Mahabharata is a post-Buddhism epic on Yama & his Kalchakra: Ganesh Devy

Mahabharata is neither myth nor history, but the greatest poetic story about Time – the Kalchakra, where the central character is Yama, the Kaal, and its optical centre is Chakra, the wheel of Time. It is not primarily a story of heroes or war. 

Maharshi Vyasa was the most fascinating character and a much greater poet than Valmiki, not knowing whether he was an individual, a think tank of individuals, a community or a generation.

Mahabharata originated in 800 BCE and was finally compiled into 18 volumes by Bhandarkar Institute in the 20th century. It’s a compilation of one lakh lines, gathered from 1100 different epics, including the Bhagwatgita of 18 Adhyayas.

Mahabharata, told orally, was a long drawn-out process which went on for 600 years, in an attempt to counter the all-powerful philosophies of Buddhism, Jainism and Dravidianism.

This is the way India’s ace linguistic scholar Prof Ganesh Devy, the author of the book ‘Mahabharata: The Epic and the Nation” has described the most fascinating epic of South East Asia. 

He spoke at length on the topic at Panaji in Goa on 21 October, at an annual lecture organised by the Centre for Study of Mythology and Culture. Damodar Mauzo, the Jnanpith Awardee of this year and a Konkani author, chaired the session. 

“Mahabharata is a mythological time created by depicting every character as if it is not real but mythological and that is why it is difficult to say which part of it is mythology and which is history. It neither deals with history nor a myth but altogether a different order of theme dealing with Time – the Kalchakra”, said Devy.


How and when did Mahabharata originate? Which is the period it depicts and when was it conceptualised?

Prof Devy goes down to the collapse of Indus civilization before 1400 BCE when the Iranian migration of nomadic tribes hit the Indian subcontinent, armed with a powerful Sanskrit language and Rigveda

Rigveda originated in Iran and over 300 words found in it are Iranian. Even the most sacred Gods mentioned in Rigveda have their origin in Turkey and Syria”, revealed the linguistic scholar. 

While this nomadic society was dominating the central northern part of India, he said, the Eastern Indian civilization had begun by 800 BCE with the Buddhism of Gautam Buddha and Jainism of Mahavir Jain along with their equally powerful languages like Pali and Prakrit respectively.

“These were altogether different philosophies than the Vedic philosophy with no mythos but only ethos. The structure of faith and belief was completely different. The clash between them continued”, he remarked.

According to Prof Devy, the Vedic people tried countering it by deciding to bring their strengths together, due to which Upnishadas were created through extracts from Vedas, which he considers to be the most prolific work in the history of Indian literature. 

This is the time, he claims, it was decided to bring together the oral narratives together as a history in the Eighth Century Before the Common Era (BCE) and the first Jaya was created as Itihas (इतिहास). They were bare stories without any metaphor or literary flavour of poetry. 

The journey from Jaya to Mahabharata is of 600 long years, he maintains, from the 8th century to the 2nd century BCE, in between which Indian scholars were also influenced by Greek philosophy and vice versa. When Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute of Pune sat down to compile Mahabharata in 18 big volumes, they had to compile 1100 manuscripts, which sometimes did not match with each other. 

“It is not known if Vyasa was one Rishi, a think tank of Vedic scholars, a community or a generation, but they compressed the history of 1400 to 800 BCE in such an organic manner that it has become the highest civilisation of values in the whole of South Asia”, quipped Prof Devy. 

Imaginary drawing of Maharshi Vyasa

He also describes the epic as a rebellion against the concept of Shlokas and imbibing new values on the background of Manusmriti and Ramayan that was written a century ago. While Ramayan is a story of a hero, Mahabharata has many heroes and a narrative in contrast with Buddhism, Jainism and Dravidianism. 

“Since Pali, Prakrit and Proto-Tamil were developed languages, Vyasa had the challenge to counter it and establish Sanskrit. Vedas are written with a structure of 72 and a half metres while Ramayan created its own metre which Vyasa perfected while writing Mahabharata. It’s a simple lucid language where poetry was made easy to remember and pass it on from generation to generation through oral tradition”, the linguistic scholar said while elaborating on the linguistic process. 


According to Prof Devy, the whole process of creating Mahabharata is the way of looking at the past as a great tradition of heroes and superheroes.

“We look at Mahatma Gandhi as a superhero. If somebody tells us that that 28-inch long piece is actually 56 inches, we blindly believe in him. That’s the outlook Mahabharata has established in our psyche”, he quipped amidst spontaneous laughter. 

Precisely this is the reason Prof Devy insisted that Mahabharata is not the epic or a story of mere heroes or even Kauravas and Pandavas but the Time – the Kalchakra where Yama is the invisible central character of this great creation of India. 

“There are two characters in Mahabharata who are not seen but felt. Vyasa himself appears in Mahabharata right in the beginning and then at the end of it, after Kurukshetra, where he meets Dharmraj and his dog. Three of them are the real family and Dharmaraj is the son of Yama”, he claims. 

Since the past history was almost forgotten, he says Vyasa gave credence to Time and not a mere story of heroes. He had to invent, generate, create, fabricate and conceptualise a new understanding of time which would hound our minds for centuries together. 

“Yama (यम) plus Niyama (नियम) forms the Time. Mahabharata is a poem of Time, the Kalchakra and Vyasa was a poet in a rush, not worried about the poem but the Time.”, he affirms. 

Prof Devy opines that Vyasa did not like any of the characters he created in Mahabharata nor the most destructive war of 18 days he has described or the destruction caused by the war is the central theme of it. He used all the characters and even the war as the substance for his central theme of Kalchakra. 

‘“It’s a Time described in Mahabharata that has encompassed our lives till date even after over 2000 years. We have been ‘One People’ of the past, beyond today’s geographical boundaries and that is the basic essence of Mahabharata which we need to understand”, concluded Prof Devy.

The one-hour-long lecture was followed by a formal Q&A.


There was one pertinent question asked among many: Younger Pandu was crowned as the King of Kauravas because elder Dhritrashtra was blind. His eldest son Duryodhana did not have any such disability and Mahabharata also does not state anywhere that he did not run the state well. In fact, he was the best Prince. Then on what basis can he be deprived of taking over the reins from his father? Was he not a rightful legal heir?

Prof Devy was frank enough to admit that Duryodhana was the rightful legal heir. In his witty style, he commented: “If it had happened today, then he would have won the court case. He was asking nothing illegal.”

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