A few months ago, I bought the entire box set. Ever since, Ive been purporting to start my Mahabharata journey. Ive often taken out a book from the set, turned it in my hands, and been teased by the back cover blurb that calls what is inside The Greatest Story Ever Told. In his introduction to the first book, Debroy attempts to place the events in the Mahabharata in history.
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Though the basic plot is widely known there is much more to the epic than the dispute between the Kouravas and Pandavas that led to the battle in Kurushetra. It has innumerable sub plots that accommodate fascinating meanderings and digressions and it has rarely been translated in full given its formidable length of 80, shlokas or couples. This magnificent 10 volume unabridged translation of the epic is based on the Critical Edition compiled at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
He has worked in universities research institutes industry and for the government. He has published books papers and popular articles in economics. But he has also published in Indology and translated into English the Vedas, the Puranas, the Upanishads and the gita Penguin India his book Sarama and her children.
The dog in Indian myth penguin India splices his interest in Hinduism with his love for dogs. He is currently translating the remaining volumes of the unabridged Mahabharata. Introduction The Hindu tradition has an amazingly large corpus of religious texts, spanning Vedas, Vedanta brahmanas, aranyakas, Upanishads, , Vedangas, smritis, Puranas, dharmashastras and itihasa. Some of the minor Puranas Upa Purana are of later vintage. In the listing of the corpus above figures itihasa, translated into English as history.
It is a chronicle of what happened; it is fact. Or so runs the belief. The former is believed to have been composed as poetry and the latter as prose.
The Ramayana has segments in prose and the Mahabharata has segments in poetry. However, the dividing line between what is religious and what is not is fuzzy. The epics are not part of the shruti tradition. That tradition is like revelation, without any composer. The epics are part of the smriti tradition. At the time they were composed, there was no question of texts being written down. They were recited, heard, memorized and passed down through the generations. But the smriti tradition had composers.
The Ramayana was composed by Valmiki, regarded as the first poet or kavi. The word kavi has a secondary meaning as poet or rhymer. The primary meaning of kavi is someone who is wise. And in that sense, the composer of the Mahabharata was no less wise. This was Vedavyasa or Vyasadeva. He was so named because he classified vyasa the Vedas. It is a title. Once in a while, in accordance with the needs of the era, the Vedas need to be classified.
Each such person obtains the title and there have been twenty-eight Vyasadevas so far. At one level, the question about who composed the Mahabharata is pointless. According to popular belief and according to what the Mahabharata itself states, it was composed by Krishna Dvaipayana Vedavyasa Vyasadeva. But the text was not composed and cast in stone at a single point in time. Multiple authors kept adding layers and embellishing it.
Consequently, the Mahabharata is far more unstructured than the Ramayana. The major sections of the Ramayana are known as kandas and one meaning of the word kanda is the stem or trunk of a tree, suggesting solidity. The major sections of the Mahabharata are known as paruas and while one meaning of the word parva is limb or member or joint, in its nuance there is greater fluidity in the word parva than in kanda.
The Vyasadeva we are concerned with had a proper name of Krishna Dvaipayana. He was born on an island dvipa. That explains the Dvaipayana part of the name. He was dark. That explains the Krishna part of the name. Krishna Dvaipayana Vedavyasa was also related to the protagonists of the Mahabharata story. To go back to the origins, the Ramayana is about the solar dynasty, while the Mahabharata is about the lunar dynasty. As is to be expected, the lunar dynasty begins with Soma the moon and goes down through Pururava who married the famous apsara Urvashi , Nahusha and Yayati.
He asked his sons to temporarily loan him their youth. All but one refused. The ones who refused were cursed that they would never be kings, and this includes the Yadavas descended from Yadu. The one who agreed was Puru and the lunar dynasty continued through him. We often tend to think of the Kouravas as the evil protagonists in the Mahabharata story and the Panda vas as the good protagonists.
Since Kuru was a common ancestor, the appellation Kourava applies equally to Yudhishthira and his brothers and Duryodhana and his brothers. Through Satyavati, Shantanu fathered Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. However, the sage Parashara had already fathered Krishna Dvaipayana through Satyavati. And Shantanu had already fathered Bhishma through Ganga.
The story of the epic is also about these antecedents and consequents. However, this is a distilled version, which really begins with Shantanu. Such sons were accepted in that day and age.
Nor was this a lunar dynasty problem alone. In the Ramayana, Dasharatha of the solar dynasty also had an infertility problem, corrected through a sacrifice. To return to the genealogical tree, the Pandavas won the Kurukshetra war.
However, their five sons through Droupadi were killed. Having classified the Vedas, he composed the Mahabharata in , shlokas or couplets. One reaches around 90, shlokas. That too, is a gigantic number. The Mahabharata is almost four times the size of the Ramayana and is longer than any other epic anywhere in the world.
For a count of 90, Sanskrit shlokas, we are talking about something in the neighbourhood of two million words. The text of the Mahabharata tells us that Krishna Dvaipayana finished this composition in three years. The text also tells us that there are three versions to the Mahabharata. The original version was called lara and had 8, shlokas. This was expanded to 24, shlokas and called Bharata. Finally, it was expanded to 90, or , shlokas and called Mahabharata.
He composed the eighteen Maha Puranas, adding another , shlokas. Having composed the Mahabharata, he taught it to his disciple Vaishampayana. When Parikshit was killed by a serpent, janamejaya organized a snake- sacrifice to destroy the serpents. With all the sages assembled there, Vaishampayana turned up and the assembled sages wanted to know the story of the Mahabharata, as composed by Krishna Dvaipayana. Janamejaya also wanted to know why Parikshit had been killed by the serpent.
However, there is another round of recounting too. Lomaharshana was a suta, the sutas being charioteers and bards or raconteurs. As the son of a suta, Lomaharshana is also referred to as Souti. His proper name is Ugrashrava. Souti refers to his birth. He owes the name Lomaharshana to the fact that the body-hair lama or ramal stood up harshana on hearing his tales. Within the text therefore, two people are telling the tale.
Sometimes it is Vaishampayana and sometimes it is Lomaharshana. Incidentally, the stories of the Puranas are recounted by Lomaharshana, without Vaishampayana intruding. Having composed the Puranas, Krishna Dvaipayana taught them to his disciple Lomaharshana.
For what it is worth, there are scholars who have used statistical tests to try and identify the multiple authors of the Mahabharata. As we are certain there were multiple authors rather than a single one, the question of when the Mahabharata was composed is somewhat pointless.
It is impossible to be more accurate than that. There is a difference between dating the composition and dating the incidents, such as the date of the Kurukshetra war. Dating the incidents is both subjective and controversial and irrelevant for the purposes of this translation. But even then, the size of the corpus is nothing short of amazing.
The history and genealogy of the Bharata and Bhrigu races is recalled, as is the birth and early life of the Kuru princes adi means first. Includes the Bhagavad Gita in chapters 25— This is the major book of the war. Most of the great warriors on both sides are dead by the end of this book. Also told in detail, is the pilgrimage of Balarama to the fords of the river Saraswati and the mace fight between Bhima and Duryodhana which ends the war, since Bhima kills Duryodhana by smashing him on the thighs with a mace. Only 7 warriors remain on the Pandava side and 3 on the Kaurava side.
Though the basic plot is widely known there is much more to the epic than the dispute between the Kouravas and Pandavas that led to the battle in Kurushetra. It has innumerable sub plots that accommodate fascinating meanderings and digressions and it has rarely been translated in full given its formidable length of 80, shlokas or couples. This magnificent 10 volume unabridged translation of the epic is based on the Critical Edition compiled at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. He has worked in universities research institutes industry and for the government.