The Mahabharata is a work of encyclopaedic character and a literature of universal interest. Accordingly it has attracted a large number of Indologists all over the world for research and analysis. The importance of the Epic undoubtedly rests in its unbounded wealth of cultural materials which should be studied more thoroughly and impartially. For instance the bulk of tribal names found in the Mahabharata, may surprise even a modern surveyor of ethnography. This has also led to some fanciful speculations by modern analysts like; ''the Great Epic of India is essentially the story of Native rebellion against Aryan exploitation.'' etc. Here for the first time, the subject has been thoroughly studied with utmost care and impartiality. The study of ethnography without a consideration of the cultural background can never be complete and therefore a comprehensive study of the socio-political and economic life of the period has been done with due attentiveness. The emergence of 'caste' from 'tribe' is a great basic fact of the Hindu society and it has been concluded on the analysis of facts that the Great Epic represents that crucial era of transition when the decline of tribal culture had begun by the ascendence of powerful monar-chies in the political set up of the country. This book virtually serves the purpose of all those engaged in the research of ancient history, sociology and ethnography of South-East Asia. At the same time it will taste as an interesting cultural commentary to a lay-reader of the Mahabharata.
Dr. Krishna Chandra Mishra M.A.[Sans. (Goldmedalist) & Hindi] Sahityacharya, Ph. D. (b. 30.4.1935). Trained in both oriental & modern educational institutions, Dr Mishra has the rare capability of combining the traditional scholarship with modern analytical methods of research. He has published more than three dozen articles in Sanskrit, English, Hindi, and Nepali on considerably variegated topics of literature, linguistics & history, writing in many reputed journals of India & Nepal. At present Dr. Mishra is the Professor & Head of the Hindi Department in Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Following pages comprise the outcome of my research on the problems of the Great Epic of India, conducted a decade ago. The work was originally started with an aim to collect and evaluate the ethnographic and cultural data in the Mahabharata which presents immense material for such studies, more than any other work of Indian antiquity. This subject had attracted many Indologists in past and scholars such as Hopkins (JAOS, 1889), C.V. Vaidya, (Epic India, 1907) and Sukhamaya Bhattacharya (Mahabharata Kalina, Samaja, Bangla, 1946) added to their names some remarkable contributions in this field. More-over, piecemeal study of the cultural data in the Mahabharata is yet a popular theme of many research dissertations and independent historical writings in India and abroad. Hopkins' work, however, both in its bulk and merit, still excells all the past and present attempts in this direction. But, now a thorough revision of the material presented in his paper and the books of the other two writers mentioned above is necessitated in the light of the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. Our attempt in the present work is to cope with this demand to the maximum possible extent.
The study of the ethnographic material in the Epic, initiated by Pargiter (JRAS, 1908), has seen considerable advance in Robert Shafer's book (1954) which collects the names of tribes with their variants in the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. But this work, besides lacking comprehensiveness, suffers from the personal prejudices and bias of the author. As these points have been raised and discussed elsewhere in this book, we do not wish to anticipate them, but we consider it imperative to remark that an 'ethnography' without a consideration of the cultural background can hardly be deemed to be complete.
In the present work we have added separate chapters elaborating the development of ethnic settlements in ancient India and their cultural aspects. The emergence of casts from tribe is perhaps the most basic fact of Indian anthropology and socio-logy. Consequently this problem has absorbed our attention from beginning to the end. With regard to presentation of the cultural history, we plead we have not always been a neutral collector of facts. Such delineations are sure to involve some sort of theorization and no theory is possible without a bent of subjective views. In other words we cannot faithfully write about 'past' unless we achieve some kind of contact with the minds of those whom we write about. What is more important, we can and should view the past through the eye of the present to have the real benefits from 'historical understanding'. This makes the historical study a dynamic process which allows wide scope of difference in our understanding of the past, from time to time, place to place and person to person. On this basis I have recorded my differences regarding the evaluation of Indian culture as depicted in our Great Epic, by the past scholars, particularly those from. Occident.
I can hardly claim to have discovered new facts or to have formed final views on the problems of the Mahabharata. I am also conscious of the limitations in my work, e.g. scare use of evidences other than literary or published, due to unavoidable restrictions involved in the present scheme. But I shall not be guilty of exaggeration in recording my exclusive devotion to the study of the Great Epic for about five long years, though not at a single time and spot. If the following pages prove to be a product of sincere labour, that is enough to apprise them. The Mahabharata is a work of encyclopaedic character and a literature of universal interest. Its preservation through regular studies is the utmost duty of all those engaged in the renaissance of Hindu culture. We envisage for the future a comprehensive cultural commentary on this national saga of India. This feat may be achieved by an active cooperation of all those engaged in the studies of the Epic. Our contribution, in this field, is limited to the fulfilment of a task, contemplated beforehand.
