If you are a 90s kid, you would probably understand the importance Sunday morning television had. It was also known as the glorious time when B R Chopra tried to warn us that Samay is not all that fair but we thought he was a very cool invisible entity with a superbly modulated voice anyway. And all those flying chariots and sparkly arrows did not help. It was – and I speak for a lot of us – our first brush with fantasy.
The television series opened up the brilliance of the Mahabharat to people – a lot of whom were kids – who had not read the epic. Like in any other works of fantasy the central characters got lauded and gathered a large fan following by default. And then there were the other minor characters, crucial to the plot but easily overlooked.
Here is a list of such crucial characters from the Mahabharat, easily overlooked and quite underrated, in no particular order.
He was considered to be one of the fiercest warriors on the field. Barbarika was the son of Ghatotkach and Ahilawati. He was trained to be a warrior by his mother and was gifted the three infallible arrows by Valmiki, which had the capacity to destroy and save everything on its path. But the invincible Barbarika was bound by a principle – that he could only fight for the weaker side. But Krishna realized it was a faulty principle since the side Barbarika would not chose would become the weaker side by default. That would mean he would be oscillating between the two sides, leading to everyone’s death, except his own. So, Krishna asked for Barbarika’s head as charity and avoided his participation in the war.
One of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari’s 98 sons, Vikarna was often regarded as the only Kaurava who believed in justice. He also believed that the Kauravas were in the wrong but he had no way of escaping the turn of events. Vikarna was also the only one who stood up against Duryodhan when he was disrobing Draupadi. His protests fell on deaf ears and even the elders like Bhishma and Dronacharya kept quiet.
3. King Shalya
Nakul and Sahdev’s maternal uncle; Madri’s brother
Ruler of the kingdom of Madra, King Shalya was Nakul and Sahadev’s mother, Madri’s brother. He was also a skillful archer and a formidable mace fighter. Duryodhan realized his warfare skills and duped him into fighting the war from Kauravas’ side. Shalya was Duryodhan’s charioteer, as Krishna was Arjun’s. While acting as the charioteer, Shalya continued to demoralize Duryodhan, asserting that he was wrong and he would eventually lose. Shalya also had a unique gift – he grew stronger when met with aggression. It was, hence, almost impossible to defeat him. Krishna suggested that Yudhisthir should face him as he was a calm and calculative fighter himself. Yudhisthir killed Shalya.
This son of Dhritarashtra is crucial to the plot because he was the only Kaurava who survived the war. He was born at the same time as Duryodhan to Gandhari’s lady-in-waiting. Yuyutsu realized that the Kauravas were wrong and decided to abandon their side. After the war was over, he took charge as the King of Indraprastha.
Referred to as Maurvi prior to her marriage to Ghatotkach, Ahilawati was from the world of nagas or snakes. Ghatotkach won her hand in marriage after passing a difficult test. She was Barbarika’s mother who taught him to help the weak in the battlefield.
Arjun’s disciple; Krishna’s devotee
A disciple of Arjun and a devotee of Krishna, Satyaki has been recognized as one of the most underrated characters of the epic. He fought against Drona and almost got the better of him, saved Arjun and also defended Yudhisthir. He survived the war but later died in a fratricidal massacre, as per Gandhari’s curse.
Originally born as a girl called Shikhandini to Drupada, Shikhandi fought in the war along with the Pandavas. When fighting against Bhishma, Arjun used Shikhandi as a shield. Bhishma would lower his arrows refusing to attack an eunuch. Arjun then shot Bhishma. He was put in a bed of arrows and passed away days after the war was over.
Karna’s foster mother
This minor character is crucial to Mahabharata because she was the foster mother of Karna. He imbibed all her principles, which would be very crucial to the war as Karna was a formidable warrior and much of the events were attributed to him. She was the wife of Athiratha, Dhritarashtra’s charioteer.
The son of Bheem and giantess Hidimbi, Ghatotkach proved very important towards the end of the war. His mixed blood made him half-demon and he created havoc in the battlefield. He was killed in the end by Karna.
Emperor of Magadha
A Shiva devotee, Jarasandha the king of Magadha is generally perceived in a negative light owing to his enmity with Krishna’s clan. He was killed in a wrestling match by Bheem who split his body.
