What Difference Does the Harivaṃśa Make to the Mahābhārata?

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Simon Brodbeck



The Harivaṃśa has usually been seen as a later addition appended to the Mahābhārata, and so the Mahābhārata has usually been understood without it . This article first introduces an alternative approach, whereby these two texts are viewed as a single whole, and justifies that approach on the basis of the details presented in Mbh 1 .2 . Then the Harivaṃśa’s narrative mechanics are summarized, to contextualize what follows . The main body of the article offers three kinds of answer to the title question of what difference the Harivaṃśa makes to the Mahābhārata . The first answer is theological: the Harivaṃśa emphasizes the divine level of the Mahābhārata story as the story of the gods descending to help the earth . The second answer is narratological: the Harivaṃśa continues and completes the story of Janamejaya begun in Mbh 1, thus emphasizing his role for the text as a whole . The third answer is structural: if the Mahābhārata includes the Harivaṃśa then the whole text (Mbh 1–18 plus the Harivaṃśa) can be studied and analyzed as a macrocompositional unit . The “Mahābhārata as a whole” has been the subject of collaborative study in recent years, and this article continues that study, with regard to a fuller whole . The article, unlike that whole, is short, sketchy, and provisional . It looks forward to further and corrective studies in all the sketched areas, and more .

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