The Mahabharata War was, or thought to be, such a momentous event as to leave an indelible impact on the life and culture of not only the Indian subcontinent but on all the other countries where Indians migrated in strength and lived for some time. There were several important personages in India and abroad named after the Mahabharata characters and places in far-flung areas are found christened after them. The Mahabharata is still being lived by Indians and by those imbibing Indian cultures elsewhere. One cannot think of Indian religion, philosophy, thought-pattern and literary genres without the Mahabharata.
The present anthology of twenty-six well-researched papers representing the outcome of a national seminar hosted by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, sheds welcome light and presents fresh perspectives on absorbing questions relating to the Great Epic like the date of the war, peoples, ethnography, culture, polity, communication, epigraphic allusions, etc. It also studies numerous versions prepared by the votaries of different sects to suit their own needs and in different Indian languages. They either contain fresh information or stress the need to have a second look at the known data. By their very nature, these contributions are bound to stir the imagination of and excite one and all interested in epic studies and early Indian history and cultures.
(Late) Prof. Ajay Mitra Shastri retired as Professor and Head of Dept. of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology from Nagpur University in 1994 after a distinguished academic career of about thirty-seven years. Prof. Shastri has been associated with several universities and professional organizations in various capacities. He has been Convenor of the Inscriptions program of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Chairman of the Advisory Board (Ancient Period) of the National Commission of History of Science of Indian National Science Academy, Member of History Panel of the University Grants Commission (UGC), National Lecturer in History and National and Emeritus Fellow of UGC, Senior Fellow of ICHR, Sectional President of conferences of Indian History Congress, All-India Oriental Conference, Andhra Pradesh History Congress, Maharashtra Itihas Parishad, General President of Conferences of Numismatic Society of India, Epigraphical Society of India, Indian History and Culture Society, etc. He has delivered several prestigious lecture series and received several coveted honours and awards including the Fellowship of the Royal Numismatic Society, Akbar Silver and Altekar Gold Medals of Numismatic Society of India, James Campbell Memorial Gold Medal of Asiatic Society of Bombay, Plaque of Honour of Coin Study Circle (Calcutta), copperplate of honour of Epigraphical Society of India, Jijamata Puraskar of Chhatrapati Pratishthan, Nagpur, etc. He has authored/edited 24 works, contributed about 450 research papers, reviews and forewords and chapters to several prestigious learned series. Two festschrifts have been brought out for him, Professor Ajay Mitra Shastri Felicitation Volume edited by Dr S.K. Bhatt from Indore (1988) and Ajay-Sri (in two parts) edited by Shri Devendra Handa from Delhi (1989).
Prof. Shastri left for his heavenly abode on 11th January, 2002.
It is now commonly, though not unanimously, believed that the Bharata War was a historical event though fought on a much smaller scale than would appear from the Mahabharata as it has come down to us. Though essentially centring around a feud between two factions of a ruling family, it was joined by the ruling chiefs of a major portion of northern part of undivided India from Gandhara in modern Pakistan in the north to Viratanagara (near Jaipur) in the south and from Gujarat in the west to Bihar in the east and thus involved a very large portion of what was then known as Bharata. It is therefore rightly called Mahabharata. It created a stupendous impact not only on the parts of the country that were directly involved in or concerned in any way with the war and places, monuments in far south and far east were also named after the Mahabharata heroes, particularly the victorious Pandavas, with several dynasties of these areas claiming descent from them. We also have in some regions, shrines of some minor demoniac characters like Hidimba. It has also exerted an enormous influence on Indian thought, belief system and literary traditions. The Bhagavadgita, which has moulded Indian devotional and philosophical thought, forms a part of the extant text of the Great Epic. Many Sanskrit and Pakistan literary compositions are based on the Mahabharata War and role of its characters. Many of the plays of the celebrated Bhasa have picked up some event or character of war for their themes. Some of the authors like Bhasa and Kshemendra have attempted abridgement of the Mahabharata. The followers of different sectarian denominations have developed their own versions which differ in many a case drastically form the popular version. Most of the modern Indian languages have not only a rich Mahabharata-based literature but have developed their own renditions of Mahabharata. The first poem of Kannada is the Bharata of its first known post, Pampa. There are folk and tribal versions of the Mahabharata prevalent in different parts the Indian subcontinent, and even some the so-called original tribes of India like the Mundas and the Bodos, have their own accounts of stories, episodes, songs and dramatic performances based on it. What is most curious is that some of the tribes have developed myths and traced their descent to one or other of the characters of the Great Epic. It is not only in India but wherever Indians went as in South-East Asia that the Mahabharata is embedded in the life and culture of the people and there are different versions like Wayang in Java and folk performance based on it. What is even more interesting, names of the Bharata heroes enjoyed great popularity as shown by the fact that they are mentioned for the sake of comparison and people were named after the Mahabharata characters even as early as the fourth century and the earliest citation of some Mahabharata stanzas is met with in an inscription from Laos as early as the fifth century. Thus our cultural traditions own quite a lot to this great event.
