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The Mahābhārata (//; Sanskrit: महाभारतम्, Mahābhāratam, pronounced [mɐɦaːˈbʱaːrɐt̪ɐm]) is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India.
Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahābhārata is attributed to Vyāsa. There have been many attempts to unravel its historical growth and compositional layers. The bulk of the Mahābhārata was probably compiled between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE, with the oldest preserved parts not much older than around 400 BCE. The original events related by the epic probably fall between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. The text probably reached its final form by the early Gupta period (c. 4th century CE). The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita (/ /; Sanskrit: श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता, romanized: śrīmadbhagavadgītā, lit. 'The Song by God';[a]), is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic (Chapters 23 to 40 in Book 6 of the Mahabharata called the Bhishma Parva). It is dated to the second half of the first millennium BCE and is typical of the Hindu synthesis.
The historicity of the Kurukshetra War – the main focus of the Mahābhārata – remains the subject of scholarly discussion. For example, The Battle of the Ten Kings, mentioned in the Rigveda, may have formed the nucleus of the story of the Kurukshetra War, though it was greatly expanded and modified in the Mahabharata's account, making the Mahabharata's version of dubious historicity. Attempts have been made to assign a historical date to the Kurukshetra War. Scholarly research suggests ca. 1000 BCE, while popular tradition holds that the war marks the transition from Dwapar Yuga to Kali Yuga and thus dates it to 3102 BCE.
The Mahabharata is an account of the life and deeds of several generations of a ruling dynasty called the Kuru clan and the fates of the princes and their successors. The core story of the work is that of a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura, the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. The two collateral branches of the family that participate in the struggle are the Kaurava and the Pandava. Although the Kaurava is the senior branch of the family, Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, is younger than Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava. Both Duryodhana and Yudhishthira claim to be first in line to inherit the throne. The struggle culminates in the great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. Several ancient kingdoms participated as allies of the rival groups. It is also the event that laid the foundation for the Hindu sacred text of Bhagavad Gita. The battle produces complex conflicts of kinship and friendship, instances of family loyalty and duty taking precedence over what is right, as well as the converse.
The Kuru territories were divided into two and were ruled by Dhritarashtra (with his capital at Hastinapura) and Yudhishthira of the Pandavas (with his capital at Indraprastha). The immediate dispute between the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra) and the Pandavas arose from a game of dice, which Duryodhana won by deceit, forcing his Pandava cousins to transfer their entire territories to the Kauravas (to Hastinapura) and to "go into exile" for thirteen years. The dispute escalated into a full-scale war when Duryodhana, driven by jealousy, refused to restore to the Pandavas their territories after the exile as earlier decided because Duryodhana objected that they were discovered while in exile and that no return of their kingdom had been agreed upon.
The location of the battleground is described as Kurukshetra (literally "field of the Kurus") in northern India. Kurukshetra was also known as "Dharmakshetra" (the "field of Dharma"), or field of righteousness. The first Mahabharata says that this site was chosen because a sin committed on this land was forgiven on account of the sanctity of this land..
Despite only spanning eighteen days, the war narrative forms more than a quarter of the book, suggesting its relative importance within the entire epic, which spans decades of the warring families. The narrative describes individual battles and deaths of various heroes of both sides, military formations, war diplomacy, meetings and discussions among the characters, and the weapons used. The chapters (parvas) dealing with the war are considered amongst the oldest in the entire Mahābhārata.
At the end of the 18th day, only twelve major warriors survived the war—the five Pandavas, Krishna, Satyaki, Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, Yuyutsu, Vrishaketu, and Kritavarma. Yudhishthira was crowned king of Hastinapur. After ruling for 36 years, he renounced the throne, passing the title on to Arjuna's grandson, Parikshit. He then left for the Himalayas with Draupadi and his brothers. Draupadi and four Pandavas—Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva died during the journey. Yudhishthira, the lone survivor and being of pious heart, was invited by Dharma to enter the heavens as a mortal.
The Mahābhārata itself ends with the death of Krishna, and the subsequent end of his dynasty and ascent of the Pandava brothers to heaven. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu age of Kali Yuga, the fourth and final age of humankind, in which great values and noble ideas have crumbled, and people are heading towards the complete dissolution of right action, morality, and virtue.
