Social Histories (Using the Mahabharata): NBSE Class 12 notes

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The chapter provides information on the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic that is considered one of the longest poems in the world. The text is believed to have been composed between 400 BCE and 400 CE and is divided into 18 books or parvas. The chapter discusses the challenges of reconstructing the text due to the fluid and constantly changing nature of the text, as well as the differences between the North and South versions of the text.

Despite these challenges, there are many parts of the text where the North and South versions are in full agreement, and a considerable number of passages can be reconstructed with certainty. the chapter also discusses various books that have been published on the Mahabharata, including Sorensen’s Index, which provides a concordance and summary of the parvans and sub-parvans, and E.P. Rice’s Analysis and Index of the Mahabharata, which gives a summary of the epic and an index of names and subjects.

The chapter also discusses N.V. Thandani’s Mystery of the Mahabharata, which covers five volumes and over 2000 pages and sets forth the theory that the Mahabharata is the symbolization of all the scientific lines. Additionally, the chapter discusses Utgikar’s work on the Devnagari revision of the Mahabharata, which revealed that it had a longer and a shorter text.

The chapter also provides information on the critical edition of the Mahabharata, which was published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, India. The critical edition was edited by V.S. Sukthankar and is considered the most authoritative version of the text. The first fascicule of the critical edition of the Adiparvam appeared in 1927, and subsequent fascicules were published at regular intervals. The complete Adiparvam was published in 1933 along with prolegomena, which covers practically all aspects of the Mahabharata text criticism and is a brilliant exposition of the entire text-problem.

The publication of the critical edition of the Adiparvam has been acclaimed as “the most important event in the history of Sanskrit philology” since the publication of Max Muller’s edition of the Rig-Veda by Winternitz. The chapter also discusses the importance of the Mahabharata in Indian history and culture, as well as its influence on literature, art, and religion.

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Textual questions and answers

Very Short Answer Questions

1. What is meant by “grassroot history”?

Answer: Grassroot history is often described as history from below because it deals with the everyday people, the masses, and how they shape history rather than their leaders.

2. Define a social class.

Answer: A social class is one of the two or more broad groups of individuals who are ranked by the members of the community in socially superior and inferior positions.

3. What are the two types of kinship?

Answer: The two types of kinship are affinal kinship and consanguineous kinship.

4. Which research institute prepared and published the critical edition of Mahabharata? How did it start its work?

Answer: The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute prepared and published the critical edition of Mahabharata. The work proceeded on systematic and scientific lines. Utgikar pointed out that on a study of select chapters of the epic that the Devnagari revision of this work on the basis of critical examination of the text and the sources used revealed that it had a longer and a shorter text.

5. Give the views of C. Rajagopalacharya about the influence of Mahabharata.

Answer: C. Rajagopalacharya writes, “The Mahabharata belongs to the world and not only to India. To the people of India, indeed the epic has been an unfailing and perennial source of spiritual strength. Learnt at the mother’s knee with reverence and love, it has inspired great men to heroic deeds as well as enabled the humble to face their trails with fortitude and faith.”

Short Answer Type Questions

1. Analyse the role of Indian Sanskritist V.S Suthankar and his team in the preparation of critical edition of Mahabharata.

Answer: V.S. Suthankar and his team prepared the critical edition of the Mahabharata by starting the systematic publication of the Adiparvam in 1927. The complete Adiparvam was published in 1933, along with a detailed prolegomena. Their work was acclaimed as the most important in Sanskrit philology since Max Muller’s Rig-Veda. They identified and authenticated the best existing manuscripts, notably the Kashmirian version, and divided manuscripts into North and South versions for accurate reconstruction.

2. Who composed the original story of Mahabharata in oral form? Explain any four elements considered by historians while analyzing the Mahabharata.

Answer: The Mahabharata was originally composed by Vyasa in oral form. The four elements considered by historians are: (1) Historical context, (2) Social structure and norms, (3) Astronomical data, (4) Linguistic and stylistic features .

3. What, according to the Dharmashastras, were the ideal occupations for the four varnas? Give one way in which the Brahmanas tried to enforce these norms.

