Mahabharata is one of the greatest epics of India, which has captivated
the hearts of its people for several millennia. Whether it is literature –both
Sanskrit and vernacular- arts, crafts, paintings, music, dance and drama, or
temple motifs, no aspect of Indian culture has escaped the stamp of their
influence. It is believed, according to studies on preserved Hindu oral
traditions that the great war took place during 3139 B.C. Modern historians,
however, have attributed a much later date, 1424 B.C or 950 B.C. Interpreted on
the mundane plane, the Mahabharata deals with the realistic account of a fierce
fratricidal war of annihilation with its interest centred on the epic
characters. The meaning on the ethical plane views the Mahabharata war as a
conflict between the principles of dharma and adharma, between good and evil,
between justice and injustice, in which the war ends in the victory of dharma.
Pictorial Mahabharata (Set of 5 Volumes)
Traditional lore ascribes the authorship of this epic to the great sage
Veda Vyasa, also known as Krishna Dvaipayana. He was a contemporary of the
grandsire Bhishma and had first-hand knowledge of most of the events mentioned
in the epic. Research scholars, however, feel that the original work called
Jaya, written by Vyasa to commemorate the victory of the Pandava princes over
the wicked Kauravas might have been a much smaller work comprising 8,800
verses. This was subsequently revised and enlarged into Bharata, a work of
24000 verses by Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa, and recited during the
Sarpayaga (serpent sacrifice) of Janamejaya, the great-grandson of the Pandava
hero Arjuna. The final edition that has come down to us is the work of Suta Ugrasrava,
son of Lomahrsana, and was recited at the Sattrayaga (a kind of sacrifice, the
performance of which is spread over several years) of the sage Saunaka in the
Naimisa forest. It is this that has been called Mahabharata, due to the immense
size (maha=great) and its dealing with the story of the people descended from
the ancient emperor Bharata, culminating in the war.
The standard editions of the Mahabharata contain 95,826 slokas or
verses, in 18 parvans or books, with 107 subparvans and 2,111 chapters in all,
including the appendix Harivamsa. The immensity of this epic can be measured by
knowing the fact this is eight times as big as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey put
The text contains quite a few riddles known as Kutaslokas and vast
portions of didactic material.
Other than this the eighteen major books or parvans are as follows:
Sri Mahabharata- Adi Parvam (Tamil)
He is undoubtedly the most brilliant and picturesque personality
projected by the epic. He appears on the scene rather suddenly at the time of
Draupadi’s svayamvara (formal selection of husband by a maiden princess) and
continues to saunter the scenes right up to the end. All his energies are
channelized only in one direction: protection of the right and the good, and
punishment or the destruction of the wicked. The epic projects him as God
Himself come down to save mankind, as he admits in the Bhagavad-Gita.
The grand old man is another towering personality that awes and inspires
us, whether in the supreme sacrifice of abducting his right to the throne or
the vow of celibacy or the matchless heroism on the battlefield.
The eldest of the Pandavas is perhaps the most dominant character of the
epic, next only to Shri Krishna. He was not only a great hero on the
battlefield but a veritable incarnation of Dharma or righteousness. He is often
referred to as Dharma raja due to this reason.
The colossus is characterized by down-to-earth common sense while Arjuna
the warrior is more idealistic and dreamy. Both were extraordinarily devoted to
Shri Krishna and implicitly obedient to Yudhishtira.
The eldest of the Kauravas is the chief villain of the epic. It is his
greed and jealousy which overshadowed whatever heroism or virtues he had,
resulting in the destruction of the two races and untold misery to millions
A victim of circumstances, he is the epitome of tragedy in the story. He
was supremely noble and generous in every inch of his personality. He is
perhaps the last word for friendship, loyalty and generosity.
The Panchala princess and the queen of Pandava strike the most among the
women characters. Endowed with striking beauty, a sharp intellect and a sharper
tongue which she could wield effectively, she remained faithful to her
husbands. By her supreme sacrifices, she has set an example of wifely virtues.
The mother of the Pandavas, impress us as hopeless but noble princess.
The fortitude with which she silently bore all her misfortunes and miseries is
She made the utmost sacrifice of denying herself the pleasure of
eyesight because Dhritarashtra, her husband was born blind, and thus is a
paragon of the ideal wifehood.
Exotic India offers a wide range of artefacts
that depicts the episodes and essence of Mahabharata. Below are discussed a
This is a magnificent model displaying one of
the most important acts of the ancient Mahabharata, the narration of Bhagawad
Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The scene involves Shri
Krishna seated on the driver’s seat while narrating Gita and handling the ropes
(depicted as chains) of the horses and also Arjuna (The great warrior) is
seated on the soldier’s seat with his palms joined together, praying to the
Supreme Personality of Godhead seated in front of him. We can see Hanuman Ji
seated on the shelter of the chariot behind the elephant’s head and near the
ravishing flag placed on the top; the pillars and upper portion of the rath are
comprised of the Rajasthani architecture which has been very carefully adopted
Brass Statue displaying Gita Upadesha
Baluchari saris originated in Bengal and are known for
hand-woven depictions of mythological scenes on the sari body. Pallu of this
sari is divided in 6 panels, each panel portraying a scene from The
Frosty-Green Baluchari Handloom Sari from Bengal with hand-woven Mahabharata Episodes on Pallu
This book is a treasure-house of the Indian culture, both
secular and sacred. It gives an insight into the core of the attainments of the
people of India. It is the sanctum that enshrines the Bhagavad Gita. In other
words, if the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita are elaborated and illustrated they
develop into this marvellous book.
For centuries together Mahabharata has been popular not only
all over India but in foreign countries also. Making reference to the
characters and codes in this book is a mark of erudition. From the fifth
century B. C. saints, scholars, poets and dramatists have quoted copiously from
it. In the second century, B. C. a Greek envoy referred to precepts culled from
this epic. In the sixth century, A. D. the whole poem was recited in temples in
Cambodia. In the following century, the Turks of Mongolia read thrilling
episodes from this book translated into their tongue. The people of Java
translated the book into their language before the end of the tenth century.
The Americans and the Russians are drawn to this book in the present century.
This book is a sastra or manual of ethics. It is a social
and political philosophy. It deals with dharma, artha, kama and moksha, the
four aims of life. Moral, social and religious duties are dharma. Earthly
prosperity and wealth is artha. Pleasures pertaining to mundane life is kama.
Emancipation self from the meshes of the world is moksha. It extols humanity as
the highest manifestation of divinity.
The Mahabharata in English
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