Glossary of Characters and Terms


Abhimanyu. son of Arjuna and Subhadra; husband of Uttarai; father of Parikshit

Agni. fire-god.

Airavata. elephant vehicle of the god Indra.

Amba. daughter of the king of Kashi; later reincarnated as Shikhandin.

Ambalika. daughter of the king of Kashi; wife of Vichitravirya; mother of Pandu.

Ambika. daughter of the king of Kashi; wife of Vichitravirya; mother of Dhritarashtra.

Amravati. region of heaven associated with music, dancing, and other pleasures.

Anga. ancient kingdom in eastern India.

Angaraparna. gandharva whom the Pandavas encountered in their exile.

apsaras. celestial beings of great beauty associated with music and dancing.

Arjuna. one of the five Pandava brothers; son of Kunti and the storm-god Indra.

ashrams. hermitages; the secluded homes of holy people.

Ashwapati. king of Madra; father of Savitri.

Ashwasena. naga; son of Takshaka, king of the nagas.

Ashwatthama. son of Drona.

Ashwins. twin gods of healing and of the dawn; divine fathers of Nakula and Sahadeva.

Astika. son of a rishi and a naga-woman.

astras. celestial weapons imbued with the powers of gods or natural forces.

asuras. supernatural beings of great power, often opposed to devas or humans.

avatar. earthly incarnation ("descent") of a god or goddess.

Ayodhya. capital of the kingdom of Kosala; home of Rama.


Baka. asura who tormented the village of Ekachakra.

Balarama. elder brother of Krishna; he used both a mace and a plow as weapons.

Barbarika. son of Bhima and a naga-woman.

Bhagadatta. king who fought on the Kaurava side in the Kurukshetra War.

Bhagavad-Gita. God-Song that Krishna recited to Arjuna before the battle of Kurukshetra.

Bharadwaja. rishi; father of Drona; guru to the young Drupada.

Bhima. one of the five Pandava brothers; son of Kunti and the wind-god Vayu.

Bhishma. son of Shantanu and the goddess Ganga; great-uncle to the Pandavas.

Bhudevi. goddess of the earth.

Brahma. god of creation; one of the supreme divinities with Vishnu and Shiva.

Brahmastra. Brahma-weapon; celestial weapon able to destroy the world.

brahmins. members of the priestly class.

Brihannala. identity used by Arjuna when disguised as a dance-teacher in Virata's court.


Chedi. Indian kingdom to the south of the Yamuna river.

Chiranjivi. "Immortals" who will live until the end of the world-cycle.

Chitrangada. son of Shantanu and Satyavati; elder brother of Vichitravirya.

Chitrangada. gandharva with the same name as the son of Shantanu and Satyavati.


Damayanti. princess who married King Nala.

Dasharatha. king of Ayodhya; father of Rama whose story is told in the Ramayana.

devas. divine beings, gods.

Devavrata. birth name of Bhishma, son of Shantanu and the goddess Ganga.

dharma. that which is right and true; duty; justice.

Dhrishtadyumna. fire-born son of Drupada; brother of Draupadi.

Dhritarashtra. blind son of Vyasa and Ambika; husband of Gandhari.

Draupadi. fire-born daughter of Drupada; wife of the five Pandavas.

Drona. son of Bharadwaja; guru to the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

Drupada. king of Panchala; father of Draupadi, Dhrishtadyumna, and Shikhandin.

Duhshala. daughter of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra; wife of Jayadratha.

Durjaya. son of Duryodhana; his story is told in Bhasa's play Urubhangam.

Durvasa. rishi notorious for his bad temper.

Duryodhana. eldest son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari; leader of the Kaurava armies.

Dushasana. son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari; younger brother of Duryodhana.

Dvapara Yuga. third age of the world; following the Treta Yuga, preceding the Kali Yuga.

Dwaraka. ancient city on the western coast of India; home to Krishna.


Ekachakra. village in western India visited by the Pandavas.

Ekalavya. forest-dweller who sought to study archery under Drona.


