Was Mahabharata a Fictional Work or Historical Record?

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.

Mahabharata: the Great Indian Legend

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

As the Legend goes Ved Vyas narrated the work to Lord Ganesha who write it down

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

Gruesome Battle of Kurukshetra

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Minute descriptions of the Pandavas is present in Mahabharata

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Bheeshma: One of the Heroes of Kurukshetra Battle lying on a bed of arrows

Thus it can be safely concluded that Mahabharata is nothing but a historical record in the times of Pandavas and Kauravas.

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26 thoughts on “Was Mahabharata a Fictional Work or Historical Record?

  1. In the book of Mahabharat, it is written that the city of Dwarka(near the coast of Gujarat) was destroyed by a huge flood, after the death of lord Krishna, around 3000BC. Research says that the flood(tsunami) happened in that time which was felt not only in India but also in some middle eastern countries. Moreover, a drowned city was found by under water excavations in the Arabian Sea; the city’s architecture was found exactly the way it was described in the Mahabharat, and carbon dating suggested that the city was drowned before 3000BC.

  2. If we delve deep into the Mahabharata, it is only a story of a war between two families. It remained a story for several centuries. During the Hindu kingdoms of Gupta, Vijayanagar and Mahratta the story aspect of the Mahabharata alone was etched in the minds of the prople. There were no philosophical discourses in temples. Devotees worshiped the idols of gods and goddesses. All Hindu scriptures remained mnemonic and there were no manuscripts, for it was considered sacreligious to produce manuscripts or to print books of the sacred scriptures. A prayer like the Gayatri mantra could be recited only by Brahmins. If a non-Brahmin had accidentally heard the recital by a Brahmin, molten led would be poured into his ears. The Asiatic Society was founded in 1784 by William Jones. While still on board of the frigate Crococlile carrying him from England to India, he prepared a memorandum detailing his plan of study. This included “the laws of the Hindus and Mahomedans; the history of the ancient world; proofs and illustrations of scripture; traditions concerning the deluge; modern politics and geography of Hindusthan; Arithmatic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiaticks; Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians; natural products of India; poetry, rhetoric and morality of Asia; music of the Eastern nations; the best accounts of Tibet and Kashmir; trade, manufactures, agriculture and commerce of India: Mughal constitution, Marhatta constitution etc.” Jones wanted to be knighted for his discoveries in India and with this object in mind he was bent upon establishing the fact that ancient Indians were well versed in philosophy, mathematicas, science and medicine. But there were no manuscripts of Hindu scriptures and no original sources about Indian knowledge of science and medicine. The preferred method of Jones and other British scholars was to sit in the company of Sankrit-knowing Brahmins’s and other Hindus, and to ask them to recite from memory Hindu scriptures. Scientists say that memory loss begisn at the age of 40. How could the old Brahmins recite by heart century-old Scriptures? Recital by Brahmins contained many modern ideas which they have learnt from the educational institutions founded by the Missionaries and government in Calcutta. William Jones and other Orientalists syncretised Sanskrit with Classical and Biblical narratives, to establish transcultural correspondences by means of often crude conjectural etymologies. Another scholar, Francis Wilford, claimed that he had discovered the relationship among Hindu traditions, the Bible and the ancient British antiquities. Jones and other scholars, in collaboration with Brahmins, produced Sanskrit manuscripts with these fake claims. Krishna’s narration of creation in the Bhagavad Gita and the creation account in the Manu smriti produced by Jones are modified reproduction of the creation account in the Bible. Sir Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita into English in 1785, and the Sanskrit manuscript was produced by Asiatic Society scholars with so many interpolations and deletions. .Deception and forgeries can be detected in the manuscripts produced by them. Wilford later admitted his guilt; according to Indira Ghose, that the Hindu expert who had been providing him manuscripts and who had been assisting him in his studies of sacred texts had corroborated the veracity of his religious theories. Wilford said, “In order to avoid the trouble of consulting books, he conceived the idea of framing legends from what he recollected from the Puranas, and from what he had picked up in conversation with me. As he was exceedingly well read in the Puranas, and other similar books …it was an easy task for him; and he studied to introduce as much truth as he could, to obviate the danger of immediate detection…His forgeries were of three kinds; in the first there was only a word or two altered; in the second were such legends as had undergone a more material alteration; and in the third all those which he had written from memory. (App, Urs (2010). The birth of orientalism. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 335).

