Note: In the previous post, Sauti explained the meaning of an akshauhini to the rishis. After that, he named the eighteen parvas of the Mahabharata along with the main stories and incidents described in them.

The following words are spoken by Sauti to Saunaka Kulapati (the rishi whose yagna all the other rishis had assembled to attend in Naimisha forest).

O Saunaka, this best of narrations called (Maha)Bharata that I am telling you about right now, was formerly repeated by an intelligent disciple of Vyasa at a sacrifice ordained by King Janamejaya. 

Every story in this world depends upon the Mahabharata just like the human body depends on the feet. This epic poetry, which speaks of the highest wisdom, is greatly cherished by all the poets. The wonderful sections of this poem are full of subtle meaning and contain the wisdom of the Vedas. This history, called the (Maha)Bharata provides us with the knowledge of the Brahman.

Now, I will tell you about the various sections that constitute this narrative.

Note: The following sub-parvas are from the Adi Parva, which is the 1st parva of The Mahabharata.

The first few parvas of the Adi Parva are:

  • Anukramanika Parva.
  • Sangraha Parva.
  • Paushya Parva.
  • Pauloma Parva.
  • Astika Parva.

Among these, the Paushya, Pauloma, and Astika parvas, describe the valor and fame of various kings. These parvas are filled with wonderful words and descriptions. They contain information about various rites and mannerisms. 

Note: Next, Sauti mentions other sub-parvas, of the Adi Parva.

  • Adivansavatarana Parva.
  • Sambhava Parva (containing wonderful and thrilling incidents).
  • Jatugrihadaha Parve (in which the house of lac is set on fire). 
  • Hidimbabadha Parva (the killing of Hidimba).
  • Baka-badha Parva (slaying of Bakasura).
  • Chitraratha Parva.
  • Swayamvara (Draupadi’s swayamvara).
  • Vaivahika Parva (Draupadi’s marriage).
  • Viduragamana Parva (advent of Vidura).
  • Rajyalabha Parva (where the Pandavas acquire the Khandavaprastha region for their kingdom).
  • Arjuna-banavasa Parva (exile of Arjuna).
  • Subhadra-harana Parva (the carrying away of Subhadra by Arjuna).
  • Harana-harika Parva.
  • Khandava-daha Parva (the burning of the Khandava forest). 
  • Maya-darsana (meeting with Maya the asura architect). 

The Mahabharata is a grand ithihasa with many heroic characters. Meet the Heroes from the Mahabharata in this illustrated hardcover by Amar Chitra Katha. You can also grab the Kindle edition below.

Note: The following sub-parvas belong to the Sabha Parva (which is the 2nd parva of The Mahabharata).

  • Sabhakriya Parva.
  • Mantra Parva.
  • Jarasandha Parva.
  • Digvijaya Parva.
  • Raja-suyaka Parva.
  • Arghyaviharana Parva.
  • Sisupala-badha Parva (the slaying of Sisupala).
  • Dyuta Parva (the game of dive).
  • Anudyuta (what happened after the game of dice).

Note: The following sub-parvas belong to the Vana Parva (which is the 3rd parva of The Mahabharata).

  • Aranyaka Parva.
  • Krimira-badha Parva (destruction of Krimira).
  • Arjuna-vigamana Parva (the travels of Arjuna).
  • Kairati Parva (describes the battle between Arjuna and Mahadeva who appeared in the guise of a hunter).
  • Indra-lokavigamana (Arjuna’s  journey to the regions of Indra).
  • Nalopakhyana (the story of Nala). 
  • Tirtha-yatra Parva (the pilgrimage of the wise prince of the Kurus).
  • Yaksha-yudha Parva (the death of Jatasura, and the battle of the Yakshas). 
  • Nivata-kavacha-yudha Parva.
  • Ajagara Parva.
  • Markandeya-Samasya Parva (meeting with Markandeya). 
  • Draupadi Satyabhama Samvada Parva (Meeting of Draupadi and Satyabhama).
  • Ghoshayatra Parva.
  • Mirga-Swapna (dream of the deer).
  • Then the story of Brihadaranyaka and then Aindradrumna. 
  • Draupadi-harana Parva (the abduction of Draupadi).
  • Jayadratha-bimoksana Parva (the release of Jayadratha).
  • Then the story of Savitri that illustrates the great merit of chastity.
  • The story of Rama.
  • Kundala-harana Parva (the theft of the ear-rings).
  • Aranya Parva.

