The MAHāBHāRATA (
Sanskrit : महाभारतम्,
Mahābhāratam, pronounced ) is one of the two major
India , the other being the Rāmāyaṇa .
The Mahābhārata is an epic narrative of the Kurukṣetra War and
the fates of the
Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes. It also
contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion
of the four "goals of life" or puruṣārtha (12.161). Among the
principal works and stories in the Mahābhārata are the
Bhagavadgītā , the story of Damayantī , an abbreviated version of
the Rāmāyaṇa, and the story of Ṛṣyasringa , often considered
as works in their own right.
Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahābhārata is attributed to
Vyāsa . There have been many attempts to unravel its historical
growth and compositional layers. The oldest preserved parts of the
text are thought to be not much older than around 400 BCE, though the
origins of the epic probably fall between the 8th and 9th centuries
BCE. The text probably reached its final form by the early Gupta
period (c. 4th century CE). The title may be translated as "the great
tale of the Bhārata dynasty". According to the Mahābhārata itself,
the tale is extended from a shorter version of 24,000 verses called
The Mahābhārata is the longest epic poem known and has been
described as "the longest poem ever written". Its longest version
consists of over 100,000 śloka or over 200,000 individual verse lines
(each shloka is a couplet), and long prose passages. About 1.8 million
words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of
Iliad and the
Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of
the Rāmāyaṇa. W. J. Johnson has compared the importance of the
Mahābhārata in the context of world civilization to that of the
Bible , the works of
Shakespeare , the works of
Greek drama ,
or the Qur\'an .
* 1 Textual history and structure
* 1.1 Accretion and redaction
* 1.2 Historical references
The 18 parvas or books
* 2 Historical context
* 3 Synopsis
* 3.1 The older generations
* 3.2 The
* 3.3 Lakshagraha (the house of lac)
* 3.4 Marriage to
* 3.6 The dice game
* 3.7 Exile and return
* 3.8 The battle at
* 3.9 The end of the
* 3.10 The reunion
* 4 Themes
* 4.1 Just war
* 5 Versions, translations, and derivative works
* 5.1 Critical Edition
* 5.2 Regional versions
* 5.3 Translations
* 5.4 Derivative literature
* 5.5 In film and television
* 6 Jain version
* 7 Kuru family tree
* 8 Cultural influence
* 9 Editions
* 10 See als0
* 11 References
* 12 Sources
* 13 External links
TEXTUAL HISTORY AND STRUCTURE
Modern depiction of
Vyasa narrating the Mahābhārata to Ganesha
Murudeshwara temple, Karnataka.
The epic is traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyāsa , who is also a
major character in the epic. Vyāsa described it as being itihāsa
(history). He also describes the Guru-shishya parampara, which traces
all great teachers and their students of the Vedic times.
The first section of the Mahābhārata states that it was Gaṇeśa
who wrote down the text to Vyasa's dictation.
The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known
as frametales, popular in many Indian religious and non-religious
works. It is first recited at Takshashila by the sage Vaiśampāyana ,
a disciple of Vyāsa, to the King
Janamejaya who is the
great-grandson of the Pāṇḍava prince
Arjuna . The story is then
recited again by a professional storyteller named Ugraśrava Sauti ,
many years later, to an assemblage of sages performing the 12-year
sacrifice for the king Saunaka Kulapati in the Naimiśa Forest .
The text has been described by some early 20th-century western
Indologists as unstructured and chaotic.
Hermann Oldenberg supposed
that the original poem must once have carried an immense "tragic
force" but dismissed the full text as a "horrible chaos." Moritz
Winternitz (Geschichte der indischen Literatur 1909) considered that
"only unpoetical theologists and clumsy scribes" could have lumped the
parts of disparate origin into an unordered whole.
ACCRETION AND REDACTION
Research on the Mahābhārata has put an enormous effort into
recognizing and dating layers within the text. Some elements of the
present Mahābhārata can be traced back to Vedic times. The
background to the Mahābhārata suggests the origin of the epic occurs
"after the very early
Vedic period " and before "the first Indian
'empire' was to rise in the third century B.C." That this is "a date
not too far removed from the 8th or 9th century B.C." is likely.
Mahābhārata started as an orally-transmitted tale of the charioteer
bards . It is generally agreed that "Unlike the Vedas, which have to
be preserved letter-perfect, the epic was a popular work whose
reciters would inevitably conform to changes in language and style,"
so the earliest 'surviving' components of this dynamic text are
believed to be no older than the earliest 'external' references we
have to the epic, which may include an allusion in Panini 's 4th
century BCE grammar Aṣṭādhyāyī 4:2:56. It is estimated that
Sanskrit text probably reached something of a "final form" by the
early Gupta period (about the 4th century CE).
editor of the first great critical edition of the Mahābhārata,
commented: "It is useless to think of reconstructing a fluid text in a
literally original shape, on the basis of an archetype and a stemma
codicum . What then is possible? Our objective can only be to
reconstruct the oldest form of the text which it is possible to reach
on the basis of the manuscript material available." That manuscript
evidence is somewhat late, given its material composition and the
climate of India, but it is very extensive.
