Critical Edition of Mahabharata
• One of most ambitious projects of scholarship began in 1919, under leadership of a noted Indian Sanskritist, V. S. Sukthankar. A team comprising dozens of scholars initiated task of preparing a critical edition of Mahabharata. They selected verses that appeared common to most versions and published these in several volumes.
• project took 47 years to completed and prepared 13,000 pages.
Two things became Apparent
• Several common elements in Sanskrit versions of story, evident in manuscripts.
• Enormous regional variation in ways in which text had been transmitted over centuries.
Note: Issues of social history were explored by historians in 19th and 20th centuries. Believing everything laid down in text was actually practices.
• Scholar began studying other tradition from works in Pali, Prakrit & Tamil.
Kinship and Marriage- Many rules and varied Practice Finding out about families
• Historians investigate and analyse attitudes towards family and kinship. These are important, because they provide an insight into people’s thinking; it is likely that some of these ideas would have shaped their actions, just as actions may have led to changes in attitudes.
Important Terms Patriliny means tracing descent from father to son, grandson & so on.
Matriliny is term used when descent is traced through mother.
ideal of patriliny
• Under patriliny, sons could claim resources [including throne in case of kings] of their fathers when latter died.
• Most ruling dynasties said they followed this system, but in practise, there were differences: sometimes there were no sons, sometimes brothers took over after each other, sometimes other relatives claimed throne, and in very rare cases, women like Prabhavati Gupta held power. Not only did ruling families worry about patriarchy, but so did other families. This is clear from mantras in religious texts like Rigveda. It’s possible that rich men and people who thought they were important, like Brahmanas, had same ideas.
Eight forms of marriage Brahma marriage: Brahma marriage is Hindu term for a father’s daughter marrying a bridegroom from same caste through religious procedures.
Daiva form of Marriage: A father gifts his daughter to a priest.
Prajapatya form of Marriage: A father marries his daughter without dowry and bride-price.
Arsha form of Marriage: A token bride price is given in place of dowry.
Asura form of Marriage: Bride was brought from her father forcefully.
Rakshasa form of marriage: Marriage which was done by capture or kidnapping.
Gandharva form of marriage: Love marriage
Paishacha form of marriage: Marriage by seduction.
Rules of Marriage
• While sons were important for continuity of patrilineage, daughters were viewed rather differently within this framework. They had no claims to resources of household. At same time, marrying them into families outside kin was considered desirable.
• This system, known as exogamy [literally, marrying outside], meant that lives of young girls and women belonging to families that claimed high status were often carefully regulated to ensure that they were married at ‘right’ time and to ‘right’ person.
• This gave rise to belief that kanyadana or gift of a daughter in marriage was an important religious duty of father.
Social Culture after Emergence of New Towns
• Social life became more complex, people from near and far met to buy and sell their products and share ideas in urban milieu. This may have led to a questioning of earlier beliefs and practices.
• From 500 BCE, these norms were compiled in Sanskrit texts called Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras. most important of such works, Manusmriti, was compiled between c. 200 BCE and 200 CE.
Gotra of Women
• One Brahmanical practice, evident from c. 1000 BCE onwards, was to classify people [especially Brahmanas] in terms of gotras. Each gotra was named after a Vedic seer, and all those who belonged to same gotra were regarded as his descendants.
• Two rules about gotra were particularly important: Women were expected to give up their father’s gotra and adopt that of their husband on marriage and members of same gotra could not marry.
Metronymics in Upanishads
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of earliest Upanishads, contains a list of successive generations of teachers and students, many of whom were designated by metronymics.
Social difference within and beyond framework of caste
• Brahmanas claimed that this order, in which they were ranked first, was divinely ordained, while placing groups classified as Shudras and ‘untouchables’ at very bottom of social order. Positions within order were supposedly determined by birth.
• Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras contained rules about ideal ‘occupations’ of four categories or varnas.
(1) Brahmanas were supposed to study and teach Vedas, perform sacrifices and get sacrifices performed, & give & receive gifts.