Hunaman from Ramayana makes an appearance in the Mahabharata too! He meets Bhima when the latter is on a search for the Saugandhika flower Draupadi wants. Hanuman is Bhima’s older brother as they share the same father, Vayu Deva. Why not read about their interaction in this illustrated book by Amar Chitra Katha?

Note: The Vairata parva which is the 4th parva of the Mahabharata describes the stay of the Pandavas, in disguise, for a year in King Virata’s palace. It contains the following stories.

  • The entry of the Pandavas and the fulfillment of their promise to live in disguise for a year without being recognized by anyone. 
  • The destruction of the Kichakas
  • The Kauravas’ attempt to take King Virata’s cows.
  • The marriage of Abhimanyu with the daughter of King Virata. 

Note: Next comes the Udyoga Parva, which is the 5th parva in the Mahabharata. It consists of the following stories.

  • Sanjaya-yana Parva (the arrival of Sanjaya).
  • The sleeplessness of Dhritarashtra due owing to his anxiety.
  • Sanatsujata Parva, which contains the mysteries of spiritual philosophy. 
  • Yanasaddhi Parva.
  • The arrival of Krishna and the Bhagawat-yana Parva follows. This contains the stories of Matali, Galava, Savitri, Vamadeva, and Vainya, Jamadagnya and Shodasarajika.
  • Bidulaputrasasana.
  • Both sides muster their troops. 
  • The story of Sheta. 
  • The quarrel of the high-souled Karna. 
  • Troops of both sides march to the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
  • Among the various soldiers, the Rathis and Atirathas are numbered.
  • Duryodhana sends Uluka with a message to the Pandava camp, which angers the latter.
  • The story of Amba. 
  • Bhishma is named the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army.

Note: The 6th parva of the Mahabharata is the Bhishma Parva. It consists of the following stories.

  • The creation of the region of Jambu, Bhumi, and the account of the formation of islands. 
  • The ‘Bhagavat Gita.
  • The death of Bhishma. 

It is in Bhishma Parva that Krishna shared the Bhagavad Gita with Arjuna and encouraged him to fight the Kurukshetra War. Grab this English translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Bibek Debroy to explore the complexities of Krishna’s wisdom.

Note: The 7th parva is the Drona Parva. Following are the stories included in this parva.

  • The installation of Drona.
  • The destruction of the Sansaptakas.
  • The death of Abhimanyu.
  • The vow of Arjuna to slay Jayadratha.
  • The death of Jayadratha.
  • The death of Ghatotkacha.
  • The death of Drona.
  • The discharge of the Narayana astra.

Note: The 8th parva of the Mahabharata is the Karna Parva. Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation simply names this parva without going into any details.

Note: The 9th parva of the Mahabharata is the Salya Parva. It contains the following stories.

  • Duryodhan immerses himself in a lake.
  • The encounter between Bhima and Duryodhana.
  • Saraswata Parva.
  • Descriptions of holy shrines.
  • Description of various genealogies.

Note: The Sauptika parva (which is the 10th parva) contains disgraceful incidents performed by the Kauravas after the war was over. This refers to the remaining Pandava soldiers being killed when they were sleeping and the wounding of the embryo in Uttara’s womb by Ashwathaman.

Note: The 11th parva is the Stri Parva. It contains the following incidents.

  • Jalapradana: the oblations of water to the manes of the deceased.
  • The wailings of the women because of the destruction and grief caused by the war.
  • Sraddha: describing the funeral rites performed for the slain Kauravas. 