The Mahābhārata itself (1.1.61) distinguishes a core portion of
24,000 verses: the Bhārata proper, as opposed to additional secondary
material, while the Aśvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra (3.4.4) makes a similar
distinction. At least three redactions of the text are commonly
recognized: Jaya (Victory) with 8,800 verses attributed to Vyāsa ,
Bhārata with 24,000 verses as recited by Vaiśampāyana , and finally
the Mahābhārata as recited by Ugraśrava Sauti with over 100,000
verses. However, some scholars, such as John Brockington, argue that
Jaya and Bharata refer to the same text, and ascribe the theory of
Jaya with 8,800 verses to a misreading of a verse in Ādiparvan
(1.1.81). 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
Anuśāsana-parva and the Virāta parva from the "Spitzer manuscript".
The oldest surviving
Sanskrit text dates to the Kushan Period (200
According to what one character says at Mbh. 1.1.50, there were three
versions of the epic, beginning with Manu (1.1.27),
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 aśvamedha material from Brahmanical literature,
introduce the name Mahābhārata, and identify Vyāsa as the work's
author. The redactors of these additions were probably Pāñcarātrin
scholars who according to Oberlies (1998) likely retained control over
the text until its final redaction. Mention of the Huna in the
Bhīṣma-parva however appears to imply that this parva may have been
edited around the 4th century. The snake sacrifice of
The Ādi-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
Mahābhārata by "thematic attraction" (Minkowski 1991), and
considered to have a particularly close connection to Vedic (Brahmana
) literature. The Pañcavimśa
Brahmana (at 25.15.3) enumerates the
officiant priests of a sarpasattra among whom the names
Dhṛtarāṣtra and Janamejaya, two main characters of the
Mahābhārata's sarpasattra, as well as Takṣaka, the name of a snake
in the Mahābhārata, occur.
Bhagavad Gita § Date and text
The earliest known references to the Mahābhārata and its core
Bhārata date to the Aṣṭādhyāyī (sutra 6.2.38) of Pāṇini
(fl. 4th century BCE) and in the Aśvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra (3.4.4).
This may mean the core 24,000 verses, known as the Bhārata, as well
as an early version of the extended Mahābhārata, were composed by
the 4th century BCE. A report by the Greek writer
Dio Chrysostom (c.
40 - c. 120 CE) about
Homer 's poetry being sung even in
to imply that the
Iliad had been translated into Sanskrit. However,
Indian scholars have, in general, taken this as evidence for the
existence of a Mahābhārata at this date, whose episodes Dio or his
sources identify with the story of the Iliad.
Several stories within the Mahābhārata took on separate identities
of their own in Classical
Sanskrit literature . For instance,
Abhijñānaśākuntala by the renowned
400 CE), believed to have lived in the era of the Gupta dynasty, is
based on a story that is the precursor to the Mahābhārata.
Urubhaṅga , a
Sanskrit play written by
Bhāsa who is believed to
have lived before Kālidāsa, is based on the slaying of
the splitting of his thighs by Bhīma.
The copper-plate inscription of the
Maharaja Sharvanatha (533–534
CE) from Khoh (
Madhya Pradesh ) describes the
Mahābhārata as a "collection of 100,000 verses" (śata-sahasri
THE 18 PARVAS OR BOOKS
The division into 18 parvas is as follows:
Adi Parva (The Book of the Beginning)
How the Mahābhārata came to be narrated by Sauti to the assembled
Naimisharanya , after having been recited at the sarpasattra
Janamejaya by Vaishampayana at Takṣaśilā, modern-day
Pakistan . The history and genealogy of the Bharata and
is recalled, as is the birth and early life of the Kuru princes (adi
Sabha Parva (The Book of the Assembly Hall)
Maya Danava erects the palace and court (sabha), at
Life at the court,
Rajasuya Yajna, the game of dice,
the disrobing of
Draupadi and eventual exile of the
Vana Parva also Aranyaka-parva, Aranya-parva (The Book of the
The twelve years of exile in the forest (aranya).
Virata Parva (The Book of Virata)
The year spent incognito at the court of
Udyoga Parva (The Book of the Effort)
Preparations for war and efforts to bring about peace between the
Kaurava and the
Pandava sides which eventually fail (udyoga means
effort or work).
Bhishma Parva (The Book of Bhishma)
The first part of the great battle, with
Bhishma as commander for
Kaurava and his fall on the bed of arrows. (Includes the Bhagavad
Gita in chapters 25 -42. )
Drona Parva (The Book of Drona)
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.
Karna Parva (The Book of Karna)
The continuation of the battle with
Karna as commander of the
Shalya Parva (The Book of Shalya)
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
Duryodhana which ends
the war, since
Duryodhana by smashing him on the thighs
with a mace.
