The endings of some mythological tales of India hold as much
significance; if not more; than the legends themselves. Such are the
tales associated with the end of the great epic, the Mahabharata. They
relate several incidents that occurred during the last days of the
Pandavas and of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar (manifestation) of Sri
Maha Vishnu, one among the Divine Trinity of Deities.
Each and every avatar of Vishnu had a clear mission to perform during
the course of their human manifestation. After the completion of that
mission, each of these avatars returned to merge with Vishnu, the
In this post, we bring you the story about the end of the Mahabharata
and the last days of the life of Sri Krishna and the Pandavas. This
story is split into two major parts, namely, the Mausala Parva and the
Mahaprasthanika Parva. These are the last days of Krishna and the
Mausala Parva, or the "Book of Clubs", is the sixteenth out of the
eighteen parvas or books of the Mahabharata. This book is one of the 3
shortest books and has only 9 adhyayas or chapters. Mausala Parva
relates the last days of Krishna, ultimately talking about his demise.
He left his mortal coil 36 years after the Kurukshetra war ended. His
capital, Dwaraka, got submerged under the sea, also drowning many of
his loved ones. This Parva further talks about Vasudeva's death and
the ultimate infighting between the Yadavas, leading to the end of
that entire clan.
Mausala Parva is one of the 8 books, which were discovered in
Indonesia. Only 8 out of 18 books were recovered from this region. It
is yet unclear if there were only 8 books in the original epic or if
some of them were lost in transit, over the past many centuries.
The chapter begins with a declaration made, in the court of the
Pandavas, that the Yadava clan had been destroyed in its entirety.
They had fought among themselves, with clubs made of eraka grass and
had killed each other. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandava
princes, asks for details. The Mausala Parva then relates the details.
Gandhari Curses Krishna
The 18-day Kurukshetra war was over - it had destroyed everything in
its vicinity. Bodies of dead soldiers lay strewn on the ground and the
site was filled with their widows shedding endless tears for their
great loss. The Pandavas had won the war, but were not happy. Quite on
the contrary, they too were devastated by the extent of the damage
caused and were trying to help wounded soldiers from both the sides.
Krishna went to meet Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas. This
incident gets special mention in the Stri Parva.
Gandhari was still very angry and grief-stricken over the death of her
100 sons. She especially could not contain the grief of losing her
eldest and favorite son, Duryodhana. She wailed over his body, while
her husband, King Dhritarashtra, stood by helplessly.
Seeing Krishna further incensed her, as she was well aware that he was
the main person who drove the Pandavas to victory. She had been very
devoted to Krishna and had believed that he was God himself. She felt
that he could have prevented the war and could have saved thousands of
innocent lives; but had instead, chosen to remain a silent witness the
The Battle of Kurukshetra
She cursed Krishna that, in 36 years, Dwaraka would get submerged
under the sea and that the entire Yadava clan would perish the same
way her sons had died. Knowing that the Yadavas could not be defeated
by any other race, she cursed that they would fight within themselves,
eventually destroying each other.
Krishna quietly accepted the curse and tried to explain to her how
many times he had tried to diffuse the situation and played mediator
between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. He further reminded Gandhari
that Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava prince, had made several
unsuccessful attempts to kill the Pandavas. Yet, the latter had
remained calm and had abstained from attacking him and his army.
After having vented all her anger on Krishna, Gandhari realized her
folly. She repented for having hurled curse after curse on her Lord.
She then fell at his feet and begged for forgiveness for her sins.
Krishna smiled lovingly at her and, gently lifting her up, assured her
that she had done nothing wrong. He told her that it was his own human
karma that he should leave his mortal frame in this way and asked her
not to worry anymore about the incident.
Gandhari's Curse Starts to Take Effect
Days flew by after the war. Yudhishthira was crowned the King of
Hastinapura and Krishna went back to his capital, Dwaraka. Krishna's
consort, Rukmini, was actually the incarnation of Lakshmi, the Goddess
of Wealth. There was hence peace and prosperity everywhere and the
Yadavas enjoyed their luxurious life in that beautiful city.
