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Hindu Scriptures (Part c) Mahabharata : Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism…

Some Interesting Questions about  Hinduism…

Hindu Scriptures (Part 6c) Mahabharata


The Mahabharata is the longest Sanskrit epic, consisting of over 100,000 shloka or over 200,000 individual verse lines (each shloka is a couplet), and long prose passages, about 1.8 million words in total. The Mahabharata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. W. J. Johnson has compared the importance of the Mahabharata to world civilization to that of the Bible, Quran, the works of Homer, Greek drama, or the works of Shakespeare.

The epic is traditionally ascribed to the sage Veda Vyasa, The first section of the Mahabharata states that it was Ganesha who wrote down the text to Vyasa’s dictation. Ganesha is said to have agreed to write it only if Vyasa never paused in his recitation. Vyasa agrees on condition that Ganesha takes the time to understand what was said before writing it down.

The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known as frametales, popular in many Indian religious and non-religious works. It is recited by the sage Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa, to the King Janamejaya who is the great-grandson of the Pandava prince Arjuna. The story is then recited again by a professional storyteller named Ugrasrava Sauti, many years later, to an assemblage of sages performing the 12-year sacrifice for the king Saunaka Kulapati in the Naimisha Forest. Research on the Mahabharata has put an enormous effort into recognizing and dating layers within the text.

Some elements of the present Mahabharata can be traced back to Vedic times. The background to the Mahabharata 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 eighth or ninth century B.C.’ is likely.

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 Ashtadhyayī 4:2:56. It is estimated that the Sanskrit text probably reached something of a ‘final form’ by the early Gupta period (4th century CE).

The earliest known references to the Mahabharata and its core Bharata date to the Ashtadhyayi of Paṇini (4th century BCE) and in the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra. 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, scholars have, in general, taken this as evidence for the existence of a Mahabharata at this date, whose episodes Dio or his sources identify with the story of the Iliad.

Several stories within the Mahabharata took on separate identities of their own in Classical Sanskrit literature. For instance, Abhijnanashakuntala by the renowned Sanskrit poet Kalidasa (c. 400 CE), believed to have lived in the era of the Gupta dynasty, is based on a story that is the precursor to the Mahabharata. Urubhanga, a Sanskrit play written by Bhasa who is believed to have lived before Kalidasa, is based on the slaying of Duryodhana by the splitting of his thighs by Bhima. The copper-plate inscription of the Maharaja Sharvanatha (533–534 CE) from Khoh (Satna District, Madhya Pradesh) describes the Mahabharata as a “collection of 100,000 verses” (shatasahasri samhita).

Mahabharat is not just one single story or a book, it is actually a series of stories within a story, divided into 18 parva or sub books.

  • 1. Adi Parva – The Book of the Beginning
    • Adi Parva starts with the description of the 12 year sacrifice of sages at the forest of Naimisha. There in that assemblage of sages, Ugrasrava Sauti, a professional expert on Mahabharata epic narrates Mahabharata to the sages headed by the great sage Saunaka. He narrates Mahabharata as it was formerly narrated by Vaishampayana to king Janamejaya. Vaishampayana was the disciple of Vyasa. Janamejaya was a king in the line of Pandava Arjuna, fourth in succession from Arjuna. The history of the Nagas, their rivals viz. the Suparnas and that of the royal lineage of the Aila-Puru-Bharatha-Kuru clan also is found in this Parva. Among the history of various individuals in the lineage, the history of Santanu, Bhishma, Vichitravirya, Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were detailed. After that the history of the Pandavas and the Kauravas were narrated along with popular fables about their births that were going rounds in those days. The history of the Pandavas includes their birth, childhood days, their military education under the guidance of the preceptors viz. Kripa and Drona, their escape from murder attempt by the Kauravas, their interactions with members of the Rakshasa tribe, their marriage with Panchali and their settlement at the city of Indraprastha. The Parva ends with the incident of burning of the forest named Khandava, that lied in the territory of the Pandavas.