Gandhara. kingdom in northern India.

Gandhari. wife of Dhritarashtra; mother of one hundred sons, including Duryodhana.

gandharvas. celestial musicians who are also messengers between gods and humans.

Gandiva. bow of Arjuna made by the god Brahma.

Ganesha. elephant-headed god; he wrote the Mahabharata as Vyasa dictated.

Ganga. goddess of the river Ganga; wife of Shantanu; mother of Bhishma.

Ganges. sacred river brought to earth by the goddess Ganga.

Ghatotkacha. rakshasa; son of Bhima and Hidimbi.

Granthika. identity used by Nakula when disguised as a horse-trainer in Virata's court.

guru. teacher, guide, expert.


Hanuman. monkey-son of Vayu, god of the wind; loyal follower of Rama.

Hastinapura. capital city of the Kuru Kingdom.

Hidimba. rakshasa; brother of Hidimbi.

Hidimbi. rakshasi; wife of Bhima; mother of Ghatotkacha.

Hiranyavarna. king of Dasharna; his daughter was betrothed to Shikhandin.


Indra. god of storms and the sky; divine father of Arjuna.

Indraloka. Indra's-Place; region of heaven (Svarga) that is also called Amravati.

Indraprastha. capital city of the kingdom of the Pandavas.

Iravan. son of Arjuna and Ulupi.


Jaimini. disciple of Vyasa; a version of the Mahabharata is attributed to him.

Janamejaya. king of Hastinapura; son of Parikshit.

Jara. hunter who shot Krishna.

jaya. Sanskrit word meaning "victory."

Jayadratha. king of Sindhu; husband of Duhshala.


Kali. goddess; manifestation of Shakti, divine energy.

Kali Yuga. fourth (and worst) age of the world; follows the Dvapara Yuga.

Kalpataru. wish-fulfilling tree in Amravati.

Kanka. identity used by Yudhishthira when disguised as a brahmin in Virata's court.

karma. action; chain of action and consequence.

Karna. son of Kunti and the sun-god Surya.

Kashi. ancient kingdom of India with its capital at Varanasi (Benares).

Kashya. king of Kashi; father of Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika.

Kauravas. descendants of Kuru; more specifically, Duryodhana and his brothers.

Khandava-prastha. forest wilderness given to the Pandavas as their kingdom.

Kichaka. general of the armies of King Virata; brother of Queen Sudeshna.

Kindama. rishi of the forest who was able to take the form of a deer.

Kishkindha. legendary kingdom of the monkeys (vanaras) in the epic Ramayana.

Kripa. adopted son of King Shantanu; brother-in-law of Drona; Ashwatthama's uncle.

Krishna. eighth avatar of the god Vishnu; brother of Balarama and of Subhadra.

Kritavarma. Yadava warrior who fought for the Kauravas during the war.

kshatriyas. warriors; one of the four ancient Indian social classes.

Kubera. Lord of Wealth; chief of the yakshas.

Kunti. wife of Pandu; mother of Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna, and also Karna.

Kuru. ancient ancestor of both Dhritarashtra and Pandu.

Kurukshetra. "Kuru-Field" where the armies of the Kauravas and Pandavas fought.


Lakshmana. brother of Rama who accompanied him in exile; his story is told in the Ramayana.


Madra. ancient kingdom located in north-west India.

Madri. wife of Pandu; mother of Nakula and Sahadeva; sister of Shalya.

Mahabharata. one of two main epics of ancient India (the other being the Ramayana).

Mahabhisha. king who ascended to Indra's heaven; he was reborn as King Shantanu.

Maitreya. wandering rishi who visited the Pandavas in the forest.

Mandavya. rishi wrongly accused of a crime who curses Yama.

mantra. sacred words or sounds used in meditation and also used to control astras (weapons).

Matsya. ancient kingdom of northern India.

Matsyagandha. Fish-Smell; a nickname given to Satyavati when she was young.

Mayasura. asura; he built a palace for the Pandavas at Indraprastha.

Meru. sacred mountain at the center of the world.

