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Mahabharata · Ramayana
The Mahābhārata (Devanāgarī: महाभारत) is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. The epic is part of the Hindu itihāsa (literally "history"), and forms an important part of Hindu mythology.
It is of immense importance to culture in the Indian subcontinent, and is a major text of Hinduism. Its discussion of human goals (dharma or duty, artha or purpose, kāma, pleasure or desire and moksha or liberation) takes place in a long-standing tradition, attempting to explain the relationship of the individual to society and the world (the nature of the 'Self') and the workings of karma.
The title may be translated as "the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty". According to the Mahābhārata's own testimony it is extended from a shorter version simply called Bhārata of 24,000 verses.
Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahābhārata is attributed to Vyasa. There have been many attempts to unravel its historical growth and composition layers. Its earliest layers probably date back to the late Vedic period (ca. 8th c. BC) and it probably reached its final form by the time the Gupta period began (ca. 4th c. CE).
With about one hundred thousand verses, long prose passages, and about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is one of the longest epic poems in the world. It is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, roughly five times longer than Dante's Divine Comedy, and about four times the length of the Ramayana. Including the Harivaṃśa, the Mahabharata has a total length of more than 90,000 verses.
- 1 Scope
- 2 Textual history and structure
- 3 Historical context
- 4 Synopsis
- 5 Versions, translations, and derivative works
- 6 Kuru family tree
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the Mahabharata contains much philosophical and devotional material, such as the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita (6.25-42) which has a very high level of philosophical and religious content, or a discussion of the four "goals of life" or purusharthas (12.161). The latter are enumerated as dharma (right action), artha (purpose), kama (pleasure), and moksha (liberation).
The Mahabharata claims all-inclusiveness at the beginning of its first parva ("book"): "What is found here, may be found elsewhere. What is not found here, will not be found elsewhere." Among the principal works and stories that are a part of the Mahabharata are the following (often considered isolated as works in their own right):
- the Bhagavad Gita in book 6 (Bhishmaparva): Krishna advises and teaches Arjuna when he is ridden with doubt.
- the story of Damayanti, sometimes called (Nala and Damayanti) in book 3 (Aranyakaparva), a love story.
- An abbreviated version of the Ramayana, in book 3 (Aranyakaparva)
- Rishyasringa, the horned boy and rishi, in book 3 (Aranyakaparva)
Textual history and structure
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Mahabharata · Ramayana
The epic is traditionally ascribed to Vyasa, who is also one of the major dynastic characters within the epic. The first section of the Mahabharata states that it was Ganesha who, at the request of Vyasa, wrote down the text to Vyasa's dictation. Ganesha is said to have agreed to write it only on condition that Vyasa never pause in his recitation. Vyasa agreed, provided Ganesha took the time to understand what was said before writing it down. The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known as frametales, popular in many Indian religious and secular works. It is recited to the King Janamejaya who is the great-grandson of Arjuna, by Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa. The recitation of Vaisampayana to Janamejaya is then recited again by a professional story teller named Ugrasrava Sauti, many years later, to an assemblage of sages.
It is usually thought that the full length of the Mahabharata has accreted over a long period. The Mahabharata itself (1.1.61) distinguishes a core portion of 24,000 verses, the Bharata proper, as opposed to additional secondary material, while the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra (3.4.4) makes a similar distinction. According to the Adi-parva of the Mahabharata (shlokas 81, 101-102), the text was originally 8,800 verses when it was composed by Vyasa and was known as the Jaya (Victory), which later became 24,000 verses in the Bharata recited by Vaisampayana, and finally over 90,000 verses in the Mahabharata recited by Ugrasrava Sauti.
As with the field of Homeric studies, research on the Mahabharata has put an enormous effort into recognizing and dating various layers within the text. The state of the text has been described by some early 20th century Indologists as unstructured and chaotic. Hermann Oldenberg (1922) supposed that the original poem must once have carried an immense "tragic force", but dismissed the full text as a "horrible chaos."
The earliest known references to the Mahabharata and its core Bharata date back to the Ashtadhyayi (sutra 6.2.38) of Pāṇini (fl. 4th century BC), and in the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra (3.4.4). This may suggest that the core 24,000 verses, known as the Bharata, as well as an early version of the extended Mahabharata, were composed by the 4th century BC. Parts of the Jaya's original 8,800 verses possibly may date back as far as the 9th-8th century BC.
