The Mahabharata is one of the world’s most well known Sanskrit epics and is recognised as the longest epic-poem ever written. It is also considered to be Itihasa or history. A wide variety of folklore and literature is based on the Mahabharata. The epic at present has more than one hundred thousand verses. Vyasa is said to be the author of the epic but it would not be an exaggeration when one states that ‘the poet of the epic is the race itself’. Vyasa created a historical document relating the facts about the battle of Kurukshetra. It was named ‘Jaya’ and had 8,800 verses. He passed this knowledge on to five of his disciples.
The battle of Kurukshetra was a disaster. Parikshit was the only young descendent left after the war. His son Janamejaya once decided to perform a Yajnya. Vaishampayana, one of the disciples of Vyasa, was the head of the rituals performed for the Yajnya. He started relating the story of the war. Janamejaya being the great-grandchild of Arjuna, could not follow the story about Arjuna and his ancestors. Vaishampayana thus had to add some information in between. This increased the size to 24,000 verses. Now it was the story of the Bharata dynasty. Thus the name given was ‘Bharata’.
After several years, sage Shaunaka was performing a yajnya in Naimisharanya. In the free time somebody enquired about the story of the Bharatas. A storyteller named Ugrashravas Lomaharshani started telling the story. But the listeners did not know many references. So he had to further expand the work with additions of stories related to the life of Bharatas and other characters to put stories in a context. It was named Mahabharata as it was more than five times longer than Bharata. The verses were added even after this stage as the story spread across the Indian subcontinent.
Owing to the expansions over the years by various people the story has become a little complicated. The Mahabharata encompasses a wide range of facts, philosophies and stories over a wide time span. The Bhagavadgita, India’s most popular philosophical work is a part of the Mahabharata. It also gives several references from the earlier epic Ramayana and the characters of this epic.
The Mahabharata is the only epic that can be used as textual reference for understanding prehistory and to put events in perspective. Many of the kingdoms, places, rivers, mountains and forests mentioned in the text can easily be found in contemporary India, thereby greatly adding to our knowledge of these places in ancient times.
You must be logged in to post a comment.