The Gita is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, right before the start of the climactic Kurukshetra War in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.[note 1] Two massive armies have gathered to destroy the other. At the start of the Dharma Yuddha (righteous war) between Pandavas and Kauravas, Arjuna is filled with a moral dilemma about the violence and death the war will cause in the battle against his own kind. So the Pandava prince Arjuna asks his charioteer Krishna to drive to the center of the battlefield so that he can get a good look at both the armies and all those "so eager for war". He sees that some among his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers. He does not want to fight to kill them and is thus filled with doubt and despair on the battlefield. He drops his bow, wonders if he should renounce and just leave the battlefield. He turns to his charioteer Krishna, for advice on the rationale for war, his choices and the right thing to do. Krishna counsels Arjuna to "fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) duty to uphold the Dharma" through "selfless action".[web 1][note 2] The Bhagavad Gita is the compilation of Arjuna's questions and moral dilemma, Krishna's answers and insights that elaborate on a variety of philosophical concepts. The compiled Krishna-Arjuna dialogue goes far beyond the "a rationale for war"; it touches on many human ethical dilemmas, philosophical issues, and life's choices. According to Flood and Martin, although the Gita is set in the context of a war epic, the narrative is structured to apply to all situations; it wrestles with questions about "who we are, how we should live our lives, and how should we act in the world". According to Sargeant, it delves into questions about the "purpose of life, crisis of self-identity, human Self, human temperaments, and ways for the spiritual quest".
Further information: Battle of the Ten Kings
The Battle of the Ten Kings is a battle, first alluded to in the 7th Mandala of the Rigveda (RV), between a Bharata king and a confederation of tribes. It resulted in a decisive victory for the Bharatas and the subsequent formation of the Kuru polity.
In Book 3, the Bharatas are noted to have crossed Beas and Sutlej, in their progress towards Kurukshetra where they came across a nascent (and temporary) inter-tribal alliance. This led to the battle, which is described in the 18th hymn (verses 5–21) of Book 7; the exact motivations are doubtful — Michael Witzel argues that it might have been a product of intratribal resentment or intrigues of an ousted family-priest[b] while Ranabir Chakravarti argues that the battle was probably fought for controlling the rivers, which were a lifeline for irrigation. The hymns also mention the tribes seeking to steal cows from the Bharatas.
The Battle of the Ten Kings led Bharatas to occupy the entire Puru territory (Western Punjab) centered around the Sarasvati River and complete their eastward migration. Sudas celebrated his victory with the Ashvamedha ritual to commemorate the establishment of a realm, free of enemies from the north, east, and west. He still had enemies in the Khāṇḍava Forest to the south, which was inhabited by the despised non-Indo-Aryan Kikatas.
A political realignment between Purus and Bharatas probably followed soon enough and might have included other factions of the tribal union as well; this is exhibited from how the core collection of RV prominently features clan hymns of both sides.
Numerous translators since the 1800s including K. F. Geldner have considered the battle as a historical event, based on the narration characteristics of the verses. Witzel dates the battle between approximately 1450 and 1300 BCE; he deems the concerned hymns to be late interpolations. Stephanie W. Jamison warns against using it as a major source to reconstruct history since the description of the battle is "anything but clear."
Both Witzel and Jamison find the very next hymn (7.19, verse 3) to show a striking shift of allegiance with Indra helping Sudas as well the Purus, who won land.
Witzel notes this battle to be the probable archetype/prototype of the Kurukshetra War, narrated in the Mahabharata. John Brockington takes a similar approach. S. S. N. Murthy goes to the extent of proposing the battle as the very "nucleus" of the Kurukshetra War; Walter Ruben adopts a similar stance. However, Witzel maintains the nucleus text of the Mahabharata to be in the description of some event in the Late Vedic spans; it was since reshaped (and expanded) over centuries of transmission and recreation to (probably) reflect the Battle of the Ten Kings. Alf Hiltebeitel rejects Witzel's and Brockington's arguments as "baffling fancy" and notes a complete lack of means to "connect the Vedic Battle of the Ten Kings with the fratricidal struggle" of the Mahabharata.
Between 1919 and 1966, scholars at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, compared the various manuscripts of the epic from India and abroad and produced the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, on 13,000 pages in 19 volumes, over the span of 47 years. This is the text that is usually used in current Mahābhārata studies for reference. This work is sometimes called the "Pune" or "Poona" edition of the Mahabharata.
The Critical Edition was collated from 1,259 manuscripts. This edition in 19 volumes (more than 15,000 demi-quarto size pages) comprised the critically constituted text of the 18 Parvas of the Mahabharata consisting of more than 89,000 verses, an elaborate Critical Apparatus and a Prolegomena on the material and methodology (volume I), written by V.S. Sukthankar.
Further work since the initial publication has produced a Critical Edition of the Harivamsa, a Pratika Index, a Bibliography of ancillary materials, and a Cultural Index. The project of preparing a critical edition of the Harivamsa was inaugurated by the President of India, Rajendra Prasad on 19 November 1954. The publication was completed in November, 1971. The critical edition in two volumes consists the 4 Parvans of the Harivamsa. The Pratika Index in 6 volumes consists 360,000 verse quarters with appendices. Two volumes of the Cultural Index have been published so far. The constituted text of the critical edition has also been made available on the CD-ROM.
See also: Mahabharata § The 18 parvas or books
The epic is traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyāsa, who is also a major character in the epic. Vyāsa described it as being itihāsa (Sanskrit: इतिहास, meaning "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 Ganesha who wrote down the text to Vyasa's dictation, but this is regarded by scholars as a later interpolation to the epic, and the "Critical Edition" doesn't include Ganesha at all.
