The main action in the Mahabharata revolves around the legendary struggle at Kurukshetra between the Kauravas and the Pandavas over land rights. The Kauravas are the hundred sons of Dhrithrashtra, and the Pandavas, the five sons of Pandu, are their cousins. The Pandavas become the heirs to the Kuru throne, since Dhrithrashtra is blind and therefore legally disqualified from ruling.
Pandu, however, dies first, and Dhrithrashtra seizes power, though claiming to act as regent for Pandu’s son, Crown Prince Yudhisthira, who forms a marriage alliance with Krishna, leader of the Satvants, and assumes imperial prerogatives. Duryodhana, the son of Dhrithrashtra, who is ambitious and envies Yudhisthira’s prosperity, invites him for a game of dice, being well aware of his weakness for gambling. Assisted by his father’s trickery, Duryodhana wins, while Yudhisthira loses everything: jewels, throne, kingdom, his younger brothers, and finally even Queen Draupadi, the joint wife of the five Pandavas.
Draupadi is publicly stripped as a slave by Duryodhana’s brother, a humiliation she will never forgive. The elders intervene and arrange terms: Draupadi is restored but the Pandavas are condemned to twelve years’ exile and compelled to remain incognito a further year. After enduring this trying time, they enter the service of King Virata of Matsya. Yudhisthira now sends Krishna as an envoy to negotiate the restoration of his kingdom, but Duryodhana is not willing to give up even a single village, and so war becomes inevitable.
Before the war, Krishna, now acting as an adviser to the Pandavas, and in reality the incarnation of the god Vishnu, delivers a speech, the famous Bhagavad-Gita, where he encourages Yudhisthira’s brother Arjuna to carry out his holy task. A mighty war of justice begins on the plain of Kurukshetra. Yudhisthira marshals his allies against a huge enemy army while the annihilating battle lasts for eighteen days.
The Pandavas, after heavy losses and moral concessions, are able to destroy their enemies, and Yudhisthira becomes King. Finally Yudhisthira, after hearing of the tragic death of Krishna, retires to the Himalayas, leaving his kingdom to Arjuna’s grandson.