This chapter is about how Bhagvan Vyasa wrote the Mahabharata. It also gives the listener, a synopsis of the epic.
The Mahabharata was written by Bhagvan Vyasa. Actually that is incorrect. The Mahabharata was conceived by Vyasa – not written. He wanted to dictate it to someone who can pen it down, but couldn't think of anyone capable enough to do it. He sort Lord Brahma's advice, who in turn told Vyasa that Lord Ganesha was the best person for the job. So Vyasa reached out to Lord Ganesha and made his request.
Lord Ganesha put forth his condition. He said “Yes, I'll do it. However, my pen must not stop writing and therefore, you must not pause your dictation.” Vyasa agreed to this with a counter request. “I shall not pause oh Lord”, he said, “but I must request you to fully understand the meaning of each verse before writing it down.”
When Vyasa started narrating complex verses and stanzas, Lord Ganesha would pause a moment to comprehend the meaning. This would give Vyasa the time required to make his next composition. In such a manner, Bhagvan Vyasa dictated the entire story of Mahabharata.
The Mahabharata consists of over 100,000 shloka or over 200,000 individual verse lines and About 1.8 million words in total.
To put it into context, the typical novels and works of fiction that we read today contain about 16,000 words. The entire 7 books of Harry Potter is about 1 Million words and the three lord of the rings books together are about 500,000 words. None of them come close to the Mahabharata.
Let me give you a quick synopsis of the story – like the few paragraphs that we read at the back cover of a novel so that you are aware of the type of story we are talking about.
There was a King called Santanu and after his death, Chintrangada became the king of Hastinapura. After his death, his brother Vichitraveerya became king. Vichitraveerya had 2 sons. Pandu and Dhiratarashtra. Dhiritarashtra was the older brother and thus was supposed to rule the kingdom. But, Dhiritarashtra was born blind, and his younger brother Pandu ruled the kingdom. Dhiritarashrta had 100 sons called the Kauravas. Pandu had 5 called the Pandavas. The Kauravas, headed by Dhuriyodhana, hated the Pandavas. And the main reason for it stemmed from the fact that the Pandavas's father ruled the kingdom because the Kauravas's father was blind and thus, the Kauravas should eventually become the rightful rulers. This is the basic point of contention that the sons of Dhiritarashtra had against the sons of Pandu. This single point of enimity created such hatred that Dhuriyodhana and the rest of his brothers dished out great injustice and suffering onto the Pandavas. They went completely against Dharma (which is a way of saying they broke every law in the book). They treated the Pandavas like dirt. Cheated them. Disgraced them and eventually drove them into the forest. Such was the humiliation that the Pandavas endured for 13 years in the forest that when they returned, they did so with enough vengence and a great war ensued between the Pandavas and Kauravas. This war is famously known as the Kurukshetra. It is with the culmination of this war that the story will end.
Now how did it start? Ah yes. It all started with this king – Shantanu.