      • ’ All Hindu scriptures – the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas etc., remained mnemonic for centuries till the British came because it was considered sacrilegious to produce manuscripts or printed texts. Charles Wilkins produced for the first time a printed text of the BG in 1785. But this text was produced on the basis of Sanskrit manuscripts written by Brahmin priests of Calcutta and they were aided and abetted by William Jones and Colebrook with so many interpolations and deliberate additions and deletions. Wilkins Bahagavad Gita written in Elizabethan English attracted the West and it contained moral ideals like the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible. No wonder India’s foremost historian, Romila Thapar, calls this formation of Hinduism in the second half of 17th century as ‘constructed Hinduism.’ Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva didn’t possess any original Mahabharata but only oral knowledge. Ramanuja who opposed Shankara’s oneness of Being believed in the concept that God and the world were related like body and soul, inseparable, but distinct. This concept is not to be seen in the Ramayana or the Mahabharata . Instead of idolatry, Ramanuja believed in the personal devotion to Vishnu – a deviation from the mainstream Hinduism and showing signs of influence of new ideas. He was born about 1000 years after the birth of Jesus. Madhva also opposed Shankara’s monism and believed that God was eternally distinct from the natural world. He was born 1200 years after the birth of Jesus and he was greatly influenced by Christian teachings. The new trend is instead of worshiping many gods and goddesses, Ramanuja and Madhva advocated personal god or ishta devatha, a revolutionary concept to dump mythological stories and gods.
        When true facts are given for a free and frank discussion, please don’t call it “missionary ranting,” for I am not a missionary but a research student.

  3. Integrity of ved yvas his character and poetic value can not justify mahabharta as history. Are there any proven dates king Shantun ,his marriage to ganga does not provide an iota of solid proof of of
    period. THE poetic notion all over the epic does not sound tanable

    • I also concluded that Mahabharata did happen but the powers of those people was only written to create the existence of the unnatural,there might have been a war as kings fought for land and stuff but we can’t really conclude that Mahabharata was a supernatural war with god-like powers…

  4. Your most of the assertions are not good enough, however even I believe that this is more of a history than myth.

  5. Well You all People will be surprise that we belong to that KURU Wansh – Kauravas My surname is Chandra Bhan Singh Kaurava. we belong to Gwalior; more than 130 Villages are of Kauravas most of the people migrated from one place to another.I am residing at Udaipur. ANybody wish to know more I have full Historical record of our Family Tree. Even JAIN Religion is a part of Kauravas their most of Jain Tirthankars are Kaurava kings but they refuse to fight battle & became jain saints.its proven fact and every body must know & can see in Rishabhdev Temple near Udaipur. Their whole jain Thirthankers roots their fare fathers history.

  6. mahabharata is a myth bcoz as per the story vyass narrated it to ganesh and ganesh wrote it. nw there is no proof that ganesh exists or not

  7. deep down in my heart I believe that Mahabharat & Ramayana r HISTORY & not a MYTHs!!!! & quite a few archaelogical excavations & evidences suggest so —– az far az weapons like Aindraastra & Vaayaavaastra & MaanavAastra & Sammohana-Astra & BhaargavAastra & VaishnavAastra & PaashupatAastra & Vajra & Naagaastra/NaagPaasha & Brahmaastra/Brahma–Shira Astra & Brahmadanda & NaaraayanAastra etc. r concerned; I believe there must b a hell lot of Scientific, Technological, Spiritual etc. reasonings/justifications/logics/causes/backdrops & backgrounds/reasons [I mean a purely Science & Engineering & Technology & Spiritualism oriented canvass of background & back–ups for the explanation of such weapons] ———————————— stuff that the archaelogists r yet 2 find out & thus many people still question & even ridicule the aforesaid weapons’ concept —- however, in my heart, I believe da8 the concept of these weapons can b backed up through a scientific canvass that would offer all explanations & hitherto, v ‘ve not quite been able 2 lay our hands upon such stuff/evidences that have the potential of depicting & bringing 2 da fore that reasoning & logic & Engg./Tech. & Science oriented canvass of explanations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jai Shree Krishnna!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Myth of Lanka, being Sri Lanka is getting broken now. Ramayana again, is a war of Mittani or Hurrians. Once again, the same thing, when the Aryans came here, local god was turned into a hero. In actual Ramayana, Ravan is not even a villain. Analysis of Ramayana was done by Tulsi Das, and not Valmiki.

  8. In order to believe this, one needs to have knowledge. For example – for a child / animal a human seen on the TV for the first time is surprised. How come so tiny but so loud?? For a grown up human with knowledge that the human is not in the TV rather is in a studio and the signals are received by the antenna it is usual. Like wise to understand that Mahabharat is true, one needs to know about soul, the power of soul, the age of a physical body in each yuga, the age of a physical body in each layer of creation. People think some thing which is not visible to them as story because they BELIEVE their eyes not their intelligence. Our science has still not advanced to find an instrument that can show the soul residing in a body. So people who believe in their eyes and the THEORIES of science will have to wait until they get the knowledge of these and then understand the TRUTH. Some times it is surprising that they call some one father though there is no scientific test to prove it 100%. DNA test only states (theory) that there are similarities!!! If the above writers believed in their father then they should also believe that Mahabharat is not a story.

