The Mahabharata (Sanskrit Mahābhārata महाभारत) is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa. The epic is part of the Hindu itihāsa (or “history”), and forms an important part of Hindu mythology.
It is of immense importance to culture in the Indian subcontinent, and is a major text of Hinduism. Its discussion of human goals (dharma or duty, artha or purpose, kāma, pleasure or desire and moksha or liberation) takes place in a long-standing tradition, attempting to explain the relationship of the individual to society and the world (the nature of the ‘Self’) and the workings of karma.
The title may be translated as “the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty”. According to the Mahabharata’s own testimony it is extended from a shorter version simply called Bhārata of 24,000 verses.
Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahabharata is attributed to Vyasa. There have been many attempts to unravel its historical growth and composition layers. Its earliest layers probably date back to the late Vedic period (ca. 8th c. BCE) and it probably reached its final form by the time the Gupta period began (ca. 4th c. CE).
With about one hundred thousand verses, long prose passages, and about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world. It is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, roughly five times longer than Dante’s Divine Comedy, and about four times the length of the Ramayana. Including the Harivaṃśa, the Mahabharata has a total length of more than 90,000 verses.