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The Historicity of the Mahabharata War

The Mahabharata war was an important battle of Ancient India mentioned in the epic – Mahabharata. It was a fratricidal war fought between Kauravas and Pandavas for the throne of Hastinapur. In fact, Kauravas and Pandavas were from the same Kuru clan. Then why they were called differently called Kauravas and Pandavas? The reason was the dispute between them. To differentiate the opposing parties, they were named differently to recognise them clearly.

          According to the Historians, Mahabharata war was fought in 3102 BC. And this date is the end of Dwaparayuga and beginning of Kali yuga. It was the most fierce battle of that time of duration of eighteen days. In this battle the kings of whole of India of that time were aligned in Kaurava and Pandava army. In the Sabha parva, we have got a description of all kingdoms of India. In order to invite for Rajasuya Yajna, the eldest PandavaYudhistira sent his four brothers in four directions – North, South, East and West. Later in the battle of Mahabharata all these kings were present in the Kurukhetra.

          Some raise eye brows that why in a family quarrel, the outsider kings joined the war. What interest they had got? It is inexplicable. Anyhow, it is true that the battle was fought. Evidence has been mentioned in Aihole inscription, Karnataka, Badami of 6th century A.D. Chalukya era.

          The Proceedings of the war is of 18 days. But the generalship ascribed to different persons is doubtful. In our popular imagination, Pitamaha Bhisma has been given 10 days, Drona 5 days, Karna 2 days, Salya half day. But research says – the later editions of Mahabharata have deliberately adjusted the days in order to keep the prestige of Bhisma. Researchers have said – on the third day of battle, when Lord Sri Krishna, out of anger ran towards Bhisma holding Sudarshana Chakra in his hand, had, in fact, killed Bhisma at that time.

That means Bhisma was killed on the third day itself. Then the calculation of generalship would be bizarre. Bhisma – 3 days, Drona – 12 days, Karna – 2 days, Salya – half day. In that case, the prestige of Bhisma would have gone down. So, the editors deliberately kept the prestige of Bhisma. In this way, the later writers of the epic have rationalized the events. But the reality is something else. For example, on the day of Chakravyuha, when Abhimanyu intered the Chakravyuha alone, the four Pandava brothers were supposed to accompany him for help. But they were checked by Jayadratha, the king of Sindhudesh and son in law of Dhritarashtra.

          By dint of boon of Lord Shiva, on that particular day, Jayadratha would remain undefeated by four Pandava brothers, except Arjuna. So Jayadratha remained undefeated by them. Sarala Das has said in the Odiya Mahabharata that in this situation, Judhistira earnestly requested Jayadratha to leave them, as their son Abhimanyu had entered the Chakravyuha alone. He needed help. But Jayadratha did not listen. So, Abhimanyu was killed in the Vyuha.

          This has not been narrated in Sanskrit Mahabharata, in order to keep the prestige of Yudhistira and other Pandavas. Thus, many materials have not been correctly described in the Sanskrit version, although it belongs to the great tradition of India. So, we got a distorted picture of Mahabharata Battle. It is unfortunate. Why we are not accepting the reality. However, the eighteen days battle of Mahabharata was a milestone in Ancient Indian warfare.

The warriors like Bhisma, Drona, Karna, Salya, Kripacharya, Aswasthama, Bhima, Arjuna, Ghatotkach, Satyaki, Dhristadymaa, Nakul, Sahadev, Drupada, Virata, and Lord Krishna himself are rare heroes of the epic time. British readers of Mahabharata were astonished that in Virata Parva of the epic, Arjuna alone defeated all the eminent warriors of Kaurava’s side with a single arrow – Sammohana Vaana. Then why it took 18 days to annihilate the Kauravas.

          One thing may be mentioned here that the Aswasthama elephant whom Bhima killed, had been taken from Hatibari forest of Sambalpur of Odisha. The king of Malwa had taken this elephant and domesticated it. And when he took part in Mahabharata Battle, he took the Aswasthama elephant there. Sarala Das has written in Odiya Mahabharata-

          “Malavadeshara raja




                                                                   (Drona Parva)

          Really Mahabharata war was a tremendous battle. 18 aukshahinis soldiers (11 Kauravas, 7 Pandavas) took part in the battle. But only 13 persons survived. It was almost a pyrrhic victory for Pandavas. Anyhow, it was a victory of Dharma and defeat of Adharma.

          That is all; and nothing else.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

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Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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