Ramayana and Mahabharata , the two great epics of India, have captivated the hearts of its people for several millennia.
Whether it is literature – both Sanskrit and vernacular arts, crafts, painting, music, dance, and drama, or temple motifs, no aspect of Indian culture has escaped the stamp of their influence.
The simple village folk who shed tears while listening to the ballads on the banishment of Sita or the highly skilled artisans working on the temple motifs depicting the Kuruksetra war, are both responding to a dynamic and continue culture of these epics.
He was a contemporary of the grandsire Bhisma and had a firsthand knowledge of most of the events described in the epic.
Research scholars 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 about 8800 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 Ugrasravas, son of Lomaharsana (also spelt as Romaharsana), 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 and its dealing with the story of the people of the race descended from the ancient emperor Bharata, culminating in the war.
The first chapter, is fairly long and deals with several ancient episodes connected with Sukracarya, the preceptor of the asuras, and his intractable daughter Devayani and Yayati, a prominent king of the lunar dynasty, as also the famous romance of Sakuntala and the king Dusyanta.
The major part of the chapter is devoted to the story of the ancestors of the Pandavas and the Kauravas like Santanu, Bhisma, Vicitravirya, Dhrtarastra and Pandu.
The birth and eduction of Pandavas and Kauravas their early rivalries; marriage of Draupadi, the Pancala princess, to the Pandavas, Arjuna’s pilgrimage and marriage with Subhadra, sister of Sri Krishna.
The second deals mainly with the performance of the Rajasurya sacrifice by Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandava princes, the game of dice maneuvered by the wily Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, and its tragic consequences for the former.
Infuriated Duryodhana Plans to Destroy Pandavas
The third chapter that covers the story of the Pandavas in exile in the Kamyaka forest.
This voluminous book is replete with several stories from the past like those of Nala and Damayanti, Savitri and Satyavan, of sages like Rsyasrnga, Agastya and Markandeya, as also of kings like Bhagiratha and Sibi.
The famous quiz, Yaksaprasna, belongs to this book.
The forth, is one of the smaller chapter dealing mainly with the stay of the Pandavas incognito in the kingdom of Virata.
Slaying of the villain Kicaka and the battle for rescuing the cattle of the king Virata which had been captured by the Kauravas to force the Pandavas to come out of their hiding, as also the wedding of the Virata princess Uttara with Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son, are the chief incidents portrayed here.
The fifth, is also a short chapter which deals with the peace parleys and preparations for the war curiously going together.
The most touching scene of Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, disclosing to Karna the secret of his birth in her womb, and the statesmanship of Sri Krishna, who makes a last minute bid for peace, are the highlights of this section.
The famous discourse of the sage Santsujata to the blind kind Dhrtarastra, well-known as the Sanatsujatiya, which is full of philosophical truths.
Bhismaparva, contains the crown-gem of the epic, viz., the Bhagavad Gita .
Details descriptions of the first ten days of the war containing the superhuman exploits of the grandsire Bhisma, ultimately ending in his being mortally wounded by Arjuna, form the bulk of this section.
Since Bhisma had the unique boon of dying at will, he preferred to lie down on the bed of arrows and postpone his demise till the beginning of Uttarayana or the northern solstice.
The seventh, apart from describing the heroic exploits of Drona, the preceptor, culminating in his death through stratagem, also contains an account of the brilliant achievements of the boy-hero Abhymanya on the battlefield and his tragic death.
The eight chapter, details the glory death of the evil genius Dussasana, the second of the Kaurava brothers, at the hands of the colossal Bhima, and the fall of Karna himself at the hands of Arjuna after a bitter fight.
The ninth chapter, describes the final encounter between Bhima and Duryodhana on the last day of the war, the latter succumbing to the mortal blow receiving during the duel.
Son of Vyâsadeva and a palace maidservant. He was said to be an expansion of Yamaraja, the lord of justice. Once a rishi named Mandavya was mistaken for a robber. The king arrested and punished him by having him pierced by a lance. The sage later went to Yamarâja and asked why this had happened and was told that in his childhood he had pierced an insect with a blade of grass. Hearing that he had received punishment for a mistake made when he was still an ignorant child, the sage cursed Yamaraja to take birth on earth as a s'ûdra. Thus he became Vidura.
The Mahabharata, also known as the Pancama Veda (the fifth Veda), is a veritable encyclopedia if Hindu religion and culture.
The claim of the Suta Ugrasravas that ‘anything anywhere is an echo of what is here’ and ‘what is not here is nowhere’is no exaggeration.
Every aspect of dharma – whether it is rajadharma (statecraft), apad-dharma (conduct permissible during dire calamities), danadharma (liberality) or moksadharma (conduct pertaining to emancipation) – finds its due place here.
In fact, the very purpose of the Mahabharata is to expound dharma in all its ramifications.
The celebrated Bhagavad Gita , the less known Anugita , as also the two well-known hymns Visnusahasranama and Sivasahasranama , have been sources of inspiration to the philosophers and votaries of religious pursuits over the millennia.
The cult of Visnu and the reconciliation of the various warring faiths also find an appropriate place.
Whether the Mahabharata was the composition of a single poet or the compilation of several editors, whether the great war was fought in 3100 BC or 1400 BC or 950 BC, whether it was a family feud or a ferocious war, it is verily the biggest classic ever composed by man and will retain its relevance as long as the sun and the moon shine or the starts twinkle, because it mirrors the eternal drama of human existence.