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(430 words)

Author(s): Söhnen-Thieme, Renate
The Ramayana (Skt. “vehicle or romance of Rama”) is, with the Mahabharata, one of the two great epics of ancient India. Tradition ascribes it to the poet Vālmīki. Written between the fourth century b.c. and the second century a.d., it contains some 40,000 couplets in Sanskrit, divided into seven books. The older books (2–6) describe an important episode in the life of the king’s son Rama. Because of an intrigue on the part of his stepmother, who wanted to see her own son crowned, he was banished for 14 years into the wilderness, where his wi…


(408 words)

Author(s): Söhnen-Thieme, Renate
The Mahabharata (Skt. Mahābhārata, “Great History of the Bharata Dynasty”) comprises, together with the Purana-like Harivamsa ( Harivaṁśa, or genealogy and life of Krishna), over 100,000 Sanskrit stanzas, composed presumably between the fourth century b.c. and the fourth century a.d. The core of the epic is the conflict between the Pāṇḍavas (Pāṇḍu’s sons, including the Dharma-king Yudhiṣṭhira and Krishna’s friend Arjuna) and their hostile cousins, the Kauravas (descendants of Kuru), with whom they were contesting the sovereignty of North India. Of the 18 books…


(581 words)

Author(s): Söhnen-Thieme, Renate
The Purana (Skt. purāṇa, “ancient”), strictly an ancient traditional history, is a literary form that the Mahabharata, as an encyclopedia of traditional lore, carried forward into the post-Christian era. Along with the epics, Puranas are the most important literary source for Hinduism. By tradition the contents include the five areas of cosmology, the dying and rising again of the world, the genealogies of ancient gods and seers, the age of Manu (the first man), and the genealogies of kings (of the “moon race,” from whom the heroes o…


(697 words)

Author(s): Söhnen-Thieme, Renate
The word “Rig-Veda” means literally “sacred knowledge in stanzas.” As the sacred text in many strands of Hinduism, the Rig-Veda is a collection of 1,028 poems, with 10,600 stanzas in all. It is written in ancient Sanskrit and divided into 10 cycles, of which 1 and 8–10 were added later to an older corpus (2–7). In the latter the hymns of a traditional family of poets are collected and arranged according to deities and an ascending number of stanzas. The first part of the first cycle and then the…