The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known as frame tales, 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 was 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.
The text was described by some early 20th-century 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.
See also: Mahabharata § The 18 parvas or books
Research on the Mahābhārata has put an enormous effort into recognizing and dating layers within the text. Some elements of the present Mahābhārata can be traced back to Vedic times. The background to the Mahābhārata suggests the origin of the epic occurs "after the very early Vedic period" and before "the first Indian 'empire' was to rise in the third century B.C." That this is "a date not too far removed from the 8th or 9th century B.C." is likely. Mahābhārata started as an orally-transmitted tale of the charioteer bards. It is generally agreed that "Unlike the Vedas, which have to be preserved letter-perfect, the epic was a popular work whose reciters would inevitably conform to changes in language and style," so the earliest 'surviving' components of this dynamic text are believed to be no older than the earliest 'external' references we have to the epic, which may include an allusion in Panini's 4th century BCE grammar Aṣṭādhyāyī 4:2:56. It is estimated that the Sanskrit text probably reached something of a "final form" by the early Gupta period (about the 4th century CE). Vishnu Sukthankar, editor of the first great critical edition of the Mahābhārata, commented: "It is useless to think of reconstructing a fluid text in an original shape, based on an archetype and a stemma codicum. What then is possible? Our objective can only be to reconstruct the oldest form of the text which it is possible to reach based on the manuscript material available." That manuscript evidence is somewhat late, given its material composition and the climate of India, but it is very extensive.
The Mahābhārata itself (1.1.61) distinguishes a core portion of 24,000 verses: the Bhārata proper, as opposed to additional secondary material, while the Aśvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra (3.4.4) makes a similar distinction. At least three redactions of the text are commonly recognized: Jaya (Victory) with 8,800 verses attributed to Vyāsa, Bhārata with 24,000 verses as recited by Vaiśampāyana, and finally the Mahābhārata as recited by Ugraśrava Sauti with over 100,000 verses. However, some scholars, such as John Brockington, argue that Jaya and Bharata refer to the same text, and ascribe the theory of Jaya with 8,800 verses to a misreading of a verse in Ādiparvan (1.1.81). The redaction of this large body of text was carried out after formal principles, emphasizing the numbers 18 and 12. The addition of the latest parts may be dated by the absence of the Anuśāsana-Parva and the Virāta Parva from the "Spitzer manuscript". The oldest surviving Sanskrit text dates to the Kushan Period (200 CE).
According to what one character says at Mbh. 1.1.50, there were three versions of the epic, beginning with Manu (1.1.27), Astika (1.3, sub-Parva 5), or Vasu (1.57), respectively. These versions would correspond to the addition of one and then another 'frame' settings of dialogues. The Vasu version would omit the frame settings and begin with the account of the birth of Vyasa. The astika version would add the sarpasattra and aśvamedha material from Brahmanical literature, introduce the name Mahābhārata, and identify Vyāsa as the work's author. The redactors of these additions were probably Pāñcarātrin scholars who according to Oberlies (1998) likely retained control over the text until its final redaction. Mention of the Huna in the Bhīṣma-Parva however appears to imply that this Parva may have been edited around the 4th century.
The Ādi-Parva includes the snake sacrifice (sarpasattra) of Janamejaya, explaining its motivation, detailing why all snakes in existence were intended to be destroyed, and why despite this, there are still snakes in existence. This sarpasattra material was often considered an independent tale added to a version of the Mahābhārata by "thematic attraction" (Minkowski 1991), and considered to have a particularly close connection to Vedic (Brahmana) literature. The Pañcavimśa Brahmana (at 25.15.3) enumerates the officiant priests of a sarpasattra among whom the names Dhṛtarāṣtra and Janamejaya, two main characters of the Mahābhārata's sarpasattra, as well as Takṣaka, the name of a snake in the Mahābhārata, occur.
The Suparṇākhyāna, a late Vedic period poem considered to be among the "earliest traces of epic poetry in India," is an older, shorter precursor to the expanded legend of Garuda that is included in the Āstīka Parva, within the Ādi Parva of the Mahābhārata.
See also: Bhagavad Gita § Date and text
The earliest known references to bhārata and the compound mahābhārata date to the Aṣṭādhyāyī (sutra 6.2.38) of Pāṇini (fl. 4th century BCE) and the Aśvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra (3.4.4). This may mean the core 24,000 verses, known as the Bhārata, as well as an early version of the extended Mahābhārata, were composed by the 4th century BCE. However, it is not certain whether Pāṇini referred to the epic, as bhārata was also used to describe other things. Albrecht Weber mentions the Rigvedic tribe of the Bharatas, where a great person might have been designated as Mahā-Bhārata. However, as Páṇini also mentions characters that play a role in the Mahābhārata, some parts of the epic may have already been known in his day. Another aspect is that Pāṇini determined the accent of mahā-bhārata. However, the Mahābhārata was not recited in Vedic accent.