It was the 36th year after the great Kurukshetra war. The Yadavas were
so much in bliss in Dwaraka that they started taking things for
granted. They forgot the importance of values, morals, humility and
good conduct. They were arrogant and spoilt by all the wealth they
Once, the Sapta Rishis (the Seven Sages) decided to visit Krishna and
Balarama in Dwaraka. Hearing about their impending arrival, Samba, the
son of Krishna, decided to test their powers. The young man dressed
himself as a woman and placed a mace under his dress, to make himself
appear as a pregnant woman. He, along with two of his friends,
approached the rishis. One of Samba's friends went up to the rishis
and, introducing himself as the "woman's" husband, requested them to
predict the gender of the unborn child.
With their siddhis (spiritual powers), the rishis realized that this
was a hoax and were angry at being treated with such disdain. One of
the sages, Kanva Maharishi, immediately grabbed his kamandala (little
water pot) and, sprinkling some water on the youth, cursed that
whatever he bore in stomach would be actually born to him. He further
declared that the thing would eventually lead to the extinction of the
entire Yadava clan. The youths were stunned for a moment. But being
arrogant and foolish, they just laughed it off and left the place,
without even bothering to apologize to the rishis for their behavior.
The sage's curse took effect the very next morning. Samba developed
labor pains and soon delivered a mace from within him. The Yadavas now
realized their mistake and became fearful. They took the mace and
rushed to Akroora and Ugrasena. They all then went to Krishna and
related the whole story to him. Akroora immediately ordered them to
grind the mace to a fine powder and throw it into the sea.
Krishna merely smiled and remained silent. He knew that Gandhari's
curse had started working and that Samba was merely a medium for their
collective karma to unfold. Thirty-six years ago, Krishna had prayed
to Shiva for a son like him. Shiva had bestowed the boon upon him.
However, Shiva was the God of Destruction and a son like him would
ultimately end up destroying everything around him.
The Yadavas worked hard to grind the mace to a fine powder. They had
followed all of Akroora's instructions. However, there was one
triangular piece of the mace that simply could not be ground. They
tried their level best, but could not grind it. Fed up, they finally
threw the powder, plus the triangular piece, into the sea. Once that
was done, they returned home, assured that all would be well from then
The triangular piece was swallowed by a fish. Jara, a hunter, caught
the fish and, upon finding the sharp metal piece in its belly, used it
to craft a fine poisonous arrow. In the meantime, the fine powder
washed back ashore and settled itself along the impressive coastline
of Dwaraka. There, a type of grass, called eraka, grew in abundance,
all along the coast.
The Yadava Clan is Wiped Out
The city of Dwaraka started witnessing strange dark omens. Krishna's
Sudarshana Chakra (Discus), the Panchajanya (Conch), his Chariot and
Balarama's Plough (also his weapon) suddenly disappeared, as if into
thin air. The clean city became infested by various types of pests.
People starting committing sinful acts; husbands and wives cheated on
each other; people started ill-treating senior residents; some people
were indulged in theft and looting; yet others had unexplained
Seeing all these bad omens, Krishna asked the residents to gather by
the sacred Prabhas sea and pray for the well-being of everyone around.
The people went to the beach, but instead of sitting in prayer and
contemplation, they started drinking heavily and making merry as
usual. They were in such an intoxicated state that they had no control
over themselves and their actions. They started teasing each other and
finding each other's faults.
Satyaki and Krithavarma, who had fought for the Pandavas and Kauravas
respectively, were there too. They were the ones who actually marked
the beginning of the end. What started with random comments and taunts
ended in Satyaki drawing out his sword and cutting off Krithavarma's
head. This enraged the latter's friends. They pounced on Satyaki and
attacked him. Krishna's son, Pradyumna, was only an innocent onlooker.
He too, however, was pulled into the massive brawl that ensued, and
was killed by the angry crowd.
Krishna knew that the curse had started to take effect. He plucked the
eraka grass that grew by the beach and placed them near the warring
Yadavas. Still not quite aware of what they were doing, the Yadavas
started throwing the blades of grass on one other.
Kanva Maharishi's curse came into being and each blade of the eraka
grass became a mace. These maces hit the Yadavas, killing them
instantly. All the Yadavas died within a matter of minutes. Thus, the
entire clan lay dead, right in front of their King.
Krishna Sheds His Mortal Coil
Seeing this immense destruction unfold before his very eyes, Krishna
decided that it was now time for him to shed his mortal form and end
his avatar on earth. Before leaving, he asked Arjuna to take care of
all the bereaved Yadava women. Then, along with Balarama, Krishna left
for the forest.
In the meantime, Arjuna was taking the Yadava women to Hastinapura.
They encountered fierce bandits along the hilly terrain. Arjuna fought
hard, but having become old, was no match for the bandits. Eventually,
the latter decamped with the women in their custody.
As Krishna left Dwaraka, a huge wave came in from the sea and
swallowed the beautiful city into its unfathomable depths. Even today,
this region lies submerged under the sea. All the survivors of the
land, including Vasudeva, were dragged into the sea by that one mighty
Having traveled deep into the forest, Krishna and Balarama decided to
rest. Saddened by all the destruction, the latter sat down in
meditation. Soon, Balarama's breathing stopped – he gave up his
earthly life as well. A thousand-headed serpent manifested from his
lifeless body. It approached Krishna, offered salutations to him and
then glided toward the sea. Incidentally, Balarama is believed to be
Adisesha, the Serpent, who supports and protects Sri Maha Vishnu; also
the bed on whom Vishnu reclines in the Milky Ocean.
Overcome with grief at the loss of Balarama, Krishna rested against a
tree, stretching his legs in the front. Meanwhile, Jara, the hunter,
was roaming in the forest, on his usual hunting expedition. Seeing
Krishna's foot sticking out from the bushes, he mistook it for a deer
and shot it down with his poison-tipped arrow. The arrow was the very
one he had crafted from the little triangular piece of mace that had
not been powdered.
When Jara realized his folly, he was utterly inconsolable. He
tearfully begged for Krishna's forgiveness and refused to leave his
side. Krishna merely smiled and assured him that it was not his fault
and that this was the way things had been designed to turn out.
Krishna then blessed Jara, took Vishnu's form and returned to his
It is said that Jara was none other than the mighty Vali in his
previous birth. At that time, Vishnu had taken the avatar of Lord Sri
Rama and had slain Vali, the then Monkey King. Rama had no enmity with
Vali and had killed him for no reason; and that too; in a cowardly
manner, hiding behind a tree. Vaali later took birth as Jara and was
responsible for killing Krishna. This story points out the fact that
the laws of Karma apply universally to everyone; and that even God
cannot prevent it from impacting his own life.
The Mausala Parva is a subject that continues to be researched upon,
both by philosophers and archaeologists alike. The Archaeological
Survey of India and the National Institute of Oceanography have been
conducting various tests, since the past many decades, to ascertain if
there indeed was a city called Dwaraka, which went under the sea.
These studies revealed several temples in Gujarat, dated around the
9th century, 1st century and 1st millennium BC. Studies conducted in
Bet Dwaraka, an island near the present-day Dwaraka (Gujarat),
revealed ceramic artifacts and other materials, as also ancient
inscriptions in praise of the Sea God. These date back to 500 BC and
1500 BC. Further, excavations carried out at 2 sites along the coast
of Dwaraka revealed submerged settlements, a stone-built jetty and
stone anchors as well.
Mahaprasthanika Parva, or the "Book of the Great Journey", is the
seventeenth of the 18 books of the Maharatha. Featuring only 3
adhyayas (chapters), it is the shortest parva in the epic. This parva
relates the final days of the Pandavas – their journey across the
Indian subcontinent; their climb toward the Himalayas; and then their
final ascent to heaven on Mount Sumeru.
After Lord Krishna left his mortal presence on the earth, the Pandavas
lost all interest in samsara (worldly life). Nothing held any charm
for them anymore – not even the fact that they were the rulers of
Vyasa Advises Arjuna to Renounce Everything
Before leaving Dwaraka, Krishna had requested Arjuna to protect the
women of that region and escort them safely to his
own kingdom. But Arjuna, having become old and frail, failed to shield
the women and children from bandits, while on the way to Hastinapura.
The bandits seized the survivors and went away with them.
Arjuna was depressed at the unfortunate turn of events. He was full of
self-doubt and feared that he had lost all his warrior abilities. He
met sage Vyasa and narrated all the incidents to him. Vyasa merely
smiled and, asking him not to worry unnecessarily, explained that the
Pandavas had served their purpose in life. He further said that it was
now time for them to retire and asked them to renounce their kingdom
and hand over their responsibilities to the next generation.
