Pāli literature of Buddhism, and, on the other, the earliest form of Sanskrit poetry in the shape of epic tales. We have seen that even the Rigveda contains some hymns of a narrative character. Later we find in the Brāhmaṇas a number of short legends, mostly in prose, but sometimes partly metrical, as the story of Çunaḥçepa in the Aitareya. Again, the Nirukta, which must date from the fifth century B.C., contains many prose tales, and the oldest existing collection of Vedic legend, the metrical Bṛihaddevatā, cannot belong to a much later time.
Sanskrit epic poetry falls into two main classes. That which comprises old stories goes by the name of Itihāsa, "legend," Ākhyāna, "narrative," or Purāṇa, "ancient tale," while the other is called Kāvya or artificial epic. The Mahābhārata is the chief and oldest representative of the former group, the Rāmāyaṇa of the latter. Both these great epics are composed in the same form of the çloka metre as that employed in classical Sanskrit poetry. The Mahābhārata, however, also contains, as remnants of an older phase, archaic verses in the upajāti and vaṃçastha (developments of the Vedic trishṭubh and jagatī) metres, besides preserving some old prose stories in what is otherwise an entirely metrical work. It further differs from the sister epic in introducing speeches with words, such as "Bṛihadaçva spake," which do not form part of the verse, and which may be survivals of prose narrative connecting old epic songs. The Rāmāyaṇa, again, is, in the main, the work of a single poet, homogeneous in plan and execution, composed in the east of India. The Mahābhārata, arising in the western half of the country, is a congeries of parts, the only unity about which is the connectedness of the