The Mahabharata: Story or History?
The epic Mahabharata relates the historical account of the events that finally led to the great battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The word in Sanskrit for such Mythological accounts of the events of the past is Itihasam ="iti-ha-sam" 'it happened thus'. The "ha" in the middle means "without doubt", "truly". So, an itihasa means a true story, a contemporarary account.
Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata, lived during the time of the Kauravas and the Pandavas and was witness to the events narrated by him in his epic. There is thus no reason to doubt its authenticity. The "ha" in "itihasa" confirms to the faithful that the Mahabharata is not a fiction, but an account of what truly happened.
The word "itihasa" can also mean
"thus they spoke", meaning: "great men say that it must be
"Aitihya", another word derived from "iti", means: "thus have great men spoken "; therefore, an aitihya it is not an account of what was directly witnessed by the author, but an account that is to be accepted as a matter of faith.
Most children in India grew up hearing the Mahabharata story narrated by their parents/grand-parents; they believe it to be a true account of the lives of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The TV serial seen every Sunday on the Indian TV (Doordarshan) has only confirmed in their minds that the events depicted in fact took place, a long while ago.
It remains a source
of life-education to both children and adults.