Arjuna sought the blessings of Vyasa and, after reaching his palace,
met Yudhishthira and told him about Vyasa's advice. Yudhishthira held
a meeting with all the other Pandava brothers, along with Draupadi
(their wife), and asked them if they were all ready to follow Vyasa's
counsel. They all agreed to this and decided to leave for the
Accordingly, Yudhishthira crowned Parikshit (the grandson of Arjuna
and the son of Abhimanyu) as King of Hastinapura and left him in the
care of Yuyutsu; the only son of Dhritarashtra, who survived the
Kurukshetra war. Once that was done, the Pandavas renounced their
kingdom and proceeded on their journey around India.
They traveled far and wide and then finally started walking toward the
Himalayas. All the way in this long journey, they were accompanied by
a stray dog.
The Pandavas first visited the south, reaching the salt sea. At the
coast, Lord Agni, the God of Fire, appeared before them and asked
Arjuna to return his bow. Agni said that the bow was given to him to
fight and destroy evil forces polluting the earth. Agni said that now
that his mission was completed, Arjuna should give back his bow.
Arjuna immediately did as he was told.
The Pandavas then turned southwest, visiting several regions on the
way. They also headed west to visit Dwaraka. Seeing the once-beautiful
city being submerged by the sea, they became sad and depressed. They
then decided to turn north, visit Rishikesh and then continue toward
The Pandavas Fall, One By One
After finishing their extensive tour around India, the Pandavas
proceeded toward the Himalayas. The first person to fall and die on
this journey was Draupadi. Yudhishthira immediately had an explanation
for this. He said that though Draupadi had married all the five
brothers, she had always been partial to Arjuna.
Draupadi - Kathakali Doll
Sahadeva, followed by his twin Nakula, were the next to lose their
lives. Witnessing their death, Yudhishthira mentioned that they had
been righteous, but always were proud about their good looks and
wisdom. He said that it was their vanity that took away their lives.
It was Arjuna's turn next. Yudhishthira told his only surviving
brother, Bheema, that Arjuna had been proud, all his life, about his
archery and warrior skills. He mentioned that it was the reason why he
died earlier than them both.
Now, only Yudhishthira, Bheema and the dog were left. They continued
on their onward journey. After a while, Bheema too collapsed and died.
Yudhishthira, as usual, thought that it was because Bheema was always
proud about his strength and was also always greedy when it came to
Yudhishthira carried on walking with the dog trailing behind him. He
had been righteous and virtuous all his life – in fact, he had been
the most righteous and noble one among them all. That was probably
what kept him alive longer than his wife and all his brothers.
Yudhishthira Reaches the Gates of Heaven
In Chapter 3 of Mahaprasthanika Parva, Yudhishthira and the dog
continued to walk up Mount Sumeru. On the way, Lord Indra, the King of
the Devas, appeared on his chariot. He suggested to Yudhishthira that
he could stop walking all the way and instead, could ride with him on
his chariot. The former refused the offer, saying that he could not go
to heaven without his brothers and wife. Indra replied that they were
already in heaven. To this, Yudhishthira asked if he could take his
dog along. Indra refused to oblige to that request. The Pandava Prince
stated that, since the dog had been his loyal friend on this long
journey, betraying and abandoning him now would be a great sin.
Refusing Indra's repeated offers to join him, Yudhishthira proceeded
on his onward voyage with his dog in tow.
After what seemed like an eternity, the two of them reached the Gates
of Heaven. There, the doorkeeper asked him to enter alone. However,
Yudhishthira; being the virtuous person he was; refused to enter
alone. He said that the he could not abandon the dog, as it had been
his most loyal companion on this long journey. It had been with him,
even when his own wife and brothers had left him.
The dog, in actuality, was Lord Yama, the God of Death. Happy to see
Yudhishthira's strict adherence to the Dharma, Yama emerged in his
actual divine form and blessed Yudhishthira and gave him admittance
Yudhishthira Meets the Kauravas in Heaven
The moment Yudhishthira entered heaven; he met Duryodhana and all the
other Kauravas there. He also noticed that the Pandavas were not
there. He was both surprised and angry that the adharmis (unrighteous
people), who were the sole reason for the death and destruction of so
many, should have been accepted into heaven.
