Great Epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata

It is evident that Vedic Literature compiled during the 1500 to 500 BCE. Vedic Literature was the ancient literature of Indian History. The other important literature of ancient India is the Great Epics i.e. Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Great Epics

Ramayana and Mahabharata are narrative and heroic stories of the then Kingdoms. They also believed to describe the political, social and economic structure of the ancient period. They are generally held to be oral in origin. Scholars like J.L. Brockington have argued that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, like other Great Epics, composed over a long period of time. And the two Great Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata seems to have finally compiled by 400 BCE.


Great Epics: Mahabharata
Great Epics: Mahabharata

This is attributed to Sage Vyasa. It is a complex story of the fight for a throne of Hastinapur between two sets of Royal cousins, Kauravas and Pandavas. It originally consisted of 8,800 verses and called Jayagita, which means song dealing with the victory.

These later got expanded to 24,000 verses and known as Bharata. It was because it contained the stories of the descendants of one of the earliest Vedic Period tribe Bharata. The Mahabharata has 100,000 verses and expanded version of Bharata.


Ramayana is the smaller and more compact tale of Rama’s exile from the Kingdom. And his victory over the demon King Ravana of Lanka. The original story of Rama, the Ayodhya Prince, also grew over time and Rama emerges as the incarnation of God Vishnu in this next. Ramayana of Valmiki originally consisted of 6000 verses than 12,000 verses. And now it consists of 24,000 verses.

Significance of Great Epics

We can interpret them as recording. The establishment in the history of significant political practices. Primogeniture or the passing of the throne to the eldest son is first challenged and then re-established in both texts. The Great Epics are also perfect examples of informative texts.

They enshrine significant social and cultural values. Like devotion to one’s parents (Relationship between Rama and Dashratha & Kaikeyi) and elder brother (Bharata, Laxman, Shtrujna and Rama) and loyalty to one’s husband (Sita and Rama). The Ramayana lays down model of ideal behaviour for men and women in various roles. Like Maryadapurushottam Rama and the Chaste Sita, which have had a powerful influence on shaping Indian social thought and practice.

The Mahabharata examines closely the question of Dharma or What is righteous behaviour and what is not. The Bhagwat Gita which is a part of the Mahabharat is not only a Vaishnava scripture but a profound philosophical doctrine. It seeks to guide individual action in the time of crisis and self-doubt.

It was a brief description of Great Epics. In the next coming posts, we will have a look at the Religious movement of 6th Century BCE.

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