Comments on Critical Edition

Dr. Suktathankar also wrote an extended Prolegomena for the Adiparva critical edition, I have referenced to it in this post as well as Edgerton’s essay on Sabha and War Parvas plus Mehendale’s own analysis plus couple of PhD Thesis of the original Critical Edition Editors Dr Kulkarni and Dr. Meenakshi. Mehendale was the one who argues for the Bhasa Play inside MBH called gadayudhha and he also identified Madhuvidya, a play by unknown Kavi inside current Mahabharata.

So, the text of Mahabharata can be divided into Two main recessions, both were independent of each other and descended separately from the Original source Vaishampayana.

So we have Two Main Recensions of Vaishampayana Mahabharata:

  1. Northern
  2. Southern or Dakshinatya

These two Recensions have Eight “versions”, based on script of the samhitas, language for all in Sanskrita. These eight script versions are;

  1. Kashmiri script or Sarada script (Northern)
    a. As many as seven different samhitas. Kashmiri versions 1 through 7
  2. Nepali script or Bhujinmol (based on Brahmi script descended from Gupta script) (Northern)
    a. Three Samhitas. Nepali versions 1 through 3. 
  3. Maithili Script or Tirhuta (Northern)
    a. two version
  4. Bengali Script or Siddhong Script(Northern)
    a. 7 samhitas
  5. Devanagari script (Northern)
    a. Largest language and most widespread, 21 samhitas, devanagari 1 through 21.

So Northern recension is based on 5 scripts and 40 different versions.

Kashmir was out of way and many monasteries never fell under foreign rule and preserved ancient texts. Same goes for Nepal and Tirhut kingdoms which were independent for a longest time in our history.

Dakshinatya is based on three linguistic scripts.

The Dakshinatya largest size extant was 125K slokas, and Northern was 86K slokas so first Rule:

The Critical edition was the critical edition for the Northern recension. A unified North and South Critical edition will wait another day. This way the task is somewhat easier. By this rule, the task is reduced to 80K odd slokas. That leads to rule Number 2

The Critical edition is the first in the series of essential steps to reclaim the purest edition. They are not rejecting Dakshinatya. It is just left to the next generation to unify the two editions.

It all started in 1897 and ended on September 22, 1967. I want to sort of put forward an idea to celebrate the September 22 as a Parva for the Star Plus Factually Incorrect Mahabharata page.

In 1897 at the Paris conference of the Eleventh International congress of Orientalists, Dr Winternitz first voiced the need for Critical edition and started work on it. French has worked on the translations since 1863 and their work was much appreciated.

International Association of the Academies in Europe and America got on board in 1904. By 1908, Professor H Luders published the first volume. His volume is unfortunately missing from BORI library and records, we have the letters which he exchanged with Suktathankar and the first 12 pages of the BORI Critical edition are the first 12 pages of Professors Luders’s work derived from the letters translating the first 67 slokas.

These first 12 pages were done from extensive research of 29 different manuscripts available to Professor in Europe. The Germans and French went from strength to strength and obtained copies and versions from all over the world.

The World intervened, 1914 world war 1 started between Germany and England. Between the country of the majority of scholars and the country whose government was backing the project and that was reflected as the most shining example of the culture of British empire. German scholars were thrown out as enemy combatants and most likely their earlier works seized by the overzealous and uneducated police. That is why we have the missing volumes of Professor Luders. Somewhere in some dusty godown filled with thrown away FIRs and pieces of evidence from a million cases, a chest or series of boxes of files filled with this hard work of 17 years lie. Some Pandu hawaldar (Remember Inspector Garuda) probably takes some papers to pack his lunch in from the blood sweat and eventual tears of the first Mahabharatacharyas of Modern era.

On 6 July, 1918, The Bhandarkar Institute took the oath to start the work to create the critical edition. They started collecting the copies. Two generations of scholars would live and die and not see the completion of their efforts but they persevered nonetheless.

When Bharadwaja ran out of time, in his studies of Vedas, he would ask for a thousand more years from Indra. The scholars who started the work did not have ready access to Lord Indra. So they found another way to extend their lives, they found people who were equally interested and dedicated and found their immortality by reigniting the Guru Shishya parampara. Their students would replace them and carry on the work.

On April 1919, Dr RG Bhandarakar himself wrote the first verse:

Nayaranam namaskrtya Naram Chaiva Narottamam/
Devim sarasvatim chaiva tato jayam udirayet//

Dr. N B Utakigar, the first editor, published the Virata Parva first in 1923. From the wilds of Borneo, to the pre rainy evenings of Hardahalli, to the dusty plains of Balaramapur and the humid climes of Pabna, when the peasants gather to hear the story of Mahabharata, in 8th century Java, in 17th centiry Bengal, in 16th century royal court of Agra, in 20th century irrigation project villages of Visvesvaraya’s genius, they always say, read from Virata Parva. That also happened with the greatest literary project undertaken in suburban Poona.

In 1925, Indra came again and gave a fresh lease of life to the Modern Mahbharatacharya. He was now known as V S Suktathankar and as the general editor of the project, he got the first two adhyayas published in 1927. By 1933, entire Adiparva was complete and project got rolling faster.

Initial aim was to create the eight critical editions of the eight script versions. When that task became very huge and the progress slow, that was dropped. That is one reason why by the first decade, almost nothing got produced.

The BORI gathered 1159 mansuscripts, they ended up rejecting 400 of them leaving 800.
The two main rules now were:

  • Each stanza was looked at on its own. If the text of that stanza differed in other places, then all variants were looked at and then certain rules applied and one version picked. Sometimes close seconds were placed as footnotes.
  • They looked at stanza, part of sloka, or series of slokas which were clearly or proven spurious and dropped.

The smallest of 5 Northern variants is 83K slokas but they found in all 10K slokas which were spurious and hence Critical edition is 73K slokas.

Principles of Constitution

  1. If a sloka is in all the eight variants, It is taken as genuine and recognized. That is called N=S rule. The sloka is there in Southern as well. You see largest southern edition is 125K and Largets Northern was 86K but there would be slokas in Northern edition which were not in southern at all. So slokas in northern edition which do not appear in southern at all were dropped. Most of the Parvas were larger in Southern edition than Northern except Karna Parva. almost 35 chapters of Karna parva were dropped as spurious.
  2. Sloka is in North but not in all south. So the higher number of texts were used to break tie. The sloka had word Rosha in say 6 editions and in 2 it had kopa so Rosha would be used.
  3. If the reading was in double agreement and no tie was possible, then Kasmiri edition would have primacy. The Sarada script is difficult and less easy to adulterate. Also, Kashmir stood as fount of Hinduism for centuries against the Buddhist dominated bureaucracies and priesthood of early century of medieval India. Also kashmiri monasteries were located out of way and saved many ancient texts like kashmiri Histories like Rajataragini, Nilamata Purana et all. Very few other kingdoms or regions could claim the literature that Kashmir saved.
  4. If all the five northern editions agreed then that took primacy over southern edition. This is a critical edition for Northern edition by the way.

These rule identified a major issue. Was Arjuna a Brahmachari in twelve years of his exile or not?

Arjuna had many marriages in this period. 
The Northern edition stated 
Sa no dvadasa varsani brahmachari vane vasat!

The southern recession stated: 
So no Dvadasa Vai masan vratachari vane vasat!

Then Northern adds Dvadasa Varsani Vasaypajagama ha while southern just stated vane dvadasa masani.

This makes it clear. Arjuna took the oath of Brahmacharya for 12 months but travelled for 12 years. The Oath was for one year but he then spend 11 more years travelling around India, worshipping at various teerthas (Sacred Place) and meeting new people and leaving broken hearts behind.

These rules identified a mistake by BORI. In Sabha parva chapter 28, slokas 49, the BORI final choice was Antakhim. This identified the city of Antioch. This was a famous ancient city and can never be at same time as Mahabharata. But publishing that famous western city attracted lot of western scholars and western funding. 
The true translation should be atavim or astavim. Atavim means forested Port while Astavima., 8 ports or port with 8 temples like Pompuhar.

There was a second half-truth. In Sabha parva, chapter 28, sloka 49, the second city was translated as Roma or Rome. This also excited the western scholars. The translation was done by Edgerton only.

It is very clear that Roma is an ancient Indian word and denotes the region in Mianwali district and surroundings. Actually, In 1841, Cunningham in his great Geographical history of India, identified this region and this sloka and named it Raumaka. But, added interest from a rich university system and new set of scholars will only help the project!!

Ardha satya!!!
Krishna also used one didn’t he? Actually BORI was not sure of that at all!!

Well, these changes discussed are on sloka basis.

In thousand manuscripts they examined, the writers of those manuscripts had made scribal notes, noted the slokas or passaes they added from kataha vachaks and also noted some commentaries on their own and other’s works.

How should BORI team treat these passages?

These may be indicated by the writer as a borrowed passage but that may be true passage and recorded in folklore and not truly spurious. How to deal with them?

Then there were the pamphlet MahaParvas, Sauptika, Stree, Ashramavasika, Mausala, Swargarohana and Mahaprasthanika which do not fit the model. These are badly inserted, follow different styles, meters and contradict each other and others parts of Epic. They added inconsistencies to the Text.

Many older texts talked of 14 Maha Parvas including three missing ones being Arani and others.

And current actual Mahabharata has not eighteen but Twenty one Mahaparvas ( the three inside the appendix Harivamsa). So even if allowing for 3 Harivamsa as part of 18, that still leaves fifteen Mahaparvas, by dropping these 6 pamphlets and also the Anushasana clearly a later Buddhist editing and addition. That would leave Eight Mahaparvas (same number as identified in Indonesian Mahabharata originally as well) and seven needed to be identified.

Dr Edgerton the chief editor for Sabha and other Parvas decided to keep the pamphlets for now, this first step of the long process of critical edition need not change the whole picture of Mahabharata immediately.

To try to make text consistent on these points would enter into the realm of higher criticism.

They will not change the most common accepted list of current Mahaparvas. For now.

I myself as a content creator on a small website blog can very well identify with the feelings of Messrs, Edgerton, Suktathankar et all. I can always ignore some of my critics who would disagree with my statements. But, their whole project was dependent on mass acceptance and any major changes would stir the pot and weaken their financial backing.

To this end, they added a new rule 
Editions will be obtained from British India. From Sindhu to Ganga.” That also ruled out north west editions and Assamese editions as well as Pali editions from Near India and Javanese and other editions from Farther India.

The Critical edition is the first in the series of essential steps to reclaim the purest edition.

One concession they did do. They decided to work on Anushasana Parva last. This way, they can always state they finished the complete Hindu section and then added the Anushasana Parva work. Anushashasana would account for 30% of the dropped slokas when they cleaned it. Anushasana supposedly alone took 9 years.


by Pranshu B. Saxena

Post Author: Mahabharata World

3 thoughts on “Comments on Critical Edition

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *