The Mahabharata is an epic Sanskrit poem—the longest poem known to exist. It tells the story of the Kurus and the Pandus and their great war at Kurukshetra, and is filled with philosophical, spiritual and religious teachings, often couched in allegory and symbolism. Portions of the Mahabharata have been singled out as stand-alone texts, most notably the Bhagavad Gita. The events of the Mahabharata mark a significant moment in Indian history, represented by the coming of the Avatar Krishna, whose death is traditionally understood to mark the arrival of the Kali Yuga or Dark Age. Indian history can be divided into the pre-Mahabharatan and post-Mahabharatan periods, which present markedly different cultural aspects, perhaps most notably the post-Mahabharatan rise to dominance of the Brahmin caste (the Kurus and Pandus were all Kshatriyas and dominated Northern India prior to their war).

As with much of Indian history, modern scholars are at great odds with traditional Indian chronology, with modern scholars granting much shorter durations for the events recorded in the Indian Epics, Puranas, etc. Indian tradition places the death of Krishna on February 18th, 3102 BCE, and the Kurukshetra Battle a few years or decades earlier. As has been demonstrated in numerous articles (see several by Charles Johnston), the culture of Northern India during the events of the Mahabharata, as during the events related by the oldest Upanishads, etc., was one in which the Kshatriya (or Rajanya) caste was dominant, both in terms of political rule and spiritual teachings. Post-Mahabharata this changed, and by the time of the Buddha, the Brahmins had risen to dominance in both regards, especially the latter. It is difficult to account for such a significant shift in the short time allotted to this period by modern scholars, while the traditional chronology allows plenty of time for it. Students are encouraged to explore all claims with an open but discerning mind. See also Vedic and Pre-Historic India.


The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, translated into English Prose from the Original Sanskrit Text by Kisari Mohan Ganguli

See also: 

The Bhagavad Gita
The Anugita


Mahabharata Resources
Mahabharata Critical Edition (Sanskrit)

Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.