Note: The 12th parva is the Shanti Parva. It contains the following incidents.

  • The destruction of the Rakshasa Charvaka who tried to deceive Yudhishthira in the guise of a brahmana. 
  • The coronation of the wise Yudhishthira. 
  • Grihapravibhaga Parva.
  • Rajadharmanusasana Parva.
  • Apaddharma Parva.
  • Mokshadharma Parva.
  • After these come the discussions known as Suka-prasna-abhigamana, Brahma-prasnanusana.
  • An explanation of the origin of Sage Durvasa.
  • The dispute with Maya asura. 

Our Puranas are filled with many marvelous stories about our devas, danavas, and other great personalities. Read 100 retold tales from the Puranas – Mahagatha: 100 Tales from the Puranas by Satyarth Nayak.

The next parva (the 13th parva) is the Anusasanika. It contains the incident of the ascension of Bhishma to heaven, followed by several other discussions. 

The 14th parva is the Ashwamedhika Parva. It contains the story of Yudhishthira’s horse ceremony and the Anugita – which are words of spiritual importance.

The 15th parva is the Ashramvasa Parva. It contains an account of the Pandavas’ meeting with the spirits of their deceased sons, followed by the arrival of Narada.

The 16th parva is the Mausala Parva. It is filled with cruel and terrible incidents (such as the death of Sri Krishna, Balarama, and the infighting within the Yadava race). 

The next parva is the Mahaprasthanika Parva which describes the journey of the Pandavas to heaven. This is the 17th parva.

Finally, comes the Purana called Khilvansa. It contains Vishnuparva (Vishnu’s frolics and feats as a child), the destruction of Kansa, and the very wonderful Bhavishyaparva (in which there are prophecies regarding the future).

The high-souled Vyasa, composed 300 parvas and organized them into 18 sections (also called parvas). The above is a brief outline of the same.

Table of Contents

Previous: The Meaning of One Akshauhini

Next: A Summary of the Adi Parva

Note: As we read in the previous post, Sauti described the battles that took place at Samanta-Panchaka, and why the site is considered holy. He mentioned the word, akshauhini, while speaking of the strength of the armies that had assembled for the battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas. After hearing the story of Samanta-Panchaka, the rishis wanted to know the meaning of akshauhini and the number of soldiers, horses, and elephants that constituted one akshauhini. The following are Sauti’s words to the rishis as he explained the meaning of one akshauhini. 

One Patti is made up of one chariot, one elephant, five foot soldiers, and three horses.

One Sena-Mukha is made up of three Pattis.

One Gulma is made up of three Sena-Mukhs.

One Gana, constitutes three Gulmas.

One Vahini is made up of three Ganas.

One Pritana is made up of three Vahinis.

Three Pritanas make up one Chamu.

Three Chamus form one Anikini.

One Akshuhini is made up of ten Anikinis.

If we do the math, one Alshauhini is made up of 21,870 Pattis. Therefore, one Akshauhini has:

  • 21,870 chariots
  • 21,870 elephants
  • 65,610 horses
  • 109,350 foot-soldiers

Note: Sauti continued with additional information about the commanders and how long they fought.

  • Bhishma fought for ten days. 
  • Drona fought for five days. 
  • Kama fought for two days.
  • Salya for half a day. 

Then, for half a day, Duryodhana and Bhima fought with clubs. That night, Aswatthaman and Kripa destroyed the remainder of the Pandavas’ army while they were sleeping.

Table of Contents

Previous: The Story of Samanta-Panchaka

Next: A Brief Outline of all the Eighteen Parvas of the Mahabharata


Note: In this post, Sauti explains the benefits of reading the Mahabharata.

The study of the (Maha)Bharata is an act of worship. Those who read even a bit of this story with true belief have their sins purged away. This epic mentions devas, devarishis, and immaculate brahmarishis of good deeds. It also speaks of yakshas and great uragas (nagas). It describes the eternal Vasudeva possessing the six attributes. He is the true and just, pure and holy, the eternal Brahma, the supreme soul, the true constant light, whose divine deeds are recounted by the wise and learned. From him has arisen the non-existent and existent-non-existent universe that has within it, principles of creation, progression, birth, death, and rebirth.

