The Mahabharata: The World’s Longest Epic Poem

The Mahabharata: The World’s Longest Epic Poem

 

The Mahabharata, which is Sanskrit for a “Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty” is indeed a great epic. Alongside the Ramayana, it is one of the greatest and most significant epics in Indian literature. However, its significance extends beyond India and beyond Hinduism. It is, in fact, one of the greatest and longest epics in world literature as a whole.

Not only a lengthy poem, the Mahabharata is actually considered the longest epic poem ever written. It is made up of one hundred thousand verses, which are divided into eighteen parvans or sections, and also includes a supplement entitled the Harivamsha, which means “Genealogy of the God Hari.” The Mahabharata is actually seven times longer than the renowned Iliad and Odyssey epics combined.

Krishna Drives Arjuna's Chariot in The Mahabharata

Many scholars suggest that, given its length, it is unlikely that only one individual wrote the Mahabharata. However, this legendary story is believed to have been composed by the sage Krishna-Dwaipayann Vyasa, who narrated it to no less than the god Ganesha. Being such a long piece of literature, it is said that Vyasa could find no one on earth to write the Mahabharata and he therefore asked for the help of Ganesha, who is the lord of success and the destroyer of obstacles. Ganesha made a vow to write the entire Mahabharata and while doing so, broke his pen. Fulfilling his promise, Ganesha, who is depicted with the head of an elephant, broke one of his tusks and used it to continue writing the Mahabharata as it was dictated to him by Vyasa.

Lord Ganesha Seated on Blooming Lotus Scripting The Mahabharata

While the Mahabharata is well-known for its length, its main storyline can be summarized as a tale that revolves around two brothers who are princes and the conflicts between them and their respective family branches as they go to war, fighting for the throne of Hastinapura. Vyasa’s role in the Mahabharata isn’t only as composer but he also appears in the story itself as the grandfather of the princely brothers.

As the story goes, Prince Dhritarashtra, who is the older of the two princes, was blind. Although he was the rightful heir to his father’s throne, because of his disability, he was overlooked as king and not granted his birthright. Instead, his younger brother, Pandu, was crowned king upon their father’s death. While he may have been king, Pandu was cursed and this curse prevented him from having any children or heirs to his throne. As a result of this, Pandu’s wife Kunti requested the gods to instead father children in Pandu’s honor. The gods granted Kunti her request.

Mahabharata


The god of the Wind fathered Bhima, the god Dharma fathered Yudhishtira, Indra bore the child Arjuna, and the twin gods Ashvin fathered twin children Nakula and Sahadeva. All five children – Bhima, Yudhishtira, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva – were then the sons of King Pandu and known as the Pandavas. Conflict, jealousy, and resentment arise between the Pandavas and their cousins, the Kauravas, who are the children of Prince Dhritarashtra. Upon the death of Pandu, the Pandavas are forced into exile and made to leave the kingdom.

The Mahabharata goes on to narrate the Pandavas time in exile, including the joint marriage of five brothers to Draupadi. The Pandavas eventually return to the kingdom. However, during their time back, Yudhishthira goes against Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kauravas, in a game of dice and loses everything. This forces the Pandavas out of the kingdom once again. They then spend twelve years exiled in the forest.

Sampoorna Mahabharata Saroddhara (Kannada)

The mighty feud between the cousins, and the many wars and conflicts throughout the Mahabharata builds up to a series of grand battles on the Kurukshetra field, in the Haryana state. At the end of the battle, all the Kaurava brothers are defeated and killed. While the side of the Pandavas emerge victorious, the only survivors are the five brothers, Draupadi, and the god Krishna.

महासती द्रौपदी - Mahasati Draupadi

The victorious survivors then make their way to Indra’s heaven. However, along the way, they each fall away and only Yudhisthira makes it to the gates of paradise. The story doesn’t end there as Yudhisthira is still made to face further tests to his faithfulness. After passing these final tests, Yudhisthira is not only reunited with his Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi but also with his enemy cousins, the Kauravas. Reunited, they enjoy eternal bliss together.

Mahabharata- An Authentic Presentation

The Mahabharata is a vital source of knowledge and insight on the evolution of the Hindu faith, particularly between 400 BCE and 200 BCE. The great epic is considered by many Hindus as both a historical piece of literature, narrating past events in the itihasa genre, but also as reference text about dharma or Hindu moral law.

महाभारत - Mahabharata in Simple Hindi Language

Along with the major and minor storylines narrated in the Mahabharata, as well as the grand battles, it also includes philosophical discourse and devotional material, including the Purusartha, which is known as the four goals of life. The Mahabharata is so significant in Indian tradition and Hinduism that it is sometimes considered the fifth Veda. 

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