The Greek writer Dio Chrysostom (ca. 40-120) reported, "it is said that Homer's poetry is sung even in India, where they have translated it into their own speech and tongue. The result is that...the people of India...are not unacquainted with the sufferings of Priam, the laments and wailings of Andromache and Hecuba, and the valor of both Achilles and Hector: so remarkable has been the spell of one man's poetry!" Despite the passage's evident face-value meaning—that the Iliad had been translated into Sanskrit—some scholars have supposed that the report reflects the existence of a Mahabharata at this date, whose episodes Dio or his sources syncretistically identify with the story of the Iliad. Christian Lassen, in his Indische Alterthumskunde, supposed that the reference is ultimately to Dhritarashtra's sorrows, the laments of Gandhari and Draupadi, and the valor of Arjuna and Duryodhana or Karna. This interpretation, endorsed in such standard references as Albrecht Weber's History of Indian Literature, has often been repeated without specific reference to what Dio's text says.
Later, the copper-plate inscription of the Maharaja Sharvanatha (533-534) from Khoh (Satna District, Madhya Pradesh) describes the Mahabharata as a "collection of 100,000 verses" (shatasahasri samhita). The redaction of this large body of text was carried out after formal principles, emphasizing the numbers 18 and 12. The addition of the latest parts may be dated by the absence of the Anushasana-parva from MS Spitzer, the oldest surviving Sanskrit philosophical manuscript dated to the first century, that contains among other things a list of the books in the Mahabharata. From this evidence, it is likely that the redaction into 18 books took place in the first century. An alternative division into 20 parvas appears to have co-existed for some time. The division into 100 sub-parvas (mentioned in Mbh. 1.2.70) is older, and most parvas are named after one of their constituent sub-parvas. The Harivamsa consists of the final two of the 100 sub-parvas, and was considered an appendix (khila) to the Mahabharata proper by the redactors of the 18 parvas.
The 18 parvas
The division into 18 parvas is as follows:
|1||Adi Parva (The Book of the Beginning)||1-19||How the Mahabharata came to be narrated by Sauti to the assembled rishis at Naimisharanya. The recital of the Mahabharata at the Sarpasatra of Janamejaya by Vaishampayana at Takṣaśilā. The history of the Bharata race is told in detail and the parva also traces history of the Bhrigu race. The birth and early life of the Kuru princes. (adi means first)|
|2||Sabha Parva (The Book of the Assembly Hall)||20-28||Maya Danava erects the palace and court (sabha), at Indraprastha. Life at the court, Yudhishthira's Rajasuya Yajna, the game of dice, and the eventual exile of the Pandavas.|
|3||Vana Parva also Aranyaka-parva, Aranya-parva (The Book of the Forest)||29-44||The twelve years of exile in the forest (aranya).|
|4||Virata Parva (The Book of Virata)||45-48||The year in incognito spent at the court of Virata.|
|5||Udyoga Parva (The Book of the Effort)||49-59||Preparations for war and efforts to bring about peace between the Kurus and the Pandavas which eventually fail (udyoga means effort or work).|
|6||Bhishma Parva (The Book of Bhishma)||60-64||The first part of the great battle, with Bhishma as commander for the Kauravas and his fall on the bed of arrows.|
|7||Drona Parva (The Book of Drona)||65-72||The battle continues, with Drona as commander. This is the major book of the war. Most of the great warriors on both sides are dead by the end of this book.|
|8||Karna Parva (The Book of Karna)||73||The battle again, with Karna as commander.|
|9||Shalya Parva (The Book of Shalya)||74-77||The last day of the battle, with Shalya as commander. Also told in detail is the pilgrimage of Balarama to the fords of the river Saraswati and the mace fight between Bheema and Duryodhana which ends the war, since Bheema kills Duryodhana by smashing him on the thighs with a mace.|
|10||Sauptika Parva (The Book of the Sleeping Warriors)||78-80||Ashvattama, Kripa and Kritavarma kill the remaining Pandava army in their sleep. Only 7 warriors remain on the Pandava side and 3 on the Kaurava side.|
|11||Stri Parva (The Book of the Women)||81-85||Gandhari, Kunti and the women (stri) of the Kurus and Pandavas lament the dead.|
|12||Shanti Parva (The Book of Peace)||86-88||The crowning of Yudhisthira as king of Hastinapura, and instructions from Bhishma for the newly anointed king on society, economics and politics. This is the longest book of the Mahabharata (shanti means peace).|
|13||Anushasana Parva (The Book of the Instructions)||89-90||The final instructions (anushasana) from Bhishma.|
|14||Ashvamedhika Parva (The Book of the Horse Sacrifice)||91-92||The royal ceremony of the Ashvamedha (Horse sacrifice) conducted by Yudhisthira. The world conquest by Arjuna. The Anugita is told by Krishna to Arjuna.|