The overseeing spirit of nature, which partakes of the attributes of the five elements, has also been discussed. Also discussed is Purusha, who is beyond any titles. 

The foremost yatis, who have immense power of meditation and tapas, and are exempt from common destiny, dwell in their hearts beholding an image as a reflection in a mirror. This image is also discussed in the Mahabharata.

A devoted person who has faith and lives a virtuous life, is freed from sin by reading this introduction. If such a person listens to this section being recited, he does not fall into any difficulty. The person who repeats any part of this section during the two twilights is freed from the sins they may have committed during the day or the night. This section of the epic is like truth and nectar, and this entire epic (The Mahabharata) is the most refined of all histories. It is similar to what butter is to curd or what a brahmana is to two-legged creatures or what the Aranyaka is to the Vedas.

People offer food and drink to their ancestors during shradha. However, when that offering is combined with causing even a part of this epic to be recited to the brahmanas, their offering to the ancestors increases manifold and becomes inexhaustible.

The Vedas are explained with the help of itihaas (history) and Puranas. However, the Vedas are afraid of people with half information who may misrepresent their knowledge. The learned person who recites this fifth Veda (the Mahabharata) receives many advantages. This act can cleanse many sins including the sin of harming the embryo. Reading the introduction of the epic is similar to reading the entire epic. The person who listens every day to this sacred work with reverence acquires a long life, fame, and ascends to heaven.

In ancient days, the celestials wanted to determine which among the Vedas and this epic (the Bharata) was more important. When they weighed the qualities of all four Vedas on one side and the Bharata on the other, they found that the Bharata was of greater importance in comparison to all the four Vedas with their profound mysteries. From that time, this epic has been known as the Mahabharata (the great Bharata). It is considered to be of immense importance in both the quality and depth of its content. It is said that the person who understands the true meaning of the Mahabharata is saved from all sins.

Tapa is innocent. The study of scriptures and various subjects is harmless. The rules that the Vedas prescribe for all the tribes are harmless. The acquiring of wealth through hard work is harmless. However, they become harmful and the source of evil when they are misused.

Note: I want to take this opportunity to mention a concept that I have come across in recent times. It’s called transformative reading or therapeutic reading

You might be surprised to know that the ancient Greeks considered Aristotle’s literature to be medicine for the soul. King Ramses of Egypt: a pharoah who lived between 1303–1213 BC, built a library that he called “House of Healing for the Soul.” 

Doctors, in the 1800s prescribed books along with medicines to their patients, and soldiers returning from World War I read books to overcome war trauma. Caroline Schroder, a researcher of this topic, added that characters from literature influence readers who identify with them.

The Auroville Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual consort, used to say that reading Sri Aurobindo’s works can cause a transformation of the entire being over a period of time. I believe this is true for any literature that is written from a higher consciousness and without doubt, The Mahabharata has been written from a state of extremely high consciousness.


  1. Image credit: Ying Ge on Unsplash

Table of Contents

Previous: Sanjaya Consoles Dhritarashtra

Next: The Story of Samanta Panchaka

Note: In the previous post, we learned how Lord Ganesha became Vyasa Muni’s scribe to help him write his epic – (Maha)Bharata. In this post, we will see how Sauti uses the simile of a tree to describe the various characters and parts of the Mahabharata. These words are spoken by Sauti to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest.

I know 8800 hundred verses of the Bharata. So does Suka, and perhaps Sanjaya. But many slokas are closely knit and difficult to understand. No one has been able to fully understand their meaning. Even the omniscient Ganesha took a moment to reflect on their true meaning, and while Ganesha was reflecting, Vyasa continued to compose other verses in abundance.

The wisdom of this work, through its discourses on religion, profit, pleasure, and final release, has illuminated many people’s minds and dispelled the darkness of ignorance. 

