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"After praying to Naaraayana, Nara, Sarasvathi and Vyaasa, then one should read the Jayam."



( The BH in this name is pronounced like a hardened sound of 'b'in 'ball'. The TH is pronounced like 'th'in 'with'. )

MAHAABHAARATHAM, the gem of Samskritham literature, is the second epic of India.The first one is the Raamaayanam . Mahaabhaaratham enjoys a sacred position in India, as the 5 th Veda ( The Vedas are 4 in number). Also, it serves as a standard reference for decision of moral,philosophical, religious and sacred matters, just like the vedic scriptures.

The views expressed by some people that it was just the story of a clash between the scions for the throne is an utterly ignorant belittlement of its contents.

Mahaa means great. Bhaaratham is called great,by its volume and worth.Tradition says that Bhaaratham with its internal elaborations becomes Mahaabhaaratham.

The Mahaabhaaratham was first composed by the sage Vyaasa and later was expanded by his desciples by adding various contextual discourses which themselves were believed to be of Vyaasa himself rendered by him elsewhere on different occassions.

The Mahaabhaaratham comprises 18 volumes called parva's (parva=node of a sugar cane),sub-divided into 100 sub-parvas in all,stretching to a whopping 100000 shlokas. An appendix to this epic,called Harivamsham,exists which consists of around 25000 shlokas. With this Harivamsham,also called Khilaparva(=appendix)), the Mahaabhaaratham is believed to be complete.

Notable point is, there are many prose texts too , in addition to the metrical verses. Numerous scholars discussed in detail regarding the number of verses and number of chapters in each parva. Mainly, there are two recensions, one the Northern one ( popular in Utthara-Bhaaratham i.e. Northern India ) and the other, the Southern one ( popular in Dakshina-Bhaaratham i.e. Southern India ). The number of verses in Southern ones is around 1,00,000 whereas that in the Northern ones is around 85,000. Tradition maintains that the saying of one lakh verses is true according to the vedic system whereby a half verse is sometimes considered a full one. It is sad that the scholars are helpless in deciding the interpolations in the voluminous text. Correctness of many parts of the text remains uncertain mainly due to the nature of Indians who just hold the book sacred but never mind to keep it intact in a written form beyond doubt. Added to it is the indifference of the govt for ages towards the country's culture and literature, particularly when it is about Hindu subjects.

The narration of the epic begins when Janamejaya, great-grandson of the Paandavas, was performing the serpent-sacrifice to avenge his father's killing by a serpent Lord Thakshaka. He was to stop the ritual unfinished. Then he asked Vyaasa about the clash between his ancestors Paandavas and Kouravas. Vyaasa employed his disciple Vyshampaayana to relate the whole story to the king in presence of all the interested. The order was obeyed. And one of the audience, Ugrashravas, better known as Sootha, later visited Nymisha forest to attend a 12-year sacrifice undertaken by sages under the direction of Shounaka. There he was asked to render a sacred discourse when he chose to narrate the story of Mahaabhaaratham as was learnt from Vyshampaayana's recital to Janamejaya. Thus, the Mahaabhaaratham is not only the largest book but even the biggest flash back ever told.

This epic is translated into all principal languages of the country. The Telugu translation of 11th century( in fact, 3 poets of different periods from 11 th to 13 th centuries did the job.) is considerd to be the best among all. Telugu is the language spoken in Andhra-Pradesh and Thelangaana states of south India.

The 18 parva's, as they are generally grouped together are as following. First five, War Six, Shaanthi Three and Aashramavaasa Four, ie as 5,6,3 and four starting witho those named Parvas.

Aadi   Sabhaa   Aaranya   Viraata   Udyoga

Bheeshma   Drona   Karna   Shalya   Soupthika   Sthree  

Shaanthi Aanushaasanika Asvamedha

Aashramavaasa Mousala Mahaaprasthaanika Svargaarohana

Scholars differ in views asto the authorship and time of composition of the epic. Tradition says it came into existence as far back as around 3000 BC.

