The Mahābhārata (US: /məhɑːˈbɑːrətə/, UK:
/ˌmɑːhəˈbɑːrətə/; Sanskrit: महाभारतम्,
Mahābhāratam, pronounced [məɦaːˈbʱaːrət̪əm]) is one of
the two major
Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the
Rāmāyaṇa. The title may be translated as "the great tale of the
The Mahābhārata is an epic legendary 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 Bhagavad
Gita, the story of Damayanti, 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). 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. At
about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly
ten times the length of the
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 William Shakespeare,
the works of Homer, Greek drama, or the Quran. Within the Indian
tradition it is sometimes called the Fifth Veda.
1 Textual history and structure
1.1 Accretion and redaction
1.2 Historical references
The 18 parvas
The 18 parvas or books
2 Historical context
3.1 The older generations
3.3 Lakshagraha (the house of lac)
3.4 Marriage to Draupadi
3.6 The dice game
3.7 Exile and return
3.8 The battle at Kurukshetra
3.9 The end of the Pandavas
3.10 The reunion
4.1 Just war
5 Versions, translations, and derivative works
5.1 Critical Edition
5.2 Regional versions
5.4 Derivative literature
5.5 In film and television
6 Jain version
7 Kuru family tree
8 Cultural influence
10 See also
13 External links
Textual history and structure
Modern depiction of
Vyasa narrating the Mahābhārata to
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
Sauti recites the slokas of the Mahabharata.
The text was 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 the
Sanskrit text probably reached something of a
"final form" by the early Gupta period (about the 4th century CE).
Vishnu Sukthankar, 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 CE).
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 Janamejaya
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 India
seems 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.
Sanskrit play written by
Bhāsa who is believed to have
lived before Kālidāsa, is based on the slaying of
Duryodhana by the
splitting of his thighs by Bhīma.
The copper-plate inscription of the
Maharaja Sharvanatha (533–534
CE) from Khoh (
Satna District, Madhya Pradesh) describes the
Mahābhārata as a "collection of 100,000 verses" (śata-sahasri
The 18 parvas
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
rishis at Naimisharanya, after having been recited at the sarpasattra
of Janamejaya by Vaishampayana at Takṣaśilā, modern-day Taxila,
Pakistan. The history and genealogy of the Bharata and
Bhrigu races 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 Indraprastha. Life
at the court, Yudhishthira's
Rajasuya Yajna, the game of dice, the
Draupadi and eventual exile of the Pandavas.
Vana Parva also Aranyaka-parva, Aranya-parva (The Book of the Forest)
The twelve years of exile in the forest (aranya).
Virata Parva (The Book of Virata)
The year spent incognito at the court of Virata.
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 the
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 Kaurava
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
Pandava army in
their sleep. Only 7 warriors remain on the
Pandava side and 3 on the
Stri Parva (The Book of the Women)
Gandhari and the women (stri) of the Kauravas and
Pandavas lament 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 instructions
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
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
Further information: Bharata Khanda
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
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
(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
Aryabhata (6th century). Aryabhata's date of February
18 3102 BCE for Mahābhārata war has become widespread in Indian
tradition. Some sources mark this as the disappearance of
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
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 Mahabharata
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
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 Varma.
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 unless
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,
Chitrāngada and Vichitravirya.
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.
Draupadi with her five husbands - the Pandavas. The central figure is
Yudhishthira; the two on the bottom are
Bhima and Arjuna.
Sahadeva, the twins, are standing. Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, c.
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
third son, 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 by
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 to
Pandu because of Dhritarashtra's blindness.
Pandu marries twice, to
Kunti and Madri.
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 Kindama,
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
three sons, Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna, through these gods. Kunti
shares her mantra with the younger queen Madri, who bears the twins
Sahadeva through the Ashwini twins. However,
Madri indulge in sex, and
Madri Commits Sati out of
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
being 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 courtiers.
Dhritarashtra wanted his own son
Duryodhana to become king and lets his ambition get in the way of
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
uncle, 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 Hoysala Empire
Whilst they were in 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
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
Shortly after this,
Arjuna elopes with and then marries Krishna's
sister, 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. Bhima, Arjun, the twins and the
servants laugh at him. In popular adaptations, this insult is wrongly
attributed to Draupadi, even though in the
Sanskrit epic, it was the
Pandavas (except Yudhisthira) who had insulted Duryodhana. Enraged by
the insult, and jealous at seeing the wealth of the Pandavas,
Duryodhana decides to host a dice-game at Shakuni's suggestion.
The dice game
Shakuni, Duryodhana's uncle, now arranges a dice game, playing against
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
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
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
Krishna as their emissary.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
A scene from the Mahābhārata war, 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,
Kekaya, Magadha, Matsya, Chedi, Pandyas, Telinga, 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, Bahlika
Kambojas and many others. Before war being declared, Balarama
had expressed his unhappiness at the developing conflict and leaves 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 noticing that the opposing army includes his
own kith and kin, including his great grandfather
Bhishma and his
teacher Drona, has grave doubts about the fight and falls into
despair.At this time,
Krishna reminds him of duty as a
fight for his just cause in the famous
Bhagavad Gita section of the
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, Ashwatthama, Kritavarma, Yuyutsu
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 Mahabharata
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,
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
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 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.
Krishna in an act of the Javanese wayang wong
Outside the Indian subcontinent, in Indonesia, a version was developed
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,
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 Semar,
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
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.[citation
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
`Abd al-Qadir Bada'uni
`Abd al-Qadir Bada'uni in the 18th
The first complete English translation was the Victorian prose version
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 in the public domain and is available
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
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.[needs
update] 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
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
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
by Ramesh Menon, William Buck, R. K. Narayan, C. Rajagopalachari, K.
