You can read the introduction for this post here: Introduction

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Starting Prayer

Om Nārāyaṇaṃ Namaskṛtya 

Naraṃ Caiva Narottamam

Devīṃ Sarasvatīṃ Caiva 

Tato Jayam Udīrayet

Om! The Jaya¹ should be uttered

After offering salutation to Narayana, 

The superlative human being Nara, 

And to the Goddess Sarasvati.

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Introduction

Ugrasrava, nicknamed Sauti, was the son of Lomaharshana. The humble Sauti was well-versed in the Puranic scriptures. One day, he arrived at the Naimisha forest. It was the reclusive abode of many great sages.

In that forest, there was a sage named Saunaka². He had recently completed an austerity that had lasted for twelve years. Upon the successful completion of that event, all the sages who had attended it were relaxing.

Eager to listen to Sauti’s Puranic stories, the sages welcomed their visitor with great enthusiasm. After resting and refreshing, Sauti settled down at the narrator’s seat. 

A sage from the audience asked, “Sauti, what’ve you been up to these days?”

The accomplished speaker, Sauti, replied:

I heard the beautiful stories of Mahabharata composed by Krishna-Dvaipayana (Veda Vyasa). Vaisampayana, Vyasa’s student, narrated the epic during Parikshith’s son, King Janamejaya’s Snake Yagna (fire sacrifice). Many great kings attended that grand-scale event. 

Then, I visited that place called Samanta-Panchaka. The Dvijas or learned pandits venerate that region. Samanta-Panchaka was the venue of that legendary battle. In that battle, all the leaders of this land sided with either the Kauravas or the Pandavas.

From Samanta Panchaka, I’ve traveled over here to visit you. Now, illustrious sages, shall I start my narration of the sacred Puranic stories?

A sage replied:

We’ve heard a lot about that esteemed history composed by Sage Krishna-Dvaipayana. Even the gods and noble sages have spoken highly about it. That eminent narrative is said to convey the Vedic teachings subtly. Crafted in elegant language, it covers many other subjects as well. We’re eager to hear the narration of that excellent composition of Vyasa.

Sauti began his narration:

I offer my obeisance to the primordial being Ishana. My salutations to the eternal Brahma and to Vishnu, who is benevolence itself. My reverence to Hari, who is the guru of all moveable and immovable things. 

Now, I will narrate the sacred thoughts of that eminent sage, Vyasa. This history has been, is being, and will continue to be published by many bards. This scripture is the delight of the learned and a great source of knowledge!

A Creation Theory

At first, there was total darkness. From there came into being the mighty egg, an inexhaustible seed of this creation. It was called the Maha Divya. From that emerged Lord Brahma, the prime Prajapati. Along with him came Sura-Guru³ and Sthanu⁴. 

Then appeared the twenty-one Prajapati-s. They were Manu, Vasishtha, Parameshthi, the ten Prachetas, Daksha, and the seven sons of Daksha. After that came the Vishva-Devas, Aditya, Vasus, the twin Ashvins, Yakshas, Sadhyas, Pisachas, Guhyakas, Pitris, Brahmarshis, Rajarshis, and so on. Everything else in Nature appeared one by one after that. 

It all started at the beginning of the Yuga cycle. Whatever we see in this universe will end upon the completion of the Yuga cycle. And, those Yuga cycles happen perpetually. In brief, the generation of Devas was thirty-three thousand, thirty-three hundred and thirty-three⁵.

The Lineage of Kurus

Initially, there was a person named Div. He had many sons who were collectively known as Viva-Svans. Mahya was the youngest of them, and he had a son named Deva-Vrata. 

In turn, Deva-Vrata had a son named Su-Vrata, and the latter had three sons named Dasa-Jyoti, Sata-Jyoti, and Sahasra-Jyoti. From them descended the families of Kuru, Yadu, Bharata, Yayati, Ikshwaku, and other Raja Rishi-s or the Royal Sages. The generations produced from them were numerous! 

About the Epic

The threefold mysteries, Vedas, Yoga, and Vignyana⁶, are a part of this epic. And, so are the worldly topics of Dharma, Artha, and Kaama⁷. Further, it includes the codes of conduct, histories, discourses from scriptures, and everything else perceived by Rishi (Sage) Vyasa. 

Rishi Vyasa completed his penance and maintained strict vows. By meditating on it, he analyzed the Vedas. He then composed this sacred history.

The Bharata⁸ was published in both a detailed and an abridged form. Some read this scripture along with the starting prayer as an invocation. Others begin from different sections in the first book. Many study the text as a whole. 

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Footnotes

  1. Jaya: The original name of the Mahabharata was Jaya.
  2. Saunaka: He was also known as Kulapati.
  3. Sura-Guru: The Guru of Suras/Devas was Brihaspati. In general, the Mahabharata makes many out-of-context references to the Deva clan. Listing Brihaspati alongside Brahma and Shiva appears to be an interpolation.
  4. Sthanu: Sthāṇu is another name of Shiva. The eleven Rudras were born from Sthāṇu. Alternatively, this is a hermit in the Deva clan. In this context, it is most likely Shiva.
  5. Count of Devas: Some scholars believe that the word Deva is an interpolation here. Since this is part of the creation theory, this might have been the count of unique species that existed at some point in time.
  6. Vignyana: Science.
  7. The Four Puruṣārthas: Dharma - righteousness, moral values, Artha - prosperity, economic values, Kaama - pleasure, love, psychological values, and Moksha - liberation, spiritual values. According to the scriptures, these are the goals for a peaceful and complete life.
  8. Bharata: In this context, another name for this epic.

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You can read the next part in this series here: Part 2

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