The Mahabharata commonly supposed to be storehouse of fascinating tales of heroes and kings, of beautiful myths, fables and parables, with a background of a strange and undefined philosophy centering round Krshna half man and half god is referred to as follows:
The Rishis replied: The Purana (Mahabharata) which was first told by the illustrious sage, Dwipayana, and which was greatly esteemed by the celestial and Brahma rishis when they heard it.
And which, being full of various dictions and divisions, is the most eminent narrative that exists, and containing subtle and logically combined meanings, enriched with (the essence of) the Vedas, is a sacred work.
It is combined in beautiful language, and it includes all other works. It is explained by all Sastras and contains the sense of the four Vedas.
Souti said: It is a great source of knowledge all through the three worlds.
Learned men display their various knowledge of Smrtis in commenting on this composition.
The son of Satyavati (Vyasa), by penance and meditation, having classified the four Vedas, composed this holy history.
Vyasa said: (It contains) the mystery of the Vedas and other subjects that have been explained by me; it contains the various hymns of the Vedas, Upanishads with their Angas,
And compilation of the Puranas, and the history which has been composed by me and named after the three divisions of time, namely, Past, Present and Future,
And it contains the nature of decay, death, fear, disease, existence, nonexistence; a description of creeds, and an account of various modes of life.
And it also contains the rules for the four castes and the essence of all the Puranas, an account of asceticism, and rules for the religious student, the dimensions of the earth, of the sun and moon.
Planets, stars, and constellations, and the length of the duration of the four Yugas; and it furthermore contain Rik, Saman, Yajur Vedas, the Adhyatma.
Nyaya, orthoepy and pathology; charity, Pasupata, and celestial; and human births for special purposes,
It contains a description of pilgrimages and holy places, of rivers, mountains, forests, seas,
Of celestial cities and the Kalpas; the art of war, different kinds of nations, and the languages and the manners of the people,
All this has been placed in this poem.
Souti said: Vyasa sometimes knit the knots of composition very close.
None is able to understand to this day the closely knit slokas for the mysteriousness of their meaning.
The wisdom of this work, like the stick used for applying collyrium, has opened the eyes of the world which were covered by the darkness of ignorance.
The whole house of the womb of Nature is properly and completely lighted by the lamp of this history which destroys the darkness of ignorance.
In this Bharata sinless and immaculate Devas, Deva-rishis and Brahmanas have been described, as well as Yakshas and great Nagas.
In it also has the possessor of six attributes, the eternal Vasudeva, been described. He is true and just and pure and holy.
In it is described the eternal Brahma, the great true light, whose great and divine deeds the wise and learned men declare;
From whom has been produced the non-existent and the existent non-existent universe, with the principle of reproduction and progression, birth, death, and re-birth.
In it has also been described he who is Adhyatma, and who partakes of the attributes of the five elements, and He to whom "unmanifested" and such other epithets cannot be applied.
As the words constituting the various branches of knowledge and the Vedas, display vowels and consonants only, so does this excellent history display the highest knowledge.
This Bharata history is full of subtle meaning and logical connection, and is rich with the meanings of the Vedas.
The greatly intelligent Vyasa has spoken it as a treatise on Dharma, Artha, and Kama.
Vaisampayana said: This (Bharata) is equal to the Vedas; it is holy and excellent. It is the worthiest of all that should be listened to. It is a Purana adored by the Rishis.
It is a collection of all Srutis.
The history of the great birth of the Bharata Princes is called Mahabharata.
He who knows the etymology of the name Bharata is cleansed of all his sins.
It is equal to all histories in the world, and he who hears it acquires purity of heart.
This (Bharata) is sacred and excellent, and it equals the Vedas in sanctity.
Whatever about Dharma, Artha and Kama that is contained in this Bharata, may be met with elsewhere; but whatever is not in it, is not to be found anywhere.
The great race of the Bharatas is its topic hence it is called Bharata and because of its grave meaning as also of the Bharatas being its topic, it is called Mahabharata.
That which is in this, is elsewhere. That which does not occur here, occurs nowhere else. This history is known by the name of Jaya. It should be heard by everyone desirous of liberation.It is clear from the foregoing verses that:
- The Mahabharata is not a story in the ordinary sense of the term;
- It is "story" of the great birth of the Bharata princes; but we have to know the correct etymology of the word "Bharata" in order to understand its significance;
- It is a "story" in a very special sense being a narrative, in story form, of the essence of the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and all the other sacred books of the Hindus;
- It is a book of universal knowledge, relating to all that can be known below;
- It has a mysterious meaning, which can be understood only in the light of the sacred books of the Hindus.
It is a conviction of the present writer that the Mahabharata is not a treasure house of beautiful stories of romance and love and adventure and war, set off by spiritual and moral discourses, allegories and parables; but rather a comprehensive philosophical treatise and commentary on the various systems of thought prevalent in India at the time of its composition, having their roots in the Vedas, the Upanishads and other sacred books of the Hindus, written in a peculiar form of Sanskrt which, while apparently giving the language a story-form, conveys a very different meaning when interpreted in another way. The following pages will show how far is this conviction justified.