|15||Ashramavasika Parva (The Book of the Hermitage)||93-95||The eventual deaths of Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti in a forest fire when they are living in a hermitage in the Himalayas. Vidura predeceases them and Sanjaya on Dhritarashtra's bidding goes to live in the higher Himalayas.|
|16||Mausala Parva (The Book of the Clubs)||96||The infighting between the Yadavas with maces (mausala) and the eventual destruction of the Yadavas.|
|17||Mahaprasthanika Parva (The Book of the Great Journey)||97||The great journey of Yudhisthira and his brothers across the whole country and finally their ascent of the great Himalayas where each Pandava falls except for Yudhisthira.|
|18||Svargarohana Parva (The Book of the Ascent to Heaven)||98||Yudhisthira's final test and the return of the Pandavas to the spiritual world (svarga).|
|khila||Harivamsa Parva (The Book of the Genealogy of Hari)||99-100||Life of Krishna which is not covered in the 18 parvas of the Mahabharata.|
The Adi-parva includes the snake sacrifice (sarpasattra) of Janamejaya, explaining its motivation, detailing why all snakes in existence were intended to be destroyed, and why in spite of this, there are still snakes in existence. This sarpasattra material was often considered an independent tale added to a version of the Mahabharata by "thematic attraction" (Minkowski 1991), and considered to have particularly close connection to Vedic (Brahmana) literature, in particular the Panchavimsha Brahmana which describes the Sarpasattra as originally performed by snakes, among which are snakes named Dhrtarashtra and Janamejaya, two main characters of the Mahabharata's sarpasattra, and Takshaka, the name of a snake also in the Mahabharata. The Shatapatha Brahmana gives an account of an Ashvamedha performed by Janamejaya Parikshita.
According to what one character says at Mbh. 1.1.50, there were three versions of the epic, beginning with Manu (1.1.27), Astika (1.3, sub-parva 5) or Vasu (1.57), respectively. These versions would correspond to the addition of one and then another 'frame' settings of dialogues. The Vasu version would omit the frame settings and begin with the account of the birth of Vyasa. The Astika version would add the Sarpasattra and Ashvamedha material from Brahmanical literature, introduce the name Mahabharata, and identify Vyasa as the work's author. The redactors of these additions were probably Pancharatrin scholars who according to Oberlies (1998) likely retained control over the text until its final redaction. Mention of the Huna in the Bhishma-parva however appears to imply that this parva may have been edited around the 4th century.
Regardless of the historicity of the Kurukshetra War in particular, the general setting of the epic certainly does have a historical precedent in Iron Age (Vedic) India, where the Kuru kingdom was the center of political power during roughly 1200 to 800 BC. A dynastic conflict of the period could have been the inspiration for the Jaya, the core on which the Mahabharata corpus was built, with a climactic battle eventually coming to be viewed as an epochal event.
Pauranic literature presents genealogical lists associated with the Mahabharata narrative. The evidence of the Puranas is of two kinds. Of the first kind, there is the direct statement that there were 1015 (or 1050) years between the birth of Parikshita (Arjuna's grandson) and the accession of Mahapadma Nanda, commonly dated to 382 B.C., which would yield an estimate of about 1400 B.C. for the Bharata battle. However, this would imply improbably long reigns on average for the kings listed in the genealogies. Of the second kind are analyses of parallel genealogies in the Puranas between the times of Adhisimakrishna (Parikshita's great-grandson) and Mahapadma Nanda. Pargiter accordingly estimated 26 generations by averaging 10 different dynastic lists and, assuming 18 years for the average duration of a reign, arrived at an estimate of 850 B.C. for Adhisimakrishna, and thus approximately 950 B.C. for the Bharata battle.
B. B. Lal used the same approach with a more conservative assumption of the average reign to estimate a date of 836 B.C., and correlated this with archaeological evidence from Painted Grey Ware sites, the association being strong between PGW artifacts and places mentioned in the epic.
Attempts to date the events using methods of archaeoastronomy have produced, depending on which passages are chosen and how they are interpreted, estimates ranging from the late 4th to the mid 2nd millennium B.C. The late 4th millennium date has a precedent in the calculation of the Kaliyuga epoch, based on planetary conjunctions, by Aryabhata (6th century). His date of February 18 3102 B.C. has become widespread in Indian tradition (for example, the Aihole inscription of Pulikeshi II, dated to Saka 556 = 634 A.D., claims that 3735 years have elapsed since the Bharata battle.) Another traditional school of astronomers and historians, represented by Vriddha-Garga, Varahamihira (author of the Brhatsamhita) and Kalhana (author of the Rajatarangini), place the Bharata war 653 years after the Kaliyuga epoch, corresponding to 2449 B.C.
