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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Veda Vyasa and the Writing of the Mahabharata

Sage Veda Vyasa is the most prolific thinker, complier, and composer in ancient Hindu theology and philosophy. He classified (“vyasa” means classified) the four Vedas; this explains his name Veda Vyasa. He is the composer of the epic Mahabharata; according to traditional accounts, his composition of the Mahabharata contained 100000 verses, but the extant editions of the Mahabharata do not contain that many verses—the critical edition of the Mahabharata, developed by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), contains around 89000 verses (excluding the Harivamsa). After finishing the Mahabharata, Veda Vyasa became engaged with compiling the eighteen Maha Puranas which contain 400000 verses. Another name of Veda Vyasa is Krishna Dvaipayana—the term “Krishna” in his name indicates that he was dark skinned, and the term “Dvaipayana” indicates he was born in an island (“Dvaipa” means island). 

In some versions of the Mahabharata, it is stated that since Veda Vyasa was intimately acquainted with all the characters in the epic, he was asked by Lord Brahma to write the story. Vyasa said that the story was long and complex, and he would require the assistance of a scribe. Lord Brahma then suggested the name of Lord Ganesha. But Lord Ganesha said that he would accept the task on one condition: Vyasa would have to dictate without any break. To ensure that his composing of the verses would match the speed of Lord Ganesha’s swift writing, Vyasa put forward the counter-condition that Lord Ganesha would write only after he grasped the meaning of the verses. After every few verses, Vyasa would throw a difficult verse and in the time that it took for Lord Ganesha to grasp its meaning, Vyasa would compose the several new verses in his mind. This explains why the Mahabharata verses are a mix of easy and difficult ones.

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