History of Mahabharat :

Both Ramayan and Mahabharat are mentioned as Ithihas (translated as history but more precisely means creative rendering of historical narratives) and not as Puran (generally interpreted as mythology, but more correctly referring to creative narratives of events older than the narrator). Ved Vyas traditionally considered to have written the Puran and Mahabharat. He clearly distinguishes the two by calling the latter an Itihas, which in Sanskrit means history [ithi – it; has – happened so].

The word ‘Itihas’ is a conjunct that can be broken down as

iti+ha+s meaning thus+verily+it was / so+indeed+it was/ this is how it was then

Itihas thus refers to history and is also a very accurate word. Other words often listed as synonyms for itihaasa are also used in other contexts. Examples – caritra can be used in other contexts (eg. character) and Vrutant usually reporting one incident. However, there is no other meaning for itihas. It is used only in one context, that of history. On the other hand, Puran, although understood as mythology, actually refers to ‘an event of the past, an ancient legend or old traditional history’. Every Puran would speak high of the personality central to the theme whereas itihas has no such compulsions. It would speak of things as they were.

Ramayan and Mahabharat :

In Ramayan, ayan means journey. Examples: dakshi yan – Southern journey; uttara yan – Northern journey; Rama yan – Rams journey. The word ayan also implies some kind of returning path, as Ram goes and returns. These are a form of conjunct words where the first word is a genitive form, so Ramayan actually translates to Ramasya ayanah.

Mahabharat refers to ‘narration relating to Bharat’, ‘great history/legend of the descendants of Bharat’ and ‘great tale of Bharat dynasty’. Mahabharat composed by Ved Vyas was originally called Jaya (mentioned in the first verse).

Narayanam namaskritya - Having bowed to Narayan

Naram chaiva narottamam - Arjuna–naram and krishna–narottam

Devim sarasvatim caiva - and to Devi Sarasvati

Tato jayam udirayet - Utter the word jaya / recite the text called jaya

It is narrated by Ved Vyas's disciple sage Vaisampayan to King Janamejay, the great-grandson of Arjun. The story is then recited again by the professional storyteller Ugrasrav to an assemblage of sages in the forest of Naimisharanyam. All these are mentioned in the Mahabharat. Parallel sources such as the Brahman texts also give list of kings mentioned in Mahabharat. Notwithstanding the general understanding and interpretation, Ramayan and Mahabharat are traditionally considered historical texts.

Composer of Mahabharat :

The name of Ved Vyas, the composer of Mahabharat, is Badarayan (the one from Badari). He comes in the lineage of Brahma, Sage Vasisht, Sage Shakti and Sage Parashar. He was the great-grandson of Sage Vasisht (he therefore was also called Vasisht, i.e. belonging to the family of Sage Vasisht), grandson of Sage Shakti and son of Sage Parashar. He was also called Dwaipayana since he was born in a Dweep (island). He was referred as Krishna Dwaipayana because of his dark skin (Krishna means black). He is, however, generally known as Vyas because of his monumental work in organizing the Vedas, which till then existed as one, into four parts. Vyas, in Sanskrit literally means to arrange, to compile. Encyclopedia Britannica mentions of Vyas as having lived near the banks of river Saraswati.

Mahabharat :

Mahabharat has 18 parts, 98 chapters, 2352 divisions and 96,635 shloks. It is said that Vyas originally wrote 60,00,000, i.e. 60 lakhs shloks. What has come down to us is about 1 lakh shloks only. Vyas taught Mahabharat to Suka, his son and some of his disciples, one of whom was Vaisampayan. When Janamejay (great grandson of Arjun) conducted a yajna, Vaisampayan narrated the Mahabharat as told by Vyas. Ugrasrav (son of Romaharshan, a disciple of Vyas) known as Sut (referring to a professional storyteller) was also present at that time. He went to ‘Naimisharanya’ where there was a gathering of rishis (one of them was Saunak) and there he told them the epic. It is mentioned that this is the place where Mahabharat was first told in public and the version that has come down to us.

Details of Kurukshetra war :

Army strength and its divisions :

Ved Vyas gives extensive details of the army. Eighteen Akshouhinis took part in the war, 11 on the side of the Kauravs and 7 on the side of Pandavs. Table 1 outlines the makeup of one Akshouhini.

An Akshauhini is defined as a battle formation consisting of 21,870 chariots (Sanskrit ratha); 21,870 elephants; 65,610 cavalry and 109,350 infantry as per the Mahabharata (Adi Parva 2.15-23).

