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The Past Lives Of Characters In Indian Epic Mahabharata

The idea of reincarnation is extremely important in Hinduism. There is a belief that all souls go through the journey of life, death and rebirth which will continue till eternity, and this process is called Samsara.

In Indian mythology, it is also believed that our current relationships and their outcomes with people are directly related to our past deeds of past lifetimes. Similarly, in the Indian epic Mahabharata each character underwent similar experiences that were directly the result of the karma of their past deeds. Let us go through the article to know about the prebirths of some famous characters from Mahabharata.

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Bhishma

In Mahabharata, Bhishma is showcased as an illustrious and adept warrior. Initially, born as one of the Ashta Vasus, (Ashta Vasus are the eight demigods made of elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Sky, Sun, Stars, and Moon) who, while romping in the woods with their wives, reached the Ashram of Vasishtha Rishi. One of the wives of AshtaVasus spotted the beautiful celestial cow Nandini at the Ashram and asked her husband Prabhas to get her the cow for her own use. Prabhas was initially hesitant, but his wife argued that it was for her mortal friend who needed it. The Ashtavasus tricked the cow Nandini and took the cow along with them.

Rishi, as soon as he returned, saw in his mind's eye the scenario in which Nandini was kidnapped by Vasus. Infuriated by the incident the rishi cursed them to permanently lose their immortal status. When requested for forgiveness, Vasishta said that Prabhas who was actually the culprit has to spend an entire lifetime on earth whereas the other vasus could return back to their immortal state as soon as they were born on the earth. So Ashta Vasus were born as the sons of River Ganges and King Shantanu. One by one, she killed them instantly by sending them into a river stream. Finally, when Shantanu begged her not to do so, she handed over her eighth child, Bhishma to him and disappeared.

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Dhritarashtra

Dhritarashtra, in his past birth, was believed to have been a tyrannical ruler who ruled his kingdom in a beastly manner. Once, he had been for a walk on the banks of a lake when he spotted a swan with beautiful eyes, whose eyes, he got plucked and got the 100 baby swanskilled on the spot. As a result of this, he was born blind in his next birth, by the name of Dhritarashtra, in whose lifetime, all of his 100 children were killed in the battle, in the same manner in which he had killed the baby swans. In his bygone incarnations, that dated back to several yugas, Dhritarashtra was none other than Hansa (the king of the daityas or asura called Hamsa and son of Arishta Nemi who was later born in the Kuru race.

As per the Mahabharata text, Dhritrashtra was possessed the strength of ten thousands elephants that equalled Bhima, Duryodhana, Balarama, Karna, Kuntibhoja, Shalya in might. So, as per Mahabharata Dhritrashtra was the strongest man. He was born of Krishna-Dwaipayana, was endowed with long arms and great energy, was also a monarch, had a prophetic vision about future, and rendered blind due to the fault of his mother and also due to the curse of a Rishi from past birth. In his birth as Dhritarashtra, in the epic of Mahabharata, he was the scion of Ved Vyas and Ambika the daughter of Kashya, the King of Kashi, and wife of Vichitravirya, the King of Hastinapura.

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Draupadi

Draupadi was born with the name of Indrasena and later married Guru Moudgalya. Moudgalya died while young and hence Indrasena set out on penance to Lord Shiva to fulfil her wishes. When Lord Shiva appeared before her, entranced by his looks, she uttered five times, "Give me a husband". Lord Shiva granted her the boon, by saying that she would get five husbands in a single birth. There is another legend that goes this way. The Goddesses Parvati, Shyamala, Sachi and Usha, jocularly teased Lord Brahma, who in fit of rage, cursed them to be born as earthlings. Goddess Parvati requested Lord Brahma that they would all be born as one human being Draupadi. They also requested Lord Brahma to let Goddess Bharati acccompany them on their earthly sojourn. Draupadi's life was characterised by struggle, a will to never give up, as well as rigteous indignation which brings out the Shakti aspect or shades of Kali in her.

She also showed, at other times, her feminine qualities of docility and subservience just like Sachi and Usha. Draupadi was also shrewd in hiding her identity and allowing Bhima to kill Keechaka just like Goddess Bharati. Draupadi was also another manifestation of Goddess Shree or Wealth for the five Indras who had incarnated as Pandavas. She had to undertake several births by leaping into the fire for the mistake of imprisoning the Indras. In her very first birth, she was Vedavati, the avatar of Agnis wife, Swaha who cursed Ravana. She appeared as Maya sita during the time of her stay at Ashokavana of Ravana. Actually Agni had hidden the real sita inside him. The third birth was partly as Damayanti and as her daughter Nalayani. She married Sage Mudgala. Her fifth avatar was that of Draupadi who was a composite avataqr of all the eight goddesses namely Kali, Parvati, Sachi, Shyamala, Usha, Bharati, Shree and Swaha. Another legend reiterates that she was the incarnation of Maha Kali who took birth to be of assistance to Lord Krishna to destroy all the arrogant kings. They shared a brother sister relationship in the human janma as well. Lord Vishnu and Goddess Kali are supposed to be celestial siblings.

