Compiled: 3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE
Present form of text: ca. 400 CE



Introduction commissioned.

alternative text

A scene from the Story of the Marriage of Abhimanyu and Vatsala depicting a disguised Ghatotkacha in Vatsala’s House. Folio from a Mahabharata. Maharashtra, India, circa 1850. Watercolor on paper, LACMA | Source:

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Works Cited

List of works cited, if applicable.


Translation of the complete/incomplete Critical Edition of the Sanskrit Text:
Vyasa, Krishna-Dwaipayana. The Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa. Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, vol. 12, Andesite Press, India, 2017.
Vyasa, Krishna-Dwaipayana. The Mahabharata. Translated by J. A. B. van Buitenen, vol. 11, University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Abridged Translations of the Critical Edition of the Sanskrit Text:
Vyasa, Krishna-Dwaipayana. The Mahābhārata: An English Version Based on Selected Verses. Translated by C. V. Narasimhan, U.S. ed., Columbia University Press, 1997.
The Mahabharata. Translated by John D. Smith. Penguin, 2009.

Abridged Retellings:
Arni, Samhita. The Mahabharatha: A Child’s View. Tara Books, Chennai, India, 2017.
Carrière, Jean-Claude. Le Mahabharata. U.S. ed., Harper Collins, New York, 1987.
Carrière, Jean-Claude. Le Mahabharata. Methuen Drama, India, 2017.
Lidchi-Grassi, Maggi. The Great Golden Sacrifice of the Mahabharata. Random House, India, 2011.
Sattar, Arshia. The Mahabharata for Children. Juggernaut Books, New Delhi
Satyamurti, Carole. The Mahabharata. U.S. ed., W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2020.

Contemporary Retellings:
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. The Palace of Illusions: A Novel. Picador, India, 2019.

The Bhagavad Gita:
Van Buitenen, J. A. B., translator. The Bhagavadgītā in the Mahābhārata: Text and Translation. University of Chicago Press, 1981. (includes Sanskrit text in English transliteration)
Miller, Barbra Stoler, translator. The Bhagavad Gita. Bantam Books, 1986.
Patton, Laurie L., translator. The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin, 2008.

Critical Essays:
Karve, Irawati Karmarkar. Yuganta: The End of an Epoch. Orient Black Swan, Hyderabad, India, 2017.

The above bibliography was compiled by Arshia Sattar.


Further Reading:

Ram Dass. Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita. Harmony, 2005.


Illustrated edition:
Dharma, Krishna. Mahabharata. Illustrated by Giampaolo Tomassetti. Niyogi Books, New Delhi, India, 2015.

Mahabharata Paintings by MF Hussain, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA

Pahari Paintings: Mahabharata Series, Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection, online catalogue

Mystical Realm of Love, a book on the Pahari plantings in the Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection.

Mystique of the Epic.” Exhibition of paintings by Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya at the Kolkata Center for Creativity, March 2020. “The series delves into the allure and relevance of this epic which transcends the frontiers of India and belongs to all of humanity in its delicate ambivalence, true to reality stance in presenting all the aspects, the nuances and the forms of human life.”

Various paintings of the Mahabharata.

Relief of an Episode of Kiratarjuniya from the Mahabharata, 12th century.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Royal Hunt.” Folio from a Mahabharata, ca. 1800–1850, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Council of Heroes.” Page from a Dispersed Mahabharata (Great Descendants of Mahabharata), ca. 1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York.

Mahabharata Series by Italian Painter Giampaolo Tommassetti.

Arjuna and His Charioteer Krishna Confront Karna, Final Battle of the Mahabharata.” Ca. 1820. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Scenes from the Mahabharata Epic.” Ca. 1600-1650, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Krishna Counsels the Pandava Leaders.” Page from a Mahabharata series, ca. 1830-1850, Brooklyn Museum.

Battle Between Ghatotkacha and Karna.” Illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Mahabharata, ca. 1670, Harvard Art Museums.

Scenes from the Mahabharata.” Ca. 1650, Detroit Institute of the Arts.

Page from a Manuscript of the Mahabharata: Kichaka and Draupadi Disguised as the Maidservant Sairandhri (Primary Title).” Ca. 1670, Virginia Museum of the Fine Arts.

The Pandavas in King Drupad’s Court, Folio from a Mahabharata ([War of the] Great Bharatas).” Ca. 1775-1800, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Digitized Images of a Mahabharata scroll, University of Edinburgh Collections.

Jarasandha’s army advances toward Krishna and Balarama, folio from a Mahabharata.” National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, D.C.

Artwork related to the Mahabharata, National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian.

Arjuna Slays Karna, Page from a Mahabharata Series.” Ca. 19th century, Art Institute of Chicago.

Illustration to the Mahabharata.” Ca. 1800, Cleveland Art Museum.