The Rishis said, 'We have a desire to know, O son of Suta, what is implied by the term Akshauhini that hath been used by thee. Tell us in full what is the number of horse and foot, chariots and elephants, which compose an Akshauhini for thou art fully informed.'"

Sauti said, 'One chariot, one elephant, five foot-soldiers, and three horses form one Patti; three pattis make one Sena-mukha; three sena-mukhas are called a Gulma; three gulmas, a Gana; three ganas, a Vahini; three vahinis together are called a Pritana; three pritanas form a Chamu; three chamus, one Anikini; and an anikini taken ten times forms, as it is styled by those who know, an Akshauhini. O ye best of Brahmanas, arithmeticians have calculated that the number of chariots in an Akshauhini is twenty-one thousand eight hundred and seventy.

Calculations :

1 chariot, 1 elephant, five foot-soldiers, and three horses = 1 patti

3 Pattis = 1 Sena-Mukha (3 chariots, 3 elephants, 15 infantry, 9 horses)

3 Sena-Mukhas = 1 Gulma (9 chariots, 9 elephants, 45 infantry, 27 horses)

3 Gulmas = 1 Gana (27 chariots, 27 elephants, 135 infantry, 81 horses)

3 Ganas = 1 Vahini (81 chariots, 81 elephants, 405 infantry, 243 horses)

3 Vahinis = 1 Pritana (243 chariots, 243 elephants, 1215 infantry, 729 horses)

3 Pritanas = 1 Chamu (729 chariots, 729 elephants, 3645 infantry, 2187 horses)

3 Chamus = 1 Anikini (2187 chariots, 2187 elephants, 10935 infantry, 6561 horses)

10 Anikini = 1 Akshauhini (21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 109,350 infantry, 65,610 horses)

Adi Parva (MBH 2.15-23)

Military details :

From Pandav Side :

7 Aksauhini Details of Pandav Army Udyoga Parv (MBh 5.151)

From Kaurav Side :

11 Aksauhini Details of Kaurava Army Bhishm Parv (MBH 6.19)

Total 18 Akshauhini which consists of :

109,350 * 18 = 1,968,300 Infantry Soldiers

65,610 * 18 = 1,180,980 Cavalry Soldiers

21,870 * 2 * 18 = 787,320 Chariots (one driver one warrior)

21,870 * 2 * 18 = 787,320 Elephants (one driver one warrior)

Total = 4,723,920

Loss of Life in the Battle :

Vaishampayan said, "Hearing these words of Vasudev that were disagreeable to her, Gandhari, with heart exceedingly agitated by grief, remained silent. The royal sage Dhritarashtra, however, restraining the grief that arises from folly, enquired of Yudhishthir the just, saying, ‘If, O son of Pandu, thou knowest it, tell me the number of those that have fallen in this battle, as also of those that have escaped with life!’

"Yudhishthir answered, ‘One billion 660 million and 20,000 men have fallen in this battle. Of the heroes that have escaped, the number is 240,165.’

Yudhishtira's figure :

1,660,020,000 Martyrs

240,165 Alive

Total = 1,660,260,165 participation

Importance of the number 18 in Bharat Varsh :

The importance of number 18 in Bharat Varsh has been pointed out by many. The recurrence of number 18 in Mahabharat is also very interesting. Vyas wrote 18 Puran. Mahabharat is divided in 18 Parvs (parts). The Gita has 18 chapters. The Kurukshetra war lasted for 18 days.

The war in Ramayan continued for 18 months and the war between the Devs and Asurs took 18 years. Bhishma teaches Yudhishthir 18 different Raj Needhi (dharma) and so on.

Interestingly, the number of Akshouhinis (army unit) that took part in the Kurukshetra war was also 18.

Even in the composition of one Akshouhini, number 18 seems to play a role. For example, it is interesting that individual addition of the numbers in each unit adds upto 18 :

21,870 chariots/elephants (2+1+8+7+0=18)

65,610 horses (6+5+6+1=18)

1,09,350 cavalry men (1+0+9+3+5+0=18)

If all these numbers are added (i.e. make up of one Akshouhini) , i.e. 21870 + 21870 + 65610 + 109350, the resultant number 2,18,700 also displays the same feature, i.e. addition of the individual numbers (2+1+8+7+0+0=18) results in 18.

Warrior competence :

Rathi – Fights with one charioteer at a time.

Atirathi – Fights against many soldiers at the same time

(eg – Krup, Dhurmug, Vivimsathi, Uttamauj and Uttra).

Maharathi – Fights against 10,000 charioteers at the same time

(eg – Dhron, Kripacharya, Bowrav, the five sons of Draupadi, Virat)