Sauptika Parva (The Book of the Sleeping Warriors)
Kritavarma kill the remaining
in their sleep. Only 7 warriors remain on the
Pandava side and 3 on
Stri Parva (The Book of the Women)
Gandhari and the women (stri) of the Kauravas and
the dead and Gandhari cursing
Krishna for the massive destruction and
the extermination of the Kaurava.
Shanti Parva (The Book of Peace)
The crowning of
Yudhishthira as king of Hastinapura, and
Bhishma for the newly anointed king on society,
economics and politics. This is the longest book of the Mahabharata.
Kisari Mohan Ganguli considers this Parva as a later interpolation.'
Anushasana Parva (The Book of the Instructions)
The final instructions (anushasana) from Bhishma.
Ashvamedhika Parva (The Book of the Horse Sacrifice)
The royal ceremony of the
Ashvamedha (Horse sacrifice) conducted by
Yudhishthira. The world conquest by Arjuna. The Anugita is told by
Krishna to Arjuna.
Ashramavasika Parva (The Book of the Hermitage)
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.
Mausala Parva (The Book of the Clubs)
The materialisation of Gandhari's curse, i.e., the infighting
between the Yadavas with maces (mausala) and the eventual destruction
of the Yadavas.
Mahaprasthanika Parva (The Book of the Great Journey)
The great journey of Yudhishthira, his brothers and his wife
Draupadi across the whole country and finally their ascent of the
great Himalayas where each
Pandava falls except for Yudhishthira.
Svargarohana Parva (The Book of the Ascent to Heaven)
Yudhishthira's final test and the return of the
Pandavas to the
spiritual world (svarga ).
Harivamsa Parva (The Book of the Genealogy of Hari)
This is an addendum to the 18 books, and covers those parts of the
Krishna which is not covered in the 18 parvas of the
The historicity of the
Kurukshetra War is unclear. Many historians
estimate the date of the
Kurukshetra war to
Iron Age India of the 10th
century BCE. The setting of the epic has a historical precedent in
Iron Age (Vedic ) India, where the Kuru kingdom was the center of
political power during roughly 1200 to 800 BCE. A dynastic conflict
of the period could have been the inspiration for the Jaya, the
foundation on which the Mahābhārata corpus was built, with a
climactic battle eventually coming to be viewed as an epochal event.
Puranic literature presents genealogical lists associated with the
Mahābhārata 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
Parikshit (Arjuna's grandson) and
the accession of
Mahapadma Nanda (400-329 BCE), which would yield an
estimate of about 1400 BCE 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
Parikshit '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 BCE for Adhisimakrishna, and thus
approximately 950 BCE for the Bharata battle. Map of some
Painted Grey Ware
Painted Grey Ware (PGW) sites.
B. B. Lal used the same approach with a more conservative assumption
of the average reign to estimate a date of 836 BCE, and correlated
this with archaeological evidence from
Painted Grey Ware
Painted Grey Ware (PGW) sites,
the association being strong between PGW artifacts and places
mentioned in the epic.
John Keay confirm this and also gives 950 BCE
for the Bharata battle.
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 BCE. The late 4th millennium date has a precedent in the
calculation of the Kaliyuga epoch, based on planetary conjunctions, by
Aryabhata (6th century). Aryabhatta's date of February 18 3102 BCE for
Mahābhārata war has become widespread in Indian tradition. Some
sources mark this as the disappearance of
Krishna from earth. The
Aihole inscription of
Pulikeshi II , dated to Saka 556 = 634 CE,
claims that 3735 years have elapsed since the Bharata battle, putting
the date of Mahābhārata war at 3137 BCE. 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 BCE.
Ganesha writing the
The core story of the work is that of a dynastic struggle for the
Hastinapura , the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. The two
collateral branches of the family that participate in the struggle are
Kaurava and the
Pandava . Although the
Kaurava is the senior
branch of the family,
Duryodhana , the eldest Kaurava, is younger than
Yudhishthira , the eldest Pandava. Both
Duryodhana and Yudhishthira
claim to be first in line to inherit the throne.
The struggle culminates in the great battle of
Kurukshetra , in which
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 Mahābhārata 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 Yuga ,
the fourth and final age of humankind, in which great values and noble
ideas have crumbled, and people are heading towards the complete
dissolution of right action, morality and virtue.
THE OLDER GENERATIONS
Shantanu woos Satyavati, the fisherwoman. Painting by Raja Ravi
King 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 , a great warrior), who becomes the heir
apparent. Many years later, when King
Shantanu goes hunting, he sees
Satyavati , the daughter of the chief of fisherman, and asks her
father for her hand. Her father refuses to consent to the marriage
Shantanu promises to make any future son of
Satyavati the king
upon his death. To resolve his father's dilemma, Devavrata agrees to
relinquish his right to 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,
Upon Shantanu's death,
Chitrangada becomes king. He lives a very short
uneventful life and dies. Vichitravirya, the younger son, rules
Hastinapura . Meanwhile, the King of
Kāśī arranges a swayamvara for
his three daughters, neglecting to invite the royal family of
Hastinapur. In order to arrange the marriage of young Vichitravirya,
Bhishma attends the swayamvara of the three princesses Amba, Ambika
and Ambalika, uninvited, and proceeds to abduct them. Ambika and
Ambalika consent to be married to Vichitravirya.