Mahabharata Adi Parva

  • 2. Sabha Parva -The Book of the Assembly Hall
    •  This book about how Maya Danava erects the palace and court (sabha), at Indraprastha. Life at the court, Yudhishthira‘s Rajasuya Yajna, the game of dice, and the eventual exile of the Pandavas.  Pandavas were invited by Dhritarashtra (who was forced to do so by his eldest son Duryodhana) for a game of dice. Shakuni, maternal uncle of Duryodhana, provokes Yudhisthira, plays the game of dice in place of his nephew Duryodhana and wins everything Yudhisthira possesses by deceit. Yudhisthira loses all his kingdom but is given back as a boon to Draupadi as she gets insulted in the open court after Yudhishthira loses her as well in the gamble. The Pandava are again invited back again for one more game of dice and they play for one stake i.e. exile into the woods for 12 + 1 year, to live unrecognized in the 13th year in some place, and if they are recognized in the 13th year then they would again go back into exile for another 12 years.  Pandavas again lose to Shakuni and are sent to exile. This book also gives details of how and why the trio Krishna, Arujna and Bheem kill Jarasandha, and how Krishna kills Shishupala.

Mahabharata Sabha Parva

  • 3. Vana Parva/ Aranyaka-parva/ Aranya-parva – The Book of the Forest
    • Vana Parva is about the forest life of the Pandavas for 12 years, to fulfill the promise made by Pandava king Yudhishthira, that he made when he was defeated in the game of dice by king Duryodhana. The Pandavas stayed in the forest of Kamyaka and Dwaita during this period. They lived in the forest subsisting on fruits, roots and meat of hunted animals. They moved from Kamyaka to Dwaita and vice versa, when the population of hunted animals and other food items decline at one place. Krishna and other cousins like the Kekayas visited them. During this period, Arjuna went to Himalyan countries and met with the tribes of the Kiratas and the Devas in search of advanced weapons. Other Pandavas went for a pilgrimage along the plains of Ganga, the eastern sea shore, the western sea shore and finally back into the forest of Kamyaka and Dwaita on the plains of Saraswati. Many sages like Markandeya also visited them. From the sages they learned the history of king Rama (Ramayana) of Kosala, king Nala of Nishadha and that of king Satyavan of Salwa and his queen Savitri of Madra. Under the guidance of the mountain-going sage Lomasa, the Pandavas also visited the kingdoms north to the Himalays belonging to Asura Vrishaparva and Yaksha Vaisravana Kubera. There Arjuna joined them after acquiring weapons from the Kiratas and the Devas.

Mahabharata AranyaParva

  • 4. Virata Parva – The Book of Virata
    • The year spent by Pandavas incognito at the court of Virata. After the end of 12 years of exile, Yudhishthira asks his brothers their suggestions to select the best place for staying anonymously which would not be known to the enemies. Based on Arjuna advice, Yudhishthira selected the city of Virata and asks his brothers what work they should undertake when they went to Matsyaraja of the city of Virata to remain anonymous. Himself an expert in the game of dice, he decides to become the member of the royal assembly of Virata as a Brahmin taking the name of Kanka. Bhima said that he would introduce himself as Ballava and work as a chef in the royal kitchen. Arjuna said that he would become a eunuch and call himself as Brihannala. He would teach the ladies of the city dance and music. When he was asked by Yudhishthira, Nakula answered that he was expert horsemen. Hence he would go there with the name Granthika to work in the stables. Sahadeva said that as he knew well about tending the cattle and milking the cows, he would become the supervisor of the cattle-sheds, introducing himself as Tantipala.  Draupadi, says that she would call herself Sairandhri and work as a hairdresser. Thus having decided together what they should do, the Pandavas discussion how they will conduct themselves in the royal mansion and set out for the city of Virata. When they were nearing the city, they hide their weapons in the hollow of a big Sami tree near a cemetery and tie them with strong ropes. They get a corpse and bound it on the branches so that people would not dare to come near it.

Mahabharata VirataParva

  • 5. Udyoga Parva (The Book of the Effort)
    • Preparations for war and efforts to bring about peace between the Kauravas and the Pandavas which eventually fail.  The events covered in this purva are Duryodhana manipulates Salya. Sanjaya reports to Dhritarashtra. Elders’ plea to Duryodhana. Duryodhana’s rage at elders. Krishna counsels Pandavas. Krishna goes to Kaurava court. Krishna’s no to Duryodhana. Krishna’s brief to Kauravas. Not a needlepoint, says Duryodhana. Duryodhana plans to imprison Krishna. Krishna shows. Duryodhana his terrible form. Krishna’s encounter with Karna. Karna’s vow to Kunti, I shall kill only Arjuna. Commander-in-Chief of Pandava army. The Army marches. Either Karna or I, says Bhishma. Balarama leaves on pilgrimage. Rukmi makes a spectacle of himself. Karna in special category. How long would the War last?.