Mohini. female avatar of the god Vishnu; as Mohini, Krishna married Iravan.

Moudgalya. rishi; husband of Nalayani, who was Draupadi in a previous lifetime.


nagas. divine snake-beings with supernatural powers.

Nahusha. king who took Indra's place as king of heaven and then lost that place.

Nakula. one of the five Pandava brothers; twin of Sahadeva; son of Madri and the Ashwins.

Nala. king who lost his kingdom in a gambling match; husband of Damayanti.

Nalayani. wife of Moudgalya; Draupadi in a previous lifetime.

Narada. a divine rishi who likes to tell stories, share wisdom, and sometimes stir up trouble.

Naraka. a place in the afterlife for the expiation of wrongdoing before rebirth.

Narayana-astra. a celestial weapon with the power of Narayana (Vishnu).


Pandavas. sons of Pandu: Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva.

Pandu. pale son of Vyasa and Ambalika; husband of Kunti and Madri.

Parashara. rishi; father of Satyavati's son, Vyasa.

Parashurama. Axe-Rama; brahmin-warrior regarded as the sixth avatar of Vishnu.

Parikshit. son of Abhimanyu and Uttarai; father of Janamejaya.

Pashupata. powerful astra (weapon) which Arjuna received from Shiva.

Prabhasa. one of the Vasus, incarnated as Bhishma.

Prativindhya. son of Yudhishthira and Draupadi; eldest of the Upapandavas.

Purochana. Duryodhana's agent in Varanavati.

Pururavas. ancient ancestor of the Kurus and Pandavas; husband of the apsara Urvashi.


rakshasas. shape-shifting supernatural beings, often hostile to both gods and humans.

Rama. hero of the epic Ramayana; considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu.

Ravana. king of the rakshasas; enemy of Rama; his story is told in the Ramayana.

rishis. enlightened persons, sages.


Sahadeva. one of the five Pandava brothers; twin of Nakula; son of Madri and the Ashwins.

Sahasranama. "Thousand-Names" recitation of the thousand names of a deity.

Sairandhri. identity used by Draupadi disguised as a servant in Virata's court.

Samanta Panchaka. five lakes created by the blood of kshatriyas killed by Parashurama.

Samba. son of Krishna.

samshaptaka. oath sworn by warriors to be victorious or die in battle.

Sanjaya. charioteer and adviser to King Dhritarashtra.

Saptarishis. Seven Rishis (Seven Sages).

sari. a cloth drape worn as women's clothing.

Sarpa Satra. serpent sacrifice intended to kill all the snakes of the earth.

Satyaki. Yadava warrior; he fought for the Pandavas during the war.

Satyavan. son of a king who lost his kingdom; husband of Savitri.

Satyavati. wife of Shantanu; mother of Chitrangada, Vichitravirya, and also of Vyasa.

Savitri. princess of Madra; she chose Satyavan to be her husband.

Shachi. consort of the god Indra.

Shakti-spear. weapon given by Indra to Karna, powered by Shakti.

Shakuni. brother of Gandhari; maternal uncle of Duryodhana.

Shalva. lover of Amba; king of Shalva, a kingdom in western India.

Shalya. king of Madra; brother of Madri; uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva.

Shantanu. king of Hastinapura; husband of Ganga and of Satyavati; father of Bhishma.

Shatanika. son of Nakula and Draupadi.

Shesha-Naga. cosmic naga on whom Vishnu rests; Balarama is his avatar.

Shikhandin. son of King Drupada; born as Drupada's daughter, he was Amba reborn.

Shikhandini. daughter born to King Drupada; later a man, Shikhandin.

Shishupala. king of Chedi; cousin of Krishna.

Shiva. god of destruction; one of the supreme divinities with Brahma and Vishnu.

Shrutakarma. son of Arjuna and Draupadi; youngest of the Upapandavas.

Shrutasena. son of Sahadeva and Draupadi.

Shurasena. Yadava ruler; father of Kunti and Vasudeva, Krishna's father.