The oldest princess Amba, however, informs
Bhishma that she wishes to
marry king of Shalva whom
Bhishma defeated at their swayamvara.
Bhishma lets her leave to marry king of Shalva, but Shalva refuses to
marry her, still smarting at his humiliation at the hands of Bhishma.
Amba then returns to marry
Bhishma but he refuses due to his vow of
celibacy. Amba becomes enraged and becomes Bhishma's bitter enemy,
holding him responsible for her plight. Later she is reborn to King
Shikhandi (or Shikhandini) and causes Bhishma's fall, with
the help of
Arjuna , in the battle of Kurukshetra.
THE PANDAVA AND KAURAVA PRINCES
Draupadi with her five husbands - the
Pandavas . The central
Yudhishthira ; the two on the bottom are
Sahadeva , the twins, are standing. Painting by Raja Ravi
Varma , c. 1900.
Vichitravirya dies young without any heirs,
Satyavati asks her
Vyasa to father children with the widows. The eldest,
Ambika, shuts her eyes when she sees him, and so her son Dhritarashtra
is born blind.
Ambalika turns pale and bloodless upon seeing him, and
thus her son
Pandu is born pale and unhealthy (the term
Pandu may also
mean 'jaundiced' ). Due to the physical challenges of the first two
Vyasa to try once again. However, Ambika and
Ambalika send their maid instead, to Vyasa's room.
Vyasa fathers a
Vidura , by the maid. He is born healthy and grows up to be
one of the wisest characters in the Mahabharata. He serves as Prime
Minister (Mahamantri or Mahatma) to King
Pandu and King Dhritarashtra.
When the princes grow up,
Dhritarashtra is about to be crowned king
Vidura intervenes and uses his knowledge of politics
to assert that a blind person cannot be king. This is because a blind
man cannot control and protect his subjects. The throne is then given
Pandu because of Dhritarashtra's blindness.
Pandu marries twice, to
Dhritarashtra marries Gandhari , a princess from
Gandhara, who blindfolds herself so that she may feel the pain that
her husband feels. Her brother
Shakuni is enraged by this and vows to
take revenge on the Kuru family. One day, when
Pandu is relaxing in
the forest, he hears the sound of a wild animal. He shoots an arrow in
the direction of the sound. However the arrow hits the sage
who curses him that if he engages in a sexual act, he will die. Pandu
then retires to the forest along with his two wives, and his brother
Dhritarashtra rules thereafter, despite his blindness.
Pandu's older queen Kunti, however, had been given a boon by Sage
Durvasa that she could invoke any god using a special mantra. Kunti
uses this boon to ask
Dharma the god of justice,
Vayu the god of the
Indra the lord of the heavens for sons. She gives birth to
Bhima , and
Arjuna , through these gods.
Kunti shares her mantra with the younger queen
Madri , who bears the
Sahadeva through the Ashwini twins. However, Pandu
Madri indulge in sex, and
Madri dies on his funeral
pyre out of remorse.
Kunti raises the five brothers, who are from then
on usually referred to as the
Dhritarashtra has a hundred sons through Gandhari , all born after
the birth of Yudhishthira. These are the
Kaurava brothers, the eldest
Duryodhana , and the second
Dushasana . Other
Vikarna and Sukarna. The rivalry and enmity between them and the
Pandava brothers, from their youth and into manhood, leads to the
LAKSHAGRAHA (THE HOUSE OF LAC)
After the deaths of their mother (Madri) and father (Pandu), the
Pandavas and their mother
Kunti return to the palace of Hastinapur.
Yudhishthira is made Crown Prince by Dhritarashtra, under considerable
pressure from his kingdom.
Dhritarashtra wanted his own son Duryodhana
to become king and lets his ambition get in the way of preserving
Duryodhana and Dusasana plot to get rid of the Pandavas.
Shakuni calls the architect Purochana to build a palace out of
flammable materials like lac and ghee. He then arranges for the
Pandavas and the Queen Mother
Kunti to stay there, with the intention
of setting it alight. However, the
Pandavas are warned by their wise
Vidura , who sends them a miner to dig a tunnel. They are able
to escape to safety and go into hiding. Back at Hastinapur, the
Kunti are presumed dead.
MARRIAGE TO DRAUPADI
Arjuna piercing the eye of the fish as depicted in Chennakesava
Temple built by
Whilst they were in hiding the
Pandavas learn of a swayamvara which
is taking place for the hand of 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. On explaining the
previous life of Draupadi, she ends up being the wife of all five
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.
Yudhishthira has a new capital built for this territory at
Indraprastha . Neither the
Kaurava sides are happy with
the arrangement however.
Shortly after this,
Arjuna elopes with and then marries Krishna's
Subhadra . Yudhisthra 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.
