Vyasa’s epic is, indeed, encyclopedic in scope and an immensely rewarding study for plumbing the meaning of the four aims of human life: dharma, wealth, pleasure and liberation. This massive work  --at once history and revelation, Kavya and Puranas and itihasa--that was originally called Jaya, 
came to be called Mahabharata because “it is greater than the Vedas in substance and seriousness.” 
No wonder the Anukramanika Parva, which introduces the epic, states that this is the ship by which 
we can cross the storm-tossed ocean of life.    - Pradip Bhattacharya

Extracts from Wikipedia:

Mahabharata: Structure and authorship

The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known as frametales, popular in many Indian religious and secular works. It is recited to the King Janamejaya by Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa.

The epic is traditionally ascribed to Vyasa, who is also one of the major dynastic characters within the epic. The first section of the Mahabharata states that it was Ganesha who, at the behest of Vyasa, wrote down the text to Vyasa's dictation. Ganesha is said to have agreed to write it only on condition that Vyasa never pause in his recitation. Vyasa agreed, providing that Ganesha took the time to understand what was said before writing it down. This also serves as a popular variation on the stories of how Ganesha's right tusk was broken (a traditional part of Ganesha imagery). This version attributes it to the fact that, in the rush of writing, his pen failed, and he snapped off his tusk as a replacement in order that the transcription not be interrupted.

With its philosophical depth and sheer magnitude, the Mahabharata's scope and grandeur is best summarized by one quotation from the beginning of its first parva (section): "What is found here, may be found elsewhere. What is not found here, will not be found elsewhere." This quotation rightly sums up Mahabharata, within which one finds myriad relationships, stories and events.

In its scope, the Mahabharata is more than simply a story of kings and princes, sages and wise men, demons and gods. Its author, Vyasa, says that one of its aims is elucidating the four goals of life: kama (pleasure), artha (wealth), dharma (duty) and moksha (liberation). The narrative culminates in moksha, believed by Hindus to be the ultimate goal of human beings. Karma and dharma play an integral role in the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata includes large amounts of Hindu mythology, cosmological stories of the gods and goddesses, and philosophical parables aimed at students of Hind philosophy. Among the principal works and stories that are a part of the Mahabharata are the following, often considered isolated as works in their own right : Bhagawad Gita, Krishnavatara,

Krishnavatara (the story of Krishna, the Krishna Lila, which is woven through many chapters of the story), an abbreviated version of the Ramayana in Aranyakaparva and Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam.

Mahabharata - Translation (English)

Kisari Mohan Ganguli was the person who translated the Great Epic- Mahabharata  into English between 1883 to 1896.
His translation is widely considered to be the best translation of the epic


The core story of the work is that of a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura, the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. The two collateral branches of the family that participate in the struggle are the Kaurava, the elder branch of the family, and the Pandava, the younger branch.

The struggle culminates in the Great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. The battle produces complex conflicts of kinship and friendship, instances of family loyalty and duty taking precedence over what is right, as well as the converse.

The Mahabharata itself ends with the disappearance of Krishna, and the subsequent end of his dynasty, and ascent of the Pandava brothers to heaven. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu age of Kali (Kali Yuga), the fourth and final age of mankind, where the great values and noble ideas have crumbled, and man is heading toward the complete dissolution of right action, morality and virtue.


Janamejaya's ancestor Shantanu, the king of Hastinapura has a short-lived marriage with the goddess Ganga and has a son, Devavrata (later to be called Bhishma), who becomes the heir apparent.

Many years later, when the king goes hunting, he see Satyavati, the daughter of a fisherman, and asks to marry her. Eager to secure his daughter's and her children's future happiness, the fisherman refuses to consent to the marriage unless Shantanu promises to make any future son of Satyavati the king upon his death. To solve the king's dilemma, Devavrata agrees not to take the throne. As the fisherman is not sure about the prince's children honouring the promise, Devavrata also takes a vow of lifelong celibacy to guarantee his father's promise.