Mahabharta UdyogaParva


  • 6. Bhishma Parva – The Book of Bhishma
    • The first part of the great battle, with Bhishma as commander for the Kauravas and his fall on the bed of arrows. Bhagavad Gita is a part of this parva. Other events covered are Sanjaya becomes Dhritarashtra’s eyes. Battle positions. The conches sound and the great battle ofMahabharata starts. Arjuna lays down his bow. The god speaks to him and gives the gyan which is known today as Bhagavad Gita. Yudhishthira’s strange move. Krishna meets Karna again. Yuyutsu joins Pandavas. Day 1of Battle – Bhishma routs the Pandavas. Day 2 of Battle – Duryodhana taunts Bhishma. Day 3 of Battle – Bhishma pleads with Krishna to kill him. Day 4 of Battle – Bhima causes havoc. Day 5 of Battle – Honours are shared. Day 6 of Battle – Dhritarashtra’s frustration and Sanjaya’s answer. Day 7 of Battle – Abhimanyu lets off Duryodhana’s brothers. Day 8 of Battle – Iravat, Arjuna’s valiant son. Day 9 of Battle – How to kill Bhishma?. Day 10 of Battle – Closing-in on Bhishma.

Mahabharata Bhishma Parva

  • 7. 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. The events of this book are Day 11 of Battle – Drona becomes Kaurava military chief. Day 12 of Battle – I shall capture Yudhishthira, vows Drona. Day 13 of Battle – Abhimanyu and the Chakra formation. Day 14 of Battle – A day without end for Jayadratha. Day 15 of Battle – The prince of truth utters a lie.

Mahabharata DronaParva

  • 8. Karna Parva – The Book of Karna
    • The battle again, with Karna as commander. This chapter is all about Karna – the son of Sun who lived a painful life and died a painful death. But he lived a principled life and died a brave’s death. Day 16 of Battle – Kauravas’ new general. Day 17 of Battle – The tragedy that was Karna.

Mahabharata KarnaParva

  • 9. 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 Bhima and Duryodhana which ends the war, since Bhima kills Duryodhana by smashing him on the thighs with a mace. Day 18 of Battle – The sun sets on the Great War. Duryodhana goes into hiding. I have nothing to fight for, says Duryodhana. A sudden-death offer from Yudhishthira. Duryodhana and Bhima, the final showdown. Duryodhana accuses Krishna. Aswatthama on the rampage.

Mahabharata ShalyaParva

  • 10. Sauptika Parva – The Book of the Sleeping Warriors
    • Sauptika Parva describes the night attack on the Pandava military camp by Drona’s son Ashwathama. He was installed commander by the dying Duryodhana, after he was hit by Bhima in a mace fight. Ashwathama, preceptor Kripa and Yadava Kritavarma, secretly entered into the military camp of the Pandavas. They slew all the surviving heroes like the Panchala prince Dhristadyumna and the sons of Pandavas by Panchali. This was a brutal massacre flouting all the norms of a rightful battle. The Pandavas became aware of the battle only next day morning as they camped in a place quite far away from the Panchala camp. Knowing about the heinous act, the Pandavas chased Ashwathama and revenged him for the death of their brother in law Dhristadyumna and their sons by Panchali.

Mahabharata SauptikaParva

  • 11. Stri Parva – The Book of the Women
    • Stri Parva describes the horror that the Bharata widows saw in the battle field of Kurukshetra after the 18 day war. Gandhari, the mother of Duryodhana laments the death of her sons. She also accused Krishna for not doing enough to prevent the massacre.

Mahabharata StriParva

  • 12. Shanti Parva – The Book of Peace
    • Santhi Parva is the largest Parva of Mahabharata. It contains diverse subjects which seems to be an attempt to collect all the knowledge of that age and preserve the body of knowledge as part of Mahabharata. All of these information is arranged as a dialog between Bhishma and others like Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva, Krishna, Vyasa and Narada. The crowning of Yudhisthira as king of Hastinapura, and instructions from Bhishma for the newly anointed king on society, economics and politics. This is the longest book of the Mahabharata.

