Places: The Mahabharata

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First transcribed: Mahābhārata, c. 400 b.c.e.-200 c.e. (English translation, 1834)

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Epic

Time of work: Antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedKurukshetra

Kurukshetra. Mahabharata, ThePlain of the Kurus (another name for the Bharatas); the battlefield on which the two factions meet. Just before the battle, Krishna outlines a philosophy of life and theological truths to Arjuna–a long commentary that is often printed separately as the Bhagavad Gita (song of the lord), a sacred Hindu religious text. Considering Krishna’s spiritual message, the plain might be seen as the battlefield of life, on which one’s nobler self must fight against one’s baser self.


Hastinapur. Capital of the Bharata Kingdom in which the five Pandavas and one hundred Kauravas grow up together and site of the inheritance over which they fight.


Indraprastha. Capital of the Pandavas’ part of the Bharata Kingdom after King Dhritarashtra divide the kingdom in an attempt to prevent civil war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

Assembly hall

Assembly hall. Grand hall built especially for the occasion of a dice game, in which the Pandavas lose everything and agree to go into exile in a forest.

Kingdom of Matsya

Kingdom of Matsya. King Virata’s court, at which the Pandavas spend the thirteenth year of their exile incognito. The Kauravas’ invasion of Matsya during the last year of the Pandavas’ exile precipitates the latter’s involvement in the struggle and the consequent premature revelation of Arjuna’s true identity and the Kauravas’ subsequent refusal to return the kingdom as promised.

Indra’s heaven

Indra’s heaven. Final resting place for brave warriors who die in battle; one of many heavens mentioned in the epic. During the Pandavas’ exile in the forest, Arjuna departs to find divine weapons and eventually visits Indra’s heaven for years while learning to use the weapons. At the end of the epic, Yudhishthera realizes that all is illusion, including heaven and hell.

*Ganges River

*Ganges River (GAN-jeez). River in the northeast part of the Indian subcontinent that Hindus consider to be sacred. In the epic, the Ganges is a river goddess, Bhishma’s mother.

BibliographyGoldman, Robert P. Gods, Priests, and Warriors: The Bhrgus of the “Mahabharata.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. Analysis of the literary and mythic significance of the tales of the priestly clan known as the Bhrgus, of Bhargavas, whose exploits make up a substantial portion of the text of the Mahabharata. Explores the relationship of the epic to historical events which may have inspired it.Hiltebeitel, Alf. The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the “Mahabharata.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976. Focuses on the role of the Indian god Krishna in the epic; explains the structure of the work and elucidates its relationship to Indian myth and history.Hopkins, Edward Washburn. The Great Epic of India. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902. Detailed analysis of the Mahabharata’s organization, its textual history, and its technical qualities. Still exceptionally helpful for understanding the complexity of the story and themes.Narasimhan, Chakravarthi V. Introduction to The Mahabharata. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965. Outlines the plot of this complex, rambling work. Highlights the human qualities of the epic heroes and notes the underlying emphasis on the necessity for peace to bring about happiness.Van Nooten, Barend A. The Mahabharata. New York: Twayne, 1971. Excellent guidebook to the epic. Includes a detailed summary of the story; explains its mythology, and examines the literary history of the work. Assesses the impact of the Mahabharata on modern India and on the West.
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