Answer: According to the Dharmashastras, the ideal occupations were: (1) Brahmanas: study and teach the Vedas, perform sacrifices, give and receive gifts. (2) Kshatriyas: warfare, protect people, run administration, study Vedas, perform sacrifices, make gifts. (3) Vaishyas: agriculture, pastoralism, trade, study Vedas, perform sacrifices, make gifts. (4) Shudras: serve the three higher varnas. The Brahmanas enforced these norms by claiming the varna order was divine and advising kings to follow this system.

4. Give the arguments in favour of the authenticity of the Mahabharata.

Answer: The arguments for the authenticity of the Mahabharata are: (1) It claims to be “itihas,” meaning ‘thus occurred.’ (2) It records the annals of the Bharata dynasty. (3) It contains detailed genealogies of more than 50 kings. (4) Astronomical recordings align with historical planetary positions. (5) The archaeological discovery of Dwaraka supports its events.

5. Critically examine the social order of caste hierarchies laid in Dharamshastra & Dharma sutras.

Answer: The Dharamshastra and Dharma sutras place Brahmanas at the top, followed by Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Birth determines one’s position. Brahmanas claimed the varna order was divine, advised kings to maintain it, and persuaded people that status was birth-determined. Despite this rigid structure, instances of non-Kshatriyas becoming kings and numerous jatis indicate some social mobility.

6. Why do we call Mahabarata a dynamic book? Explain.

Answer: The Mahabharata is called a dynamic book because its versions were written in different languages and continuously evolved through dialogues between peoples and communities. Stories from various regions found a place in the epic, and its episodes were depicted in sculptures, paintings, plays, dances, radio, cinema, television, and other narrations.

Long Answer Type Questions

1. “Because of the diversity of the Indian subcontinent, there have always been populations whose social practices were not influenced by the Brahminical ideas during 600 BCE – 600 CE.” Examine the statement.

Answer: The diversity of the Indian subcontinent has resulted in populations whose social practices were not influenced by Brahmanical ideas. These populations were often described as odd, uncivilised, or even animal-like in Sanskrit texts. They included forest dwellers, hunters, nomadic pastoralists, and those who spoke non-Sanskrit languages, labelled as mlechchhas. These groups were looked down upon and considered outside the influence of the varna system. The Brahmanas, while dividing people outside the varna system, categorized some as ‘untouchables’. Activities such as handling corpses and dead animals were seen as polluting, and those who performed these tasks were designated as Chandalas, placed at the lowest level of the social hierarchy.

The Manusmriti stated the duties of the Chandalas, requiring them to live outside villages, use discarded utensils, and wear clothes and ornaments of the dead. They were prohibited from walking in villages at night and were responsible for disposing of unclaimed dead bodies and serving as executioners. Chinese travellers Fa-Hien and Hieun Tsang wrote about the marginalization of the Chandalas, who were forced to announce their presence when entering cities.

However, there are occasional hints of different social realities. The Matanga Jataka, a Pali text, mentions that the Buddha in a previous birth was a Chandala named Matanga, who overcame hardships to marry a merchant’s daughter and provided food to Brahmanas. This indicates that social mobility was possible, albeit rare. Thus, the subcontinent’s diversity allowed for social practices that deviated from Brahmanical norms, with various communities maintaining distinct customs and traditions.

2. Discuss the transmission and duplication of the Mahabharata.

Answer: The Mahabharata, one of India’s greatest epics, has undergone significant transmission and duplication over centuries. Initially an oral tradition, it was written down at various stages, allowing for additions, alterations, and regional variations. This fluid nature of the text provided opportunities for scribes, scholars, poets, and reciters to contribute, making it a living, evolving document.

A critical edition of the Mahabharata was undertaken by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute to address the numerous versions and inconsistencies. Eminent indologists like Winternitz and Macdonnell emphasized the need for a critical edition. The project began with European scholars, but the First World War halted progress. Later, the Bhandarkar Institute formed an Editorial Board, and systematic, scientific work commenced under the leadership of Utgikar and later Sukthankar. The critical edition involved meticulous collation of manuscripts, including those in Devanagari, Sharda, Nepali, Maithili, Bengali, Telugu, Grantha, and Malayalam scripts.