(2) Kshatriyas were to engage in warfare, protect people and administer justice, study Vedas, get sacrifices performed, and make gifts.
(3) last three ‘occupations’ were assigned to Vaishyas, who were in addition expected to engage in agriculture, pastoralism and trade.
(4) Shudras were assigned only one occupation – that of serving three ‘higher’ varnas.
• Brahmanas evolved three strategies for enforcing these norms.
(1) One, as we have just seen, was to assert that varna order was of divine origin.
(2) Second, they advised kings to ensure that these norms were followed within their kingdoms.
(3) Third, they attempted to persuade people that their status was determined by birth.
• According to Shastras, only Kshatriyas could be kings. However, several important ruling lineages probably had different origins.
• social background of Mauryas, who ruled over a large empire, has been hotly debated. While later Buddhist texts suggested they were Kshatriyas, Brahmanical texts described them as being of ‘low’ origin.
• Shungas and Kanvas, immediate successors of Mauryas, were Brahmanas. Other rulers, such as Shakas who came from Central Asia, were regarded as mlechchhas, barbarians or outsiders by Brahmanas.
• However, one of earliest inscriptions in Sanskrit describes how Rudradaman, best-known Shaka ruler [c. 2nd century. CE], rebuilt Sudarshana lake. This suggests that powerful mlechchhas were familiar with Sanskritic traditions.
• Some of Satavahana rulers were polygynous. An examination of names of women who married Satavahana rulers indicates that many of them had names derived from gotras such as Gotama and Vasistha, their father’s gotras.
• Satavahana rulers were known by their metronymic names, which came from name of their mother. Even though this may seem to show how important mothers were. Gotami-puta Siri-Satakani, most famous ruler of Satavahana dynasty, claimed to be both a unique Brahmana and a destroyer of Kshatriyas’ pride. He said that he made sure that people from four different varnas didn’t marry each other. At same time, he made a marriage deal with Rudradaman’s family.
• Satavahanas claimed to be Brahmanas, whereas according to Brahmanas, kings ought to have been Kshatriyas. They claimed to uphold four fold varna order, but entered into marriage alliances with people who were supposed to be excluded from system.
Jatis and social mobility
• These complexities are reflected in another term used in texts to refer to social categories – jati.
• In Brahmanical theory, jati, like varna, was based on birth. However, while number of varnas was fixed at four, there was no restriction on number of jatis.
• Jatis which shared a common occupation or profession were sometimes organised into shrenis or guilds.
Beyond four varnas: Integration
• Populations whose social practices were not influenced by Brahmanical ideas. When they figure in Sanskrit texts, they are often described as odd, uncivilised, or even animal-like.
• In some instances, these included forest-dwellers-for whom hunting and gathering remained an important means of subsistence. Categories such as nishada are example of this.
• Populations such as nomadic pastoralists, who could not be easily accommodated within framework of settled agriculturists.
• Sometimes those who spoke non-Sanskritic languages were labelled as mlechchhas and looked down upon.
Bodhisatta as a chandala
This is part of Matanga Jataka, a Pali text, where Bodhisatta [the Buddha in a previous birth] is identified as a chandala. Bodhisatta was born outside city of Banaras as a chandala’s son and named Matanga.
Beyond Four Varnas Subordination and Conflict
• While Brahmanas considered some people as being outside system, they developed a sharper social divide by classifying certain social categories as ‘untouchable’.
• In sharp contrast to purity aspect, some activities were regarded as particularly ‘polluting’. These included handling corpses and dead animals. Those who performed such tasks, designated as chandalas, were placed at very bottom of hierarchy.
• Manusmriti laid down ‘duties’ of chandalas. They had to live outside village, use discarded utensils, and wear clothes of dead and ornaments of iron. They could not walk about in villages and cities at night. They had to dispose of bodies of those who had no relatives and serve as executioners. Much later, Chinese Buddhist monk Fa Xian [c. 5th century. CE] wrote that ‘untouchables’ had to sound a clapper in streets so people could avoid seeing them.
