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This is one of the two great epic poems of the Hindus, the other being the Ramayana. Probably the longest of all the world's epics, the Mahabharata is a vast anthological miscellany of Pre-Aryan and Aryan material. The Mahabharata tells the story of the descendants of Bharata, the eponymous founder of the great Indian families of yore, reaching its climax in the war of succession between the Kauravas and Pandavas.

According to legend its author was the sage Vyasa. At present the Mahabharata consists of 18 parvan, the Harivamsha supplement, which makes this megatome the largest such compendium in the world. The story itself occupies only about one fourth of the poem. The rest is episodical comprising cosmology, theogony, statecraft, the science of war, ethics, legendary history, mythology, fairy tales, and several digressions and philosophical interluder, of which the best known is the Bhagavadagita.

1.Adi-parva, 'first section', tells of the birth of the two sons of Vichitravirya: Dhritarashtra and Pandu and their upbringing by Bhishma; their marriage and the birth of their children; the Kaurava and Pandava princes; the training of the princes at Hastinapura by Drona; the growing enmity of the Pandavas and Kauravas, the great tournament and the quarrel between Arjuna and Karna; the first exile of the Pandavas and the attempt to kill them through the agent Purochana; the slaying of Hidimba, Vaka and other rakshasas by Bhima; the sojourn in Drupada's capital, and the winning of Draupadi; the return of the Pandavas from exile return of Arjuna; Yudhishthira's rajasuya sacrifice; the killing of Jarasandha by Bhima; the slaying of Shishupala by Krishna.

2.Sabha-parva, 'assembly section'; the assembly of the princes at Hastinapura; Yudhishthira's game of dice with shakuni, and the loss of the kingdom; the second exile of the Pandavas.

3.Vana-parva, 'forest section'; the Pandavas in Kamyaka forest; the adventures of Arjuna; the capture of Duryodhana by the gandharvas and his rescue by the Pandavas; the abduction of Draupadi by Jayadratha and the latter's defeat. This section of the epic contains extraneous episodes which are variously introduced. Thus while Yudhishthira broods over his sufferings the sage Brihadasva consoles him by narrating the story of Nala and Damayanti; similarly, the sage Markandeya tells him the story of Rama and the

tale of Savitri and Satyavan; and of Pramadvara and Rum (although the latter episode is sometimes found in the Adi-parva.

4.Virata-parva, `Virata section'; the thirteenth year of the Pandava exile, while they serve king Virata in disguise.

5.Udyoga-parva, 'effort section'; the preparation of the Pandavas and Kauravas for war. Krishna and Balarama decide not to fight; the mustering of the armies of Kurukshetra.

6.Bhishma-parva, 'Bhishma book'; a description of the battlefield of Kurukshetra; the doubts of Arjuna; the teaching of the Bhagavadgita; the battles fought with Bhishma in command of the Kaurava army, until he falls under Arjuna's arrows.

7.Drona-parva, `Drona section'; the war during Drona's command of the Kaurava forces until his death at the hands of Dhrishtadyumna, son of Drupada.

8.Karna-parva, `Karna-section'; Karna's command of the Kauravas, till his death at the hands of Arjuna.

9.Shalya-parva, 'Shalya section', Shalya's command; Duryodhana's mortal wound; only three Kauravas left alive.

10.Sauptika-parva,'nocturnal book'; the night attack by the three surviving Kauravas on the Pandava camp. The death of Duryodhana.

11.Stri-parva, 'the section of the Women'; the lament of Queen Gandhari and the other women over the slain heroes.

12.Shanti-parva, 'peace-section'. The coronation of Yudhishthira at Hastinapura, followed by Bhishma's long discourse on politics and kingship, delivered in order to assuage the grief of Yudhishthira. This parva contains a portion called the Narayaniya which is one of the sources of the Vaishnava tradition.

13.Anushasana-parva, 'precept book'. Bhishma's discourses continued on the duties of kings, liberality and fasting; at the end of his long discourse Bhishma dies. The section is a fairly late addition.

14.Ashvamedhika-parva, 'ashvamedha section'; Yudhishthira's horse sacrifice in token of his sovereignty; the further adventures of Arjuna. Also a portion called Anugita, another source of the Vaishnava tradition.

15.Ashrama-parva, 'hermitage book'; the retirement of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, and Kunti, mother of the Pandavas to a hermitage in the woods; the great forest fire in which they were all burned to death.

16.Mausala-parva, 'club section'; the death of Krishna and Balarama; the submersion of Dvaraka under the sea; the mutual extermination of the Yadavas in a series of fights with clubs (musala).

17.Mahaprasthankia-parva, 'great sojourn section'; Yudhishthira's renunciation of the throne; his departure with his brothers to the Himalayas on the way to Indra's heaven on Mount Meru.

18.Svargarohana-parva, 'heaven-ascent book'; admission to heaven of Yudhishthira with his brothers and their wife Draupadi.

Appendix to the Mahabharata

Harivamsha, a poem of 16,375 verses, which forms an appendix (killa) to the Mahabharata, but does not strictly belong to the epic. It is of a much later date, definitely post-Christian, and bears evidence of having been written in South India.