Sanskrit Epics

In addition to the Vedas, the principal texts of Hinduism, the core themes of the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are said to have their ultimate origins during this period. The Mahabharata remains, today, the longest single poem in the world. Historians formerly postulated an "epic age" as the milieu of these two epic poems, but now recognise that the texts (which are both familiar with each other) went through multiple stages of development over centuries. For instance, the Mahabharata may have been based on a small-scale conflict (possibly about 1000 BCE) which was eventually "transformed into a gigantic epic war by bards and poets". There is no conclusive proof from archaeology as to whether the specific events of the Mahabharata have any historical basis. The existing texts of these epics are believed to belong to the post-Vedic age, between c. 400 BCE and 400 CE. Some even attempted to date the events using methods of archaeo-astronomy which have produced, depending on which passages are chosen and how they are interpreted, estimated dates ranging up to mid 2nd millennium BCE.


The Ramayana is one of the largest ancient epics in world literature. It consists of nearly 24,000 verses (mostly set in the Shloka meter), divided into seven Kandas and about 500 sargas (chapters). In Hindu tradition, it is considered to be the adi-kavya (first poem). It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal father, the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal husband and the ideal king. Ramayana was an important influence on later Sanskrit poetry and Hindu life and culture. Like Mahabharata, Ramayana is not just a story: it presents the teachings of ancient Hindu sages in narrative allegory, interspersing philosophical and ethical elements. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman, Shatrughna, and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and south-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
There are many versions of Ramayana in Indian languages, besides Buddhist, Sikh and Jain adaptations. There are also Cambodian, Indonesian, Filipino, Thai, Lao, Burmese and Malaysian versions of the tale.
Paintings of Scenes from Ramayana

According to Hindu tradition, and the Ramayana itself, the epic belongs to the genre of itihasa like Mahabharata. The definition of itihāsa is a narrative of past events (purāvṛtta) which includes teachings on the goals of human life. According to Hindu tradition, Ramayana takes place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga.
In its extant form, Valmiki's Ramayana is an epic poem of some 24,000 verses. The text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which is a palm-leaf manuscript found in Nepal and dated to the 11th century CE. A Times of India report dated 18 December 2015 informs about the discovery of a 6th-century manuscript of the Ramayana at the Asiatic Society library, Kolkata. The Ramayana text has several regional renderings, recensions and sub recensions. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman differentiates two major regional revisions: the northern (n) and the southern (s). Scholar Romesh Chunder Dutt writes that "the Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, is a growth of centuries, but the main story is more distinctly the creation of one mind."
There has been discussion as to whether the first and the last volumes (bala kandam and uttara kandam) of Valmiki's Ramayana were composed by the original author. Most Hindus still believe they are integral parts of the book, in spite of some style differences and narrative contradictions between these two volumes and the rest of the book.

Vanarsena Building the Rama's Setu

Retellings include Kamban's Ramavataram in Tamil (c. 11th–12th century), Gona Budda Reddy's Ramayanam in Telugu (c. 13th century), Madhava Kandali's Saptakanda Ramayana in Assamese (c. 14th century), Krittibas Ojha's Krittivasi Ramayan (also known as Shri Rama Panchali) in Bengali (c. 15th century), Sarala Das' Vilanka Ramayana (c. 15th century)  and Balaram Das' Dandi Ramayana (also known as the Jagamohan Ramayana) (c. 16th century) both in Odia, sant Eknath's Bhavarth Ramayan (c. 16th century) in Marathi, Tulsidas' Ramcharitamanas (c. 16th century) in Awadhi (which is an eastern form of Hindi) and Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan's Adhyathmaramayanam in Malayalam.


The Mahābhārata  is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. The title may be translated as "the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty".
The Mahābhārata is an epic legendary narrative of the Kurukṣetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes. It also contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life" or puruṣārtha . Among the principal works and stories in the Mahābhārata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Rāmāyaṇa, and the story of Ṛṣyasringa, often considered as works in their own right.
Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahābhārata is attributed to Vyāsa. There have been many attempts to unravel its historical growth and compositional layers. The oldest preserved parts of the text are thought to be not much older than around 400 BCE, though the origins of the epic probably fall between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE. The text probably reached its final form by the early Gupta period (c. 4th century CE). According to the Mahābhārata itself, the tale is extended from a shorter version of 24,000 verses called simply Bhārata.
Painting of Battle of Kurukshetra

The Mahābhārata is the longest epic poem known and has been described as "the longest poem ever written". Its longest version consists of over 100,000 śloka or over 200,000 individual verse lines (each shloka is a couplet), and long prose passages. At about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of the Rāmāyaṇa. W. J. Johnson has compared the importance of the Mahābhārata in the context of world civilization to that of the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare, the works of Homer, Greek drama, or the Quran. Within the Indian tradition it is sometimes called the Fifth Veda.
The epic is traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyāsa, who is also a major character in the epic. Vyāsa described it as being itihāsa (history). He also describes the Guru-shishya parampara, which traces all great teachers and their students of the Vedic times.
The first section of the Mahābhārata states that it was Gaṇeśa who wrote down the text to Vyasa's dictation.

Sage Vyas recieting Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha

The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known as frametales, popular in many Indian religious and non-religious works. It is first recited at Takshashila by the sage Vaiśampāyana, a disciple of Vyāsa, to the King Janamejaya who is the great-grandson of the Pāṇḍava prince Arjuna. The story is then recited again by a professional storyteller named Ugraśrava Sauti, many years later, to an assemblage of sages performing the 12-year sacrifice for the king Saunaka Kulapati in the Naimiśa Forest.
Sauti recites the slokas of the Mahabharata.

Sages Performing Fire Sacrifices 

The text was described by some early 20th-century western Indologists as unstructured and chaotic. Hermann Oldenberg supposed that the original poem must once have carried an immense "tragic force" but dismissed the full text as a "horrible chaos." Moritz Winternitz (Geschichte der indischen Literatur 1909) considered that "only unpoetical theologists and clumsy scribes" could have lumped the parts of disparate origin into an unordered whole.

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