Unlike Raamaayanam, Mahaabhaaratham undertakes topics of philospphy at many an instance. The Bhagavadgeetha (=Lord's discourse) in the 6th parva is considered to be the essence of Indian philosophy in a nut shell.

The chapter Sanathsujaatheeyam is a philosophy text book in itself. The much recited Vishnu_Sahasranaama is an excerpt from this epic. A moral discourse by Vidura to Dhritharaashtra is a classic example of teaching of values and standards of life. The lectures given by the dying Bheeshma to Yudhishthira stand high, detailing many formulae of life, not only for a king but even for a commoner.

Though most of the contents of the epic are supernatural, the basic nature of the persons of the epic is so close to our daily experiences that we feel the people around us in them. They are ideal on one hand and not free from vice on the other hand. We can see love, hatred, greed,magnaninity, lust, generosity, unity, rift, truthfulness,commitment, treachery, cheating, plotting,valour,cowardice,righteousness,crookedness and all those humanly possible behaviours exhibited in detail.

Vyaasa himself was a principal person in the Mahaabhaaratham. He played a key role in the story. He later composed this great work in 3 years. The northern recensions contain an episode of Brahma and Ganesha which describes that Vyaasa took the services of Ganesha as his amanuensis . The scribe ordained -the story says- that the dictation should suit his speed and the writer imposed that text should be written only after comprehending it thoroughly. It was told, in order to hold his scribe's stylus, Vyaasa at times composed tough text and these tougher shlokas, numbering around 8800, are often referred to as Vyaasa-ghattams(=Vyaasa's tough compositions). Some scholars misunderstood this to be the number of shlokas in Vyaasa's original composition i.e. Jaya, as is the Mahaabhaaratham also known. Except causing this naive misunderstanding, the Ganesha episode serves no purpose. It is very clear that this episode is just a Northern interpolation. (In Udyogaparva , a small episode of Queen vidula and her son Sanjaya, which Kunthi related to Krishna, is also refered to as Jaya. Not to confuse with these names.)

Excepting the texts on philosophical discussions, the great work was written in a pellucid style .

It is wellknown that this epic consists of around one lakh stanzas and a good number of prose passages too. Different recensions and different editions give various numbers of Adhyaayas (chapters), Parvas (Books) and Shlokas (stanzas). The popular and standard editions of the epic exist from 1834 to 1931. Roayal Asiatic society of Bengal published first the entire text of Mahaabhaaratham. Later, editions were issued Calcutta,Poona,Bombay,Madras and Kumbhaghonam. The southern texts are a bit larger than the northern ones but are close to the Parva-sangraha adhyaaya (epitomization of number of shlokas in Parvas) as the nubmer of shlokas are considered. A critical edition of Mahaabhaaratham during 1927 to 1935 was issued from Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, under editorship of V Sukthankar. It is referred to as BORIC edition. But, southern scholars opined that the editions unwarrantedly reduced the size of the epic by omitting large portions of the text. The famous southern editions are onr from Kumbhaghonam in 1906, known as Kumbhaghonam Edition and another one from Madras in 1935 which is known as PPS Sasthry Edition. Of course, there were many editions before that both in the north and the south.

As is detailed in preface of 1965 PPS Sasthry edition, the Adhyaayas (1923 to 1959), and Shlokas ( 89829 to 96645) in various editions vary from one another. The Kumbhaghonam and PPSS editions give the number of Adhyaayas and total Shlokas as 2312 and 96645, and 1944 and 94450, respectively. The number of Parvas is the same as 98. Some opine that Harivamsham, treated as an appendix to the epic, with its two ( or three) parvas make the Parvas a hundred and the total shlokas 125000. Deep details are omitted so as not to bore the young readers.

The coverage of subjects in Mahaabhaaratham is so wide that we can find in it, from instructions on bathroom behaviour to discourses on conquering the mind. That is why Vyaasa himself told about Mahaabhaaratham---

" That is found in this may be elsewhere, that is not found in this is nowhere. "

"After praying to Naaraayana, Nara, Sarasvathi and Vyaasa, then one should read the Jayam."