Mahabharata: Introduction

Vyasa: the author

The Mahabharata Series (cont.)


The Mahābhārata is an amalgam of many authors but traditionally attributed to Vyasa (an immortal)


Composed over centuries (like the Hebrew Bible).
Some think it was begun in the 700s BCE and finished in the 300s BCE.  Here is some dates to give perspective:

  • 3000-900 BCE ? Kurukshetra War (subject of Mahabharata)
  • 1600  BCE  Beginning of Greek Civilization
  • 1194 BCE Trojan War (subject of Greek Epics)
  • 1000 BCE King David (legend)
  • 740 Kingdom of Israel falls to Neo-Assyrian Empire
  • 586 Jerusalem fall to Nebuchadnezzar
  • 551 BCE  Confucious born
  • 486 BCE Buddha born
  • 469 BCE Socrates born
  • 327 BCE Alexander the Great reaches India
  • 304 BCE Ashoka the Great born
  • 27 BCE Founding of Roman Empire


  • Longest epic poem in the world
  • 90,000 verses: 1.8 million words
  • Pages are hard to measure but it is approx. 5,000 pages compared to William Buck’s abbreviated retelling is only about 250 pgs.
  • 10 times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined
  • Divided into 19 “parvas” (sections)


  • These scriptures were originally written in Sanskrit.
  • Mahā” means “Great”.  Mahātmā means “Great Soul” as in Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Bhārata” is the Hindi term for “Republic of India” and was the name of a legendary king in India history.

The Plot

This epic is about the civil war of ancient “Bharata” tribe in North India’s area called “Kurukshetra” between 300 BC and 3,000 BC.  Like the Hebrew scriptures, the Mahabharata incorporates many other favorite myths of the Hindus.

Hindu Scripture

The Mahabharata is a major text in Hinduism.  You can find all the texts at Internet Sacred Text.  Hindu scripture is classically divided as below:

  • Shruti“that which is heard”
    • 4 Vedas: Rig-, Sama, Yajur and Atharva (largely rituals)
    • Veda Commentaries: Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads (philosophical)
  • Smritis“memory”
    • 2 Great Epics:
      • Mahabharata (William Buck’s version)
      • Ramayana (William Buck’s version)
    • Puranas (more sectarian and local myths)


  1. Preface:  William Buck’s version
  2. Mahabharata: Wikipedia


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

15 responses to “Mahabharata: Introduction

  1. Ian

    This is going to be fun.

    In terms of the Kurukshetra war, how historical is it thought to be? Does it describe a historical conflict or an allegorical one?

  2. kat

    The Arayans (meaning=civilized) are called the PIE people (Proto Indo-Europeans) by the politically correct—facinating history—Apparently came down from the Russian steppes and went into Nothern India as well as Persia and parts of Europe. And whatever the religion was (we can call it Vedic religion) it developed into Hinduism in India, Zoarastianism in Persia (Sort of) and a religion/myth about Thor in Europe (?) or something like that—been a long time since I looked into this so I may have to double check some of this stuff.
    looking forward to learning more about this from you.

  3. Sabio Lantz

    @ Ian:
    I have to look into the historicity yet. I will predicatively wager it is debated much like the Exodus. Looking forward to finding out.

  4. Steve Wiggins

    Interestingly, the dates suggested coincide with what many current scholars suggest for the dates of the Hebrew Bible’s composition. I frequently suggest to my classes that the connections between cultures reach to a very deep level. Perhaps even to the impulse to write “scripture”?

  5. @ Steve — pull out the woo-woo meter, you might be needing decontamination !

    Did you have your own list to show that Der Weltgeist was moving over the planet stirring human hearts at some special time? Here is a quick list I dug up. Look !!!! They are all BCE ! Wow, man ! Can you believe it?

    The Tale of Sinuhe (Egyptian) 1900s BCE
    Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (Sumerian) 2000s BCE
    Homer (Greek) 800s BCE
    Shi Jing (Chinese – The book of Poetry) 1000 BCE

  6. Steve Wiggins

    No woo-woo intended! I’ve been reading about the inter-connectedness of ancient societies over the past few years. It is interesting to see “sacred” writing (itself an odd concept) showing up in widely spaced cultures around the same time. Maybe it’s just synchronicity?