The Greek writer Dio Chrysostom (c. 40 – c. 120 CE) reported that Homer's poetry was being sung even in India. Many scholars have taken this as evidence for the existence of a Mahābhārata at this date, whose episodes Dio or his sources identify with the story of the Iliad.
Several stories within the Mahābhārata took on separate identities of their own in Classical Sanskrit literature. For instance, Abhijñānaśākuntala by the renowned Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa (c. 400 CE), believed to have lived in the era of the Gupta dynasty, is based on a story that is the precursor to the Mahābhārata. Urubhaṅga, a Sanskrit play written by Bhāsa who is believed to have lived before Kālidāsa, is based on the slaying of Duryodhana by the splitting of his thighs by Bhīma.
The copper-plate inscription of the Maharaja Sharvanatha (533–534 CE) from Khoh (Satna District, Madhya Pradesh) describes the Mahābhārata as a "collection of 100,000 verses" (śata-sahasri saṃhitā).
Further information: Kurukshetra War
The historicity of the Kurukshetra War is unclear and subject to scholarly discussion and dispute. It is possible that the Battle of the Ten Kings, mentioned in the Rigveda, may have "formed the 'nucleus' of the story" of the Kurukshetra war, though it was greatly expanded and modified in the Mahabharata's account making the Mahabharata's version of very dubious historicity. Though the Kurukshetra War is not mentioned in Vedic literature, its prominence in later literature led British Indologist A. L. Basham, writing in 1954, to conclude that there was a great battle at Kurukshetra which, "magnified to titanic proportions, formed the basis of the story of the greatest of India's epics, the Mahabharata." Acknowledging that later "generations looked upon it as marking an end of an epoch," he suggested that rather than being a civil war it might have been "a muddled recollection of the conquest of the Kurus by a tribe of Mongol type from the hills." He saw it as useless to the historian and dates the war to the 9th century BCE based on archaeological evidence and "some evidence in the Brahmana literature itself to show that it cannot have been much earlier."[note 3]
Puranic literature presents genealogical lists associated with the Mahābhārata narrative. The evidence of the Puranas is of two kinds. Of the first kind, there is the direct statement[where?] that there were 1015 (or 1050) years between the birth of Parikshit (Arjuna's grandson) and the accession of Mahapadma Nanda (400–329 BCE), commonly dated to 382 BCE, which would yield an estimate of about 1400 BCE for the Bharata battle. However, this would imply improbably long reigns on average for the kings listed in the genealogies.
Of the second kind are analyses of parallel genealogies in the Puranas between the times of Adhisimakrishna (Parikshit's great-grandson) and Mahapadma Nanda. Pargiter accordingly estimated 26 generations by averaging 10 different dynastic lists and, assuming 18 years for the average duration of a reign, arrived at an estimate of 850 BCE for Adhisimakrishna, and thus approximately 950 BCE for the Bharata battle.
Despite the inconclusiveness of the data, attempts have been made to assign a historical date to the Kurukshetra War. The existing text of the Mahabharata went through many layers of development, and mostly belongs to the period between c. 500 BCE and 400 CE.[note 4] Within the frame story of the Mahabharata, the historical kings Parikshit and Janamejaya are featured significantly as scions of the Kuru clan, and Michael Witzel and many other historians conclude that the general setting of the epic has a historical precedent in Iron Age (Vedic) India of the 10th century BCE, where the Kuru kingdom was the center of political power during roughly 1200 to 800 BCE. A dynastic conflict of the period could have been the inspiration for the Jaya, the foundation on which the Mahābhārata corpus was built, with a climactic battle, eventually coming to be viewed as an epochal event. According to Professor Alf Hiltebeitel, the Mahabharata is essentially mythological.  Indian historian Upinder Singh has written that:
Whether a bitter war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas ever happened cannot be proved or disproved. It is possible that there was a small-scale conflict, transformed into a gigantic epic war by bards and poets. Some historians and archaeologists have argued that this conflict may have occurred in about 1000 BCE.
According to Finnish Sindhologist Asko Parpola, the war may have taken place during the later phase of the Painted Grey Ware, circa 750–350 BCE.
Attempts to date the events using methods of archaeoastronomy have produced, depending on which passages are chosen and how they are interpreted, estimates ranging from the late 4th to the late-2nd millennium BCE. Popular tradition holds that the war marks the transition to Kali Yuga. The late 4th-millennium date has a precedent in the calculation of the Kali Yuga epoch, based on planetary conjunctions, by Aryabhata (6th century). Aryabhata's date of 18 February 3102 BCE for Mahābhārata war has become widespread in Indian tradition. Some sources mark this as the disappearance of Krishna from the Earth. The Aihole inscription of Pulikeshi II, dated to Saka 556 = 634 CE, claims that 3735 years have elapsed since the Bharata battle, putting the date of Mahābhārata war at 3137 BCE. Another traditional school of astronomers and historians, represented by Vriddha-Garga, Varahamihira (author of the Brhatsamhita) and Kalhana (author of the Rajatarangini), place the Bharata war 653 years after the Kali Yuga epoch, corresponding to 2449 BCE.