Mahabharata ShantiParva

  • 13. Anushasana Parva – The Book of the Instructions
    • The final instructions from Bhishma. Anusasana Parva is the continuation of Santhi Parva. It contains instructions for a king on how to rule and other diverse subjects. Like Santhi Parva, most of Anusasana Parva is information about the different subjects pertaining to the contemporary society added to Mahabharata in order to preserve them.


  • 14. Ashvamedhika Parva – The Book of the Horse Sacrifice
    • Ashwamedha Parva, is about how Yudhishthira attempts to revive the economy of the shattered kingdom after the destructive war of Kurukshetra. He decided to perform a sacrifice called Ashwamedha. He amassed wealth by mining in the Himalayas for treasures in the ancient kingdom of king Marutta. He distributed that wealth through the Ashwamedha sacrifice to the public. A sacrifice of grand scale will create jobs and income. As part of this sacrifice, general Arjuna was sent to collect tribute from the kingdoms. During this journey he met his long lost sister Duhsala in the kingdom of Sindhu and also his long lost son Vabruvanaha ruling at Manipura.

Mahabharata AshvamedhikaParva

  • 15. Ashramavasika Parva – The Book of the Hermitage
    • Asramavasa Parva describes how the old king Dhritarashtra, the father of Duryodhana, leaves the royal palace to live the life of an ascetic towards the end of his life. Pandava’s mother Kunti and Vidura who was like father to the Pandavas accompanied the old king to live in the forest. Once during a vist, Yudhisthira saw the last moments of Vidura, seated in Yoga. It is believed that the bodies of Dhritarashtra, Kunti and Vidura burned in a forest fire. In fact, after that forest fire, no body had seen them.

Mahabharata AshramavasikaParva

  • 16. Mausala Parva – The Book of the Clubs
    • Musala Parva describes how the great society of Yadavas at Drawaka were destroyed due to factional fighting. It is not sure if this was a conspiracy of the Gandharas. However the seeds of mis-trust was sown during the Kurukshetra War when Satyaki and Kritavarma both Yadavas, yet fought the war on opposing sides. It is not sure if the sinking of Dwaraka coincided with the destruction of the Yadava society. All of these could be many factors that contributed to the destruction. One possibility is that the society is destroyed and then the island sank subsequently. Another possibility is that the Dwaraka island sank and the people settled on the sea shore near to the island. In that chaos, a fight broke between Kritavarma and Satyaki, which flared into a full blown war between the Yadava clan. Krishna and his brother Rama could not prevent the collapse of the society. When Arjuna arrived from Hastinapura knowing about the calamity, he could only witness his beloved friend and cousin Krishna in his last moments seated in Yoga above a tree and could not do anything.

Mahabharata MausalaParva

  • 17. Mahaprasthanika Parva – The Book of the Great Journey
    • Mahaprasthanika Parva describes how the Pandavas, leaving behind their royal life embraced the life of ascetics towards the end of their life. Yudhishthira installed Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu and the grandson of Arjuna on the throne of Hastinapura. At Indraprastha he installed Vajra, the grandson of Krishna. The Pandavas and their queen Panchali then entered the woods and started their last journey.

Mahabharata MahaprasthanikaParva

  • 18. Svargarohana Parva – The Book of the Ascent to Heaven
    • Swargarohana Parva describe how king Yudhisthira enters heaven and saw his brothers in hell and Duryodhana in heaven as an illusion. It was a punishment for his lie in the Kurukshetra war about the death of Ashwathama, that lead to the killing of preceptor Drona. Later he saw his brothers in heaven. He also saw Duryodhana in heaven, and he was informed that he will be in heaven for a short period to enjoy the fruits of his good deeds like rescuing Karna from humiliation when he was insulted on behalf of his caste. It is very clear that Swargarohana Parva is an addition to Mahabharata. It was added to record the beliefs in heaven and hell, that became popular in ancient India, long after the age during which the war of Kurukshetra occurred.

Mahabharata SwargarohanaParva

  • Harivamsa Parva – The Book of the Genealogy of Hari
    • This is an addendum to the 18 books, and covers those parts of the life of Krishna which is not covered in the 18 parvas of the Mahabharata.

Mahabharata HarivamshamParva


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