This Purana (The Bharata) expands human intelligence just like the full moon expands the petals of the water lily. Thus, through the lamp of history, that destroys the darkness of ignorance, all of nature is properly and completely illuminated.

Note: The Mahabharata consists of 18 parvas. You can think of the parvas as books that form a series. Each parva consists of several sub-parvas, that can be thought of as chapters. The first parva of The Mahabharata is the Adi Parva which has several sub-parvas such as Pauloma Parva, Astika Parva, Sambhava Parva, etc. In the next paragraph, Sauti first compares 3 sub-parvas of the Adi Parva to different parts of a tree and then continues the comparison with several (main) parvas. Through this comparison, the reader gets to know the name of the parvas and their role in the epic.

This work (The Bharata) is like a tree.

The chapter of contents is the seed. 

The Pauloma and Astika sub-parvas are the roots. The Sambhava sub-parva is the trunk. 

The Sabha and Aranya parvas are the roosting perches. 

The Arani parva is the knitting knot. 

The Virata and Udyoga parvas are the pith. 

The Bhishma parva is the main branch.

The Drona parva is like the leaves. 

The Karna parva is like the fair flowers. 

The Salya parva is like their sweet smell. 

The Stri and Aishika parvas are like a refreshing shade. 

The Santi parva is the mighty fruit. 

The Aswamedha parva is the immortal sap. 

The Asramavasika parva is the spot where the tree grows. 

The Mausala parva is an epitome of the Vedas and is held in great respect by the virtuous brahmanas. 

This inexhaustible tree of the Bharata will be a source of livelihood for all distinguished poets.

Note: Vichitra-Virya was the son of Shantanu and Satyavati. Satyavati also had another son, Ved Vyasa, from Rishi Parashara.

I will now tell you about the beautiful and fruitful productions of this tree. In former times, the virtuous Ved Vyasa was urged by his mother (Satyavati) and the grandsire of the Kuru race (Bhishma) to father children with the two wives of Vichittra-Virya in order to continue the Kuru lineage. 

Ved Vyasa fathered three sons in all. They were Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura. After performing his duty to the Kuru lineage, Ved Vyasa returned to his home, where he stayed as a reclusive hermit, and continued with his religious practices.

Ved Vyasa published this story – The Bharata – in the region of humans, only after these three sons had grown up and left their physical bodies on the supreme journey of the soul. Much later, Vyasa Muni was present at a sacrifice conducted by Janamejaya (great-grandson of Arjuna and son of King Parikshit). There, he was urged by Janamejaya and thousands of brahmins to recite the (Maha)Bharata. Thus requested, he asked his disciple Vaishampayana to recite the (Maha)Bharata during the intervals in the ceremony.

In this epic composition, Vyasa Muni has fully represented the greatness of the Kurus, the virtuous principles of Gandhari, the wisdom of Vidura, and the constancy of Kunti. The noble Rishi has also described the divinity of Vasudeva, the righteousness of the sons of Pandu, and the evil practices of the sons and supporters of Dhritarashtra.

Vyasa Muni’s original composition contained 24,000 verses. Only these verses are called the Bharata by the learned people. Afterward, he composed 150 verses consisting of the introduction with the chapter of contents. 

He first taught these verses to his son, Suka, and then to his disciples who had the same qualifications as his son. 

After teaching the main verses, he created another compilation consisting of 6,000,000 verses. These are partly known in different regions, as follows:

  • 3,000,000 verses were transmitted by Narada Muni to the devas.
  • 1,500,000 verses were transmitted by Devala to the pitris.
  • 1,400,000 verses were transmitted by Suka to the gandharvas, yakshas, and rakshasas.
  • 100,000 verses were recited by Vaishampayana in the world of humans.

Note: Next Sauti compares the Pandavas, Krishna, Brahma, and the brahmanas to a tree.