Krishna 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
Duryodhana and Bhima, while
Madhyamavyayoga (The 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. Starting with
Ebrahim Alkazi it was staged by numerous directors. V. S. Khandekar's
Yayati (1960) and Girish Karnad's debut play Yayati
(1961) are based on the story of King
Yayati found 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
Yajnaseni from 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 Bahuka.
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 Mahabharata
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
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
(Doordarshan). 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
Avignon in 1985, and its five-hour movie version The
Uncompleted projects on the Mahābhārata include a ones by Rajkumar
Santoshi, and a theaterical adaptation planned by Satyajit
Further information: 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 animals,
Neminatha refused to marry and renounced
his kingdom to become a Shramana
Jain versions of Mahābhārata can be found in the various Jain texts
Harivamsapurana (the story of Harivamsa) Trisastisalakapurusa
Caritra (Hagiography of 63 Illustrious persons), Pandavacaritra (lives
of Pandavas) and Pandavapurana (stories of Pandavas). From the
earlier canonical literature, Antakrddaaśāh (8th cannon) and
Vrisnidasa (upangagama or secondary canon) contain the stories of
Neminatha (22nd Tirthankara),
Krishna and Balarama. Prof.
Padmanabh Jaini notes that, unlike in the
Hindu Puranas, the names
Baladeva and Vasudeva are not restricted to
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
Jain cosmology and rule the half the earth as half-chakravartins.
Jaini traces the origin of this list of brothers to the Jinacharitra
Bhadrabahu swami (4th–3rd century BCE). According to Jain
Jarasandha are the ninth and the last
set of Baladeva, Vasudeva, and Partivasudeva. The main battle is
not the Mahabharata, but the fight between
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 Satyavati.
Dhritarashtra were fathered by
Vyasa in the niyoga
tradition after Vichitravirya's death. Dhritarashtra,
Pandu and Vidura
were the sons of
Vyasa with Ambika,
Ambalika and a maid servant
Karna was born to
Kunti through her invocation of Surya, before her
marriage to Pandu.
d: Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna,
Sahadeva were acknowledged
Pandu but were begotten by the invocation by
Kunti and Madri
of various deities. They all married
Draupadi (not 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
Vichitravirya. Vidura, half-brother to
Dhritarashtra and Pandu.
In the 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 Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak,
Mahatma Gandhi and many others
used the text to help inspire the Indian independence
Various modern day television shows and novels have taken inspiration
from the Mahabharata.
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.
Characters in the Mahabharata
^ "Mahabharata". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary,
^ "Mahabharata". Oxford Dictionaries Online.
^ Datta, Amaresh (1 January 2006). "The Encyclopaedia of Indian
Literature (Volume Two) (Devraj to Jyoti)".
^ 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.
^ 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. p. ix.
^ Davis, Richard H. (2014). The "Bhagavad Gita": A Biography.
Princeton University Press. p. 38. ISBN 9781400851973.
Retrieved 31 May 2017.
^ Krishnan, Bal (1978). Kurukshetra: Political and Cultural History.
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^ Hermann Oldenberg, Das Mahabharata: seine Entstehung, sein Inhalt,
seine Form, Göttingen, 1922,[page needed]
^ "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 original.
^ Gupta & Ramachandran (1976), citing Mahabharata, Critical
Edition, I, 56, 33
^ SP Gupta and KS Ramachandran (1976), p.3-4, citing Vaidya (1967),
^ 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 (Mbh.
^ 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 JSTOR
^ 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
Arjuna and Suyodhana or Karna
(cited approvingly in Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity (trans.
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
^ "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
^ Pargiter, op.cit. p.180-182
^ B. B. Lal,
Mahabharata and Archaeology in Gupta and Ramachandran
^ 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)
Krishna lived for 125 years".
^ "5151 years of Gita".
^ Gupta and Ramachandran (1976), p.55; AD Pusalker, HCIP, Vol I, p.272
^ AD Pusalker, op.cit. p.272
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^ "Book 2: Sabha Parva: Sabhakriya Parva". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved
1 September 2010.
^ Rajagopalachari, Chakravarti (2005). "Yudhishthira's final trial".
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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.
Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana
Vyasa translated by Kisari
Mohan Ganguli at the Internet Sacred Text Archive
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Kisari Mohan Ganguli and Pratap Chandra Roy". An Annotated
Mahabharata Bibliography. Calcutta: Writers Workshop.
Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana
Vyasa translated by Romesh
Chunder Dutt at the Online Library of Liberty.
^ Don Rubin (1998). The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre:
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^ Topiwala, Chandrakant (1990). "Bahuk". Gujarati Sahityakosh
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Amar Chitra Katha Mahabharata.
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^ Daana Veera Shura
Karna on IMDb
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IMDb (1989 mini-series)
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Reading Suggestions, J. L. Fitzgerald, Das Professor of Sanskrit,
Department of Classics, Brown University
Works based on the Mahabharata
The Great Indian Novel
A Throw of Dice
Amba Ambika Ambalika
Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish
Daana Veera Soora Karna
Draupadi (1931 film)
Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (1934)
Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (1936)
Kahaani Hamaaray Mahaabhaarat Ki
Sri Krishnarjuna Yuddhamu
Jai Shri Krishna
Hindu deities and texts
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Gurus, saints, philosophers
Hinduism by country
National epic poems
La Araucana/The Araucaniad
Epic of Manas
Phra Lak Phra Lam
Hikayat Hang Tuah
Hikayat Seri Rama
Divine Comedy, Orlando Furioso