Pandavas have a new palace built for them, by Maya the Danava .
They invite their
Kaurava cousins to Indraprastha.
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
ridicules him by saying that this is because of his blind father
Dhritrashtra . He then decides to avenge his humiliation.
THE DICE GAME
Shakuni, Duryodhana's uncle, now arranges a dice game, playing
Yudhishthira with loaded dice.
Yudhishthira 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
front of the entire court, but her honour is saved by
miraculously creates lengths of cloth to replace the ones being
Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, and the other elders are aghast at the
Duryodhana is adamant that there is no place for two
crown princes in Hastinapura. Against his wishes
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
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 just 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
Kurukshetra War A scene from the Mahābhārata
Angkor Wat : A black stone relief depicting a number of men
wearing a crown and a dhoti, fighting with spears, swords and bows. A
chariot with half the horse out of the frame is seen in the middle.
The two sides summon vast armies to their help and line up at
Kurukshetra for a war. The kingdoms of
Panchala , Dwaraka , Kasi,
Matsya , Chedi , Pandyas ,
Telinga , and the Yadus
of Mathura and some other clans like the
Parama Kambojas were allied
Pandavas . The allies of the Kauravas included the kings of
Anga , Kekaya, Sindhudesa (including Sindhus, Sauviras
and Sivis), Mahishmati, Avanti in Madhyadesa,
Bahlika people ,
Kambojas and many others. Before 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
Krishna takes part in a non-combatant role, as charioteer for
Before the battle, Arjuna, seeing the opposing army includes many
relatives and loved ones, including his great grandfather
Drona , has doubts about the battle and he fails to lift
his Gāndeeva bow.
Krishna wakes him up to his call of duty in the
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,
Ashwatthama , Kritavarma
THE END OF THE PANDAVAS
Gandhari, blindfolded, supporting Dhrtarashtra and following
Kunti when Dhrtarashtra became old and infirm and retired to the
forest. A miniature painting from a 16th-century manuscript of part of
the Razmnama, a Persian translation of the
After "seeing" the carnage, Gandhari , who had lost all her sons,
Krishna to be a witness to a similar annihilation of his
family, for though divine and capable of stopping the war, he had not
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,
Yudhishthira gives the rest the reason for
their fall (
Draupadi was partial to Arjuna,
vain and proud of their looks, and
Arjuna were proud of
their strength and archery skills, respectively). Only the virtuous
Yudhishthira, 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
Yudhishthira 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
Parikshit rules after them and dies bitten by a
snake. His furious son, Janamejaya, decides to perform a snake
sacrifice (sarpasattra ) in order to destroy the snakes. It is at this
sacrifice that the tale of his ancestors is narrated to him.
The Mahābhārata mentions that Karna, the Pandavas, and
Dhritarashtra's sons eventually ascended to svarga and "attained the
state of the gods " and banded together — "serene and free from
The Mahābhārata offers one of the first instances of theorizing
about dharmayuddha , "just war ", illustrating many of the standards
that would be debated later across the world. In the story, one of
five brothers asks if the suffering caused by war can ever be
justified. A long discussion ensues between the siblings, establishing
criteria like proportionality (chariots cannot attack cavalry, only
other chariots; no attacking people in distress), just means (no
poisoned or barbed arrows), just cause (no attacking out of rage), and
fair treatment of captives and the wounded.
VERSIONS, TRANSLATIONS, AND DERIVATIVE WORKS
Between 1919 and 1966, scholars at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research
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 Mahābhārata studies for reference. This work is
sometimes called the "Pune" or "Poona" edition of the Mahabharata.
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 the Tamil street theatre, terukkuttu and
kattaikkuttu , the plays of which use themes from the Tamil language
versions of Mahabharata, focusing on Draupadi. The
Krishna in an act of the Javanese wayang wong performance
Outside the Indian subcontinent, in
Indonesia , a version was
developed in ancient
Kakawin Bhāratayuddha in the 11th
century under the patronage of King
Dharmawangsa (990–1016) and
later it spread to the neighboring island of
Bali , which remains a
Hindu majority island today. It has become the fertile source for
Javanese literature, dance drama (wayang wong ), and wayang shadow
puppet performances. This Javanese version of the Mahābhārata
differs slightly from the original Indian version. For example,
Draupadi is only wed to
Yudhishthira , not to all the Pandava
brothers; this might demonstrate ancient Javanese opposition to
polyandry . The author later added some female characters to be wed to
the Pandavas, for example,
Arjuna is described as having many wives
and consorts next to
Subhadra . Another difference is that Shikhandini
does not change her sex and remains a woman, to be wed to
Arjuna , and
takes the role of a warrior princess during the war. Another twist is
that Gandhari is described as antagonistic character who hates the
Pandavas: her hate is out of jealousy because during Gandhari's
swayamvara , she was in love with
Pandu but was later wed to his blind
elder brother instead, whom she did not love, so she blindfolded
herself as protest. Another notable difference is the inclusion of the
Punakawans , the clown servants of the main characters in the
storyline. These characters include
Petruk , Gareng and
Bagong, who are much-loved by Indonesian audiences. There are also
some spin-off episodes developed in ancient Java, such as Arjunawiwaha
composed in 11th century.
