Article

Mahābhārata in Hindu Tradition

Pamela Lothspeich

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0076
Mahābhārata in Hindu Tradition

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Epic tale, Hindu scripture, philosophical treatise, and national history, the Mahabharata ("the great Bharata") is India’s most massive repository of knowledge about Hindu thought and life in classical India. Given that there are so many versions of the Mahabharata (oral, textual, and performative), the work is best understand as narrative tradition rather than a discrete text. At around 100,000 verses in Sanskrit, it is one of the world’s longest (and oldest) epics. As a whole the work straddles the Vedic and classical periods, giving insight into a tumultuous period of religious debate and cultural synthesis. The main narrative of the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) recounts the bitter conflict between the hundred sons of the blind king Dhritarashtra (the mostly nefarious Kauravas) and their cousins, the five sons of the pale king Pandu (the mostly noble Pandavas). Ultimately this conflict escalates into a devastating war that pits family against family, guru against disciple, and friend against friend. Although the Pandavas triumph in the end, they pay dearly, as nearly all of their loved ones perish in the war. Basic themes in the Mahabharata—a grave injustice against the heroine, an unjust exile of the heroes, and a cataclysmic war against a villainous enemy—are ones found in the other major epic of India, the Ramayana. However, the scope of the Mahabharata is much broader and its narrative structure more complex. The Mahabharata in all of its multifarious forms and relevant scholarship are considered here, not merely the Sanskrit Mahabharata.

Article.  18092 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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