  • Yudhishthira is a vast tree, formed of religion and virtue.
  • Arjuna is its trunk.
  • Bhimasena, its branches.
  • The two sons of Madri (Nakula and Sahadev) are its full-grown fruit and flowers.
  • The roots of this tree are Krishna, Brahma, and the brahmanas.

Full Index: Table of Contents

Previous: Lord Ganesha Becomes Vyasa Muni’s Scribe

Next: A Brief Summary of The Mahabharata

The egg of creation (Image source:

Note: Here, Sauti describes the creation story of the universe (as described in the Adi Parva of The Mahabharata) to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest. I have presented this description using bullet points for ease of comprehension. 

In the beginning, this world was in total darkness. The primal cause of creation came into being, out of this darkness, at the beginning of the yuga. This primal cause is called Mahadivya – a mighty egg and the one inexhaustible seed of all created beings. This mighty egg contained the true light Brahma: the eternal and omnipresent being, the invisible and subtle cause of all creation, and whose nature included entity and non-entity.

Note: In the paragraph above, the phrase ‘mighty egg’ may be a metaphor for a metaphysical concept.

The first beings to emerge from this egg were Pitamaha Brahma (the true Prajapati) along with Suraguru and Sthanu. After them, all of creation emerged in the following order:

  1. Then appeared the twenty-one Prajapatis: Manu, Vasishtha, Parameshthi, etc.
  2. After that came ten Prachetas, Daksha, and the seven sons of Daksha. 
  3. Then appeared the man of inconceivable nature whom all the Rishis know and so the Viswe-devas, the Adityas, the Vasus, and the twin Aswins.
  4. The Yakshas, the Sadhyas, the Pisachas, the Guhyakas, and the Pitris came next.
  5. After these were produced the wise and most holy Brahmarshis, and the numerous Rajarshis, distinguished by every noble quality.
  6. The water, the heavens, the earth, the air, the sky, the points of the heavens, the years, the seasons, the months, and the fortnights (called Pakshas, with day and night in due succession). And thus were produced all things which are known to mankind.

However, all these (apparent) beings and things, whether animate or inanimate, will be destroyed at the end of the yuga, and their essence will return to the source to be renewed into existence when the next yuga begins. Thus, this cycle continues without a beginning or end.

Note: After describing the creation of the universe and various beings, Sauti went on to describe the creation of devas in detail.

33,333 devas were created.

Div had 10 sons: 

  1. Brihadbhanu
  2. Chakshus
  3. Atma 
  4. Vibhavasu
  5. Savita
  6. Richika
  7. Arka
  8. Bhanu
  9. Asavaha
  10. Ravi. 

Mahya was the youngest son among these Vivaswans (might mean Suns or great souls)

Mahya had a son called Deva-vrata. Dev-vrata had a son called Su-vrata, and Su-vrata had three sons: 

  1. Dasa-jyoti (who eventually had 10,000 offspring)
  2. Sata-jyoti (who eventually had 100,000 offspring)
  3. Sahasra-jyoti (who eventually had 1,000,000 offspring)

The offsprings of Dasa-jyoti, Sata-jyoti, and Sahasra-jyoti gave rise to the various illustrious families of the Kurus, Yadus, and Bharata. The families of Yayati and Ikshwaku were also descendants of these offspring and so were all the Rajarshis. 

Numerous generations were produced from these illustrious families. These beings and their homes were full of abundance.

Note: Sauti goes on to describe Ved Vyasa’s breadth of knowledge and how he incorporated it into the Mahabharata.

Ved Vyasa has seen various books written on the subjects of the threefold mysteries of the Vedas, Yoga, and Vijnana Dharma, Artha, and Kama. He has seen books on Dharma, Artha, and Kama. He has also seen books about the rules of the conduct of mankind as well as histories and discourses with various srutis.

All these books are represented in his composition: (Maha)Bharata.

Full Index: Table of Contents

Previous: Ugrasrava Sauti Goes to Naimisha Forest

Next: Lord Ganesha Becomes Vyasa Muni’s Scribe