A Kawi version of the Mahabharata, of which eight of the eighteen
parvas survive, is found on the Indonesian island of
Bali . It has
been translated into English by Dr.
I. Gusti Putu Phalgunadi .
Bhishma on his death-bed of arrows with the
Pandavas and Krishna
. Folio from the
Razmnama (1761–1763), Persian translation of the
Mahabharata, commissioned by Mughal emperor
Akbar . The
dressed in Persian armour and robes.
A Persian translation of Mahabharta, titled
Razmnameh , was produced
at Akbar's orders, by
Faizi and `Abd al-Qadir Bada\'uni in the 18th
The first complete English translation was the Victorian prose
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 in the public domain and is available online.
Another English prose translation of the full epic, based on the
Critical Edition, is in progress, published by University Of Chicago
Press. It was initiated by
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 Wendy
Doniger of the University of Chicago (books 14–18).
An early poetry translation by
Romesh Chunder Dutt and published in
1898 condenses the main themes of the Mahābhārata into English
verse. A later poetic "transcreation" (author's own description) 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 2010. Sixteen of the
eighteen volumes are now available.
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
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 15 volumes of
the projected 32-volume edition.
Bibek Debroy has also begun an unabridged English
translation in ten volumes. Volume 1:
Adi Parva was published in March
Many condensed versions, abridgements and novelistic prose retellings
of the complete epic have been published in English, including works
Ramesh Menon , William Buck ,
R. K. Narayan ,
C. Rajagopalachari ,
K. M. Munshi ,
Dharma , Romesh C. Dutt , Bharadvaja Sarma,
John D. Smith and
Sharon Maas .
Bhasa , the 2nd- or 3rd-century CE
Sanskrit playwright, wrote two
plays on episodes in the Marabharata,
Urubhanga (Broken Thigh), about
the fight between
Bhima , while
Middle One) set around
Bhima and his son,
Ghatotkacha . The first
important play of 20th century was
Andha Yug (The Blind Epoch), by
Dharamvir Bharati , which came in 1955, found in Mahabharat, both an
ideal source and expression of modern predicaments and discontent.
Ebrahim Alkazi it was staged by numerous directors. V.
S. Khandekar 's Marathi novel,
Yayati (1960) and
Girish Karnad 's
Yayati (1961) are based on the story of King
in the Mahabharat. Bengali writer and playwright, Buddhadeva Bose
wrote three plays set in Mahabharat, Anamni Angana, Pratham Partha and
Pratibha Ray wrote an award winning novel entitled
Draupadi 's perspective in 1984. Later, Chitra Banerjee
Divakaruni wrote a similar novel entitled The Palace of Illusions: A
Novel in 2008. Gujarati poet
Chinu Modi has written long narrative
Bahuk based on character
Krishna Udayasankar , a
Singapore-based Indian author has written several novels which are
modern-day retellings of the epic, most notably the Aryavarta
Suman Pokhrel wrote a solo play based on Ray\'s
novel by personalizing and taking
Draupadi alone in the scene.
Amar Chitra Katha published a 1,260 page comic book version of the
IN FILM AND TELEVISION
Krishna as portrayed in
Karnataka which is based
largely on stories of
In Indian cinema , several film versions of the epic have been made,
dating back to 1920. In Telugu film Daana Veera Soora
directed by and starring
N. T. Rama Rao
N. T. Rama Rao depicts
Karna as the lead
character. The Mahābhārata was also reinterpreted by Shyam Benegal
in Kalyug .
Prakash Jha directed 2010 film
Raajneeti was partially
inspired by the Mahabharata. A 2013 animated adaptation holds the
record for India's most expensive animated film.
In the late 1980s, the Mahabharat TV series , directed by Ravi
Chopra, was televised on India's national television (
The same year as Mahabharat was being shown on Doordarshan, that same
company's other television show,
Bharat Ek Khoj , also directed by
Shyam Benegal, showed a 2-episode abbreviation of the Mahabharata,
drawing from various interpretations of the work, be they sung,
danced, or staged. In the
Western world , a well-known presentation of
the epic is
Peter Brook 's nine-hour play, which premiered in Avignon
in 1985, and its five-hour movie version The Mahābhārata (1989) .
Uncompleted projects on the Mahābhārata include a ones by Rajkumar
Santoshi , and a theaterical adaptation planned by
Satyajit Ray .
Salakapurusa Depiction of wedding
procession of Lord Neminatha. The enclosure shows the animals that are
to be slaughtered for food for weddings. Overcome with Compassion for
Neminatha refused to marry and renounced his kingdom to
become a Shramana
Jain versions of Mahābhārata can be found in the various Jain texts
like Harivamsapurana (the story of
Harivamsa ) Trisastisalakapurusa
Caritra (Hagiography of 63 Illustrious persons), Pandavacaritra (lives
Pandavas ) and Pandavapurana (stories of
Pandavas ). From the
earlier canonical literature, Antakrddaaśāh (8th cannon) and
Vrisnidasa (upangagama or secondary canon) contain the stories of
Krishna and Balarama. Prof. Padmanabh
Jaini notes that, unlike in the
Hindu Puranas, the names Baladeva and
Vasudeva are not restricted to
Krishna in Jain puranas.