The core story of the work is that of a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura, the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. The two collateral branches of the family that participate in the struggle are the Kaurava and the Pandava. Although the Kaurava is the senior branch of the family, Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, is younger than Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava. Both Duryodhana and Yudhisthira claim to the first in line to inherit the throne.
The struggle culminates in the great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. The battle produces complex conflicts of kinship and friendship, instances of family loyalty and duty taking precedence over what is right, as well as the converse.
The Mahabharata itself ends with the death of Krishna, and the subsequent end of his dynasty, and ascent of the Pandava brothers to heaven. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu age of Kali (Kali Yuga), the fourth and final age of mankind, where the great values and noble ideas have crumbled, and man is heading toward the complete dissolution of right action, morality and virtue.
The Older generations
Janamejaya's ancestor Shantanu, the king of Hastinapura has a short-lived marriage with the goddess Ganga and has a son, Devavrata (later to be called Bhishma), who becomes the heir apparent.
Many years later, when the king goes hunting, he sees Satyavati, the daughter of a fisherman and asks her father for her hand. Her father refuses to consent to the marriage unless Shantanu promises to make any future son of Satyavati the king upon his death. To solve the king's dilemma, Devavrata agrees not to take the throne. As the fisherman is not sure about the prince's children honouring the promise, Devavrata also takes a vow of lifelong celibacy to guarantee his father's promise. Shantanu has two sons by Satyavati, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Upon Shantanu's death, Chitrangada becomes king. He lived a very short uneventful life and dies. Vichitravirya, the younger son, rules Hastinapura. In order to arrange the marriage of the young Vichitravirya, Bhishma goes to Kāśī for a swayamvara of the three princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He abducts them on account of his strength, rather than their will. Ambika and Ambalika consent to be married to Vichtravirya. Amba informs Bhishma she wished to marry Shalvaraj (king of Shalva) whom Bhishma defeated at their swayamvar. Bhishma lets her leave but Shalvaraj refuses to marry her, smarting at his humiliation under Bhishma. Amba then returns to marry Vichtravirya but he refuses. Finally, she asks Bhishma to marry her but he proclaims he cannot marry her because of his vow of celibacy. Amba then becomes enraged and becomes Bhishma's bitter enemy, holding him responsible for her plight. Later she is reborn to King Drupada as Shikhandi (or Shikhandini) and causes Bhishma's fall with help of Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra.
The Pandava and Kaurava princes
When Vichitravirya dies young without any heirs, Satyavati asks her first son Vyasa to father children on the widows. The elder, Ambika, shuts her eyes when she sees him and her son Dhritarashtra is born blind. Ambalika turns pale and bloodless, and her son Pandu is born pale (the term Pandu may also mean 'jaundiced' ). Vyasa fathers a third son Vidura, by a serving maid.
Dhritarashtra marries Gandhari, a princess from Gandhara, who blindfolds herself when she finds she has been married to a blind man. Pandu takes the throne because of Dhritarashtra's blindness. Pandu marries twice, to Kunti and Madri. Pandu is however cursed by sage Kindama that if he engages in a sexual act, he will die. He then retires to the forest along with his two wives, and his brother rules thereafter, despite his blindness.
Pandu's older queen Kunti however, asks the gods Dharma, Vayu, and Indra for sons, by using a boon granted by Durvasa. She gives birth to three sons Yudhishtira, Bhima, and Arjuna through these gods. Kunti shares her boon with the younger queen Madri, who bears the twins Nakula and Sahadeva through the Ashwini twins. However Pandu and Madri, indulge in sex and Pandu dies. Madri dies on his funeral pyre out of remorse. Kunti raises the five brothers, who are from then usually referred to as the Pandava brothers.
Dhritarashtra has a hundred sons through Gandhari, all born after the birth of Yudhishtira. These are the Kaurava brothers, the eldest being Duryodhana, and the second Dushasana. The rivalry and enmity between them and the Pandava brothers, from their youth and into manhood leads to the Kurukshetra war.
Lākṣagṛha (The House of Lac)
Duryodhana plots to get rid of the Pandavas. He has a palace built of flammable materials (mostly Lac), and arranges for them to stay there, with the intention of setting it alight. However, the Pandavas are warned by their uncle, Vidura, who sends them a miner to dig a tunnel. They are able to escape to safety and go into hiding, but after leaving others behind, whose bodies are mistaken for them. The Pandavas and Kunti go into hiding.
Marriage to Draupadi
During the course of their hiding the Pandavas learn of a swayamvara which is taking place for the hand of the Pāñcāla princess Draupadī. The Pandavas enter the competition in disguise as Brahmins. The task is to string a mighty steel bow and shoot a target on the ceiling, which is the eye of a moving artificial fish, while looking at its reflection in oil below. Most of the princes fail, many being unable to lift the bow. Arjuna succeeds however. The Pandavas return home and inform their mother that Arjuna has won a competition and to look at what they have brought back. Without looking, Kunti asks them to share whatever it is Arjuna has won among themselves. Thus Draupadi ends up being the wife of all five brothers.