There is, however, a sizable intellectual crème of indologists who do not share the view that the Mahabharata has a historical core comparable to the Greek epic Illiad of Homer and strongly feel that it is a poetic-philosophical creation celebrating (and thereby stressing ) the victory of good and justice over evil and injustice. They include such celebrities as Aurobindo Ghose, Rabindranath Tagore and the well-known Mahabharata veteran, V .S. Sukthankar, and this view is now reiterated strongly by Prof. G. C. Pande in his inaugural speech of the seminar.
Unfortunately, however, there prevails a complete uncertainty and indecision among those scholars favouring the historicity of the core of the Great Epic as regards the date of this epoch-making event. This is mainly due to differing statements of the astronomical facts in different parts of the text as well in some other works and their differing interpretations by different authorities. It is also not certain if the Mahabharata stanzas containing these averments in their extant from found place in the original version of the Mahabharata. We have explicit statements in the text itself that it had already passed through several recensions before receiving its present form. The original text comprised just a few thousand stanzas and was possibly the work of krishnadvaipayana Vyasa and probably known as Jaya as it concerned itself simply with the central theme, viz. the victory (jaya) of the Pandavas over the Kauravas. It was subsequently revised by Vaisampayana (and probably his school) with addition of some fresh material and it now turned into Bharata containing about 24,000 stanzas. And finally with the accretion of considerable doses of fresh matter added deliberately from time to time with the explicit object of turning the work into an encyclopaedia of Indian culture with all its components, it assumed the form of a compendium of all the existing knowledge called Mahabharata with about 1, 00, 000 verses and was appropriately given the descriptive epithet sata-sahasri samhita.
These verses, however, do not find place in the critical edition of the Adiparvan prepared by that greatest Mahabharata savant, V.S. Sukthankar. But even this edition admits that the text of the Great Epic went through several stages of growth. We are told that Krishnadvaipayan took there year of stringent continuous hard work to compose the Mahabharata (Adi, 56.32) and transmitted it first to his five pupils – Sumantu, Jaimini, Paila, Suka (his son) and Vaisampayana – all of whom prepared their own samhitas or versions (Adi, 57 .74-75). The last of these, Vaisampayana, recited it at the snake-sacrifice of King Janamejaya, the great-grandson of Arjuna (Adi, 1 .8-9), where it was heard by the bard (suta) named Ugrasvaas, son of Lomaharshana, who narrated it afresh before the sages assembled at the twelve-year sacrifice of sage Saunaka in the Naimisha forest (Adi, 1. 1ff.). It had already become so popular that it was narrated by some poets and some were still narrating and, it was hoped, others would narrate this itihasa. It become a subject of great knowledge ‘in the whole world’ and was being memorized in extenso and in brief by the brahmanas (Adi, 1. 24-26). Admittedly the text had already passed through several recensions which have taken a few centuries.
List of Abbreviations
List of Contributors
Mahabharata War: Date and Allied Matters
This is How an Archaeologist Looks at the Historicity of the Mahabharata
The Mahabharata: A Critical Study of Archaeological
The Date of Mahabharata War: Puranic and Astronomical Evidence
The Year of Kaurava-Pandava War
Astronomical and Historical Epoch of Kaliyuga
The Weaponry in the Bharata War
Possible Location of Kampilya in the Mahabharatav
Mahabharata: Janapadas, Peoples and Cultural and Political Aspects
Some Ancient Janapadas of Uttarapatha vis-à-vis the Mahabharata
Pragjyotisha in the Mahabharata: A Study
Ethnography of the Mahabharata and the North-East
Vedic Tirthas in the Mahabharata
The Concept and Practice of Pilgrimage in the Mahabharata
Widow-Burning and the Madri Episode: An Analysis of the
Evidence of the Mahabharata
Early Traces of Nyaya-Vaiseshika in the Mahabharata
The Pancharatra Cult in the Santiparvan of the Mahabharata
Yaksha Cult in the Mahabharata
Arjuna’s View of State: A Link Between Arthasastra and
Dharmasastra (Based on the Santiparvan)
The Concept of Communication as Developed in the Mahabharata
The Mahabharata in Inscriptions
Jaina Versions of the Mahabharata
Tamil versions of the Mahabharata and Studies on the
Mahabharata in Early Kannada Literature
Mahabharata and Marathi Vernacular Writers
Mahabharata and its Study in Gujarati
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