Article

Harivaṃśa

Simon Brodbeck

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0037
Harivaṃśa

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The Harivaṃśa collectively designates three books that the Sanskrit Mahābhārata calls khilas (supplements, complements, or appendices). These are said to have been composed by Vyāsa, and are among the one hundred books of the Mahābhārata. The Harivaṃśa has often been treated separately from the Mahābhārata and grouped with the puranas, several of which contain similar stories and sections. The notion of what the Harivaṃśa is was powerfully affected in 1969–1971 by the publication of P. L. Vaidya’s critical edition, which reconstituted a text that is much shorter than the previously known versions. The following synopsis follows the Harivaṃśa as critically reconstituted by Vaidya, who omits many passages on account of their comparatively poor manuscript support. The Harivaṃśa resumes the Mahābhārata’s framing dialogue between Śaunaka and Ugraśravas. Śaunaka asks to hear more about the Vrishnis (Skt. Vṛṣṇis) and Andhakas, and Ugraśravas relates what Vaiśaṃpāyana told King Janamejaya in response to his question on the same topic. The Harivaṃśaparvan (Book of the Line of Hari) follows, containing details of the creation of the cosmos, Pṛthu Vainya the first king, the scheme of successive Manus, the tradition of ancestor worship, and the solar and lunar royal dynasties, including that of the Vrishnis. Janamejaya then asks about Vishnu (Skt. Viṣṇu) Nārāyaṇa’s appearances within the world, and especially about his appearance as Krishna (Skt. Kṛṣṇa) Vāsudeva. Vaiśaṃpāyana describes the battle between gods and demons, explains why Vishnu took form as Krishna, and narrates Krishna’s life in detail. The Viṣṇuparvan (Book of Vishnu) or Āścaryaparvan (Book of the Marvel) consists largely of that narration, presenting Krishna in his own family context (rather than that of his Pāṇḍava cousins) and narrating his birth, his and his brother Balarāma’s childhood exploits among the cowherders, his defeat of King Kaṃsa, his role within the Vrishni clan, who moved from Mathurā to Dvārakā, and his role in his sons’ and grandsons’ affairs. The Bhaviṣyatparvan (Book of the Future) reverts to the Śaunaka–Ugraśravas dialogue: Ugraśravas gives details of Janamejaya’s descendants, and of his horse sacrifice. The critically reconstituted Bhaviṣyatparvan is only five chapters long, but in the manuscript versions the Bhaviṣyatparvan, in particular, is usually enlarged by a wide range of additions, including further cosmogonic material (Appendix 41) and details of some of Vishnu’s other incarnations (Appendix 42). As is the case with the Mahābhārata, the Harivaṃśa’s originary context is little understood, with scholarly pronouncements often overdependent on methodological preconceptions.

Article.  14937 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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