Shantanu has two sons by Satyavati, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Upon Shantanu's death, Chitrangada becomes king. After his death Vichitravirya rules Hastinapura. In order to arrange the marriage of the young Vichitravirya, Bhishma goes to Kashi for a swayamvara of the three princesess Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He wins them, but Amba is already in love with Salva. Amba tells Bhishma about her love for Salva, and is allowed to go to him. He does not accept her, as he has seen her taken by the hand by Bhishma. Insulted Amba comes back to Hastinapura and asks Bhishma to marry her. Being vouched for celibacy, Bhishma rejects her, on which she curses him that she would be the cause of his Death.

 The Pandava and Kaurava princes

Satyavati's sons died young without any heirs. Satyavati then asked her first son Vyasa to go to the bed of Vichitravirya's widows. Vyasa fathered the royal children Dhritarashtra who is born blind, and Pandu, and through a maid of the widows, their commoner half-brother Vidura.

Pandu marries twice, to Kunti and Madri. Dhritarashtra is married to Gandhari, who blindfolds herself when she finds she has been married to a blind man. Pandu takes the throne because of Dhritarashtra's blindness. Pandu while out hunting deer, is however cursed that if engages in the sexual act, he will die. He then retires to the forest along with his two wives, and his brother rules thereafter, despite his blindness.

Pandu's elder queen Kunti however, asks the gods Yama, Vayu, and Indra for sons, by using a boon granted by Durvasa. She gives birth to three sons Yudhishtira, Bhima, and Arjuna through these gods. Kunti shares her boon with the younger queen Madri, who bears the twins Nakula and Sahadeva through the Ashwini twins. However Pandu and Madri, unable to resist temptation, indulge in sex and die in the forest, and Kunti returns to Hastinapura to raise her sons, who are then usually referred to as the Pandava brothers.

Dhritarashtra has a hundred sons through Gandhari, the Kaurava brothers. There is rivalry between the sets of cousins, from their youth and into manhood.

 Laakshagriha (The House of Wax)

Duryodhana plots to get rid of the Pandavas and tries to kill the Pandavas secretly by setting fire to their palace which he had made of lac. However, the Pandavas are warned by their uncle, Vidura, who sends them a miner to dig a tunnel. They are able to escape to safety and go into hiding, but after leaving others behind, whose bodies are mistaken for them. Bhishma goes to the river Ganga to perform the last rites of the people found dead in the burned palace, understood to be Pandavas. Vidura then informs him that the Pandavas are alive and to keep the secret to himself.

There are two places in India which claim to have been the site of Laakshagriha. One is in Uttar Pradesh and is known as Lakshagriha. It is situated 45 kms from Allahabad. Presently, there is a big mound, which is believed to be originally made of wax and housed the palace intended to burn the Pandava brothers.

The second is situated in Uttarkhand, and is known as Lakhamandal. It has various temples and a cave shrine dedicated to various gods, along with the Pandava brothers.


In course of this exile the Pandavas are informed of a swayamvara, a marriage competion, which is taking place for the hand of the Panchala princess Draupadi. The Pandavas enter the competition in disguise as Brahmins. The task is to string a mighty steel bow and shoot a target on the ceiling while looking at its reflection in water below. Most of the princes fail, being unable to lift the bow. Arjuna, however, succeeds. When he returns with his bride, Arjuna goes to his mother, saying, "Mother, I have brought you a present!". Kunti, not noticing the princess, tells Arjuna that whatever he has won must be shared with his brothers. To ensure that their mother never utters a falsehood, the brothers take her as a common wife. In some interpretations, Draupadi alternates months or years with each brother. At this juncture they also meet Krishna, who would become their lifelong ally and guide.


After the wedding, the Pandava brothers are invited back to Hastinapura. The Kuru family elders and relatives negotiate and broker a split of the kingdom, with the Pandavas obtaining a new territory. Yudhishtira has a new capital built for this territory at Indrapratha. Neither the Pandava nor Kaurava sides are happy with the arrangement however.

Shortly after this, Arjuna marries Subhadra. Yudhishthira wishes to establish his position; he seeks Krishna's advice. Krishna advises him, and after due preparation and the elimination of some opposition, Yudhishthira carries out a Rajasuya Yagna ceremony; he is thus recognised as pre-eminent among kings.

