The theme of MahA BhArathA: The MahA BharathA presents in one place the internal as well as external nature of our culture, the aspirations of humanity and the achievements and goals of life in an inimitable way. It contains the wisdom of the VedhAs, VedhAngAs, and all SAsthrAs and one can easily get to know the quintessence of all of the above through a study of this epic.
The loftiness of MahA BhArahtA: This has been the source text to all poets that flourished further in Bharatha desam. MahA BhArathA has been assigned a lofty place, which is equal to the vEdhAs and is called the panchama (fifth) vEdhA because its subject matter in the ultimate analysis is the same as that of the vEdhAs.
The second stage Of "BharathA" evolved with the addition of the greatness of the personages involved in the family war. At this stage, the epic had 24,000 sOkams. It contained the description of the glory of personages like BhIshmA, DhrONA, the stories relating to the birth of the KauravAs and the PANdavAs, their education and upbringinging, the virtues of the royal class, the troubles and travails of the PANdavAs during their period of exile and particularly the one year of living incognito in the court of VirAtA, the efforts made to prevent the great war, the teaching of KrishNA to ArjunA, the description of the war that lasted for eighteen days and the final victory gained by the PANdavAs. All of these topics relating directly to the main theme were perhaps added on in the second stage known as BharathA with 24,000 slOkams. During the third and final stage, a number of upAkhyAnAs (other stories and anecdotes) were added on to this great work to make it, "MahA BhArathA". The size swelled upto 100,000 slOkams. In this form, MahA BhArathA became an encyclopedia of Knowledge and wisdom of humanity. The VishNu SahasranAmam, AnugIthA, Bhishma-sthavam, GajEndhra Moksham et al were added. Long and elaborate stories of DushyanthA and SakunthalA, SAvithri-SatyavAn, YayAthi, RAmA, MathsyOpAkhyAnA, Shibi chakravarthy, the story of NaLa-Dhamayanthi have been added as major upAkhyAnams and the bulk of these constitutes nearly one fourth of this great work.
In the northern rescension of MahA BhAratham, there are 82136 stanzas and the southern rescension has 96586 stanzas. The description of the war is another significant feature of this work and this comprises one fifth of MahA BhAratham. Finally, the teaching about DharmA occupies the most prominent place in this ithihAsam. The ShAnthi parvam is totally devoted to the teaching on DharmA. The teachings about Bhagavadh GitA, RAja dharmA, Apath dharmA, Moksha dharmA, the dhArmic teachings housed in AnusAsAsana parvA constiture together one third of MahA BhAratham. In addition to the 18 parvAs of MahA Bharatham, there is another parvA known as Hari vamsam, which is considered a "khila or anubhandA or an addition to the main text". This has a lot of focus on DharmA and contains 317 cantos and more than 16,000 stanzas.
It is not clear when this kind of division into parvAs took place. The parvAs are of different length and there is no uniformity regarding their size. The shortest is MahAprasthAnika parvA containing only 120 stanzas, whereas the longest is ShAnthi parvA. The combination of ShAnthi parvA and AnushAsana parvA yields 21,000 stanzas. The themes of Individual Chapters of MB: The Adhi parvA gives an elaborate description of the lunar race and the birth of the PaNDavAs. The SabhA parvA deals with the game of dice to which YudhishtirA was invited. The Vana parvA deals with the experiences of the PaNDavAs in the forest and the VirAta parvA narrates their stay in VirAta nagaram in cognito. In UdhyOga parvA, Lord KrishNA goes to HasthinApuri as a messenger of peace. BhIshma parvA houses Srimadh Bhagavath GitA, the commencement of the war, BhIshmA's participation in it and the defeat of BhIshmA. DhrONa parvA narrates the death of Abhimanyu and the death of DhrONA himself. KarNa parvA is devoted to the war that was waged by KarNA and his death. Shalya parvA deals with the role played by ShalyA and the death of DuryOdhanA. Souptika parva dscribes the slaying by AsvatthAman of the children of PANDavAs, while they were sleeping. Sthree parvA is full of lamentataions of the bereaved women. The teaching of the DharmA to YudhishtrA by BhIshmAchAryAl is the subject matter of ShAnthi parvA. Anushasasana parvA has accounts of the stories relating to morals and righteousness. The performance of AsvamEdha YAgam is described in AsvamEdha parvA. The AsramavAsi parvA narrates how DhritarashtrA retires into the woods for performance of penance and Mausala parvA narrates the destruction of the YAdhavAs. MahAprasthAnika parvA describes how the PANDavAs set out on their final journey through the HimAlAyAs and the SvargArOhaNa parvA describes how they ascended to heaven.
Credits: Sri N.S. Anantha RangAchAr