  7. @ Steve
    What dates do you see “sacred writings” appearing significantly more than other dates? Which writings?

  8. parkerjwill

    The Mahabharata is not allegorical. It is historical. The Battle of Kuruksetra took place approximately 5,000 years ago in modern day India. “Aryan” means civilized persons and is synonymous with godly persons. Hence an Aryan is one who belongs to a God-centered civilization. From the Aryan perspective, there is no possibility of civilization without religion. (Modern man knows next to nothing of religion, his is largely pseudo-religion) Sanskrit, the language employed by the Vedic texts, is original to the core European languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, etc) The Aryan Invasion Theory was crafted by men from Europe who stood to gain from a populace ignorant of their true history and origins. Consequent to being severed from the true Aryan culture and its scientific religion, modern man is sliding deeply into the clutches of materialism and godlessness.

  9. @parkerjwill,
    I think you are right that much of what I have understood about the Aryan invasion may have been a false theory taken as facts invented by early Western scholars. But I am sure a huge number of the stories in the Mahabharata are pure fiction. The Battle of Kuruksetra may have been a real battle — I must say, I have not researched it at all. As for “modern man is sliding deeply into the clutches of materialism and godlessness.” — unlike you, I do not idealize the past, but like you, I am highly critical of the present.

    Do you have a blog?

  10. I would say I idealize that past. That is too general. However, I do accept the Vedic conception of time and therefore the general pattern of all material things (inluding the universe) to begin fresh and favorable only to eventually fade and be destroyed. is a WordPress site I’m working on.

    About the Mahabharata being partly fact and partly fiction, I am unsure. I would however read the text with an non-fictional understanding of the intent of the work; it’s intent is not to entertain but to inform.

  11. Do you feel the New Testament is a completely non-fiction story, or does it have fiction mixed with true stories. I am sure the Mahabharata and Ramayana have lots of fiction.

    I see your site.

    Is it safe to guess that you are with ISKC (a “Hare Krishna” person)? Are Krishna Consciousness Movement and ISKC the same?

    Suggestion on your site:
    You have almost no commentors and the one post where you have 3 comments, you do not answer their questions or react with them. People will follow more if you interact with them.

  12. I think the New Testament (and “Old” for that matter) have been compromised and their meaning is no longer understood by the general population, Christian or otherwise. The Bible has some nice information in it, but we can see from the Christian community, it lacks clarity and coherency. Otherwise, what is the reason for the innumerable Christian denominations? I think Jesus was/is an entirely divine personality, but that his original message has been corrupted and mishandled.

    Again, I assert that the main point of the Mahabharata is to inform, not to entertain. What within it are you considering to be fiction? Personally, I have not had the time to read it. Although I am partly familiar with some of it content.

    ISKCON is the organization created by Srila Prabhupada back in the late 60’s and 70’s. I consider myself a devoted follower of Srila Prabhupada, but not a member within ISKCON. There’s many reasons for this. Mainly, ISKCON’s leadership is untrustworthy, having deviated from Prabhupada’s instructions (to put it lightly).

    Before I read Prabhupada’s translation of the Bhagavad-gita, I was basically ignorant of, even atheistic towards God. I was a materialist. I had a severe case of spiritual constipation on account of pridefullness. i didn’t know about Metta-mucil back then.

  13. So you arre your own group? How many members? Or are you with the Krishna Consciousness Movement (or is that the same as ISKCON – you never answered my question).

    I am familiar with your opinion about Jesus — many Hindus hold it.

    I am glad you enjoyed the Metta-mucil graphic.

  14. PS parkerjwill: I suggest to undo the “Need to log in before commenting” limitation on your blog. I won’t comment on blogs that demand that — too much work

  15. I don’t claim allegiance to any official group, just to Prabhupada. Prabhupada is credited with the ISKCON and the Krishna Consciousness Movement. He used the two interchangeably.

    Problem with Hinduism is that it’s overburdened with polytheistic overtones. I don’t consider myself a Hindu any more than I consider myself an American.

    *Comment moderation on B2B has been lifted.

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