The Pandavas have a new palace built for them, by Maya the Danava. They invite their Kaurava cousins to Indraprastha. Duryodhana walks round the palace, and mistakes a glossy floor for water, and will not step in. After being told of his error, he then sees a pond, and assumes it is not water, falls in, and is humiliated.

 The dice game

Sakuni, Duryodhana's uncle, now arranges a dice game, playing against Yudhishtira with loaded dice. Yudhishtira loses all his wealth, then his kingdom. He then even gambles his brothers, then his wife, and finally himself, into servitude. The jubilant Kauravas insult the Pandavas in their helpless state and even try to disrobe Draupadi in front of the entire court.

Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, and the other elders are aghast at the situation, and negotiate a compromise. The Pandavas are required to go into exile for 13 years, and for the 13th year must remain hidden. If discovered by the Kauravas, they will be forced into exile for another 12 years.

 Exile and return

The Pandavas spend twelve years in exile. Many adventures occur during this time. They also prepare alliances for a possible future conflict. They spend their final year in disguise in the court of Virata, and are discovered at or after the end of the year.

At the end of their exile, they try to negotiate a return to Indraprastha. However, this fails, as Duryodhana objects that they were discovered while in hiding, and that no return of their kingdom was agreed. War becomes inevitable.

 The battle at Kurukshetra

The two sides summon vast armies to their help, and line up at Kurukshetra for a war. The Kingdoms of Panchala, Dwaraka, Kasi, Kekaya, Magadha, Matsya, Chedi, Pandya and the Yadus of Mathura and some other clans like the Parama Kambojas were allied with the Pandavas. The allies of the Kauravas included the kings of Pragjyotisha, Anga, Kekaya, Sindhudesa (including Sindhus, Sauviras and Sivis), Mahishmati, Avanti in Madhyadesa, Madra, Gandhara, Bahlikas, Kambojas and many others. Prior to war being declared, Balarama, had expressed his unhappiness at the developing conflict, and left to go on pilgrimage, thus he does not take part in the battle itself. Krishna takes part in a non-combatant role, as chariot driver for Arjuna.

Before the battle, Arjuna, seeing himself facing great-uncle Bhishma and his teacher Drona on the other side, has doubts about the battle and he fails to lift his Gandiva bow. Krishna wakes him up to his call of duty in the famous Bhagavad Gita section of the epic.

Though initially sticking to chivalrous notions of warfare, both sides soon adopt into dishonourable tactics. At the end of the 18-day battle, only the Pandavas, Satyaki and Krishna survive.

 The end of the Pandavas

After seeing the carnage, Gandhari who had lost all her sons, curses Krishna to be a witness to a similar annihilation of his family, for though divine and capable of stopping the war, he had not done so. Krishna accepts the curse, which bears fruit 36 years later.

The Pandavas who had ruled their kingdom meanwhile, decide to renounce everything. Clad in skins and rags they retire to the Himalaya and climb towards heaven in their bodily form. A stray dog travels with them. One by one the brothers and Draupadi fall on their way. As each one stumbles, Yudhishitra gives the rest the reason for their fall (Draupadi was partial to Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva were vain and proud of their looks, Bhima and Arjuna were proud of their strength and archery skills, respectively). Only the virtuous Yudhisthira who had tried everything to prevent the carnage and the dog remain. The dog reveals himself to be the god Dharma, who reveals the nature of the test and assures Yudhishtra that his fallen siblings and wife are in heaven. Yudhisthira alone reaches heaven in his bodily form for being just and humble.

Arjuna's grandson Parikshita rules after them and dies bitten by a snake. His furious son, Janamejaya, decides to perform a snake sacrifice (sarpasattra) in order to destroy the snakes. It is at this sacrifice that the tale of his ancestors is narrated to him.

A Book-Review:

Tales and Teachings of Mahabharata

Author: Janaki Abhisheki

Reviewed by: – Pradip Bhattacharya

Here is a work written by a grandmother immersed in the riches of India’s ancient tradition, keen to pass on the gems of insight for the guidance of everyone, young and old, in this new millennium. Janaki Abhisheki meets head on the inevitable casual remark tossed off the shoulder about the irrelevance of ancient Indian tradition in the 21st century. No, we have not outgrown the epic of epics. To presume that would be “but an indication of our will to commit national suicide, the signal of our national extinction” as Sukhtankar, the great editor of the critical edition of Vyasa’s world-swaddling creation, warned.