• Another Chinese pilgrim, Xuan Zang [c. 7th century], observed that executioners and scavengers were forced to live outside city.
Explaining Social Differences: A social contract
• In a myth found in a text called Sutta Pitaka they suggested that originally human beings did not have fully evolved bodily forms, nor was world of plants fully developed.
• All beings lived in an idyllic state of peace, taking from nature only what they needed for each meal. However, there was a gradual deterioration of this state as human beings became increasingly greedy, vindictive and deceitful.
Beyond Birth-Resources and Status
• According to Manusmriti, paternal estate was to be divided equally amongst sons after death of parents, with a special share for eldest.
• Women could not claim a share of these resources. However, women were allowed to retain gifts they received on occasion of their marriage as stridhana.
• This could be inherited by their children, without husband having any claim on it. At same time, Manusmriti warned women against hoarding family property, or even their own valuables, without husband’s permission.
Handling Text Language, Content & Author
• Historians generally classify contents of present text under two broad heads sections that contain stories, designated as narrative, and sections that contain prescriptions about social norms, designated as didactic. This division is by no means watertight didactic sections include stories, and narrative often contains a social message.
• original story was probably composed by charioteer-bards called sutas who usually accompanied Kshatriya warriors to battlefield and composed poems celebrating their victories and other achievements. These compositions circulated orally. Then, from 5th century. BCE, Brahmanas took over story and began to commit it to writing.
• Another phase in composition of text between c. 200 BCE and 200 CE. It was period when worship of Vishnu was growing in importance, and Krishna, one of important figures of epic, was coming to be identified with Vishnu.
• Subsequently, between c. 200 and 400 CE, large didactic sections resembling Manusmriti were added. With these additions, a text which initially perhaps had less than 10,000 verses grew to comprise about 100,000 verses. This enormous composition is traditionally attributed to a sage named Vyasa.
search for convergence
• Mahabharata, like any major epic, contains vivid descriptions of battles, forests, palaces & settlements. In 1951-52, archaeologist B.B. Lal excavated at a village named Hastinapura in Meerut. Present-day historians suggest that fact that author[s] describe a polyandrous union indicates that polyandry may have been prevalent amongst ruling elites at some point of time.
A Dynamic Text
• growth of Mahabharata did not stop with Sanskrit version. Over centuries, versions of epic were written in a variety of languages through an ongoing process of dialogue between peoples, communities, and those who wrote texts.
• Several stories that originated in specific regions or circulated amongst certain people found their way into epic. At same time, central story of epic was often retold in different ways.
• Episodes were depicted in sculpture and painting. They provided themes for a wide range of performing arts, i.e., plays, dance & other kinds of narrations.
Two Major Landmarks In Study Of Mahabharata
(1) Preparation and publication of Critical Edition of Mahabharata [1919-66].
(2) J.A.B. van Buitenen begins English translation of Critical Edition in 1973; remains incomplete after his death in 1978
Timeline: Major Textual Traditions
c. 500 BCE – Ashtadhyayi of Panini, a work of Sanskrit grammar
c. 500-100 BCE – Early Buddhist texts including Tripitaka [in Pali]
c. 500 – 200 BCE – Major Dharmasutras [in Sanskrit]
c. 500 BCE-400 CE – Ramayana and Mahabharata [in Sanskrit]
c. 200 CE – onwards Compilation of Puranas [in Sanskrit]
c. 100 CE – Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas in Sanskrit, works on medicine
c. 200 CE onwards – Compilation of Puranas in Sanskrit
c. 200 BCE – 200 CE – Manusmriti in Sanskrit; composition and compilation of Tamil Sangam literature
c. 300 CE – Natyashastra of Bharata, a work on dramaturgy [in Sanskrit]
c. 400-500 CE – Sanskrit plays a valuable role in compilation of Kalidasa’s works on astronomy and mathematics by Aryabhata and Varahamihira [in Sanskrit].
c. 300-600 CE – Other Dharmashastras in Sanskrit