“Mahabhrata: One of the two great epic poems of ancient India (the other being the Ramayana), about eight times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey together. It is a great compendium, added to as late as AD 600, although it had very nearly acquired its present form by the 4th century. Covering an enormous range of topics, the Mahabharata, with its famous interpolation, the Bhagavadgita, has as its central theme the great war between the sons of two royal brothers, in a struggle for succession. The brothers are Dhritarashtra and Pandu, their families being referred to respectively as the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The Pandavas ultimately prevail, the eldest of them, Yudhishtira, gains the throne, and Arjuna, one of his younger brothers and in many ways the hero of the entire epic (especially through the Bhagavadgita), gains the hand of the lovely Draupadi and brings her home as the wife of all five brothers, The epic also contains the Shantiparvan, an important discourse on statecraft, and the famous Savitri episode, the tale of Nala Damayantt. In its totality, it is an encyclopedia of Hindu life, legend, and thought: ‘What is not in the Mahabharata,’ says the Mahabharata, ‘is not to be found anywhere else in the world.'”
Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.