After the wedding, the Pandava brothers are invited back to Hastinapura. The Kuru family elders and relatives negotiate and broker a split of the kingdom, with the Pandavas obtaining a new territory. Yudhishtira has a new capital built for this territory at Indraprastha. Neither the Pandava nor Kaurava sides are happy with the arrangement however.
Shortly after this, Arjuna elopes with and then marries Krishna's sister, Subhadra. Yudhishtira wishes to establish his position as king; he seeks Krishna's advice. Krishna advises him, and after due preparation and the elimination of some opposition, Yudhishthira carries out the rājasūya yagna ceremony; he is thus recognised as pre-eminent among kings.
The Pandavas have a new palace built for them, by Maya the Danava. They invite their Kaurava cousins to Indraprastha. Duryodhana walks round the palace, and mistakes a glossy floor for water, and will not step in. After being told of his error, he then sees a pond, and assumes it is not water and falls in. Draupadi laughs at him and calls him blind son of a blind father. He then decides to avenge his humiliation.
The dice game
Shakuni, Duryodhana's uncle, now arranges a dice game, playing against Yudhishtira with loaded dice. Yudhishtira loses all his wealth, then his kingdom. He then even gambles his brothers, himself, and finally his wife into servitude. The jubilant Kauravas insult the Pandavas in their helpless state and even try to disrobe Draupadi in front of the entire court, but her honour is saved by Krishna who miraculously creates lengths of cloth to replace the ones being removed.
Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, and the other elders are aghast at the situation, but Duryodhana is adamant that there is no place for two crown princes in Hastinapura. Against his wishes Dhritarashtra orders for another dice game. The Pandavas are required to go into exile for 12 years, and in the 13th year must remain hidden. If discovered by the Kauravas, they will be forced into exile for another 12 years.
Exile and return
The Pandavas spend thirteen years in exile; many adventures occur during this time. They also prepare alliances for a possible future conflict. They spend their final year in disguise in the court of Virata, and are discovered at or after the end of the year.
At the end of their exile, they try to negotiate a return to Indraprastha. However, this fails, as Duryodhana objects that they were discovered while in hiding, and that no return of their kingdom was agreed. War becomes inevitable.
The battle at Kurukshetra
The two sides summon vast armies to their help, and line up at Kurukshetra for a war. The Kingdoms of Panchala, Dwaraka, Kasi, Kekaya, Magadha, Matsya, Chedi, Pandya and the Yadus of Mathura and some other clans like the Parama Kambojas were allied with the Pandavas. The allies of the Kauravas included the kings of Pragjyotisha, Anga, Kekaya, Sindhudesa (including Sindhus, Sauviras and Sivis), Mahishmati, Avanti in Madhyadesa, Madra, Gandhara, Bahlikas, Kambojas and many others. Prior to war being declared, Balarama, had expressed his unhappiness at the developing conflict, and left to go on pilgrimage, thus he does not take part in the battle itself. Krishna takes part in a non-combatant role, as charioteer for Arjuna.
Before the battle, Arjuna, seeing himself facing his great grandfather Bhishma and his teacher Drona on the other side, has doubts about the battle and he fails to lift his Gāndeeva bow. Krishna wakes him up to his call of duty in the famous Bhagavad Gita section of the epic.
Though initially sticking to chivalrous notions of warfare, both sides soon adopt dishonourable tactics. At the end of the 18-day battle, only the Pandavas, Satyaki, Kripa, Ashwathama, Kritavarma, Yuyutsu and Krishna survive.
The end of the Pandavas
After "seeing" the carnage, Gandhari who had lost all her sons, curses Krishna to be a witness to a similar annihilation of his family, for though divine and capable of stopping the war, he had not done so. Krishna accepts the curse, which bears fruit 36 years later.
The Pandavas who had ruled their kingdom meanwhile, decide to renounce everything. Clad in skins and rags they retire to the Himalaya and climb towards heaven in their bodily form. A stray dog travels with them. One by one the brothers and Draupadi fall on their way. As each one stumbles, Yudhishitra gives the rest the reason for their fall (Draupadi was partial to Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva were vain and proud of their looks, Bhima and Arjuna were proud of their strength and archery skills, respectively). Only the virtuous Yudhisthira who had tried everything to prevent the carnage and the dog remain. The dog reveals himself to be the god Yama (also known as Yama Dharmaraja), and then takes him to the underworld where he sees his siblings and wife. After explaining the nature of the test, Yama takes Yudhishtira back to heaven and explains that it was necessary to expose him to the underworld because (Rajyante narakam dhruvam) any ruler has to visit the underworld at least once. Yama then assures him that his siblings and wife would join him in heaven after they had been exposed to the underworld for measures of time according to their vices.