Instead they serve as names of two distinct class of mighty brothers,
who appear nine times in each half of time cycles of the Jain
cosmology and rule the half the earth as half-chakravartins. Jaini
traces the origin of this list of brothers to the Jinacharitra by
Bhadrabahu swami (4th–3rd century BCE). According to Jain cosmology
Jarasandha are the ninth and the last set of
Baladeva, Vasudeva, and Partivasudeva. The main battle is not the
Mahabharata, but the fight between
Jarasandha (who is
killed by Krishna). Ultimately, the
renunciation as Jain monks and are reborn in heavens, while on the
Jarasandha are reborn in hell. In keeping with
the law of karma ,
Krishna is reborn in hell for his exploits (sexual
and violent) while
Jarasandha for his evil ways. Prof. Jaini admits a
possibility that perhaps because of his popularity, the Jain authors
were keen to rehabilitate Krishna. The
Jain texts predict that after
his karmic term in hell is over sometime during the next half
Krishna will be reborn as a Jain
Tirthankara and attain
Krishna and Balrama are shown as contemporaries and
cousins of 22nd Tirthankara, Neminatha. According to this story,
Krishna arranged young Neminath’s marriage with Rajamati, the
daughter of Ugrasena, but Neminatha, empathizing with the animals
which were to be slaughtered for the marriage feast, left the
procession suddenly and renounced the world.
KURU FAMILY TREE
This shows the line of royal and family succession, not necessarily
the parentage. See the notes below for detail.
KEY TO SYMBOLS
* Male: BLUE BORDER
* Female: RED BORDER
Pandavas : GREEN BOX
* Kauravas : YELLOW BOX
Shantanu 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
Dhritarashtra were fathered by
Vyasa in the niyoga
Vichitravirya 's death. Dhritarashtra,
Vidura were the sons of
Vyasa with Ambika,
Ambalika and a maid servant
Karna was born to
Kunti through her invocation of
before her marriage to
acknowledged sons of
Pandu but were begotten by the invocation by
Madri of various deities. They all married
shown in tree).
Duryodhana and his siblings were born at the same time, and
they were of the same generation as their
* F : Although the succession after the
Pandavas was through the
Arjuna and Subhadra, it was
Yudhishthira and Draupadi
who occupied the throne of
Hastinapura after the great battle.
The birth order of siblings is correctly shown in the family tree
(from left to right), except for
Bhishma whose birth order
is not described, and
Chitrangada who were 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
Yudhishthira and Bhima, but before the birth of the
Some siblings of the characters shown here have been left out for
clarity; these include
Chitrāngada , the eldest brother of
Vidura , half-brother to
Dhritarashtra and Pandu.
Bhagavad Gita ,
Krishna explains to
Arjuna his duties as a
warrior and prince and elaborates on different Yogic and Vedantic
philosophies, with examples and analogies. This has led to the Gita
often being described as a concise guide to
Hindu philosophy and a
practical, self-contained guide to life. In more modern times, Swami
Bal Gangadhar Tilak ,
Mahatma Gandhi and many others
used the text to help inspire the
Indian independence movement
Indian independence movement .
Various modern day Television shows and novels have taken inspiration
* The Mahabharata: Complete and Unabridged (set of 10 volumes) by
Bibek Debroy, Penguin Books India.
* The Mahābhārata of
Vyasa (18 volumes), transcreated from
P. Lal , Writers Workshop.
* ^ Datta, Amaresh (1 January 2006). "The Encyclopaedia of Indian
Literature (Volume Two) (Devraj to Jyoti)". ISBN 978-81-260-1194-0 .
* ^ A B C Brockington (1998, p. 26)
* ^ Van Buitenen; The
Mahabharata – 1; The Book of the Beginning.
Introduction (Authorship and Date)
* ^ bhārata means the progeny of Bharata , the legendary king who
is claimed to have founded the
* ^ James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 399. ISBN
* ^ T. R. S. Sharma; June Gaur; Sahitya Akademi (New Delhi, Inde).
(2000). Ancient Indian Literature: An Anthology. Sahitya Akademi. p.
137. ISBN 978-81-260-0794-3 .
* ^ 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.
* ^ W. J. Johnson (1998). The Sauptikaparvan of the Mahabharata:
The Massacre at Night.
Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press . p. ix. ISBN
* ^ Davis, Richard H. (2014). The "Bhagavad Gita": A Biography.