The topic ''Tribes in the Mahabharata : A Socio-cultural Study'' was suggested to me by Prof. Dr. B. R. Sharma (ex-Director, Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapitha, Tirupitha, Tirupati) and Director Late Dr. P.L. Vaidya (then General Editor, Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, Bhandarkar Instt., Poona) when I worked under them as a research student at Mithila Research Institute, Darbhanga, from August .1957 to July 1959. However, the work could not advance further than collection of material from the Mahabharata and had to be shelved owing to my appointment in a college. After hectic activities in my pursuit of research, for several years, I was selected for a Re-search Fellowship under the Technical Cooperation Scheme of the Colombo Plan of the Government of India (for Nepal), in the year 1965, which enabled me to resume my work under the supervision of Prof. Dr. A. K. Narain, then Principal, College of Idology, Banaras Hindu University. This work has been accomplished mainly by my assignment under the above Scheme. However the thesis could not be published subsequently after its approval for the award of the degree of Ph. D by the Banaras Hindu University, owing to my appointment at Kathmandu and thereafter staying abroad (China) for several years. Obviously there has been a sizable gap between the periods of the composition and publication of this book. During this period, some important contributions on the problems of the Mahabharata appeared in the journals and book-form, but none of them, so far my knowledge goes, described the 'tribes and their life' as demonstrated in the Epic.
The Mahabharata is rightly esteemed as the 'greatest work of imagination' that India (and one might say with some justification, the world) has produced. This is great both in bulk and contents (Mahatwadbharavatwacca). No work of Indian antiquity can ever claim to have touched the height of its popularity. It is read with equal enthusiasm and respect in the intellectual chambers of pundits as well as by the unsophisticated peasantry. The best tribute paid to the Epic appears in the words of the German Indologist Hermann Oldenberg: ''In the Mahabharata breathe the united soul of India and the individual souls of her people.''' Our Epic is both a history and a poem. It is considered as a representative work of Itihasa tradition or a piece of historical Literature} But it is more than an ordinary work of history, being a tale of the glorious march of humanity itself, a code of conduct for man and above all a record of his intellectual adventures. The source of its immense popularity lies in the encyclopaedic character of the Epic and the progressive philosophy of life which it inculcates. This, the Epic poets have learned in the lone course of its evolution from the changing milieu of audience and through their own natural synthetic outlook. The Mahabharata, in this respect, is obviously distinct from other Brahmanic compositions and unique in the whole range of Sanskrit literature. Here the aim of Epic poets seem to have been the glorification of masses, which, to them, were the visible embodiment of the God (Narayana) Himself. Consequently, all sorts of popular literature, relics of religious poetry, folklore, legendary or historical episodes along with an inexhaustible score of the names of peoples inhabiting this sub-continent and account of their lands, race and culture have been accumulated and incorporated in the body of the narrative. The beginning of historical composition in India is documented from the time of the Rigveda in the form of gatheis and naredathsis, i.e., the royal eulogies which later developed into eikhydna or historical narratives of individual kings or priests. The Mahabharata has incorporated numerous earlier Brahmanic akhydnas5 and the work itself has been described as an akhyana.6 Probably, some families of priests specialized in the composition of historical poems from the earliest time. Promi-nent among them were the families of Va§istha and Bhrgu-Afigiras, both of whom were responsible for the growth of this historical epic of the Mahabharata. The Vagisthas were con-nected with the royal family of the Bharatas and their one des-cendant, Vyasa, the son of ParAgara, produced this Epic.' It is said that royal eulogies earlier ''existed as a floating mass of literature and gave rise to Bharata saga to which Vyasa seems to have given a literary garb''.8 However, the Mahabharata which started as an epic poem by Vyasa, a descendant of Vagistha, received its present from in the hands of the Bhrgu-Aligiras family' of the priest poets (sutas) who became the sole custodian of the historical tradition (Itihcisti-Purand) in India. Vyasa is credited to have composed the Ur-Mahabharata, called Jaya (history of the victory of the Bharatas), which was subsequently developed by his five pupils, taught by himself, in five separate versions.
**Contents and Sample Pages**