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Shishupal

Shishupala was born as the son of King Damaghosha and Sruthashubha, the sister of Vasudeva and Kunti. He was born with a boon that he will be killed by Lord Krishna only after he committed his 100th mistake against Lord Krishna. This was a boon asked by mother in favour of Shishupala during a very mystical incident that occurred at his birth. He was the friend of King Rukmi, who wanted to give his sister Rukmini in marriage to Shishupala. When Lord Krishna married Rukmini, Shishupala developed a feeling of grudge against Lord Krishna. Finally during the Rajasuya yagnya conducted by Yudhishtira Shishupala was called for his coronation ceremony at Indraprastha.

During this event, Pandavas decided unanimously that Lord Krishna would be the honoured guest for the yaga which was not taken well by Shishupala. Angered to the hilt, Shishupala, rebukes Lord Krishna using all sorts of expletives. Lord Krishna's limit for patience was reached when Shishupala let out his 100th expletive against Lord Krishna who wielded his Sudarshan Chakra, aiming it at Shishupalas neck. The chakra sliced Shishupala,'s head into two pieces at which time Shishupala realized that he was a Vishnu bhakta that had taken birth to meet his death at the hands of god. In his last birth, Shishupala was Ravana and Hiranyakashipu who was in turn a gatekeeper of Vaikuntha. He was cursed by Rishis to be born on earth for four lifetimes to be killed by Lord Vishnu each time, to be able to return to their original position as doorkeepers of Lord Vishnu's abode.

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Karna (Karn)

Karna, in his earlier lives, was a demon king by name Dambhodbhava who had pleased Surya by hard penance Surya granted him an inbuilt armour which, if removed out of his body, would lead to his death. All those people troubled by him prayed to Lord Vishnu to end his menace. As a response, Nara Narayana, two forms born out of Lord Vishnu took birth on earth. Nara and Narayana who were actually born later as Krishan and Arjuna, destroyed 999 kavachas that the demon king had, but he sought refuge in Surya Lok. Surya protected him and refused to hand him over to Nara maharshi, for which reason he was cursed by Nara, that he should take a human birth as a punishment.

Surya agreed and the suryansh in him was born as Karna, with the last remaining armour intact on his body..So due to this curse, Dambhodbhava with Surya's ansh within him was born as Karna, the eldest son of Kunt. Karnas armour was a natural protection for him, which was the last kavacha left for him. Since Karna has already done a lot of bad deeds in his previous birth. So, it might be that. He has killed a lots of people when he was in the janma of Dambodbhava,. He had troubled and killed sages and noblemen of Kings Court. So he received his due punishment in his life as Karna. Nevertheless the surya element in him, gave him the strength to go about the happening of life, in a brave manner and it was only due to his karma that he had to support the wrong side of Kauravas in his birth as Karna.

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Shikhandi

Amba, Ambika and Ambalika were the daughters of King of Kashi whose Swayam Var was well attended by kings and emperors from all over the world. Bhishma descends on the scenario out of nowhere and asks Ambas hand in marriage with his brother Vichitraveerya. When Amba refused to marry Vichitraveerya, Bhishma kidnapped Amba saying that he would get his daughters married to the king of Hastinapur. Shalya who was in love with Amba tries to stop Bhishma in vain. Bhishma introduces the three princesses to his mother Satyavati. Amba refuses to marry Vichitraveerya and pleads Bhishma to send her back to Shalya. But Shalya refuses to marry her.

Amba was infuriated because she had finally lost to Bhishma. Amba did not want to return to her father's kingdom, unmarried, in danger of finding herself in bad repute with people of her kingdom. So Amba forces Bhishma to marry her. Bhishma refuses to marry Amba, as he had pledged not to marry for his entire life. Her maternal grandfather Hotravahana who advises her to worship Parashurama who was the guru of Bhishma.

Parashurama's advise to Bhishma to marry Amba goes unheeded somehow and between the skirmish between Parashurama and Bhishma that ensues, nobody wins or loses. Then Amba approaches her god Subramanya and pleads him to give a blue Lotus garland that never dries, to her, so that it will enable whosoever wears it, to kill Bhishma in a duel. Noone dared to fight Bhishma as everyone knew about his prowess. Amba throws the garland inside the court of King Drupada and prays to Lord Shiva. Finally, Lord Shiva informs her that she should take a next janma to kill Bhishma herself.Hearing this, Amba kills herself and later she is born as Shikhandi, the daughter of Drupada whom Drupada brings up like a son and not like a daughter. One day finds that garland which she had thrown inside the palace of Drupada. She wears it herself. Bhishma finally spots Shikhandi in the war of Kurukshetra and bows his head to her, saying that he will not fight against a woman in war. Therefore, Shikhandi becomes the reason for Bhishma's death.

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Vidur

Due to a curse from Manduka Muni, he was born as a Shudra (fourth and lowest of the traditional varnas, or social classes, of India). Vidura was the half-brother of Dhritarashtra and the Pandavas. King Vichitravirya dies due to an unknown disease without getting a progeny to continue his line. So Satyavati requests Sage Vyasa to bestow progeny to her daughters-in-law. Vyasa is unable to ignore his mother's words and agrees with this. Ambika is paled by fright and closes her eyes as soon as she sights Vyasa's fierce ascetic appearance. Then Ambalika finds herself terrorized by his looks. Lastly, a maid in the palace is able to face Vyasa and begets a son called Vidura.

Ambika begets Dhritarashtra, the blind whereas Ambalika begets Pandu, the child with leprosy marks. Vidura, receives his education from Bhishma and being older than Dhritarashtra and Pandavas, he was fit to be crowned as the king, but since he was from a lowly background, he could not make it. Pandu was finally crowned as the king of Hastinapur and Vidura became his general secretary. Vidura was a very knowledgeable man who counselled the king's ably always.

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Abhimanyu

Abhimanyu, in his earlier birth, was Kalayavana whom Lord Krishna had killed and tied his soul within a cloth and preserved it sealed in a box. Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima and HIdimba was sent to protect Subhadra because Pandavas were in exile in the forest Ghatotkacha was reprimanded by Krishan one day, for some reason, and he reported it to Subhadra. Subhadra approaches Lord Krishna to know what happened. But Lord Krishna was not in his seat.

At the same time, Subhadra's eyes hovered on a sealed box which she, unable to contain her curiosity, opens only to see a wonderful light emerging from it, getting into her womb. So, Lord Krishna narrates half of the secret of Chakravyuha to Subhadra which kalayavana grasps from Subhadras womb. During the Mahabharata war, he uses the technique narrated by Lord Krishna and gets inside the Chakravyuha (It is a military formation used to surround enemies), but is unable to get out of it. This is when Karna kills him mercilessly just to avenge his defeat at the hands of Arjuna. He was actually sent by Lord Chandra Dev to exist on this earth for 16 years, and then return back to Chandra (Moon).

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Eklavya

He was a young prince belonging to the Nishadha, jungle tribes. Eklavya was the foremost king in the Rajasuya Yagya where he displays honour for Yudhishthira by offering shoes respectfully. Eklavya was the cousin of Lord Krishna and was found by Hiranyadhanu after he is lost in the woods. In the Mahabharata, Ekalavya was the son of Hiranyadhanus, the chief of Nishada. He worked for King Jarasandha as the General of his army. His father Hiranyadhanu was also the commander working under the most powerful king of the period, Jarasandha. Ekalavya had an unsurpassable urge to learn the art of archery.

Ekalavya approaches Dronacharya to teach him archery skills. When Drona realizes that Ekalavya is of a lower caste, he refuses his request. Ekalavya, feeling remorse, makes an idol of Drona and learns archery on his own, in the presence of the idol. When Ekalavya proved superior to Arjuna in archery, Guru Drona asks for Ekalavya's thumb as Gurudakshina to which Ekalavya agrees. But the thumb of his right hand, which if severed from the hand, would render him unfit to even lift the bow. He was killed by Lord Krishna during Rukmini Swayamvar while protecting his father from danger. Lord Krishna gave him a boon that he would be born as Drupada's son and avenge his death by killing Drona. He was later born as Drishtadyumna, the brother of Draupadi and avenged his defeat, by killing Drona in the war field.

Disclaimer: The information is based on assumptions and information available on the internet and the accuracy or reliability is not guaranteed. Boldsky does not confirm any inputs or information related to the article and our only purpose is to deliver information. Boldsky does not believe in or endorse any superstitions.

Image sources: Wikimedia Commons

Story first published: Wednesday, August 24, 2022, 10:00 [IST]
Read more about: mahabharata rebirth spirituality
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