Some of the other proposals that have been put forward:
Indian archeologist B. B. Lal used the same approach with a more conservative assumption of the average reign to estimate a date of 836 BCE and correlated this with archaeological evidence from Painted Grey Ware sites, the association being strong between PGW artifacts and places mentioned in the epic. Excavations at Hastinapur were carried out in the early 1950s by B.B. Lal, Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India.The main aim of this excavation was to determine the stratigraphic position of Painted Grey Ware concerning other known ceramic industries of the early historical period, Lal found correlations between the text of the Mahabharata and the material remains that he unearthed at Hastinapur. This led him to historicize some of the traditions mentioned in the Mahabharata as well as link the appearance of the Painted Grey Ware with Aryans in the upper Ganges basin areas.
John Keay confirms this and also gives 950 BCE for the Bharata battle.
According to Asko Parpola, the war may have taken place during the later phase of the Painted Grey Ware, circa 750-350 BCE. Parpola notes that the Pandava heroes are not being mentioned in the Vedic literature from before the Grhyasutras.  Parpola suggests that the Pandavas were Iranic migrants, who came to South Asia around 800 BCE.
Excavations in Sinauli unearthed burials with the remains of carts[c] belonging to the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture.  Several authors, referring to these finds, propose to relate the Rig Vedic culture and the Mahabharata War to the OCP, instead of the PGW. While these carts are dated to 1800–1500 BCE (± 150), Gupta and Mani state that "in the present state of archaeological evidence OCP seems to be a stronger contender for the Mahabharata association," dating the Mahabharata War to the 4th millennium BCE. Parpola sees the finds as ox-pulled chariots, indicating support for his proposal for the first wave of Indo-Aryan migrations into the Indian subcontinent at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, prior to the migration of the Rig Vedic people.[note 5]
Kuru (Sanskrit: कुरु) was a Vedic Indo-Aryan tribal union in northern Iron Age India, encompassing the modern-day states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and some parts of western Uttar Pradesh, which appeared in the Middle Vedic period (c. 1200 – c. 900 BCE) and developed into the first recorded state-level society in the Indian subcontinent.
The Kuru kingdom decisively changed the religious heritage of the early Vedic period, arranging their ritual hymns into collections called the Vedas, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the Srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis". It became the dominant political and cultural center of the middle Vedic Period during the reigns of Parikshit and Janamejaya, but declined in importance during the late Vedic period (c. 900 – c. 500 BCE) and had become "something of a backwater" by the Mahajanapada period in the 5th century BCE. However, traditions and legends about the Kurus continued into the post-Vedic period, providing the basis for the Mahabharata epic.
The main contemporary sources for understanding the Kuru kingdom are the Vedas, containing details of life during this period and allusions to historical persons and events. The time-frame and geographical extent of the Kuru kingdom (as determined by philological study of the Vedic literature) suggest its correspondence with the archaeological Painted Grey Ware culture. The Kuru clan was formed in the Middle Vedic period (c. 1200 – c. 900 BCE) as a result of the alliance and merger between the Bharata and other Puru clans, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Ten Kings. With their center of power in the Kurukshetra region, the Kurus formed the first political center of the Vedic period, and were dominant roughly from 1200 to 800 BCE. The first Kuru capital was at Āsandīvat, identified with modern Assandh in Haryana. Later literature refers to Indraprastha (identified with modern Delhi) and Hastinapura as the main Kuru cities.
The Kurus figure prominently in Vedic literature after the time of the Rigveda. The Kurus here appear as a branch of the early Indo-Aryans, ruling the Ganga-Yamuna Doab and modern Haryana. The focus in the later Vedic period shifted out of Punjab, into the Haryana and the Doab, and thus to the Kuru clan.
This trend corresponds to the increasing number and size of Painted Grey Ware (PGW) settlements in the Haryana and Doab area. Archaeological surveys of the Kurukshetra District have a revealed a more complex (albeit not yet fully urbanized) three-tiered hierarchy for the period of period from 1000 to 600 BCE, suggesting a complex chiefdom or emerging early state, contrasting with the two-tiered settlement pattern (with some "modest central places", suggesting the existence of simple chiefdoms) in the rest of the Ganges Valley. Although most PGW sites were small farming villages, several PGW sites emerged as relatively large settlements that can be characterized as towns; the largest of these were fortified by ditches or moats and embankments made of piled earth with wooden palisades, albeit smaller and simpler than the elaborate fortifications which emerged in large cities after 600 BCE.
