Table of Contents
- What is an Epic?
- How long are these epics?
- How complex are the Indian epics?
- Where are these sub plots and stories told?
- What are Puranas?
- What are the Vedas?
- What are the Upanishads?
- What is Itihasa?
What is an Epic?
An epic is a long narrative poem that typically tells the story of heroic deeds and adventures. Epics usually involve a protagonist who is a legendary or mythological figure and who undertakes a quest or journey of great significance. The style and structure of epics vary across cultures and time periods, but they often include themes such as bravery, honor, love, and the struggle between good and evil.
Epics can be found in many different cultures, including ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, and Norse cultures. Some of the most famous examples of epic poetry include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Mahabharata and Ramayana of India, and the epic poems of Beowulf and Gilgamesh. In addition to poetry, the term “epic” is sometimes used to describe other types of works, such as films, novels, and video games, that share similar themes and storytelling techniques.
How long are these epics?
In terms of length, complexity, and number of characters, the Mahabharata is one of the longest and most complex epic poems in the world. It consists of over 100,000 verses and tells the story of a great war between two branches of a royal family in ancient India. The Mahabharata includes a vast cast of characters, each with their own complex motivations and relationships, as well as philosophical and moral discussions about the nature of existence, duty, and righteousness.
The Ramayana is another ancient Indian epic poem, similar to the Mahabharata in terms of its cultural significance and literary complexity. It tells the story of the prince Rama, who sets out to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana. The Ramayana is also a lengthy work, consisting of over 24,000 verses.
While the Ramayana is not as long as the Mahabharata, it is still a complex and nuanced work that explores themes such as loyalty, love, and duty.
The Iliad and Odyssey, both attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer, are also long and complex epic poems. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, while the Odyssey follows the journey of the Greek hero Odysseus as he tries to return home after the war. Both poems feature a large cast of characters and explore themes such as heroism, honor, and the relationships between mortals and gods.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian epic, is another long and complex work that features a variety of characters and themes. It tells the story of the eponymous king and his search for immortality, and includes themes such as friendship, mortality, and the relationship between humans and the divine.
How complex are the Indian epics?
There are many supporting stories, subplots, and smaller epics within the Mahabharata and Ramayana that focus on individual characters and their stories in more detail.
For example, within the Mahabharata, there are many subplots and stories that focus on individual characters such as Bhishma, Karna, Draupadi, and Arjuna. These stories explore their backgrounds, motivations, and relationships, and provide greater depth and complexity to the overall narrative of the Mahabharata.
Similarly, within the Ramayana, there are many supporting stories and subplots that focus on characters such as Hanuman, Ravana, and Sita. These stories provide greater detail and nuance to the characters and their motivations, and add to the overall richness and complexity of the Ramayana.
Where are these sub plots and stories told?
The stories and characters of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are primarily found in the Puranas and other related texts.
What are Puranas?
The Puranas, which are a collection of ancient Indian texts, and contain many stories and characters from the epics. They are divided into different categories, such as the Mahapuranas and Upapuranas, and include stories about various deities, heroes, and historical figures, as well as philosophical and moral teachings.
Also known as Srimad Bhagavatam, it is considered one of the most important Puranas by many Indians. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and includes stories of his various incarnations, including Lord Krishna. It also includes philosophical discussions and teachings on dharma (duty), karma (consequences of actions), and bhakti (devotion to the divine).
This Purana is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and includes stories of his various avatars, as well as descriptions of creation and cosmology. It also includes discussions of dharma, karma, and other spiritual topics.
This Purana is dedicated to Lord Shiva and includes stories of his various forms and manifestations. It also includes discussions of creation, cosmology, and various spiritual practices associated with Shiva worship.
This Purana is named after the sage Markandeya and includes stories and teachings related to Lord Vishnu and his various avatars. It also includes discussions of karma, dharma, and various spiritual practices.
This Purana is dedicated to the god Agni and includes stories related to him, as well as discussions of various spiritual practices and rituals. It also includes descriptions of astronomy, astrology, and other topics.
This Purana is named after the lotus flower that is associated with Lord Vishnu. It includes stories related to Lord Vishnu and his various avatars, as well as discussions of various spiritual practices and topics.
These are just a few examples of the many Puranas that exist. Each Purana typically focuses on a particular deity or set of deities and includes stories, teachings, and discussions related to that deity or set of deities.
What are the Vedas?
The Vedas are a collection of four sacred texts that are considered the oldest and most authoritative scriptures of Hinduism.
They were composed in Vedic Sanskrit, an ancient form of the language, between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE. The four Vedas are:
The oldest and most important of the four Vedas, consisting of hymns and prayers addressed to various deities.
A collection of ritual texts and instructions for performing Vedic ceremonies and sacrifices.