In her retelling the author has, hamsa-like, scooped out of the one hundred thousand verses of the massive epic-corpus the portions that hold lessons for living --didactic and lived, taught and experienced. Unlike all other retellings so far, this one seizes upon two of the most telling episodes of the epic to start the book with. It is a measure of the soundness of Abhisheki’s insight that she begins with the story of Shakuntala, known so differently by most through Kalidasa’s romantic version as a weak, swooning helpless maiden. The original is a very different woman, fiery, assertive, berating the unscrupulous Dushyant in no uncertain terms and reading him a lesson in the true meaning of a wife: like a father in dharmic work, a mother in times of distress, the best of friends in death, and the source of righteousness, wealth, pleasure and liberation. Shakuntala compares him to a mustard seed and herself to Mount Meru and condemns him for behaving like a pig delighting in filth instead of distinguishing between the true and the false like the swan. 

The very next retelling is the riveting existential experience of Yayati, epitomizing the torment of modern man in the clutches of greed and pride, and the lessons his life holds for us all. This should be read with the chapter “What is death?” Here Mrityu is anguished with the task assigned her and repeatedly refuses to undertake it. Death destroys first by urging people to desire and then to anger, which immerse them in self-created delusions that destroy. The omission in this retelling of his daughter Madhavi who, along with her four sons by four different kings, gifts her father her merit to enable him to return to heaven, is unfortunate. We also realize that prose can never convey the exquisite flavor of Yayati’s lament as he falls from heaven and the plangent notes of Ashtaka’s query to the falling hero which comes through so satisfyingly in Prof. P.Lal’s transcreation of the epic.

Space constraints do not permit doing justice to this excellent work, but some highlights must be mentioned. The Manusmriti distortions of the true Indian tradition get a sorely needed corrective through a book such as this. Abhisheki recounts a number of tales that show knowledge of dharma does not come merely by birth or by performing rituals and mortifying the body, but by good conduct and a pure heart. She also retells several passages that bluntly state brahminhood is not by birth but is the fruit of conduct. Leaving out the Gita, which is so well known, she includes less familiar portions of the epic that provide similar advice. Few realize that the Biblical commandment to do unto others as we would have others do unto us was enunciated originally by Bhishma to Yudhishthir (in the chapter “The eternal religion—Sanatana Dharma”).

It is a pleasure to find ample space provided to the stories of the faithful wife and the virtuous meat-seller (“Women of worth”) from whom the ascetic Kaushik learns that true dharma does not lie in acquiring power to harm by practicing penance. The butcher’s discourse is one of the most profound yet practical teachings in the Indian tradition resolving the dilemma of the vegetarian and the non-violent. It should be read along with the trader Tuladhar’s teaching to the Brahmin Jajali, proud of his ascetic powers. Kaushik seems to be the favorite name chosen by Vyasa to denote the person whose blind practice of austerities and rituals does not lead to acquiring dharma. It is a pity that the author does not include Krishna’s account of Kaushik landing up in hell for adhering stubbornly to his vow of truth at the cost of the lives of innocent people, for it is this story that distinguishes the Kantian concept of truth from the Indian concept of dharma.

Few are aware of the Satyavan-Dyumatsen dialogue retold in this book that, with superb clarity, removes all the confusion faced by conscientious objectors regarding how to rule and punish without guilt. The little-known dialogue between the jackal and the sage Kashyap who cannot reconcile himself to poverty is an extremely fine piece that ought to be widely studied. Similar little-known tales that are pregnant with profound meaning are those of the yaksha Kundadhar’s gift to the Brahmin who craves wealth (on which Sri Aurobindo might have drawn for his brilliant short story “Svapna”), a Naga’s advice to a Brahmin on what is the highest dharma, the story of the seven sages and Arundhati realizing that rejecting greed is the path to transcendence.

