The Mahābhārata’s Supporting Texts in Literary Culture and History

Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (RPG-2021-177)
1 October, 2021 to 30 September, 2024

Principal Investigator: Chris Minkowski, Boden Professor of Sanskrit (ret’d)
Postdoctoral Researcher: Vishal Sharma (DPhil Oxford 2020)

The Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata has remained an influential text in South Asia for the past two millennia, particularly for Hindus who refer to it as the “Fifth Veda.” Its continued relevance and popularity today are neither an automatic result of its antiquity nor an accident of modernity. At least a millennium after the promulgation of the epic, from the 11th century onward, there was a proliferation of literature supporting the Bhārata-- commentaries, versified summaries, polemical essays, tables of contents, and indices. For reasons that have not been yet explained, commentaries on both Sanskrit epics emerged in the same period, often with the same authors, based in the same religious and political institutions.

This project studies how these understudied (and in some cases, unpublished) Sanskrit texts affected the transmission and reception of the Mahābhārata. It investigates the cultural moment in late-medieval and early modern India when the genre of epic commentary emerged, and examines how premodern scholastic, religious and literary communities used these texts to debate the epic’s meaning.

Planned outcomes:


  • On Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara (seventeenth century) author of a prominent Mahābhārata commentary, the Bhāratabhāvadīpikā, and a dozen other works in a variety of disciplines. (Minkowski)
  • On the contestation of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa’s divinity in the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata commentaries and related polemical works. (Sharma)

Edited volume

  • On Appayya Dīkṣita’s Bhāratatātparyasaṃgraha, a sixteenth-century polemical text that makes a disruptive claim about the Mahābhārata’s meaning.

Bibliographies (to be mounted on the Pandit Project’s prosopographical database)

  • A title list of the Mahābhārata’s commentaries and ancillary literature in Sanskrit, whether published or available only in manuscript form.
  • A bibliography of secondary work on the same literature.

Journal Articles

  • Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, and the Age of Vedānta
  • The Mahābhārata’s Permaculture and the History of the Text
  • The Commentators on the Mahābhārata’s Battle Books
  • The Interactions between the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata Commentaries

Textual edition

Vimalabodha’s Durghaṭārthaprakāśinī, also called Durbodhapadabodhinī, a twelfth or thirteenth century commentary, known to most later commentators, relatively complete, if selective. Only the commentaries on the Virāṭaparvan and Udyogaparvan have been previously published.