  9. According to a research book published by Sri KM Munshi’s Bhavan: There were sort of trial kingdoms of Kuru and Panchala. There is no mention of Pandavas in any historical records. The story later developed that Kurus and Pandavas are of same kinship. As the Kurus did some harm to the Pandavas, they rebelled and killed them. Definitely, some war took place during this time. The rest is all mythology, the poets allowed their imagination to run riot. The manner in which Pandavas were born is sheer nonsense (Sun God coming etc.). Gandhari, a pious lady getting jealous and breaking foetus is another silly story.

    Though the Pandavas know the lac house is dangerous, still stay there for a year and escape through a tunnel. They could have left the house and returned to Hastinapur, so easily. Jarasandhas birth is the silliest story. Every single incident is fiction. The bare facts may be true about the feud between these two related clans that led to a war. But the descriptions of thousands of chariots, thousands of elephants, huge armies and Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows, his boon to die at will are just fiction. So, let us treat this great text as a story well told!

  10. Mahabharata in today’s time is exploration of many local events in ancient times. But, more or less, it is a myth. Rig Vedic Aryans, including central Asians and Indo-europeans, waged a battle to doom of our native gods. In Norse it is known as Ragnarok, and in Sanskrit it is mentioned as Dasrajana (or the Battle of Ten Kings). Later on, when the Aryans migrated to other parts of world, lot of local events and local heroes got included. Mahabharata is one such epic. You can clearly see how the characters of Aryans, and Krishna himself differs. Krishna is not even a Vedic lord’s name. Though, Mahabharata is a good read, as there are lot of things in it which pose challenge, but in present form, is more or less a fiction. Some real events are there, but largely it is a work of fiction.

  11. What are you trying to prove? Can you deny the Archaeological evidence to support Mahabhart and Ramayana. Each incident described in these texts are in perfect order. How can you say that the whole thing was manipulated?

    • \\\Each incident described in these texts are in perfect order.\\\

      You are highly misinformed. Much rather,, the very opposite of this sentence of yours is closer to the truth. Places like Mathuraa and Vrindaavan and Magadh and Paanchaal and Ang (अंग) and Kuruu_raashtra and Chedi and Matsya_desh {where Paandavas spent their one year of Agyaatvaas} and Gokul_village et cetera didn’t even exist before the 16 (sixteen) Mahaajanapad period in Indian history. This sixteen Mahaajanapda period of Indian history was as recently as 600 B.C.E.. However, the sunken city near modern day Dwaarkaa in the Gulf of Khambat [which many Mahaabhaarata fans/apologists believe to be the very राजधानी Dvaarakaa of the monarch Lord Shree Krishna] has been determined to have drowned at least 4000 years ago or so according to Archaeologists & Geologists. Moreover,,, astronomical calculations, by ancient Indian scientist Aaryabhatta i, show, that, the Battle of कुरुक्षेत्र is supposed to have occurred during 3100 B.C.E. which means 5100 years before from these present day {our 2019 C.E.} times. He (आर्यभट्ट) made such calculations based on what is written in the Mahaabhaarata text; the positions of constellations as stated in the Epic. Nor did any Praagjyotishapura kingdom exist either, back during 3100 B.C.E. or so, in North East. Duryodhan’s father in Law i.e. Bhagadutta (भगदत्त) is mentioned as the ruler of this Praagjyotish राज्य in the Epic. Therefore, as you can see, Archaeological findings completely decimate your baseless alibi. Even Kaashii, from where Ambaa and Ambikaa {mother of Dhritaraashtra} and Ambaalikaa {mother of Paandu} belonged, had not arisen before 1800 B.C.E. although the actual emergence of this काशी happened only during the above-mentioned Sixteen महाजनपद Period i.e. circa 600 B.C.E.. काशी did have inhabitants during 1800 B.C.E. indeed, but, it arose as a power_centre (as a महाजनपद; as a Seat of Power) only as recently as ca. 600 B.C.E., i.e., that same above-mentioned 16 Mahaajanapadas period in\of Indian history.

  12. I agree with an Excellent clarification on the doubts as to whether Mahabharat was historical record or fiction. In fiction there is no necessity to give such an elaborate description of multitude characters and their ancesstors, family and their lifestyle etc. etc.

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