A collection of melodies and chants used in Vedic rituals.
A collection of incantations, and prayers used for a variety of purposes, including healing, protection, and success in battle.
The above are ultra simplified descriptions of the actual content which is very nuanced and voluble.
There are also many other texts associated with the Vedas, such as the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads, which provide further commentary and interpretation on the Vedas.
What are the Upanishads?
The Upanishads are a collection of philosophical and spiritual texts that explore the nature of reality, the self, and the ultimate goal of human existence (yes, they were asking these questions a very very long time ago and had quite a bit to discuss about what they thought about these).
There are over 200 Upanishads, but the most important ones are the Principal Upanishads, which include the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Chandogya Upanishad, and the Taittiriya Upanishad.
The Upanishads are considered to be the end portion of the Vedas, and were composed between 800 BCE and 500 BCE. They are written in prose and contain dialogues between teachers and students, as well as stories and parables that illustrate philosophical concepts in an easy to understand format.
Here are some of the most well-known Upanishads, along with brief descriptions:
This is one of the oldest and largest, and is often considered one of the most important. It includes discussions of the nature of Brahman, the supreme reality, and the relationship between the individual soul (atma) and the universal soul (paramatma). (The word soul in English is loosely used here – there are several words in Sanskrit and quite frankly in many languages around the world, which are technically non-translatable – as some concepts and words are harder to get across)
This includes discussions of various spiritual practices, including meditation, sacrifice, and the proper recitation of mantras. It also includes discussions of the nature of the self and the relationship between the self and the universe.
This includes discussions of the nature of the self and the universe, as well as various spiritual practices such as meditation, sacrifice, and the recitation of mantras.
This includes the famous story of Nachiketa, a young boy who meets with Yama, the lord of death, and learns about the nature of the self and the universe.
This includes discussions of the nature of Brahman and the relationship between the individual soul and the universal soul. It also includes discussions of various spiritual practices and the concept of karma.
This includes discussions of the nature of Brahman and the relationship between the individual soul and the universal soul. It also includes discussions of various spiritual practices and the concept of liberation.
These are just a few examples of the many that exist. Each typically includes discussions of various spiritual practices, as well as philosophical and metaphysical discussions related to the nature of the self and the universe.
What is Itihasa?
In Indian tradition, Itihasa refers to the genre of historical narrative. The two great epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are traditionally considered Itihasa, which means “thus indeed it happened” or “so it was”.
Well, it depends on a lot of things!
This is because they are believed to be based on actual historical events, although some parts of the stories are often hard to come to terms with, since they talk of things which in the modern day, some modern scholars find hard to believe could ever be real a long time ago – so must be tall tales…
For example: there is mention of people traveling around on earth and between different worlds – in vimanas (literally flying craft – or airborne vehicles), beings (or a distinctly different kind of people) visiting from different worlds, people traveling between different dimensions (existing in the same place), the passage of time differently when traveling in space and so many things which were only possible or even theorized as potentially possible in modern day in the past few decades.
Additionally, there is mention of usage of some weaponry which sounds very strange and yet very familiar:
In both Mahabharata and Ramayana, there is a description of a weapon called the Brahmastra, which is said to have the power to destroy entire armies and cities or calibrated to destroy whole worlds (kind of like the death star’s (from Star Wars) lasers in an arrow). The descriptions of the Brahmastra in the Mahabharata suggest the after-effects of the weapon resemble radiation sickness.
According to the text, the weapon caused a “great destruction of the earth” and left behind a “terrible aftermath.” The text describes how the land became barren and how the water turned to poison, killing all living creatures. It also describes how the survivors of the weapon suffered from a range of symptoms, including hair loss, skin lesions, and birth defects in their children.
Some scholars have suggested that this weapon was similar to a nuclear weapon or a missile, but others argue that it was a more mythical and symbolic weapon.
The use of the term Itihasa for the Ramayana and the Mahabharata reflects the belief that they are not just mythological stories, but rather accounts of real historical events that have been passed down through generations. The cities mentioned do exist. Some as ruins, some as living cities and some submerged deep in the ocean, flooded some 9-10 thousand years ago (estimated).
These epics are also regarded as sacred texts not just in India but also in a lot of countries around South East Asia, and are studied for their moral, ethical, and philosophical teachings.
The term Itihasa is often used in contrast to the term Purana, which refers to a different genre of Hindu literature that focuses on mythology, cosmology, and other aspects of India tradition. While the Puranas also contain stories of gods and goddesses, they are not considered historical narratives in the same way that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are.
At the end of the day, one can read and wonder. And a wonderful collection of stories, philosophies and different texts they all are. All of those who read them and ponder and wonder can definitely walk away with a different approach to life, values, adherence to truth, duty, loyalty, existential philosophy and spirituality.