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Mahabharata

Mahabharata (məhä´bär´ətə), classical Sanskrit epic of India, probably composed between 200 BC and AD 200. The Mahabharata, comprising more than 90,000 couplets, usually of 32 syllables, is the longest single poem in world literature. The 18-book work is traditionally ascribed to the ancient sage Vyasa, but it was undoubtedly composed by a number of bardic poets and later revised by priests, who interpolated many long passages on theology, morals, and statecraft. It is the foremost source concerning classical Indian civilization and Hindu ideals. While there are many subplots and irrelevant tales, the Mahabharata is primarily the fabulous account of a dynastic struggle and great civil war in the kingdom of Kurukshetra, which in the 9th cent. BC encompassed the region around modern Delhi. The throne of Kurukshetra fell to the prince Dhritarashtra, but he was blind and therefore, according to custom, not eligible to rule. Pandu, his younger brother, became king instead, but he renounced the throne and retired as a hermit to the Himalayas; Dhritarashtra then became king. When the five sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, came of age, the eldest, Yuddhisthira, demanded the throne from his uncle, Dhritarashtra. However, the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra, the Kauravas, treacherously plotted against the Pandavas, the rightful heirs. The five brothers were eventually driven from the kingdom by the Kauravas, and in hiding as soldiers of fortune they married in common the Princess Draupadi. Dhritarashtra subsequently renounced the throne and divided the kingdom between the Pandavas and his own sons. The Kauravas, jealous and not content with the territorial settlement, challenged the Pandavas to a great dice match, at which they won the entire kingdom by devious means. After 12 years of wandering in exile and an additional year of living in disguise the Pandavas returned with their friend Krishna to reclaim the kingdom, but the Kauravas refused to abdicate and a great battle ensued. Before the battle began, Krishna preached the exalted Bhagavad-Gita. The forces engaged, and after three weeks of fighting, the Pandavas won. Yuddhisthira, the eldest, ascended the throne. After a long and peaceful reign he and his brothers abdicated and with their wife Draupadi set out for the Himalayas, where they entered the blissful City of the Gods. The philosophy set forth throughout the work emphasizes social duty and ascetic principles. Its theology is enormously complex. The other great Sanskrit epic is the Ramayana.

See translations of the Mahabharata by M. N. Dutt (8 vol., 1895–1905, repr. 1960), P. Lal (1980), J. A. B. van Buitenen (3 vol., 1973–78); study by R. K. Sharma (1964).

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Mahābhārata

Mahābhārata. A great epic of India. It comprises 100,000 verses (in all, seven times the Iliad plus the Odyssey in length), divided into eighteen books, supplemented by a nineteenth, the Harivaṃśa. The epic recounts the events before, during, and after the great battle for kingship fought at Kurukṣetra between the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas, branches of the Kuru lineage and descendants of Bharata (whence the Skt., Mahābhārata, ‘the great [tale of] Bharata's descendants’). Also included is didactic material of encyclopaedic proportions (particularly in books 12 and 13, the Śānti- and Anuśāsanaparvans), along with elaborate genealogies and much myth and legend (especially in books 1 and 3).

The Mahābhārata in its present form grew up over a long period of time, c.400 BCE–400 CE. The action of the Mahābhārata proceeds at several levels at once. First is the typically Indo-European heroic tale of the battle of good against evil. From this point of view, the Kurukṣetra war is visualized as a gigantic sacrifice conducted by semi-divine epic heroes. Mixed with this semi-mythical material is consideration of the human-centred issue of the decline of dharma at the onset of the Kaliyuga, the present degenerate age of history. One high point of human uncertainty in the epic is the episode of the Bhagavad-gītā, in which the Pāṇḍava hero Arjuna casts down his weapons before the war begins, dismayed at the prospect of having to fight against his relatives and elders on the other side. In the Bhagavad-gītā and throughout the Mahābhārata, it is a ‘Hindu’ element, revolving particularly around the character of the god Viṣṇu, incarnate as Kṛṣṇa, and his alliance with the Pāṇḍavas, which resolves the tension. The stage production by Peter Brook (1985) was filmed in 1989.

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Mahabharata

Mahabharata one of the two great Sanskrit epics of the Hindus (the other is the Ramayana), that evolved over centuries, existing in its present form since c.400 ad. Probably the longest single poem in the world, it describes the civil war waged between the five Pandava brothers and their one hundred stepbrothers at Kuruksetra near modern Delhi; the numerous interpolated episodes include the Bhagavadgita.

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Mahabharata

Mahabharata (Sanskrit, ‘Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty’) Poem of almost 100,000 couplets, written between c.400 bc and c.ad 200. One of India's two major Sanskrit epics (the other is the Ramayana), the verse incorporates the Bhagavad Gita (‘Song of the Lord’). It is important both as literature and as Hindu religious instruction.

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Mahabharata

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