Sukthankar’s work established the Kashmirian version of the text as the most authentic, being the shortest and least interpolated. The Southern versions, particularly the Malabar version, also contributed significantly. The project utilized secondary sources like the Javanese version, Andhra adaptations, Persian translations, and commentaries by scholars such as Devabodha and Arjunamisra.

The critical edition aimed to purge the text of later additions, spurious shlokas, and long passages, relying on manuscript evidence. Agreement between the North (Kashmirian) and South (Malabar) versions was taken as a strong indication of originality. Despite challenges, the project successfully reconstructed substantial parts of the text, providing a reliable version of the Mahabharata for future generations.

3. What does the Mahabharata tell us about the social history of its time, quoting the sources of study?

Answer: The Mahabharata provides extensive insights into the social history of ancient India. It documents practices such as cow killing, human sacrifices, and non-Aryan customs like polyandry, as seen with the Pandavas sharing one wife. By around 200 AD, the doctrine of Ahimsa, or non-injury to living creatures, had become prominent, indicating a significant shift in social norms.

During the Mahabharata period, the caste system grew more rigid. Shudras were increasingly looked down upon, while Brahmanas were highly respected and considered next to gods. Political power was vested in the Kshatriyas, with the Vaishyas holding lesser importance. A Samrat, or emperor, typically had a Brahman minister who acted as a spiritual guide. The caste distinctions became more pronounced, making it difficult to move from one caste to another. However, higher castes could still intermarry with lower orders, though marriages with Shudras were frowned upon.

The position of women had not changed much; they were esteemed as mothers and wives and given equal participation in religious ceremonies. Women sometimes chose their husbands through the custom of Svayamvar, or self-choice. Polygamy was common among royals and the wealthy. The custom of Sati, where a widow self-immolates on her husband’s pyre, also emerged during this period. Women like Draupadi and Savitri were celebrated for their learning and philosophical contributions.

Religiously, there was a shift from simple Vedic nature worship to elaborate rituals. New gods and goddesses, such as Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, and Parvati, became prominent. The doctrines of Karma and rebirth, along with the practice of tapasya (meditation with physical austerity), were prevalent and adopted by Brahmanism. Thus, the Mahabharata captures the evolving social, religious, and cultural landscape of ancient India.

4. “Mahabharata is a complex text.” Support the statement in the context of historians who have analysed it with various elements.

Answer: The Mahabharata is indeed a complex text, both in its content and its historical significance. As the longest epic poem in the world, it contains over one lakh shlokas or verses, covering a vast array of themes and stories. It is not merely an epic but a comprehensive narrative that includes romance, heroic tales, philosophical discourses, and ethical dilemmas.

One of the central elements of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita, which teaches the doctrine of nishkama karma—performing one’s duty without desire for reward. This philosophical idea has deeply influenced Hindu thought and showcases the epic’s role in shaping spiritual and ethical beliefs. The Mahabharata’s narrative complexity is also evident in its depiction of kinship, marriages, and patriliny. The epic tells the story of a family feud over land and power between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, highlighting the dynamics of family relations and succession.

Historians have also noted the Mahabharata’s role in reflecting and reinforcing social norms. For instance, the epic discusses the caste system and social hierarchies, with the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras each assigned specific duties and statuses. The text reflects the rigidity of the caste system and the Brahmanical attempt to maintain social order through divine justification and moral stories.

The Mahabharata’s historical authenticity has been a subject of debate. While some view it as a work of fiction, others, like Dr. Prasad Gokhle, argue for its historical basis, citing detailed genealogies, astronomical data, and archaeological evidence, such as the discovery of Dwaraka. The epic’s transmission has added to its complexity. It has undergone numerous additions, alterations, and regional adaptations, making it a dynamic and evolving text. Critical editions, like those prepared by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, have attempted to reconstruct the most authentic version, highlighting the textual variations and multiple manuscript traditions. This multi-faceted nature of the Mahabharata underscores its complexity as both a literary masterpiece and a historical document.

5. “The Mahabharata is a story of kinship, marriages and patriliny.” Examine the statement.