Sindhu. kingdom of northern India on the Sindhu (Indus) river.

Sita. princess of Mithila who married Rama; her story is told in the Ramayana.

Sthuna. yaksha who exchanged gender with Shikhandini; he became Sthuni.

Sthuni. yakshini; formerly the yaksha Sthuna.

Subala. king of Gandhara; father of Gandhari and Shakuni.

Subhadra. sister of Krishna; wife of Arjuna; mother of Abhimanyu.

Sudarshana-Chakra. supernatural discus used as a weapon by Krishna and Vishnu.

Sudeshna. wife of Virata; mother of Uttara and Uttarai.

Sughada. mother of Yuyutsu; maid of Gandhari.

Sugriva. brother of Vali; king of the monkeys of Kishkindha; ally of Rama.

Sunda. asura; brother of Upasunda; lover of the apsara Tilottama.

sura. alcoholic beverage.

Surya. sun-god; father of Karna.

Susharman. king of Trigarta; ally of Duryodhana.

Sutasoma. son of Bhima and Draupadi.

swayamvara. ceremony in which a woman chooses her groom from competing suitors.


Takshaka. king of the nagas; he killed King Parikshit.

Tantipala. identity used by Sahadeva disguised as a cow-herd in Virata's court.

Tilottama. apsara created by Brahma to entrap Sunda and Upasunda.

Treta Yuga. second age of the world; following the Satya Yuga, preceding the Treta Yuga.

Trigarta. ancient kingdom in northern India.


Uluka. son of Shakuni; Ghandaran warrior.

Ulupi. naga princess; wife of Arjuna; mother of Iravan.

Upapandavas. sons of the Pandavas with Draupadi.

Uparichara. king; father of Satyavati and her twin brother Matsya.

Upasunda. asura; brother of Sunda; lover of the apsara Tilottama.

Urvashi. apsara in Indra's heaven; wife of Pururavas.

Uttara. son of Virata and Sudeshna.

Uttarai. daughter of Virata and Sudeshna; wife of Abhimanyu (also spelled Uttaraa, Uttari).

Uttarayana. "North-Journey" which the sun begins after the winter solstice.


Vaikuntha. heavenly abode of VIshnu.

Vaishampayana. disciple of Vyasa; he recited the Mahabharata to Janamejaya.

Vali. king of the monkeys of Kishkindha; his story is told in the Ramayana.

Vallabha. identity used by Bhima while disguised as a cook in Virata's court.

Varaha. boar; the boar incarnation of Vishnu.

Varanavata. town in northern India where the Pandavas lived in the house of lacquer.

Vashishtha. rishi; owner of the wish-granting cow.

Vasuki. king of the nagas; he welcomed Bhima in the land of the nagas.

Vasus. eight gods representing the elements.

Vayu. wind-god; divine father of Bhima and of Hanuman.

Vedas. ancient holy scriptures.

Vichitravirya. son of Shantanu and Satyavati; elder brother of Chitrangada.

Vidura. son of Vyasa and Ambalika's servant; brother of Dhritarashtra and Pandu.

Vikarna. one of the hundred sons of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra.

Virata. king of Matsya; husband of Sudeshna; father of Uttarai.

Vishnu. god of preservation; one of the supreme divinities with Brahma and Shiva.

Vishnu-astra. cosmic weapon imbued with the power of Vishnu; also called Vaishnavastra.

Vyasa. son of Satyavati and the rishi Parashara; composer of the Vedas.


Yadavas. descendants of Yadu; Krishna was a Yadava, as were Kritavarma and Satyaki.

Yadu. son of Yayati; ancestor of the Yadavas.

yakshas. spirits of mountains, woods, and lakes.

yakshinis. female yakshas.

Yama. god of death and of dharma; divine father of Yudhishthira.

Yudhishthira. one of the five Pandava brothers; son of Kunti and Yama, the god of dharma.

Yugas. four ages of the world in this order: Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali.

Yuyutsu. son of Dhritarashtra and Sughada, the maid of Gandhari.