"Goddess Ganga, the divine lovely river that flows through the three worlds" (Metaphor)
Early in the book, we encounter a parable of the Goddess Ganga seducing the great creator Indra. Like in many celestial origin stories, a goddess is used to embody the principle of fertility that fosters all of existence, and the metaphor likening her to a river links the cosmos with the very nature to which it gives birth.
"Fate robs us of wisdom as sudden glare robs us of sight." (Simile)
Yudhisthira utters this before his doomed gambling match with Duryodhana. He knows that it is his destiny to enter this gambling match, that it is how he will fulfill his dharma, and this simile shows how fate will stun better judgment. Importantly, Yudhisthira does not draw the comparison to temporary blindness to denounce fate, but simply to illustrate his own powerlessness in the face of it.
"Then she wept ceaselessly, till her face shone as bright as the disc of the moon in the sky when it emerges from a cloud-bank." (Simile)
Here, Draupadi's tears when she is continually wronged during her time in exile is likened to a celestial phenomena, partially to illustrate the depth of her pain, but also to draw yet another analogy between the key Pandavas and the greater cosmic forces which rule the world.
"You are so stupid that you want to seize him, like a child who wants the moon!" (Simile)
In "Perseverance," Dhrtarastra reprimands his son Duryodhana for seeking war against Yudhisthira, likening him to a child that wants the moon. He extends the simile by saying that you cannot touch the moon with your hand and you cannot seize the wind with your hand, meaning that Duryodhana is attempting to manipulate forces that are far greater and more powerful than any human can control.
"But today I shall fulfill my second vow by slaying Duryodhana like a sacrificial beast!" (Simile)
Bhima says this to Krsna and Arjuna after Karna's death. While at first it may seem like a superficial simile—Duryodhana must be sacrificed like an animal to end the war—remember that animal sacrifice is handled with ambivalence in this epic. After the horse sacrifice in a later book, a mongoose denounces animal sacrifice as pointless. Therefore, there is also an interpretation of the simile that Bhima's desire to kill Duryodhana like a sacrificial beast is an expression of his excessively violent character.
Mahabharata Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Mahabharata is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
This is actually a complex question. There are actually hundreds of themes. Mahabharata is a powerful text which provides an insight into traditional Hindu culture. I might consider dharma, cosmic order, to be a central theme.