Arjuna's grandson Parikshita rules after them and dies bitten by a snake. His furious son, Janamejaya, decides to perform a snake sacrifice (sarpasttra) in order to destroy the snakes. It is at this sacrifice that the tale of his ancestors is narrated to him.
Versions, translations, and derivative works
Many regional versions of the work developed over time, mostly differing only in minor details, or with verses or subsidiary stories being added. These include some versions from outside the Indian subcontinent, such as the Kakawin Bharatayuddha from Java. The plays of the Tamil street theatre, terukkuttu, use themes from the Tamil language versions of Mahabharata, focusing on Draupadi.
Between 1919 and 1966, scholars at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, compared the various manuscripts of the epic from India and abroad and produced the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, on 13,000 pages in 19 volumes, followed by the Harivamsha in another two volumes and six index volumes. This is the text that is usually used in current Mahabharata studies for reference. This work is sometimes called the 'Pune' or 'Poona' edition of the Mahabharata.
The Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar' has written epic-poetry on various themes of Mahabharata like Kurukshetra, Rashmirathi.
The Kannada novelist S.L. Bhyrappa wrote a novel in Kannada (now translated to most Indian languages and English) titled Parva, giving a new interpretation to the story of Mahabharata. He tried to understand the social and ethical practices in these regions and correlate them with the story of Mahabharata.
In the late 1980s, the Mahabharata TV series was televised and shown on India's national television (Doordarshan).
Many film versions of the epic exist, dating from 1920.
In the West, a well known presentation of the epic is Peter Brook's nine hour play premiered in Avignon in 1985 and its five-hour movie version The Mahabharata (1989).
Among literary reinterpretations of the Mahabharata the most famous is arguably Sashi Tharoor's major work entitled "The Great Indian Novel", an involved literary, philosophical, and political novel which superimposes the major moments of post-independence India in the 20th century onto the driving events of the Mahabharata epic.
Mahabharata was also reinterpreted by Shyam Benegal in Kalyug. Kalyug is a modern-day replaying of the Mahabharata.
Western interpretations of the Mahabharata include William Buck's Mahabharata and Elizabeth Seeger's Five Sons of King Pandu.
- Sarma version
A translation of the full epic in English by Bharadvaja Sarma, published by Academic Publishers, Kolkata 700073, India is now available. It is a book by book abridgement of the whole of Vyasa's Mahabharatam in eighteen parvas in a single book. It follows closely the sequence of events and episodes, stories and anecdotes, fables and legends, discussions and discourses in the vast treatise, but reduced to approximately only one sixth of the size of the original.
- Lal version
A poetic translation of the full epic into English, done by the poet P. Lal is complete, and in 2005 began being published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta. The P. Lal translation is a non-rhyming verse-by-verse rendering, and is the only edition in any language to include all slokas in all recensions of the work (not just those in the Critical Edition). The completion of the publishing project is scheduled for 2009. Sixteen of the eighteen volumes are now available:
- Clay Sanskrit Library version
A project to translate the full epic into English prose, translated by various hands, began to appear in 2005 from the Clay Sanskrit Library, published by New York University Press. The translation is based not on the Critical Edition but on the version known to the commentator Nīlakaṇṭha. Currently available are portions of books 2-4 and 7-9.
- Chicago version
Another English prose translation of the full epic, based on the Critical Edition, is also in progress, published by University Of Chicago Press, initiated by Chicago Indologist J. A. B. van Buitenen (books 1-5) and, following a 20-year hiatus caused by the death of van Buitenen, is being continued by D. Gitomer of DePaul University (book 6), J. L. Fitzgerald of Brown University (books 11-13) and W. Doniger of the University of Chicago (books 14-18):
- Ganguli version
Until these three projects are available in full, the only available complete English translations remain the Victorian prose versions by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, published between 1883 and 1896 (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers) and by M. N. Dutt (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers). Most critics consider the translation by Ganguli to be faithful to the original text. The complete text of Ganguli's translation is available online (see External Links).
- Indonesian version
This is a Kawi version that is found on the Indonesian island of Bali and was translated by Dr. I. Gusti Putu Phalgunadi. Of the eighteen parvas, only eight Kawi manuscripts remain.