MAHABHARATA. Directed by Anurupa Roy. English and Hindi.  If human beings are essentially peace-loving, why do wars take place? Does an individualistic sense of truth and justice lead to an apocalypse? Mahabharata, the eternal epic, reflects on this basic contradiction in human existence (1 Hr 10 Mins).



DRE (THREE). Damini House of Culture. Collaboration between the dancer and choreographer Sudesh Adhana, the kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas, and the puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee, who together bring to life the souls killed in the great war, Gandhari the mother of all, and Krishna (the latter in the form of a puppet).

Premiered at the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. October 12, 2010.  For more information, visit the DRE blogspot.


Tholu Bommalaata: Dance of the Shadow Puppets. June 11, 2020. On the shadow puppetry tradition of performing episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, featuring puppet master Chithambara Rao.



Rajneeti, dir. Prakash Jha (Hindi with English subtitles)

The Mahabharata, dir. Peter Brook

A Throw of Dice, dir. Franz Osten (B/W, Silent).


Stories based on the Mahabharata in Indonesian Shadow Puppet Theater 
Traditional Javanese Wayang Kulit: Déwa Ruci (Bima’s Spiritual Enlightenment):

A Shadow Puppet performance by Ki Manteb Soedharsono, produced by GELAR 2000. Bratasena feels confused and doubtful about himself. He feels that his life as a warrior is in a vain, although he had carried out an answer to this question in his heart, Bratasena meets his teacher, the priest Durna.

Ki Purbo Asmoro‘s epic Javanese shadow puppet performance. Asia Society, New York, March 16, 2012. Part 1. (26 min., 55 sec.)

The dhalang Ki Midiyanto performing Déwa Ruci (Bima’s Spiritual Enlightenment). Asia Society, New York, May 14, 2016. (2 hr., 49 min.)

The Contemporary Wayang Archive (CWA). A collection of re-elaborations of Java’s oldest performance tradition. All of the performances were recorded in 21st century Java. This archive includes translations, notes and explanations of how the performances were received in their original context. Developed at the National University of Singapore with support from the Indonesian Visual Art Archive.

The above Javanese shadow puppet performances were suggested by Matthew Cohen (University of Connecticut). 


Additional performances:

Wayang Performance of a scene from the Mahabharata, Arjuna slays Cakil.

Wayang Kulit performance of Mahabharata.

Mahabharata Dance Drama.

Ongoing performances of the Mahabharata, sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

Mahabharata: Texts and performances.


Science and the Mahabharata.” Christopher Doyle.

Hidden Secrets, Ancient Mysteries, and the Mahabharata.” Christopher Doyle.

Mahabharata: A Mirror to the Self.”  Raghu Ananthanarayanan.



The Mahabharata with Arti Dhand. By Arti Dhand, University of Toronto. A Tale about Everything. Multiple episodes.

Stories of the Mahabharata. Podcast by Lawrence Manzo.

The following questions are geared toward a discussion of the Mahabharata’s Bhagavad Gita in the context of the upper-level undergraduate course Nobility and Civility: East and West (Columbia University global core).*  A syllabus of the course can be found here.


The Bhagavad Gita(ca. 5th c. BC – 4th c. CE). Translated by Eknath Easwaran (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2000). Chapters 1-18 (pp. 3-97).


The Gita is a key section of the monumental and very long ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. (Indeed, the 1988 tv version directed by Ravi Chopra contains 94 episodes). In the midst of a battle between two groups of cousins and their respective allies, the warrior Arjuna is psychologically blocked from fighting against his relatives, friends, and former teachers until his charioteer, the god Krishna, persuades him through philosophical and spiritual arguments.

Here the speaker imparting knowledge is a god, thus an authority figure who could perhaps be compared to Diotima in Plato’s Symposium and the elder Africanus in Cicero’s Dream of Scipio. What are his arguments? Why are they initially not quite sufficient for Arjuna, who also requests that Krishna reveal his supreme form (ch. 11)? Why is this revelation necessary? (We can compare this to Confucius’s method of teaching through an appeal to ordinary lived experience, the use of rhetorical questions that imply shared values, and an expectation that listeners should take the one corner he lifted and lift the other three on their own.)

At the same time, Krishna’s teaching continues after the revelation. In what new way is Arjuna instructed to perceive his actions in the war (and in the world) that will allow him to move forward and fulfil his duty as a kshatriya?

How can one act in the world without focusing on the fruits of one’s actions?


Quotes to consider:

Krishna says: “Human nature is made of faith. Indeed, a person is his faith” (ch. 17.3, p. 85). How would you compare that statement to Don Quixote’s declaration that “a man is the child of his deeds”?

Krishna says to Arjuna: “Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate. For nothing is higher than a war against evil” (ch. 2.31-32, p. 11).


Jo Ann Cavallo (Columbia University


*This two-semester course was designed through the Faculty Workshops for a Multi-Cultural Sequence in the Core Curriculum (Heyman Center for the Humanities, 2002-2009), directed by the late Wm. Theodore de Bary, at Columbia University.