He expressed his anger and disappointment to Lord Yama, asking him why
his righteous brothers; as also the great Karna, who was known for his
kindness, valor and philanthropy; were not to be found here.
Yudhishthira was then taken to the place where they all resided – to
Why the Pandavas and Karna Were Sent to Hell
Yudhishthira was taken aback to see his brothers, Draupadi and Karna
in Hell. When he asked Yama the reason for this, the latter explained
the reason for it, saying that this was the result of all the wrong
that they had done during their lifetime.
Karna had insulted Draupadi during the game of dice; Bheema had killed
Duryodhana and Arjuna had killed Karna – both had used unfair methods;
and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva had helped them in carrying out
those adharmic deeds.
Really annoyed by now, Yudhishthira asked Yama how the Kauravas had
been admitted into heaven. He had a surprisingly simple explanation
for it. he said that the Kauravas were kshatriyas, who had merely
carried out their duties; fighting for their homeland. Karna, on the
other hand, had not fought for his homeland, but for the sake of
maintaining Duryodhana's friendship. He had been well aware that his
friend was adharmic, and yet, he took his side.
The Lord further told Yudhishthira that he must undergo the torture of
touring through Hell, as he had committed the sin of deceiving his own
teacher, Dronacharya, during the course of the war. Knowing that he
would not be able to defeat the great master by fair means, he had
lied that Ashwatthama (his son) had died on the battlefield. In
actuality, an elephant by the same had fallen at that time. This false
news broke Drona's will, ultimately leading to his death.
A humbled Yudhishthira fell at the Lord's feet, asking forgiveness for
all his sins. Yama then revealed to Yudhisthira that his sin had been
washed off and so also for his brothers and Draupadi and that he could
take his place in heaven along side his loved ones. Yama then
explained that every being has to endure hell before reaching heaven,
based on the balance of sins and good deeds of a person. Since the
number of sins that the Pandavas committed were much less than their
share of good deeds, they had to endure only a few moments in Hell
unlike others who are tortured there for ages before being allowed to
proceed to heaven.
This episode emphasizes the inescapability of the consequences of
one's actions and choices. Good and bad deeds will not cancel each
other out and one will need to suffer the consequences of one's
negative actions, come what may.
Originally composed in Sanskrit, Mahaprasthanika Parva now has various
translated versions in English. Out of these, 2 English versions
created in the 19th century, by Kisari Mohan Ganguli and Manmatha Nath
Dutt are most popular. Both these versions differ from each other,
based on the translator's perception and interpretation.
Mahabharata and Achilles Heel: A Parallel
A detailed study of the Mahabharata reveals the incredible similarity
between Indian and Greek mythology. The great epic narrates the story
of several people – each having one weak, vulnerable spot; eventually
succumbing due to that soft spot. The Greek story of Achilles Heel, in
that sense, is very similar to the Mahabharata.
The Story of Achilles Heel
According to the Greek legend, a nymph called Thetis fell in love with
Peleus, an ordinary human being. Peleus was a much-married man.
However, he could not resist Thetis' charms. They had a long-standing
affair and eventually had a son called Achilles. Being a nymph, Thetis
was immortal. She wanted her son to be immortal as well. So she took
the newborn Achilles to the River Styx and dipped him in its waters.
River Styx separated the land of the living from the land of the dead.
Thetis knew that dipping the child in its waters would make him immune
to all weapons, thus making him invincible.
Unfortunately, while dipping the infant in the water, Thetis held him
by his ankles. Hence, that part of his body was not touched by the
magical water. This made his ankle; particularly the heel part;
vulnerable to weapons.
Achilles grew up to be a valiant warrior, who was impossible to defeat
during war. But that was the case only till the time his enemies were
not aware of his weak spot. Once they knew about it, they decided to
take advantage of it. Paris, the Prince of Troy, shot a poisonous
arrow, targeting Achilles' heel. This eventually led to his death on
The Vulnerable Spot
In the Mahabharata, Gandhari's son Duryodhana was preparing to fight
unto death with the mighty Bheema. Knowing how strong and invincible
the latter was, Gandhari feared for her son's life. Determined to save
her son at all costs, she hatched a plan.