Answer: The Mahabharata is fundamentally a story about kinship, marriages, and patriliny, reflecting the social structures and values of ancient Indian society. At its core, the epic narrates the conflict between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, over land and power, emphasizing the significance of family ties and succession.

Kinship is central to the Mahabharata’s narrative. The story revolves around the ruling family of the Kurus, with the conflict between the Kauravas and Pandavas culminating in the great battle of Kurukshetra. The epic explores how kinship relations evolve and change, with characters bound by blood and marriage playing pivotal roles in the unfolding drama. King Vichitravirya’s sons, Pandu and Dhritarashtra, and their descendants, illustrate the importance of family lineage and the tensions that arise from inheritance disputes.

Marriages in the Mahabharata are portrayed as strategic alliances that reinforce social and political ties. The practice of Svayamvar, where princesses choose their husbands from among assembled suitors, highlights the agency of women in marital decisions. However, marriages also serve to strengthen patrilineal succession, as seen in the case of Draupadi, who marries the five Pandavas, binding their destinies together. The concept of Kanyadana, or the gift of a daughter in marriage, underscores the patriarchal values that governed marital practices.

Patriliny, or the transmission of power and property through the male line, is a recurring theme in the Mahabharata. The epic reinforces the idea of patrilineal succession, where sons inherit their fathers’ resources and positions. The central conflict between the Kauravas and Pandavas is rooted in the desire for patrilineal inheritance, with Dhritarashtra and Pandu’s sons vying for control of the kingdom. The importance of patriliny is further emphasized by the Brahmanical codes of conduct, which dictate that daughters do not have a claim to family resources and must marry outside their kin group to uphold exogamy.

Thus, the Mahabharata intricately weaves themes of kinship, marriages, and patriliny, providing a window into the social and familial structures of its time. The epic’s exploration of these themes reflects the broader cultural and historical context of ancient India, making it a timeless narrative of human relationships and societal norms.

Multiple Choice Questions

1. He excavated the Meerut District in 1951-52:

A. B.B.Vats
B. B.B.Lal
C. Rakhal Das Banerjee
D. James Princep

Answer: A. B.B.Vats

2. It was given to the King for his service:

A. Fine
B. Interest
C. Gift
D. Tax

Answer: C. Gift

3. Which of the following statements is incorrect regarding Mahabharat?

A. It was compiled between 200 BC – 200 AD.
B. Mahabharat is in Sanskrit.
C. The Sanskrit used in Mahabharat is simpler than Vedic Sanskrit.
D. Historians have divided the text into three parts.

Answer: D. Historians have divided the text into three parts.

4. Which of the following statements is incorrect regarding marriage?

A. In Intermarriage, one marries among the same Gotra.
B. In Exogamy, one marries outside the Gotra.
C. In Polyandry, a man can marry three wives.
D. In Polygamy, a woman can marry more than one man.

Answer: D. In Polygamy, a woman can marry more than one man.

5. Match the Right Pairs and select the right option:

(i) How many days did the Mahabharata war take to be finished?(A) 102
(ii) In which chapter of the Mahabharata is the description of the eight types of marriages?(B) Vichtravivya
(iii) Ganga Putra is?(C) Sanskrit
(iv) Whose wife was Amba?(D) Bhisma
(v) The Mahabharata was composed in?(E) 18

A. (i)-(E), (ii)-(A), (iii)-(D), (iv)-(B), (v)-(C)
B. (i)-(A), (ii)-(C), (iii)-(E), (iv)-(B), (v)-(D)
C. (i)-(D), (ii)-(C), (iii)-(A), (iv)-(B), (v)-(E)
D. (i)-(D), (ii)-(E), (iii)-(A), (iv)-(C), (v)-(B)

Answer: A. (i)-(E), (ii)-(A), (iii)-(D), (iv)-(B), (v)-(C)

Competency-Based Questions

Multiple Choice Questions

1. Which of the following statements is incorrect regarding Mahabharat?

A. It was compiled between 200 BC – 200 AD.
B. Mahabharat is in Sanskrit.
C. The Sanskrit used in Mahabharat is simpler than Vedic Sanskrit.
D. Historians have divided the text into three parts.

Answer: D. Historians have divided the text into three parts.