The Atharvaveda (XX.127) praises Parikshit, the "King of the Kurus", as the great ruler of a thriving, prosperous realm. Other late Vedic texts, such as the Shatapatha Brahmana, commemorate Parikshit's son Janamejaya as a great conqueror who performed the ashvamedha (horse-sacrifice). These two Kuru kings played a decisive role in the consolidation of the Kuru state and the development of the srauta rituals, and they also appear as important figures in later legends and traditions (e.g., in the Mahabharata).
Further information: Bhagavad Gita
In the Indian tradition, the Bhagavad Gita, as well as the epic Mahabharata of which it is a part, is attributed to the sage Vyasa, whose full name was Krishna Dvaipayana, also called Veda-Vyasa. Another Hindu legend states that Vyasa narrated it while the lord Ganesha broke one of his tusks and wrote down the Mahabharata along with the Bhagavad Gita.[note 6]
Scholars consider Vyasa to be a mythical or symbolic author, in part because Vyasa is also the traditional compiler of the Vedas and the Puranas, texts dated to be from different millennia. The word Vyasa literally means "arranger, compiler", and is a surname in India. According to Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, a Gita scholar, it is possible that a number of different individuals with the same name compiled different texts.
Swami Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu monk, and Vedantist, stated that the Bhagavad Gita may be old but it was mostly unknown in Indian history till the early 8th century when Adi Shankara (Shankaracharya) made it famous by writing his much-followed commentary on it. Some infer, states Vivekananda, that "Shankaracharya was the author of Gita, and that it was he who foisted it into the body of the Mahabharata." This attribution to Adi Shankara is unlikely in part because Shankara himself refers to the earlier commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, and because other Hindu texts and traditions that compete with the ideas of Shankara refer to much older literature referencing the Bhagavad Gita, though much of this ancient secondary literature has not survived into the modern era.
According to J. A. B. van Buitenen, an Indologist known for his translations and scholarship on Mahabharata, the Gita is so contextually and philosophically well-knit with the Mahabharata that it was not an independent text that "somehow wandered into the epic". The Gita, states Van Buitenen, was conceived and developed by the Mahabharata authors to "bring to a climax and solution the dharmic dilemma of a war".[note 7]
According to Alexus McLeod, a scholar of Philosophy and Asian Studies, it is "impossible to link the Bhagavad Gita to a single author", and it may be the work of many authors. This view is shared by the Indologist Arthur Basham, who states that there were three or more authors or compilers of Bhagavad Gita. This is evidenced by the discontinuous intermixing of philosophical verses with theistic or passionately theistic verses, according to Basham.[note 8]
The Bhagavad Gita manuscript is found in the sixth book of the Mahabharata manuscripts – the Bhisma-parvan. Therein, in the third section, the Gita forms chapters 23–40, that is 6.3.23 to 6.3.40. The Bhagavad Gita is often preserved and studied on its own, as an independent text with its chapters renumbered from 1 to 18.
The Bhagavad Gita manuscripts exist in numerous Indic scripts. These include writing systems that are currently in use, as well as early scripts such as the Sharada script, now dormant. Variant manuscripts of the Gita have been found on the Indian subcontinent Unlike the enormous variations in the remaining sections of the surviving Mahabharata manuscripts, the Gita manuscripts show only minor variations and the meaning is the same.
According to Gambhirananda, the old manuscripts may have had 745 verses, though he agrees that 700 verses are the generally accepted historic standard. Gambhirananda's view is supported by a few versions of chapter 6.43 of the Mahabharata. These versions state the Gita is a text where "Kesava [Krishna] spoke 620 slokas, Arjuna 57, Samjaya 67, and Dhritarashtra 1", states the Religious Studies and Gita exegesis scholar Robert Minor. This adds to 745 verses. An authentic manuscript of the Gita with 745 verses has not been found. Of all known extant historic manuscripts, the largest version contains 715 verses. Adi Shankara, in his 8th-century commentary, explicitly states that the Gita has 700 verses, which was likely a deliberate declaration to prevent further insertions and changes to the Gita. Since Shankara's time, the "700 verses" has been the standard benchmark for the critical edition of the Bhagavad Gita.
Theories on the date of the composition of the Gita vary considerably. Some scholars accept dates from the fifth century to the second century BCE as the probable range, the latter likely. The Hinduism scholar Jeaneane Fowler, in her commentary on the Gita, considers the second century BCE to be the probable date of composition.  J. A. B. van Buitenen too states that the Gita was likely composed about 200 BCE. According to the Indologist Arvind Sharma, the Gita is generally accepted to be a 2nd-century-BCE text.