Princeton University Press. p. 38. ISBN 9781400851973 . Retrieved 31
* ^ Krishnan, Bal (1978). Kurukshetra: Political and Cultural
History. B.R. Publishing Corporation. p. 50. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
* ^ Hermann Oldenberg, Das Mahabharata: seine Entstehung, sein
Inhalt, seine Form, Göttingen, 1922,
* ^ "The Mahabharata" at The Sampradaya Sun
* ^ A History of Indian Literature, Volume 1 by Maurice Winternitz
* ^ A B C D Buitenen (1973) pp. xxiv–xxv
* ^ "The Mahabharata: How an oral narrative of the bards became a
text of the Brahmins".
* ^ Sukthankar (1933) "Prolegomena" p. lxxxvi. Emphasis is
* ^ Gupta & Ramachandran (1976), citing Mahabharata, Critical
Edition, I, 56, 33
* ^ SP Gupta and KS Ramachandran (1976), p.3-4, citing Vaidya
* ^ Brockington, J. L. (1998). The
Sanskrit epics, Part 2. Volume
12. BRILL. p. 21. ISBN 90-04-10260-4 .
* ^ 18 books, 18 chapters of the Bhagavadgita and the Narayaniya
each, corresponding to the 18 days of the battle and the 18 armies
* ^ The Spitzer Manuscript (Beitrage zur Kultur- und
Geistesgeschichte Asiens), Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2004. It is
one of the oldest
Sanskrit manuscripts found on the
Silk Road and part
of the estate of Dr. Moritz Spitzer.
* ^ The Oldest Extant Parvan-List of the Mahābhārata, Dieter
Schlingloff, Journal of the
American Oriental Society , Vol. 89, No.
2, April–June 1969, pp. 334–338, at
* ^ J.A.B. van Buitenen, Mahābhārata, Volume 1, p.445, citing W.
Caland, The Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa, p.640-2
* ^ Dio Chrysostom, 53.6-7, trans. H. Lamar Crosby, Loeb Classical
Library , 1946, vol. 4, p. 363.
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
Karna (cited approvingly in Max Duncker , The History of
Evelyn Abbott , London 1880), vol. 4, p. 81). This
interpretation is endorsed in such standard references as Albrecht
Weber 's History of Indian Literature but has sometimes been repeated
as fact instead of as interpretation.
* ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 6:
Bhishma Parva: Bhagavat-Gita Parva:
Section XXV (
Bhagavad Gita Chapter I)". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 3
* ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 6:
Bhishma Parva: Bhagavat-Gita Parva:
Section XLII (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII)". Sacred-texts.com.
Retrieved 3 August 2012.
* ^ 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
* ^ In discussing the dating question, historian A. L. Basham says:
"According to the most popular later tradition the
took place in 3102 BCE, which in the light of all evidence, is quite
impossible. More reasonable is another tradition, placing it in the
15th century BCE, 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 BCE; 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,
* ^ A.D. 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
* ^ Keay, John (2000). India: A History. New York City: Grove
Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-8021-3797-0 .
* ^ Gupta and Ramachandran (1976), p.246, who summarize as follows:
"Astronomical calculations favor 15th century BCE as the date of the
war while the Puranic data place it in the 10th/9th century BCE.
Archaeological evidence points towards the latter." (p.254)
* ^ "Lord
Krishna lived for 125 years".
* ^ "5151 years of Gita".
* ^ Gupta and Ramachandran (1976), p.55; AD Pusalker, HCIP, Vol I,
* ^ AD Pusalker, op.cit. p.272
* ^ "Sanskrit, Tamil and Pahlavi Dictionaries" (in German).
Webapps.uni-koeln.de. 11 February 2003. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
* ^ "Book 1: Adi Parva: Jatugriha Parva". Sacred-texts.com.
Retrieved 1 September 2010.
* ^ "Book 2: Sabha Parva: Sabhakriya Parva". Sacred-texts.com.
Retrieved 1 September 2010.
* ^ Rajagopalachari, Chakravarti (2005). "Yudhishthira's final
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* ^ Srinivas,
Smriti (2004) . Landscapes of Urban Memory. Orient
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Kisari Mohan Ganguli translation of the
Mahabharata incorrectly cite the publisher, Pratap Chandra Roy, as the
translator and this error has been propagated into secondary
citations. See the publishers preface to the current Munshiram
Manoharlal edition for an explanation.
* ^ The
Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana
Vyasa translated by
Kisari Mohan Ganguli at the
Internet Sacred Text Archive
P. Lal . "
Kisari Mohan Ganguli and Pratap Chandra Roy". An
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Writers Workshop .
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Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana
Vyasa translated by
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Mahabharata as Theatre by Pradip Bhattacharya, June 13,
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1200. ISBN 81-905990-4-6 .
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IMDb (1920 film)
* ^ Daana Veera Shura
* ^ "What makes Shyam special". Hinduonnet.com. 17 January 2003.
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* ^ Kumar, Anuj (27 May 2010). "Fact of the matter". The Hindu.
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* ^ The
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* ^ "In brief: Mahabharat will be most expensive Indian movie
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* ^ Jaini, Padmanabh (2000). Collected Papers on Jaina Studies.
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