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In Mahabharata, why are Arjuna and his brothers called Pandavas and Duryodhana and his brothers called Kauravas?

Is there any reason to call them like that?

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Kuru was an ancient lunar dynasty king of Hastinapura and an ancestor of Shantanu. The patronymic (i.e. last name form) of the name Kuru is Kaurava, so in a broad sense you could say that everyone descended from Kuru is a Kaurava, which includes both the sons of Pandu and the sons of Dhritarashtra. But the way Vedic patronymics worked was as follows: if X is the eldest son of man Y, then the sons of X adopt the same patronymic that Y had. But if X is a younger son of man Y, the sons of X just use X's name to form a patroymic. (Except when Y's elder sons have no children, in which case X's sons constitute the senior branch of the family.) Shantanu was called Shantanu Kaurava, his sons were called Vichitravirya Kaurava and Chitrangada Kaurava, and Vichitravirya's two sons were called Dhritarashtra Kaurava and Pandu Kaurava.

Now Dhritarashtra's sons would be called Duryodhana Kaurava and the like, but the sons of Pandu, being the sons of a younger son, would adopt Pandu's name as their patroynmic. So they would be referred to as Yudhishtra Pandava, Bhima Pandava, etc. That is why the sons of Dhritarashtra are Kauravas and the sons of Pandu are Pandavas.

On a side note, it should be noted that all this stuff about ancestry and descent is not necessarily about actual biological relations. For instance Dhritarashtra and Pandu are actually the biological sons of Vyasa, not Vichitravirya, as I discuss in this answer. And the Pandavas are the biological sons of the gods Yama, Vayu, Indra, and the Ashwini Kumaras, not Pandu. But they're still considered these people's adopted sons, as per the practice of Niyoga.

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Historically Kauravas and Paandavas both belong to the "Kuru" dynasty. For example, Duryodhana + brothers are "Kauravas". While Yudhishtira + brothers are "Kauravas" as well as "Paandavas".

In Chapter 10, Krishna himself says that:

Verse-19 "O Best among the Kurus (Arjuna), I shall relate to you about my divine manifestations which are prominently conspicuous, for there is no end to my expansion."

and

Verse-37 "I am Vasudeva among the Vishnus (they are a branch of Yadava-clan to which Krishna belonged), I am Arjuna among Pandavas, I am Vyasa among the sages and also among poets I am Ushra (also called Shukracharya "The teacher of the demons" (Rakshasas)."

From queen Satyavati's blood line ("biological kids" point of view), Duryodhana + brothers were actually Kauravas. But Yudhishtir + brothers + Karna were neither Kauravas nor Paandavas, as they were born out of a boon given to Kunti.

I believe the term Kaurava and Paandava would have been used during or sometime before the Mahaabhaarata war had begun to merely distinguish between the cousins.

  • If you want to go by a biological point of view, neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas were biological descendants of Kuru. As you said the Pandavas were the sons of gods. But the Kauravas were sons of Dhritarashtra, and Dhritarashtra and Pandu were not biological children of Satyavati's son Vichitravirya. Rather, they were biological sons of Vyasa, and thus had no blood of Shantanu; see my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/3061/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 14 '15 at 8:31
  • @KeshavSrinivasan, that's why I have used this term: From queen Satyavati blood line. Because Maharshi Vyasa was biological son of Satyavati (pre-marriage) and hence Duryodhana was Satyavati's biological great grandson. Satyavati can be considered part of Kuru, since she married Shaantanu. Though same thing is true for Kunti and Madri, but it's undocumented if the 5 respective Paandava-s were born out of biological mating or just by the "boons". Hence Paandava-s cannot be considered in the bloodline. – iammilind Feb 14 '15 at 9:03
  • "Though same thing is true for Kunti and Madri, but it's undocumented if the 5 respective Paandava-s were born out of biological mating or just by the "boons"." No, it's not undocumented. The Pandavas were the actual biological children of Kunti and Madri; see this chapter of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata: sacred-texts.com/hin/m01/m01124.htm So if you call Duryodhana a "biological" descendant of Shantanu just because Satyavati was married to Shantanu, then that exact same argument would work with Kunti and Madri being married to Pandu. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 14 '15 at 9:12
  • @KeshavSrinivasan, Yes with that link we can say Paandavas part of Kuru clan like Duryodhana + brothers. I have referred this website before, but never this chapter and also was not aware that intercourse did happen for Kunti and Madri. Not sure if it's documented in other references. – iammilind Feb 14 '15 at 9:24
  • @iammilind Well, it's hard to get a more authoritative reference on the Pandavas' birth than the Mahabharata itself. In any case, it's not any biological distinction like this that's the origin of them being called Pandavas and Kauravas. It's because the sons of Dhritarashtra are from the senior branch of the Kuru dynasty, and thus adopt Kuru's name for their patronymic, whereas Yudhisthira and his brothers are from the junior branch and thus adopt Pandu's name for their patronymic. See my answer. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 14 '15 at 10:40

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