Kuru family tree
Key to Symbols
- Male: blue border
- Female: red border
- Pandavas: green box
- Kauravas: red box
- a: Santanu was a king of the Kuru dynasty or kingdom, and was some generations removed from any ancestor called Kuru. His marriage to Ganga preceded his marriage to Satyavati.
- b: Pandu and Dhritarashtra were fathered by Vyasa after Vichitravirya's death. Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were the sons of Vyasa with Ambika, Ambalika and a maid servant respectively.
- c: Karna was born to Kunti through her invocation of Surya, before her marriage to Pandu.
- d: The Pandavas were acknowledged sons of Pandu but were begotten by Kunti's invocation of various deities. They all married to Draupadi (not shown in tree). In particular:
- e: Duryodhana and his siblings were born at the same time, and they were of the same generation as their Pandava cousins.
The birth order of siblings is correctly shown in the family tree (from left to right), except for Vyasa and Bhishma whose birth order is not described, and Vichitravirya who was born after them. The fact that Ambika and Ambalika are sisters is not shown in the family tree. The birth of Duryodhana took place after the birth of Karna, Yudhishtira and Bhima, but before the birth of the remaining Pandava brothers.
Some siblings of the characters shown here have been left out for clarity; these include Chitrangada, the eldest brother of Vichitravirya. Vidura, half-brother to Dhritarashtra and Pandu. The family tree continues through the descendants Arjuna, and these have also not been shown here.
- Kingdoms of Ancient India
- Kakawin Bhāratayuddha
- bhārata means the progeny of Bharata, the legendary king who is claimed to have founded the Bhāratavarsha kingdom.
- Brockington (1998, p. 26)
- Van Buitenen; The Mahabharata - 1; The Book of the Beginning. Introduction (Authorship and Date)
- Spodek, Howard. Richard Mason. The World's History. Pearson Education: 2006, New Jersey. 224, 0-13-177318-6
- Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian. Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity, London: Penguin Books, 2005.
- SP Gupta and KS Ramachandran (1976), p.3-4
- The judgement of other early 20th century Indologists was even less favourable. Winternitz (Geschichte der indischen Literatur 1909) opted that "only unpoetical theologists and clumsy scribes" could have lumped the various parts of disparate origin into an unordered whole.
- Dio Chrysostom, 53.6‑7, trans. H. Lamar Crosby, Loeb Classical Library, 1946, vol. 4, p. 363.
- Cited approvingly in Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity (trans. Evelyn Abbott, London 1880), vol. 4, p. 81.
- For example, John Campbell Oman, The Great Indian Epics (London 1895), p. 215.
- 18 books, 18 chapters of the Bhagavadgita and the Narayaniya each, corresponding to the 18 days of the battle and the 18 armies (Mbh. 5.152.23)
- The Ashvamedhika-parva is also preserved in a separate version, the Jaimini-Bharata (Jaiminiya-ashvamedha) where the frame dialogue is replaced, the narration being attributed to Jaimini, another disciple of Vyasa. This version contains far more devotional material (related to Krishna) than the standard epic and probably dates to the 12th century. It has some regional versions, the most popular being the Kannada one by Devapurada Annama Lakshmisha (16th century).The Mahabharata
- In discussing the dating question, historian A. L. Basham says: "According to the most popular later tradition the Mahabharata War took place in 3102 B.C., which in the light of all evidence, is quite impossible. More reasonable is another tradition, placing it in the 15th century B.C., but this is also several centuries too early in the light of our archaeological knowledge. Probably the war took place around the beginning of the 9th century B.C.; such a date seems to fit well with the scanty archaeological remains of the period, and there is some evidence in the Brahmana literature itself to show that it cannot have been much earlier." Basham, p. 40, citing HC Raychaudhuri, Political History of Ancient India, pp.27ff.
- M Witzel, Early Sanskritization: Origin and Development of the Kuru state, EJVS vol.1 no.4 (1995); also in B. Kölver (ed.), Recht, Staat und Verwaltung im klassischen Indien. The state, the Law, and Administration in Classical India, München, R. Oldenbourg, 1997, p.27-52
- AD Pusalker, History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol I, Chapter XIV, p.273
- FE Pargiter, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, p.180. He shows estimates of the average as 47, 50, 31 and 35 for various versions of the lists.
- Pargiter, op.cit. p.180-182
- B. B. Lal, Mahabharata and Archaeology in Gupta and Ramachandran (1976), p.57-58
- Gupta and Ramachandran (1976), p.246, who summarize as follows: "Astronomical calculations favor 15th century B.C. as the date of the war while the Puranic data place it in the 10th/9th century B.C. Archaeological evidence points towards the latter." (p.254)
- Gupta and Ramachandran (1976), p.55; AD Pusalker, HCIP, Vol I, p.272
- AD Pusalker, op.cit. p.272
- Plant Cultures - picture details
- Srinivas, Smriti (2004) . Landscapes of Urban Memory. Orient Longman. pp. 23. ISBN 8125022546. OCLC 46353272.
