The influence of Mahabharata in ‘Star Wars’

Before I go ahead, I would like to state that the following theories are just pure speculation. Every filmmaker is influenced by something. George Lucas had mentioned several times that the genesis for Star Wars came to him from not just Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (and other Samurai epics) but also Flash Gordon, Westerns and many other sci-fi stories.

But I also have a feeling that in addition to those, he may also have read a considerable amount of stories from other languages, especially the Mahabharata – one of the most popular and beloved Indian mythological epics – from which he may have “lifted” two or three ideas. I’m not sure of the extent to which it may have influenced him (at least, subconsciously) but I’m quite sure of the few parallels that came to my mind, especially with regard to the most important character in the Star Wars mythology, Darth Vader – the granddaddy (and my favorite) of all movie villains. I’m going to list those here.

Now let me remind you once again, this is all just for fun. I have no way of knowing if these are all true. To begin with, let’s look at the origin of Darth Vader. His mother Shimi was never married and she conceived him through parthenogenesis. In other words, he had no father. He was just born, just like that. This is strikingly similar to the birth of Karna, a prominent character in the Mahabharata. He was the “illegitimate” son of Kunti, a woman who gave birth to him and five other “legitimate” sons collectively called the Pandavas. All these men were born just like Vader.

Only in Star Wars, we have the Force in place of the Gods in the Mahabharata who represented several elements – fire, water, earth, sun and so on. Karna was the son of the Sun God but was abandoned by Kunti because she thought it shameful. But this wasn’t the case with Vader. He was brought up by a loving mother who looked after him till his adulthood. The Pandavas are the Mahabharata equivalent of the Jedis. Karna was supposed to be one of the Pandavas but later teams up with their mortal enemies collectively called the Kauravas, the Mahabharata equivalent of the Siths.


While Vader was manipulated into joining the dark side by Palpatine for his own nefarious purposes, Karna was inducted into the Kauravas and treated like his own brother by Duryodhana, one of the primary antagonists in the Mahabharata.  I would say that Palpatine has more in common with the evil Shakuni, the maternal uncle of the Kauravas, than Duryodhana. It was primarily his actions that led to the Mahabharata war. So this is why I think of Palpatine as a combination of both Duryodhana and Shakuni. Now, let me move on to the similarities I noticed between Yoda and Krishna, the Hindu deity who plays a major role in the Mahabharata.

The manner in which Luke is trained by Yoda is significantly different from Krishna’s method of teaching Arjuna – which is basically a lengthy discourse that went on for days, seemingly, on a battlefield just before the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas was about to commence. Just as how Krishna constructed an illusion to give Arjuna a vision of his omnipotence (and also to make everyone else on the battlefield believe that his “advice” took just mere seconds to convey), Yoda creates an illusion in The Empire Strikes Back to demonstrate the full magnitude of the Force to Luke.

If we look at it this way, then this makes Luke Skywalker the Mahabharata equivalent of Arjuna, one of the Pandavas. Yoda trains Luke to fight his own father despite Luke not being aware of that fact yet. In the Mahabharata, Krishna teaches and prepares the reluctant Arjuna to fight and kill Bhishma, a man who is sort of a father figure to him but fights alongside the Kauravas. The only difference here is in the way things are resolved between Luke and his father. Regardless of this, I see Vader as a combination of both Karna and Bhishma.



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