Kashi Nath Upadhyaya, in contrast, dates it a bit earlier. He states that the Gita was always a part of the Mahabharata, and dating the latter suffices in dating the Gita. On the basis of the estimated dates of Mahabharata as evidenced by exact quotes of it in the Buddhist literature by Asvaghosa (c. 100 CE), Upadhyaya states that the Mahabharata, and therefore Gita, must have been well known by then for a Buddhist to be quoting it.[note 9] This suggests a terminus ante quem (latest date) of the Gita to be some time prior to the 1st century CE. He cites similar quotes in the Dharmasutra texts, the Brahma sutras, and other literature to conclude that the Bhagavad Gita was composed in the fifth or fourth century BCE.[note 10]
According to Arthur Basham, the context of the Bhagavad Gita suggests that it was composed in an era when the ethics of war were being questioned and renunciation to monastic life was becoming popular. Such an era emerged after the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the 5th century BCE, and particularly after the semi-legendary life of Ashoka in 3rd century BCE. Thus, the first version of the Bhagavad Gita may have been composed in or after the 3rd century BCE.
Linguistically, the Bhagavad Gita is in classical Sanskrit of the early variety, states the Gita scholar Winthrop Sargeant. The text has occasional pre-classical elements of the Sanskrit language, such as the aorist and the prohibitive mā instead of the expected na (not) of classical Sanskrit. This suggests that the text was composed after the Pāṇini era, but before the long compounds of classical Sanskrit became the norm. This would date the text as transmitted by the oral tradition to the later centuries of the 1st-millennium BCE, and the first written version probably to the 2nd or 3rd century CE.
According to Jeaneane Fowler, "the dating of the Gita varies considerably" and depends in part on whether one accepts it to be a part of the early versions of the Mahabharata or a text that was inserted into the epic at a later date. The earliest "surviving" components, therefore, are believed to be no older than the earliest "external" references we have to the Mahabharata epic. The Mahabharata – the world's longest poem – is itself a text that was likely written and compiled over several hundred years, one dated between "400 BCE or little earlier, and 2nd century CE, though some claim a few parts can be put as late as 400 CE", states Fowler. The dating of the Gita is thus dependent on the uncertain dating of the Mahabharata. The actual dates of composition of the Gita remain unresolved. While the year and century is uncertain, states Richard Davis, the internal evidence in the text dates the origin of the Gita discourse to the Hindu lunar month of Margashirsha (also called Agrahayana, generally December or January of the Gregorian calendar).
According to Dennis Hudson, there is an overlap between Vedic and Tantric rituals with the teachings found in the Bhagavad Gita. He places the Pancaratra Agama in the last three or four centuries of 1st-millennium BCE, and proposes that both the tantric and Vedic, the Agama and the Gita share the same Vāsudeva-Krishna roots. Some of the ideas in the Bhagavad Gita connect it to the Shatapatha Brahmana of Yajurveda. The Shatapatha Brahmana, for example, mentions the absolute Purusha who dwells in every human being. A story in this Vedic text, states Hudson, highlights the meaning of the name Vāsudeva as the 'shining one (deva) who dwells (Vasu) in all things and in whom all things dwell', and the meaning of Vishnu to be the 'pervading actor'. In Bhagavad Gita, similarly, 'Krishna identified himself both with Vāsudeva, Vishnu and their meanings'.[note 11]
Vāsudevism initially arose following the incorporation of the basic tenets of the authority of Vedism in India, which occurred during the 8th to 6th-century BCE. Vāsudeva then became the object of one of the earliest forms of personal deity worship in India, and is attested from around the 4th century BCE. At that time, Vāsudeva was already considered as a deity, as he appears in Pāṇini's writings in conjunction with Arjuna as an object of worship, since Pāṇini explains that a vāsudevaka is a devotee (bhakta) of Vāsudeva.
By the end of the 2nd century BCE, Vāsudeva was considered as Devadeva, the "God of Gods", the Supreme Deity, whose emblem was the mythical bird Garuda, as known from the Heliodorus pillar inscription. This pillar, offered by the Greek ambassador and devotee Heliodorus, also shows that Vāsudeva even received dedications from the Indo-Greeks, who also represented him on the coinage of Agathocles of Bactria (190–180 BCE). The Heliodorus pillar, joining earth, space, and heaven, is thought to symbolize the "cosmic axis" and express the cosmic totality of the Deity. Next to the pillar, a large Temple of Vāsudeva was discovered, where he was celebrated together with his deified kinsmen, the Vrishni heroes.
The cult of Vāsudeva was one of the major independent cults, together with the cults of Narayana, Shri and Lakshmi, which later coalesced to form Vishnuism. After the cult of Vāsudeva had been established, the tribe of the Vrishnis fused with the tribe of the Yadavas, who had their own hero-god named Krishna. The early Krishna is known from the Mahabharata, where he is described as the chief of the Yadavas kingdom of Dvārakā (modern Dwarka in Gujarat). The fused cult of Vāsudeva-Krishna became one of the significant traditions of the early history of Krishnaism, becoming a major component of the amalgamated worship of Krishna, the 8th incarnation of Vishnu. According to the Vaishnavite doctrine of the avatars, Vishnu takes various forms to rescue the world, and Vāsudeva-Krishna became understood as one of these forms, and one of the most popular ones. This process lasted from the 4th century BCE when Vāsudeva was an independent deity, to the 4th century CE, when Vishnu became much more prominent as the central deity of an integrated Vaishnavite cult, with Vāsudeva-Krishna now only one of his manifestations.
