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Mahabharata

The Maha-bha-rata (Devana-gari-: ???????), /ma?a?b?a?r?t??/ is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ra-ma-yan.a.

With more than 74,000 verses, long prose passages, and about 1.8 million words in total, the Maha-bha-rata is one of the longest epic poems in the world.[1] Including the Harivam.s'a, the Mahabharata has a total length of more than 90,000 verses.

It is of immense importance to the culture of the Indian subcontinent, and is a major text of Hinduism. Its discussion of human goals (artha or purpose, ka-ma or pleasure, dharma or duty, and moksha or liberation) takes place in a long-standing tradition, attempting to explain the relationship of the individual to society and the world (the nature of the 'Self') and the workings of karma.

The title may be translated as "the great tale of the Bha-rata Dynasty", according to the Maha-bha-rata's own testimony extended from a shorter version simply called Bha-rata of 24,000 verses[2] The epic is part of the Hindu itiha-sa, literally "that which happened", which includes the Ramayana but not the Pura-n.as.

Traditionally, Hindus ascribe the authorship of the Maha-bha-rata to Vyasa. Because of its immense length, its philological study has a long history of attempts to unravel its historical growth and composition layers. Its earliest layers date back to the late Vedic period (ca. 5th c. BCE) and it probably reached its final form in the early Gupta period (ca. 4th c. CE).

Textual history and organization

It is usually thought that the full length of the Mahabharata has accreted over a long period. The Mahabharata itself (1.1.61) distinguishes a core portion of 24,000 verses, the Bharata proper, as opposed to additional secondary material, while the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra (3.4.4) makes a similar distinction. According to the Adi-parva of the Mahabharata (shlokas 81, 101-102), the text was originally 8,800 verses when it was composed by Vyasa and was known as the Jaya (Victory), which later became 24,000 verses in the Bharata recited by Vaisampayana, and finally over 90,000 verses in the Mahabharata recited by Ugrasravas.[3]

As with the field of Homeric studies, research on the Mahabharata has put an enormous effort into recognizing and dating various layers within the text. The complex structure had caused some early Western Indologists to refer to it as chaotic.[4]

The earliest known references to the Mahabharata and its core Bharata date back to the 6th-5th century BCE, in the Ashtadhyayi (sutra 6.2.38) of Pa-n.ini (c. 520-460 BCE), and in the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra (3.4.4), while various characters from the epic are also mentioned in earlier Vedic literature.[3] This may suggest that the core 24,000 verses, known as the Bharata, as well as an early version of the extended Mahabharata, were composed by the 6th-5th century BCE, with parts of the Jaya's original 8,800 verses possibly dating back as far as the 9th-8th century BCE.[5]

The Greek writer Dio Chrysostom (ca. 40-ca. 120) reported, "it is said that Homer's poetry is sung even in India, where they have translated it into their own speech and tongue. The result is that...the people of India...are not unacquainted with the sufferings of Priam, the laments and wailings of Andromache and Hecuba, and the valor of both Achilles and Hector: so remarkable has been the spell of one man's poetry!"[6] Despite the passage's evident face-value meaning-that the Iliad had been translated into Sanskrit-some scholars have supposed that the report reflects the existence of a Mahabharata at this date, whose episodes Dio or his sources syncretistically identify with the story of the Iliad. 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 aka Dhuryodhana) and Karna.[7] This interpretation, endorsed in such standard references as Albrecht Weber's History of Indian Literature, has often been repeated without specific reference to what Dio's text says.[8]

Later, the copper-plate inscription of the Maharaja Sharvanatha (533-534) from Khoh (Satna District, Madhya Pradesh) describes the Mahabharata as a "collection of 100,000 verses" (shatasahasri samhita). The redaction of this large body of text was carried out after formal principles, emphasizing the numbers 18[9] and 12. The addition of the latest parts may be dated by the absence of the Anushasana-parvan from MS Spitzer, the oldest surviving Sanskrit philosophical manuscript dated to the first century, that contains among other things a list of the books in the Mahabharata. From this evidence, it is likely that the redaction into 18 books took place in the first century. An alternative division into 20 parvans appears to have co-existed for some time. The division into 100 sub-parvans (mentioned in Mbh. 1.2.70) is older, and most parvans are named after one of their constituent sub-parvans. The Harivamsa consists of the final two of the 100 sub-parvans, and was considered an appendix (khila) to the Mahabharata proper by the redactors of the 18 parvas.



 

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