Like most Indians I have grown up hearing tales and later watching Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. Most people in India think Mahabharata as the true history of glorious India back in the times of King Dhrutarashtra. Mahabharata in many ways has sculpted Indian culture and beliefs. But the Westerners have aptly classified it as a “Myth”. I feel this is not the true classification of Mahabharata as there are many reasons to believe this is a historical record of contemporary India. There are a few points mentioned below that will help you decide whether Mahabharata is a work of fiction or a true historical depiction.
- In the elaborate text of Mahabharata it has been mentioned from time to time that it is a “Itihaas” which should translated as “thus occurred”. Aryans had coined the terms “Puraan” and “Itihaas” to categorise “ancient history” and “recent events” respectively. Both these terms denote historical records.
- In Aadiparva Chapter 62 the details and annals of the Bharat Dynasty which was the first grand dynasty in India are mentioned. Everyone holds Bharat dynasty as a true entity.
- It has been mentioned throughout the Aadiparva, Bheeshmaparva and other segments of Mahabharata that sage Ved Vyas intends to write “itihaas”. If he intended to write a poem or any other work of fiction then he would definitely describe it as “katha”(folklore) or “mahakavya” (epic).
- Some hold Mahabharata as a work of fiction solely due to its poetic nature. Such an assumption is weird. It was customary in those to write everything in poetic form.
- It can be held that Ved Vyas had started writing the Mahabharata even before the Great War of Kurukshetra. He lived during the war and noted down all the details and later included them in his great work. If Mahabharata were a work of fiction Ved Vyas would not bother to provide such minute details of the war. He would rather ponder over some key moments.
- There are many dynasties mentioned in the Mahabharata. There are mentions of more than 50 kings from King Barhi to the Pandavas. Information about the kings, their wives, relatives, etc. are mentioned in minute details. If Ved Vyas wanted to create a fiction won’t 4 or 5 kings do the trick for him?
- The dynasties mentioned in the Mahabharata often match with those mentioned in Ramayana. Though Ramayana was an earlier work but many of the predecessors from Ramayana dynasties find a mention in Mahabharata. All the historical data from both these text match. If Mahabharata was a work of fiction why won’t Ved Vyas use new characters?
- If you have a look at other epics of teh world you will find they are based on one or two main characters. If we hold this theory who do you think would be the hero of Mahabharata. There is no lead male or female character in the work really.
- There are descriptions of cities built by various kings. In the recent times the city of Dwarka has been uncovered from the depths of the sea. It has been mentioned that the city was flooded by the rising sea and went under water sometime between 2000-3000 BC. Other cities have also been identified.
- All the characters have been portrayed with minute details. Every facet of their character and other important events in their life have been noted. Such details are not required for an epic.
- The details of the war and the use of hi-tech weapons had raised a doubt in the minds of the researchers that Mahabharata was a made up story. But recent archaeological studies have proved that there was a much advanced civilisation in India which could have the knowledge of creating hi-tech weapons just as mentioned in the Mahabharata.
- If Mahabharata was an elaborate poem there was no need for the writer to give such elaborate descriptions of the battle. Person of Vyas’ genius would understand that these would rather bore the readers.
- There are huge number of characters mentioned in the Mahabharata. Just think if it were a work of fiction, would it be possible for the writer to create so many different characters with their separate traits and then provide elaborate details for each?
- One criticism against Mahabharata being a historical record is that – there is not too much description of the flora or fauna. Now think again, isn’t descriptions of flora and fauna a part of fiction writing. Historical works concentrate more on events and characters.
- Ved Vyas has repeatedly emphasised that he is writing “itihaas” after the death of King Dhrutarashtra. If he wrote a fiction there was no need to mention this. Did Shakespeare say he was writing about Hamlet after the death of the young Prince?
- Prominent Greek historian has stated that Chandragupta Maurya was the 138th King of Lord Krishna’s lineage. This means that character of Lord Krishna and other events were true. Even Chinese travellers have confirmed in their accounts that there was a custom to keep a track of Kings and their lineage during the times of Mahabharata and all the descriptions in this work are true in nature.
- On studying the astronomical details mentioned in the Mahabharata it has been found that the planets and stars were exactly in the same position in the era mentioned. Was there any need for such mathematical calculations if Ved Vyas was simply composing a work of fiction?
Thus it can be safely concluded that Mahabharata is nothing but a historical record in the times of Pandavas and Kauravas.