Now, about the pivotal character of the drama who is also their cousin, Krishna: He is the son of Kunti’s brother, Vasudeva, and the king of Dwaraka. Mischievous in his childhood, witty in his youth and wise as an adult, he is the teacher of practical righteousness to the Pandavas and the Kauravas; the latter however, refuse to learn while the Pandavas gorge up each word of his as God's verdict. It is this unquestioned faith in Krishna that gives the Pandavas victory in the end. Krishna tries all he can until the end to avoid this terrible family feud, where brothers are pitted against brothers, but to no avail. So war it is – the great war of Kurukshetra that is fought for a mere 18 days but kills 18 million people directly or indirectly. At the start of the war, as the two armies are positioned to launch attack, Arjuna, the third Pandava brother, hesitates to proceed against his own grandfather, uncle, teachers, cousinl princely friends. At that unlikely venue Krishna, his charioteer, teaches him the balances of wisdom, of virtue, of righteousness. This is the Bhagavad Gita that contains the quintessence of all spiritual knowledge. This is the sublime part of the Mahabharata. The war continues until everybody is dead on the Kaurava side except one – Yuyutsu that refuses to fight the war – and everybody on the Pandava side except the five brothers themselves. All their children and their children are dead. Mothers are aggrieved, wives are widowed, children are orphaned. Stench of blood and gore fills the air and sounds of crying and hovering vultures rent the air. The Pandavas have the kingdom and nothing else. Only Arjuna’s unborn grandchild is left of their progeny. This scion, Parikshit, rules later when they abdicate the throne. In the end the five brothers along with Draupadi go in search of peace and eternal bliss. They find it along a journey through the Himalayas, with a little dog that follows them faithfully. Ultimately, Yudhishtra finds peace in the Lord.