Episode # 28 – The Mahabharata structure – Sage Pouranika explains!!!

In the previous episode, we witnessed a very important calculation behind the unit of measurement called “Akshauhini”. We would come across this many times as we enter into the main text, and hence, it was very relevant that we had this discussion during yesterday’s episode. As Sage Pouranika describes the extent of the Kurukshetra war, the sages sitting around him were eager to understand how this measurement was calculated. With this, Sage Pouranika had to go a bit off track and explain the entire story behind this measurement. Subsequently as he finished his accord on this, the sages were very quick to finish the remaining calculations and came up with a different question now. They found out that many things add up to the number “18”. We’ve seen that there were 18 “Akshauhinis” of the army. If we add the digits of the number 21,870 (2+1+8+7+0), 1,09,350, 65,610, etc. we would again arrive at the number 18. The Mahabharata war took place for 18 days. The number of “Parvas” in the Mahabharata text is 18. Similarly, the Bhagawad Gita comprises 18 Adhyaayas! So these sages were puzzled as to what is behind this number 18! Why is everything adding up to 18 and not any other number? 

As this question prompts, Sage Pouranika has to now take another deviation off the main track! Let us not go into that discussion for now. We shall take it up at a later stage when the apt context comes. However, now Sage Pouranika goes into what is the classification behind the “Parvas”, “Upa-Parvas” and “Adhyaayas”. Now let us see the structure of the Mahabharata text in detail. Readers should recollect that we started the entire discussion with this context only, and in the middle we deviated and went off into various contexts! We shall come back to those contexts again at a later time, but now let us come back to the crux of this discussion. The first “Parva” that we’re currently seeing, as we know by now is the “Aadhi Parva”. This “Aadhi Parva” describes all the events that happened as part of the introduction. It talks about the reasons why King Janame Jaya performed the “Sarpa Yaaga”, why did Sage Vaishampayana come there and what did he say, etc. This “Aadhi Parva” has eighteen “Upa-Parvas” and 233 “Adhyaayas”. 

Similarly, the next “Parva” is nothing but the “Sabhaa Parva”. This “Parva” forms the heart of the entire Mahabharata text, which narrates in detail what happened in the “Sabhaa” (Courtroom) of King Dhirdiraashtra. It talks about the gambling game that took place and how Draupati was insulted amidst the public courtroom and how King Dhirdiraashtra, Guru Dhronachaarya, Bhishmacharya kept mum on what was happening! All these are described in detail in this second “Parva”. This “Sabhaa Parva” comprises of 10 “Upa-Parvas” and 81 Adhyaayas. The third one is the “Vana Parva”. This “Parva” describes in detail as to how the Paandava brothers were exiled out of the kingdom because of their loss in the gambling game. They had to be in the forest for twelve long years and after that, they had to do the “Agnyaatha-Vaasa” for one year. This “Parva” comprises of 22 “Upa-Parvas” and 315 Adhyaayas. 

Next in the list is the “Viraata Parva”. We’ve seen that the Paandavas had to do the “Agnyaatha-Vaasa” for one year after their twelve-year exile period, isn’t it? This one year was spent at “Viraata-Nagara” which is part of the “Madra-Desha”. This “Parva” comprises of a detailed description of the “Agnyaatha-Vaasa”, and it comprises of just four “Upa-Parvas” and 72 Adhyaayas. Next comes the “Udyoga Parva”. This is where there was a confusion whether the Paandavas really completed thirteen years of exile. As per the rule, during the “Agnyaatha-Vaasa”, if any one of the Paandava brothers are seen by Duryodhana or any of the Kaurava brothers, they would have to go on another twelve years of exile and one more year of “Agnyaatha-Vaasa”. In this “Parva”, Duryodhana claims that he had seen Arjuna a day before the thirteen-year period comes to an end, which the Paandavas denied. With this, there was a huge confusion and here is where the “Messengers” take messages from either camps, to doze off the tension between them. Thus, in this “Parva”, the preparations for the Kurukshetra war commenced on both ends. This is a very important “Parva” as it lays the foundation for the war that is about to happen at “Kurukshetra” war. So this “Udyoga Parva” comprises of 10 “Upa-Parvas” and 196 “Adhyaayas”. 

So for today, let us understand the contents of the Mahabharata text upto this point. We shall witness the remaining content structure in the next episode! Stay tuned! 🙂 

Published by Dr. Jeayaram

Holds a PhD in Management Psychology from Universite Paris Saclay, Paris, France. Also an Asst. Professor of Human Resources management at International School of Business & Media, Pune, India. A professional South Indian classical musician (singer) performing concerts. Through this blog, I'm trying to bring out the richness of Indian culture & values and I request your support and feedbacks in making this humble effort a success!!

One thought on “Episode # 28 – The Mahabharata structure – Sage Pouranika explains!!!

  1. Janeway is the grand sin of abhimanyu. He does sarpa havan to avenge his father’s death. Then how it comes in the beginning of mahabharata. Can you please throw some light on this subject.


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