- Bhandarkar Institute, Pune—Virtual Pune
- Mahabharat at the Internet Movie Database (1988-1990 TV series)
- Mahabharat at the Internet Movie Database (1920 film)
- The Mahabharata at the Internet Movie Database (1989 mini-series)
- What makes Shyam special...
- Several editions of the Kisari Mohan Ganguli translation of the Mahabharata incorrectly cite Pratap Chandra Roy as translator and this error has been perpetuated into secondary citations. See the publishers preface to the current Munshiram Manoharlal edition for an explanation.
- Chaturvedi Badrinath, The Mahabharata : An Inquiry in the Human Condition, New Delhi, Orient Longman (2006)
- Basham, A. L. (1954). The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent Before The Coming of the Muslims. New York: Grove Press.
- J. Brockington, The Sanskrit Epics, Leiden (1998).
- Alf Hiltebeitel, The Ritual of Battle, Krishna in the Mahabharata, SUNY Press, New York 1990.
- E. W. Hopkins, The Great Epic of India, New York (1901).
- Keay, John (2000). India: A History. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3797-0.
- H. Oldenberg, Zur Geschichte der Altindischen Prosa, Berlin (1917)
- Jyotirmayananda Swami, Mysticism of the Mahabharata, Yoga Research Foundation, Miami 1993.
- Paule Lerner, Astrological Key in Mahabharata, David White (trans.) Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi 1988.
- Ruth Cecily Katz, Arjuna in the Mahabharata, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia 1989.
- R.V.Bhasin, "Mahabharata" published by National Publications, India, 2007.
- Majumdar, R. C. (general editor) (1951). The History and Culture of the Indian People: (Volume 1) The Vedic Age. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd..
- Krishna Chaitanya (K.K. Nair), The Mahabharata, A Literary Study, Clarion Books, New Delhi 1985.
- Th. Oberlies, 'Ritual an und unter der Oberfläche des Mahabharata', in: Neue Methoden der Epenforschung (ed. H. L. C. Tristram), Freiburg (1998).
- H. Oldenberg, Das Mahabharata, Göttingen (1922).
- M. Mehta, The problem of the double introduction to the Mahabharata, JAOS 93 (1973), 547-550.
- C. Z. Minkowski, Janamehayas Sattra and Ritual Structure, JAOS 109 (1989), 410-420.
- C. Z. Minkowski, 'Snakes, Sattras and the Mahabharata', in: Essays on the Mahabharata, ed. A. Sharma, Leiden (1991), 384-400.
- Bruce M. Sullivan, Seer of the Fifth Veda, Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa in the Mahabharata, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi 1999.
- Nicholas Sutton, Religious Doctrines in the Mahabharata, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi 2000.
- N. B. Utgikar, The mention of the Mahabharata in the Ashvalayana Grhya Sutra, Proceedings and Transactions of the All-India Oriental Conference, Poona (1919), vol. 2, Poona (1922), 46-61.
- M. Witzel, Epics, Khilas and Puranas: Continuities and Ruptures, Proceedings of the Third Dubrovnik International Conference on the Sanskrit Epics and Puranas, ed. P. Koskiallio, Zagreb (2005), 21-80.
- Gupta, S.P. and K.S. Ramachandran (ed.), Mahabharata: myth and reality. Agam Prakashan, New Delhi 1976.
- Pargiter, F.E., Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, London 1922. Repr. Motilal Banarsidass 1997.
- Majumdar, R.C. and A.D. Pusalker (ed.), The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol I. "The Vedic Age", Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 1951.
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- Original text online Template:Sa icon
- MahabharataOnline.com - Mahabharata Translations, Simple narrations, Stories and Scriptures
- Swargarohan - Complete Mahabharata text (sanskrit) in PDF, Reference on Characters of Mahabharata; Principal stories of Mahabharata in Gujarati
- etext (metrical), entered by Muneo Tokunaga
- GRETIL etext (Muneo Tokunaga)
- Mahābhārata online
-  (parallel in Devanāgarī and transliterated) at The Internet Sacred Text Archive
- Clay Sanskrit Library publishes classical Indian literature, including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.
- Abridged versions
- Textual resources
- Reading Suggestions J. L. Fitzgerald, Das Professor of Sanskrit, Department of Classics, Brown University
- Mahabharata Resources Page at its new home Resources on Mahabharata
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- Kisari Mohan Ganguli translation (English)
- Articles on the Mahabharata
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