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The Mahabharata , is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. With more than 74,000 verses, plus long prose passages, or some 1.8 million words in total, it is one of the longest epic poems worldwide.
It is also of immense religious and philosophical importance in India, in particular for including the Bhagavad Gita, an important text of Hinduism.
The title may be translated as "the great tale of the Bharata Dynasty", according to the Mahabharata's own testimony extended from a shorter version simply called Bharata of 24,000 verses The epic is part of the Hindu itihasas, literally "that which happened", along with the Ramayana and the Pura?as.
Traditionally, the Mahabharata is ascribed to Vyasa. Due to its immense length, its philological study has a long history of attempting to unravel its historical growth and composition layers. In its final form, it is assumed to have been completed between the 3rd and 5th centuries, with its central core (consisting of only a fraction of the full 1.8 million words) going back as far as 500 BC.
It is undisputed that the full length of the Mahabharata has accreted over a long period. The Mahabharata itself (1.1.61) distinguishes a core portion of 24,000, the Bharata proper, as opposed to additional "secondary" material, and the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra (3.4.4) makes a similar distinction. Not unlike the field of Homeric studies, research on the Mahabharata has put an enormous effort into recognizing and dating various layers within the text. Oldenberg (1922) stipulated that the supposed original poem once carried an immense "tragic force", but dismissed the full text as a "horrible chaos".
The first testimony of the existence of the full text is the copper-plate Inscription of the Maharaja Sharvanatha (533-534 CE)from Khoh(Satna District, Madhya Pradesh), describing the Mahabharata as a "collection of 100,000 verses" (shatasahasri samhita). The redaction of this large body of text was carried out after formal principles, emphasizing the numbers 18 and 12. The addition of the latest parts may be dated by the absence of the Anushasana-parva from MS Spitzer, the oldest surviving Sanskrit Philosophical manuscript dated to ca. 200 CE, that contains among other things a list of the books in the Mahabharata. From this evidence, it is likely that the redaction into 18 books took place in the 3rd or 4th century CE. An alternative division into 20 parvas appears to have co-existed for some time. The division into 100 sub-parvas (mentioned in Mbh. 1.2.70) is older, and most parvas are named after one of their constituent sub-parvas. The Harivamsha consists of the final two of the 100 sub-parvas, and was considered an appendix (khila) to the Mahabharata proper by the redactors of the 18 parvas.

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