The endings of some mythological
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
, 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 Supreme Godhead.
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 Pandavas
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
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 whole time.
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
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
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 were enjoying.
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 on.
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
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
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 wave.
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
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 abode, Vaikuntha.
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 Hastinapura.
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 Himalayas.
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
The Pandavas first visited the south, reaching the salt sea. At the coast, Lord
, 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
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 Himalayas.
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
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 food.
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
, 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 into heaven.
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 Hell!
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.
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
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
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
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
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 thighs.
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 vulnerable spot.
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 to death.
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 vulnerable spot.
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