Kauravas’ only sister; Dhritarashtra and Gandhari’s only daughter
The only sister of the Kauravas, Dushala was treated by the Pandavas as their own sister. Daughter of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Dushala was later married to Duryodhan’s friend Jayadrata. He showed his allegiance to Duryodhan and was slayed by Arjun in the war. Dushala is known to have led a very sad life.
Dhritarashtra and Pandu’s half-brother
Half-brother of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, Vidur was the most respected adviser of the Pandavas after Krishna. Vidur’s intellect was unparalleled and he was also known as Dharmaraja. It was in fact, Vidur who brought up the issue that Dhritarashtra’s blindness made him unfit to be a king and supported Pandu for the throne. Vidur was also one of the handful of people who opposed Draupadi’s disrobing. He supported the Pandavas because of his principles and because he had no obligation towards Hastinapur, unlike many of the elders. At Duryodhan’s deathbed, Krishna told him that one of his tactical mistakes was to not appoint Vidur as commander of his army.
Ashwatthama was Dronacharya’s son. Drona was tricked into believing that Ashwatthama was killed in the war. So a grief-stricken Drona began meditating to look for his son’s soul when he was beheaded by Drishtadyumna. But Ashwatthama was one of the few people to survive the war. At his deathbed Duryodhan reminded Ashwatthama of all the tricks that the Pandavas and Krishna had pulled off. Enraged by the thought, he gathered Kripa and Kritavarma and attacked the Panchala army, annihilating them.
Commander of the Pandava army
Son of Drupad, Drishtadyumna was the commander of the Pandava army. When Drona was tricked into believing that Ashwatthama was killed in the war, it was Drishtadyumna who beheaded him. And in the end, when Ashwatthama attacked the Panchala army, he killed Drishtadyumna. He asked for an honorable death but Ashwatthama, enraged by the death of his father, smothered him.
Guru of the royal children before Dronacharya
Before Dronacharya was appointed to teach warfare to the royal children, Kripacharya was their teacher for many years. His allegiance lied with Hastinapur, so he fought for the Kauravas. When Ashwatthama attacked the Panchala army, Kripa assisted him along with Kritavarma. Kripa was also one of the three survivors from the Kauravas’ side.
Duryodhan’s younger brother
Duryodhan’s brother and Dhritarashtra and Gandhari’s second son. He was, frankly, not the most pleasant character; even his name meant unlawful ruler. It is in fact, Dushasan who dragged Draupadi by her hair and disrobed her on Duryodhan’s behest. A humiliated Draupadi vowed to never tie her hair till she washed it with Dushasan’s blood. Bheem killed Dushasan in the war, tore open his chest and took his blood to Draupadi. Bheem’s wrath and Dushasan’s death greatly discouraged the Kauravas.
Dhritarashtra’s charioteer and adviser
A highly underrated character, Sanjay acted as the ‘eyes’ for the blind king Dhritarashtra. Sanjay was blessed withdivyadrishti by Vyasa. He could see the events taking place at a faraway place in real time. He also narrated theBhagavad Gita to Dhritarashtra. Sanjay was also the adviser and charioteer to Dhritarashtra.
A Yadav chieftain
He was an ally of the Kauravas and led the Yadava army or the Narayani Sena. He assisted Ashwatthama in the attack of the Panchala army. He was later killed by Satyaki in Krishna’s Dwarka.
Fourth of the Pandava brothers
In all fairness, nobody really bothered much about Nakul even though he was a Pandava. Nakul was supposedly the most handsome in the entire Kuru lineage. He was the son of Madri, Pandu’s second wife. Nakul was a warrior like his brothers, though he might not be remembered for it. He and Bheem led the Pandavas on the first day of battle. He defeated Dushasan too the same day. He also assisted Arjun in taking Bhishma down.
Same goes for the youngest Pandava, the other son of Madri. He was also quite easily forgotten. Sahdev was an expert in astrology. He was sought by Krishna to tell him the opportune time to start the war. But Sahdev was an honest man, so he disclosed the time to the Kauravas as well. But then Krishna turned time to favor the Pandavas. Among other warriors, Sahdev slayed Shakuni on the eighteenth day of war. He also killed Shakuni’s son Uluka. He is also known to have conquered several southern kingdoms of Indraprastha.