Towards the end comes the gripping tale of the half-golden mongoose who laughs to scorn the supposed greatness of Yudhishthir’s horse-sacrifice, finding it of no worth compared to a poor family’s gift of the only food they had to a guest. All retellers have stopped with the disappearance of the mongoose. Only Abhisheki remains faithful to the original and tells us that the mongoose was Anger itself metamorphosed by Jamadagni. Gajendrakumar Mitra used this to create a splendid sequel involving the Pandavas and Krishna to bring home a lesson regarding the perniciously destructive results of giving way to anger (translated into English fittingly by  11-year old Aurpon in Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights).

The book ends with an excellent conflation of the tests Yudhishthir is put to by Dharma on three occasions: as the stork during their exile, as the dog following him during the last journey, and finally offering him the joys of heaven instead of living in hell with his brothers. In the retelling, however, we miss that most memorable question put to Yudhishthir by the mysterious slayer of his brothers: what is most wonderful? The reply is one that each of us needs to hear daily: we all know death is inevitable; yet we live as if we are immortal.

The book is enriched with 30 pages of quotations from the epic selected by the author followed by an excellent index of proper names that doubles as a pronunciation guide along with a cryptic note identifying the person. Coming to the end one realizes that Vyasa’s epic is, indeed, encyclopedic in scope and an immensely rewarding study for plumbing the meaning of the four aims of human life: dharma, wealth, pleasure and liberation. This massive work--at once history and revelation, Kavya and Puranas and itihasa--that was originally called Jaya, came to be called Mahabharata because “it is greater than the Vedas in substance and seriousness.” No wonder the Anukramanika Parva, which introduces the epic, states that this is the ship by which we can cross the storm-tossed ocean of life for, 

Like a stick of collyrium
the wisdom of this poem opens the eyes

of a world swathed in darkness

The Book is published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, pages 595, Rs.500.     

Was Draupadi Disrobed in the Dice Hall?

Excerpts from an article by Satya Chaitanya (His conclusion is a NO, the episode is an interpollation.):

The twelfth chapter of the Vanaparva is an unusually long one, with one hundred and thirty-six verses in it. This chapter in which, among other things, Draupadi tells Krishna about her sufferings in the Dice Hall, there is plenty of space for her to express her bitter grief at length. Here in very moving, unforgettable words Draupadi speaks of what happened on that day. Among the things she mentions are things that normally women do not talk about when they talk to men – but such is the burden of woe she carries in her heart that Draupadi tells Krishna how heavily she was bleeding on that day and how seeing this the Dhartarashtras laughed heartily at her discomfiture and humiliation in that assembly [Rajnam madhye sabhayam tu rajasatiparipluta drshtva cha mam dhartarashtra prahasan papachetasah – Vana 12.63]. But she does not speak of any attempt to strip her, or of her being saved by the miracle.

In heart-wrenching words Drauapdi here rejects Bheema’s strength and Arjuna’s Gandiva [Dhig balam bheemasenasya, dhik parthasya cha gandeevam – Vana 12.67], for neither could protect her on that day. Then later, an inconsolably wailing Draupadi tells Krishna: “I have no husbands, no sons, no relations. I have no brothers, no father. And I do not have even you, Krishna” [Naiva me patayas santi, na putra na cha bandhavah; na bhrataro naiva cha pita, naiva tvam madhusoodana – Vana 12.125]. It is doubtful if Draupadi ever spoke words more difficult to speak, words more painful to her. And it is doubtful if there are anywhere in world literature words more painful for us to hear.

But here again Draupadi, though she speaks of being dragged about, does not speak of being stripped in the assembly.

Also, she implies that Krishna too failed her – he did not do anything to save her, just as Bheema or Arjuna or her other husbands did nothing to save her.

Draupadi does not thank Krishna for saving her honour in the Dice Hall through the miracle. Nor does Krishna remind her “But I saved you that day, Draupadi, by supplying an endless stream of cloths!” For, Krishna hadn’t appeared in the dice hall to save Draupadi, hadn’t caused any miracle to save her on that day. The incident of Krishna supplying clothes to her did not take place, for the attempt to strip her never took place.

There are scores of other occasions in the Mahabharata where the incidents of the Dice Hall on that day are mentioned, but none of them refers to the stripping of Draupadi. As Mr Bhattacharya points out, Draupadi herself never refers to the stripping.

The conclusion is clear.  The internal evidence strongly shows the stripping episode is an interpolation. 

Read the complete article at: