What evidence have we as to when the Mahābhārata attained to the form in which we possess it? There is an inscription in a land grant dating from 462 A.D. or at the latest 532 A.D., which proves incontrovertibly that the epic about 500 A.D. was practically of exactly the same length as it is stated to have in the survey of contents (anukramaṇikā) given in Book I., and as it actually has now; for it contains the following words: "It has been declared in the Mahābhārata, the compilation embracing 100,000 verses, by the highest sage, Vyāsa, the Vyāsa of the Vedas, the son of Parāçara." This quotation at the same time proves that the epic at that date included the very long 12th and 13th, as well as the extensive supplementary book, the Harivaṃça, without any one of which it would have been impossible to speak even approximately of 100,000 verses. There are also several land grants, dated between 450 and 500 A.D., and found in various parts of India, which quote the Mahābhārata as an authority teaching the rewards of pious donors and the punishments of impious despoilers. This shows that in the middle of the fifth century it already possessed the same character as at present, that of a Smṛiti or Dharmaçāstra. It is only reasonable to suppose that it had acquired this character at least a century earlier, or by about 350 A.D. Further research in the writings of the Northern Buddhists and their dated Chinese translations will probably enable us to put this date back by some centuries. We are already justified in considering it likely that the great epic had become a didactic compendium before the beginning of our era. In any case, the present state of our knowledge entirely disproves the suggestions put forward by Prof. Holtzmann in his work on the Mahābhārata, that the
Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/299
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