The Indian epic – the "Mahabharata" is poetry composed in Sanskrit. The literature is packed with themes like: love and relationships, war, dharma, ethics, brotherhood and so on. Through the themes and characters, multiperspectivity is common. The situations and incidents in both the epic lead to a massive war in the end. The war is commonly interpreted as the battle between right and wrong or heroes and villains. However, characters and situations when looked upon from various perspectives do not seem completely black or white. This gives the epic its depth.

The rightful successor to the throne

The question regarding the rightful successor to the throne of Hastinapura after Vichitravirya does not have one right answer. Between the two sons Dhritarashtra and Pandu, the former is older and should have been made the king. However, because of his blindness, he is considered as disabled and loses his right to be the ruler.

Thus, Pandu becomes the crowned king. However, he is physically incapable of reproducing. Pandu’s disability is ignored because it is not as visibly noticeable as that of Dhritarashtra’s. Therefore, a gray area is already created. Furthermore, Gandhari is the first one to get pregnant but Kunti gives birth before Gandhari.

These ambiguous situations lay the foundation for upcoming conflict between Pandavas and Kauravas, as both the groups differently find themselves as potential rulers for Hastinapuri.

Thus, the elder sons of both the groups are subjectively deserving of the throne.

The characters in the epic show transformations and represent ideas that did not fall in line with popular opinions. Yuyutsu and Vikarna are two characters that are unsure about fighting for kauravas against Pandavas. Yuyutsu, born of a maid, switches sides to join the Pandavas whereas, Vikarna sticks to his own family.

Through these characters, Vyasa presents a conflict between morality and familial responsibilities. While one picks to switch sides and stand for what he believes in, other chooses to fight for his brothers. Another character that plays an important role in the "Mahabharata" is Shkhandi.

He was born as a woman known as Shikhandini and later transformed into a man.

Krishna and Arjun brought him in front of Bhishma on the battlefield. Although Shikhandi thought of himself as a man, Bhishma considered him to be a woman.

According to the rules of war against attacking a woman - he did not attack her and instead got attacked by Arjuna’s arrows. Therefore, Vyasa asks the question of whether gender and sexual orientation is determined by birth or truth? Kauravas continue to confine Shikhandi to his gender by birth whereas, Pandavas consider him as a man.

Karna is one of the most intriguing characters in "Mahabharata" in terms of dynamicity. Although born to Kunti, he was never respected by the Pandavas. Accepted by Kauravas, he continued to fight for them. Karna’s character is the most dynamic.

He is known to be highly accomplished and most charitable. However, doesn’t protest against the Kauravas while they brutally insult Draupadi.

He passionately hates Arjun yet protests against the Kauravas while they are torturing Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu to death. Draupadi and Kunti both express complex feelings towards Karna. Krishna approaches Karna before the war. He requests Karna to avoid fighting for Duryodhan because without Karna on his side Duryodhana would never proceed with the war.

Vyasa creates a character that completely is neither a hero nor a villain

Krishna offers him to join the Pandavas. He promises him Draupadi in marriage and the throne. Between family, throne and friendship- Karna picks friendship and continues to be loyal to Duryodhan.

Karna’s personality is multi-faceted. His actions cannot be declared as ethically entirely right or wrong. However, all of his actions are consequences of his past. Thus Vyasa creates a character that completely is neither a hero nor a villain.

The ancient Indian epics have powerful villains. Usually, they are presented to be very one-dimensional. However, they all have their back-stories. Krishna’s evil uncle Kansa is one of the archetypal villains in the ancient epics.

However, he has his own past. In an ancient tale, Kansa is said to be a rape child. His father was a Gandharva. By the law of shvetaketu, Kansa should have been treated as a Yadava. However, for being illegitimate he was constantly isolated and hated.

His sister Devaki was the only one to love and care for him. The Yadava’s hatred for him turned him into an oppressor. The prophecy regarding Devaki’s child being the reason for Kansa’s death angered him. He wanted to kill Devaki then and there but agreed on letting her live locked up. Therefore, he did show humanity however, he is always announced as an evil villain.

Shakuni is one of the masterminds in the story of "Mahabharata." Bhishma realizes that Gandhari had been married and widowed before she married Dhritarashtra. This tremendously angers Bhishma. The only people who also know about this are Gandhari’s immediate family members.

Shakuni carves his father’s fingers to turn them into his dice

Bhishma intends to kill them but it is against Dharma to murder one’s in-laws. Therefore, he locks them up and gives them only a little food to starve them to death. Gandhari’s father decides to let Shakuni live for being the smartest. After he dies, Shakuni carves his father’s fingers to turn them into his dice. Therefore, Shakuni’s dice never betray him. He passionately wants to destroy the Kuru clan.

Shakuni’s and Kansa’s stories are not very popular. Their pasts do not completely justify their actions but it definitely makes them more human. Indian epics mostly focus on the idea of Karma. Actions have consequences.

In the modern world, these epics are interpreted as hero vs villain stories.

This could be the influence of Greek mythology. It is considered very western when ideas are judged as right or wrong. Whereas, Indian epics are just ongoing stories about characters whose actions have consequences.

The "Mahabharata" is not a guide, it doesn’t tell one what to do. It is merely itihasa or mahakavya (history or poetry). It can be interpreted subjectively. The way an individual or a culture interprets these texts reflects upon that particular individual or culture.