The Great Epics

Exact Match
  Indo Aryan

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Early Indian literature after the Vedas is dominated by two great Sanskrit epic poems, the Ramayana (The Story of Rama), and the Mahabharata (The Great War of the Bharatas). The poet Valmiki is known as the poet of the Ramayana. But both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were composed over long periods by many poets. Poets wrote these epics for oral transmission by singers and storytellers. These two epics of ancient India have universal appeal. They have been translated and retold in all the Indian and all the important foreign languages.

The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses divided into seven books, called kandas. Its form, kavya (epic poetry), means that it instructs while it entertains. The Ramayana tells the story of the righteous king Rama and his battle with the demon Ravana. The demon steals Rama's wife, Sita, and holds her captive in Lanka (now Sri Lanka). Rama, helped by the monkey army of Hanuman, rescues Sita. His victory over Ravana symbolizes the triumph of righteousness over evil. Rama was originally a folk hero but was later portrayed as an incarnation of the god Vishnu.

The Mahabharata  is the world's longest poem, consisting of nearly 100,000 verses. It took shape gradually between about 700 B.C. and A.D. 400. Hinduism developed into its classical form during the same period. The main story of the Mahabharata is a war over succession to the throne between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, two branches of a royal family. The god Krishna sides with the Pandavas, who are themselves depicted as gods in later additions to the story.

Embedded within the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord), the most influential of all Hindu texts, in which Krishna explains to the Pandava prince, Arjuna, the meaning of dharma (religious duty). Krishna teaches Arjuna, who is dejected at having to fight his own relatives in the war, that everyone must follow the course of duty without thinking about its results.

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