The puzzle called Mahabharata Characters
A standard and a diplomatic answer to this question will be that every one of the Mahabharata characters is important. We cannot refute this claim. It is like a puzzle where every piece fits in. As a result, we have multiple perspective retellings of the story with countless followers of these characters. Primary examples of these perspective retellings include Mrityunjay, Yagyaseni, Yugandhar, Randamoozam etc.
Also read: The Real Culprits of Mahabharata war
However, there is/are a central piece(s) which glue in everything together. This brings us to the question that which is that central piece of the puzzle?
The pertinent question
Before answering the previous question, a key question arises i.e. who amongst the Mahabharata characters was not bound to anyone? In other words, the people who were unanswerable. People who made decisions for themselves as well as others. This brings us to two central characters viz. ‘Yudhishthira’ from the Pandava side and ‘Dhritarashtra’ from the Kauravas. Statistics reinforce this fact since these are the two characters with the most number of lines dedicated to them in the epic.
However, beyond statistics, careful reading will reveal, that these two men controlled every other important character of the epic. The best example is the unfortunate game of dice. There was no warrior on the planet who could stop Bheema and Arjuna. However, these two men sat handcuffed in that assembly owing to Yudhishthira’s orders, while indignities were being heaped upon their wife.
The Kaurava side
We can refer to the same event of the game of dice to gauge the power of Dhritarashtra. On a fateful day, all the respected elders viz. Bheeshma, Drona and Kripa hung their head in shame. Within themselves, they were eager to thrash Duryodhana, Dusshasana, Shakuni and Karna and they were capable enough to do so. However, they sat frozen, since Dhritarashtra did not mind his son’s impudence. Moreover, he was happy since Duryodhana was winning.
The Influencers amongst Mahabharata Characters
Now, one might argue that these men listened to a few men. Rightly so, that Yudhishthira and Dhritarashtra were heavily influenced by men like Krishna and Shakuni respectively. Ambitions of Bheema and Duryodhana drove them, while their prowess was banking upon the valour of Arjuna and Karna respectively. Inarguably, these influencers catalysed them into action. However, one needs to understand that essentially, their core passions and beliefs drove them into actions.
Surely enough, Duryodhana was adamant and arrogant while Shakuni was cunning. But, those qualities complemented the secret ambitions of Dhritarashtra.
Undoubtedly, Krishna, Arjuna and Bheema were a great influence and a driving force behind Yudhishthira’s decision to go to war. However, it was Yudhishthira who was yearning to make peace with himself by standing up for justice.
The meta point of this discussion is that even though the influencers were powerful, they were under the command of their leaders viz. Yudhishthira and Dhritarashtra. Krishna and Shakuni were their brains, Arjuna and Karna were their hands while Bheema and Duryodhana were their backbones.