"Vāsudeva" is the first name to appear in the epigraphical record and in the earliest literary sources such as the writings of Pāṇini. It is unknown at what point of time precisely Vāsudeva came to be associated with "Krishna". The association between the names "Vāsudeva" and "Krishna" starts to appear with the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa, both completed in the 3rd century CE, where "Vāsudeva" appears as the patronymic of Krishna, his father being called Vasudeva Anakadundubhi in these writings. "Vāsudeva-Krishna" refers to "Krishna, son of Vasudeva", "Vāsudeva" in the lengthened form being a vṛddhi-derivative of the short form "Vasudeva" standing for Vasudeva Anakadundubhi, a type of formation very common in Sanskrit signifying "of, belonging to, descended from".
The cult of Vāsudeva may have evolved from the worship of a historical figure belonging to the Vrishni clan in the region of Mathura. He is known as a member of the five "Vrishni heroes".
It is thought that the hero deity Vāsudeva may have evolved into a Vaishnavite deity through a step-by-step process: 1) deification of the Vrishni heroes, of whom Vāduseva was the leader 2) association with the God Narayana-Vishnu 3) incorporation into the Vyuha concept of successive emanations of the God. In literature, the Vrishni heroes and Vāsudeva are mentioned by Pāṇini in Astadhyayi verse 6.2.34 around the 4th century BCE, while Krishna is referred to as Krishna Varshneya in verse 3.187.51 of the Mahabharata. Epigraphically, the deified status of Vāsudeva is confirmed by his appearance on the coinage of Agathocles of Bactria (190–180 BCE) and by the devotional character of the Heliodorus pillar inscription. Later, the association with Narayana (Vishnu) is confirmed by the Hathibada Ghosundi Inscriptions of the 1st century BCE. It is generally thought that "by the beginning of the Christian era, the cult of Vāsudeva, Vishnu and Narayana amalgamated". By the 2nd century CE, the "avatara concept was in its infancy", and the depiction of the four emanations of Vishnu (the Chatur-vyūha), consisting in the Vrishni heroes including Vāsudeva and minus Samba, starts to become visible in the art of Mathura at the end of the Kushan period.
The Harivamsa describes intricate relationships between Krishna Vāsudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha that would later form a Vaishnava concept of primary quadrupled expansion, or chatur vyuha.
The tradition of Vāsudeva-Krishna is considered as separate from other ancient traditions such as that of Gopala-Krishna, with which it amalgamated at a later stage of the historical development. Some early scholars equate it with Bhagavatism. The cult of Krishna Vāsudeva ultimately merged with various traditions such as Bhagavatism, the cult of Gopala-Krishna or the cult of Bala-Krishna, to form the basis of the current tradition of the monotheistic religion of Krishna:
"Present-day Krishna worship is an amalgam of various elements. According to historical testimonies, Krishna-Vāsudeva worship already flourished in and around Mathura several centuries before Christ. A second important element is the cult of Krishna Govinda. Still later is the worship of Bala-Krishna, the Divine Child Krishna – a quite prominent feature of modern Krishnaism. The last element seems to have been Krishna Gopijanavallabha, Krishna the lover of the Gopis, among whom Radha occupies a special position. In some books, Krishna is presented as the founder and first teacher of the Bhagavata religion."
When speaking about the historicity of the individual these traditions are based on according to Guy Beck, "most scholars of Hinduism and Indian history accept the historicity of Krishna – that he was a real male person, whether human or divine, who lived on Indian soil by at least 1000 BCE and interacted with many other historical persons within the cycles of the epic and puranic histories." Yet, Beck also notes that there is an "enormous number of contradictions and discrepancies surrounding the chronology of Krishna's life as depicted in the Sanskrit canon".
According to mythologies in the Jain tradition, Krishna was a cousin of Neminatha. Neminatha is believed in the Jain tradition to have been born 84,000 years before the 9th-century BCE Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara. The date of Krishna's birth is celebrated every year as Janmashtami.[page needed]
Present-day Krishna worship is an amalgam of various elements. According to historical testimonies Krishna-Vāsudeva worship already flourished in and around Mathura several centuries before Christ. A second important element is the cult of Krishna Govinda. Still later is the worship of Bala-Krishna, the Divine Child Krishna – a quite prominent feature of modern Krishnaism. The last element seems to have been Krishna Gopijanavallabha, Krishna the lover of the Gopis, among whom Radha occupies a special position. In some books, Krishna is presented as the founder and first teacher of the Bhagavata religion.
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