Since Gandhari's husband, Dhritarashtra, was blind, she had decided to
tie her own eyes with black cloth, ever since the day they got
married. She had thus spent the better part of her life being
blindfolded. But due to this, her eyes contained great power. She knew
that, if she removed her blindfold, that power would be transferred to
the first thing that she laid her eyes on.
She called for Duryodhana and told him about her powers. She further
asked him to rid himself of all his clothing and then stand before
her, so that she could see every part of his body; thus making him
invulnerable to external attack. Duryodhana did as he was commanded.
However, being embarrassed to come before her totally naked, he tied a
wide banana leaf around his waist. This covered his groin, hips and
Duryodhana - Kathakali Mask
Gandhari untied her blindfold to look upon her son's body for the
first ever time in her whole life. On seeing the leaf tied around his
waist, she was utterly devastated. All that she did to save him would
now go in vain, because that covered portion of his body would be his
Krishna already knew about this episode. During the duel that ensued
between Bheema and Duryodhana, he asked the former to strike his mace
on the latter's thighs. It is considered unethical to attack a
kshatriya (warrior) below the waist. However, Bheema carried out
Krishna's orders, as he knew that there was no other way in which he
could eliminate the adharmi. Duryodhana fell weak and eventually, bled
The Mahabharata is filled with several other similar characters, who
fell after receiving a hit on their vulnerable spot. Dronacharya's
vulnerable spot was his son Ashwatthama, who he loved more than life
itself. On hearing the news of his son's death in the battlefield
(that never really happened – Yudhishthira had lied to him), he lost
all interest, fell weak and eventually met his end. Lord Sri Krishna
was killed with that one arrow that pierced his toe – that too was his
Karna and Achilles
- Karna and Achilles, in particular, share many similar qualities.
They are as follows:
- Both Karna and Achilles fought a war which had almost nothing to
do with them. Karna fought to support his close friend,
Duryodhana. He was well aware that he was Kunti's eldest son from
Lord Surya (the Sun God). That made him the eldest Pandava.
However, he owed undying allegiance to Duryodhana , who had
supported him through all his struggles. Achilles, on the other
hand, had given his word to Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek
army, to join the Greek contingent in its fight against Troy.
- Karna was barred from fighting the great Bheeshma Pitamaha. It
was only after the 10th day, when Bheeshma fell on his sharashaiya
(bed of arrows), that Karna was permitted to join in the battle.
Achilles, on the other hand, was insulted by Agamemnon over a
slave girl, Briseis. Incensed, he withdrew from the battlefield,
till Patroclus was killed by Hector, the eldest Prince of Troy. He
then re-entered the battlefield in order to take revenge on him.
- Karna and Achilles were mighty warriors, who could induce fear
in the hearts of the bravest and most experienced soldiers.Karna,
however, was vulnerable due to Parasurama's curse, that he would
forget all his skills when he most needed them. Besides, fearing
his son, Arjuna's safety, Indra disguised himself as a poor
Brahmin and begged Karna to give him his armor and earrings, which
he had received as a divine gift of protection. Karna,
large-hearted that he was, immediately gave them to the Brahmin.
This made him even more vulnerable to physical attack. Achilles'
only vulnerable spot was his heel. He fell when his enemies shot
his heel with a poisonous arrow.
- Karna and Achilles fought for honor and glory. They both left an
indelible mark on history and on the cultural heritage of their
respective countries and are known for their loyalty and valor.
They are both adored and considered heroes, though they were
actually fighting for the "wrong" side in their respective wars.
The Mahabharata and the story of Achilles Heel are two stories from
two different parts of the world. Maybe the story originated in one
country and was passed on to the other, via the bygone Indo-Greek
connection during the time of Alexander and after. Or maybe they are
merely two different cultural expressions of the universal tendency of
ambitious parents trying to make their children immune and
invulnerable to external factors.
Whatever the connection, the two tales teach us that no matter how
hard we try, we can only support others (even if they are our own
children) and hope that their lives turn out well. We do not possess
the power to entirely shift the course of their lives and reshape
their destiny as per our preferences.