Whether the Mahabharata is a myth or reality has been an age old problem over which much ink has been spilt. Time and again it sparked off fierce controversy involving distinguished scholars, leamed men and intellectuals Disputes and doubts regarding the stratification of the epic and the date of the Great War has always been the crux of the issue Sanskritists and historians like Winternitz. Pargiter. Ludwig and Lassen and others have had their say in their times
Presently the controversy, which had been dormant for something past, came to limelight through at press interview at Pune by one of the renowned epigraphists of India. Since then (September 1975) Daily newspapers and weeklies in India carried for a long time opinions of learned men, which, more often than not, were diametrically opposed to each other.
Fortunately, however, the present controversy introduced certain new features, heretoforth not known in earlier disputations. They are (1) archaeology, which prior to Lal's excavation at Hastinapura in 1951-52 did not play any significant role began to figure prominently (11) C" dating technique, a recent innovation of the post-Second World War has been utilized, and (ii) while discussions in the past were mainly dominated by academicians and hence could find place only in books, monographs and research papers in exclusive journals, the present disputation has drown into its ambit even laymen and non-specialists, thanks to the mass communication media.
It is indeed a fact that the Mahabharata has come down to us as an epic but in a form and content quite different from the equally well known Western epic, the Homeric Iliad Obviously it involves. Herculean efforts to sift simple historical facts form the Indian epic, the Mahabharata a text highly impregnated with religious fervour having clear-cut social and moral Maxims. The Iliad, however, is basically a historical narrative woven in a highly ornate language permissible for epic writers. Besides, the Mahabharata beginning in an uncertain antiquity, has grown gradually as time passed by, from a meager 8,800 to 1,00,000 verses several balladeers par excellence contributing to its growth. The Iliad, on the other hand, is a work of a single author of the 8 century B.C This in itself would be an indicator of the stupendous and complex task confronting the Indologists as compared to Schlimann's establishing the historicity of the Greek seige of Ilium and the location of the Homeric Troy
For the Past hundred years or so much has been done towards separating historical realities from myths and legends contained in this Indian epic: confirming the historicity of Mahabharata war and its date by specialists in various fields, like astronomers, archaeologists, Historians, and linguists. Yet the wheel of progress has not moved much farther. We are still in the same position as before In order to elucidate the real historical events around which myths and legends have grown in time and space, it was necessary to bring together in one volume views of varied scholars for understanding and assessing not only the limitations and possibilities of the earlier research data but also to formulate fresh approaches and methodologies for future work.
With this end in view a book incorporating opinions of Sanskritists, epigraphists, astronomers. archaeologists histonans and others is being published for the first time in India to focus the attention of all-lay readers, specialists research workers and others. In bringing out this comprehensive work two well known archaeologist and historians, Dr. S.P Gupta of the National Musum, New Delhi and Shri KS Ramachandran of the Archaeological Survey of India, have co-ordinated.
In a way this book, Mahabharata-Myth and Reality', is comparable to the Epic itself. For, our original intention was to bring out a brochure containing the core of the controversy as it appeared in several newspapers and magazines. In its final form, however, the book has grown almost five times its originally intended size-a phenomenal growth indeed-in about eight months, from its embryonic stage to its adulthood. The original Eple attained its present form over several centuries, but ours has kept pace with the speed of the Space Age.
In this monograph we have included considered views of forty-one leading scholars of the country, most of whom have been kind enough to respond quickly to our request; often revising their earlier opinions expressed in the newspapers. The entire frame-work of the monograph has, therefore, changed in accordance with the response from our learned contributors. However, the first fifty pages of the Introduction contains the core of the monograph while the rest represents the views of our contributors. We have also added an epilogue incorporating a few comments on some select views expressed here.
In bringing out a book of this kind we have been fortunate to receive unstinting cooperation and help of several persons. To them we are thankful. To our contributors we are beholden; but for whom this book would not have been possible. Among them, we would like to express our gratefulness to Prof. R.C. Majumdar who, inspite of his ailment and against medical advice, responded to our request. To Professor Niharranjan Ray, however, we owe a special word of thanks for the fore- ward, who, inspite of his pre-occupation with Indo-U.S. Ex- change Programme, could find time to respond to our request. To the editors and publishers of the Seminer our thanks are due for permitting us reproduction of the article by Dr. Romila Thapar.
The editorial authorities of this volume have done me honour in asking me to write a foreword to introduce it to its prospective readers. I have been following, not very closely though, the recent controversy among scholars and writers in regard to the historicity of the great epic of ours, the Mahabharata, which forms the main content of this volume. But not being given to polemical exercises irrespective of their being scholastic, intellectual or otherwise, I did not feel tempted to voice any opinion. Besides, I thought that there was nothing in my personal point of view which deserved communication to scholars and experts in the field; I would rather remain content, I considered, by allowing my point of view in this regard to inform and colour my own humble articulations in the field of Indian history and Culture wherever and whenever this was relevant. But since I have been persuaded to write this foreword. I propose to do exactly what I would have done to myself, namely, to clarify my personal point of view for my own benefit, and nothing more.
Textual analysis and criticism is a part of literary and historical research; insofar as the Mahabharata is concerned such analysis and criticism have been going on for well-nigh one hundred years, and today one knows a few things which are more or less beyond dispute. One may say that the Mahabharata is an epic consisting of a central or core-legend, that of the family feud leading to the Kurukṣetra war between the Kauravas and another collateral of theirs, the Pandavas, around which was clustered, over a long period of time, but in stages, a number of other minor floating legends (gāthās, akhyānas, etc.), all mythicized in course of time, by not one single person but by a succession of persons of considerabe creative vision and imagination and of equally considerable power of poetic articulation. They were all called vyasas or compilers, presumably the reason why the authorship has been attributed to one great Vyasadeva.
One also knows that the Mahabharata categorizes itself as itihasa (iti ha asa: verily it is what actually was), and not as gatha, akhydna, dkhyayika, upakhyana or pura, literary categories which were certainly known to the vyasas of the epic. Which means that they knew what was in those distant days considered traditionally as itihasa, that is, they had their own concept of history and they were recording what they believed to have taken place in a certain sequence of time and at certain places, at any rate in regard to the core story of the epic which was their, and I believe, ours as well, main concern. I am quite conscious that their conception of itihasa is not our conception of history today. Indeed, the two concepts are poles apart, and I would not have even raised the issue had it not been for the fact that we experts, scholars and intellectuals, constitute a very small, microscopic minority of the vast sea of India's ever-renewing humanity. Our findings are not in the realm of scientific truths, like Newton's or Galileo's, for instance, where a discovery tears asunder age-old notions, beliefs and faiths and brings about a new world of facts, ideas and visions. Historians operate mainly, but not exclusively, I believe, in the field of facts and situations which are well-documented; they operate also and at the same time in that of ideas and concepts, visions and imaginations, signs and symbols, myths and legends, etc., which have all their haunts in the minds and behaviour-patterns of live men and women with whom history is certainly con- cerned. In the history of a culture and civilization of a people as of the traditional Indians, all these are and have been an important stuff of their life and behavior pattern through the centuries.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
Children’s Books (39)
Brahma Sutras (86)
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