2. Identify the character of Mahabharata with the help of the following information:

(i) Was the husband of Gandhari.
(ii) Became the King of Hastinapur.

A. Pandu
B. Dhritrashtra
C. Yudhisthira
D. Duryodhana

Answer: B. Dhritrashtra

3. Which of the following statements is incorrect regarding marriage?

A. In Intermarriage, one marries among the same Gotra.
B. In Exogamy, one marries outside the Gotra.
C. In Polyandry, a man can marry three wives.
D. In Polygamy, a woman can marry more than one man.

Answer: D. In Polygamy, a woman can marry more than one man.

4. Match the column A with column B.

Column A:
(i) Early Buddhist Text
(ii) Ramayan and Mahabharat
(iii) Compilation of the puranas
(iv) First Dharam Sutra

Column B:
A. Around 200 BCE
B. 500-200 BCE
C. 500-400 BCE
D. 3500-100 BCE

A. (i) (C), (ii) (D), (iii) (A), (iv) (B)
B. (i) (D), (ii) (B), (iii) (A), (iv) (C)
C. (i) (A), (ii) (B), (iii) (C), (iv) (D)
D. (i) (D), (ii) (C), (iii) (A), (iv) (B)

Answer: B. (i) (D), (ii) (B), (iii) (A), (iv) (C)

5. Which one of the following statements is the correct explanation of ‘Endogamy’?

A. Marriage outside a kin group.
B. Marriage within a kin group.
C. A woman having several husbands.
D. A man having several wives.

Answer: B. Marriage within a kin group.

Assertion-Reason Questions

1. Assertion (A): Mahabharata is the story of fraternity’s changing relationships.
Reason (R): The Mahabharata is the story of two parties of the Kuru dynasty Kauravas Pandav, fighting over the land, power and throne.

Answer: (a) Both (A) and (R) are true and (R) is the correct explanation of (A).

2. Assertion (A): Mahabharata is an account of various social categories and circumstances.
Reason (R): In the Mahabharata, the standards of conduct of various social communities have been set.

Answer: (a) Both (A) and (R) are true and (R) is the correct explanation of (A).

3. Assertion (A): Mahabharata is a dynamic book.
Reason (R): Many texts of Mahabharata were written in different languages which spread among specific people.

Answer: (a) Both (A) and (R) are true and (R) is the correct explanation of (A).

4. Assertion (A): Vaishyas and Shudras welcomed new non-sanatani religions.
Reason (R): Non-sanatani religions opposed the caste system and spoke of its abolition.

Answer: (a) Both (A) and (R) are true and (R) is the correct explanation of (A).

5. Assertion (A): The expansion of Aryanization led to an increase in the number of Brahmins.
Reason (R): Anulom vivah, bringing the priests of local sects into the Brahmin varna increased the number of Brahmins.

Answer: (a) Both (A) and (R) are true and (R) is the correct explanation of (A).

Case-based Questions

A1. Who were Kauravas?

Answer: Sons of Dhritarashtra

A2. Who came to the throne of Hastinapur after the premature death of Pandu?

Answer: Dhritarashtra

A3. Why did the citizens of Hastinapur like and prefer the Pandavas?

Answer: Both (i) and (ii)

A4. Who was Duryodhana?

Answer: Duryodhana was the eldest of the Kauravas

B1. Why did Drona refuse to accept Ekalavya as his pupil?

Answer: Drona refused to accept Ekalavya as his pupil because Ekalavya was a nishada, a member of a hunting community. Drona, who followed the dharma (the prescribed duty or moral law), likely considered it improper to teach a person from this community, as it did not align with the social and religious norms of that time.

B2. How did Ekalavya acquire the supreme skill of archery?

Answer: Ekalavya acquired supreme skill in archery by creating a clay image of Drona and treating it as his teacher. He practised diligently on his own, honing his skills without formal instruction.

B3. Why did Ekalavya introduce himself to the Pandavas as a pupil of Drona?

Answer: Ekalavya introduced himself to the Pandavas as a pupil of Drona because he considered Drona to be his teacher, even though he was not formally accepted as a student. By practising in front of the clay image of Drona and honouring him as his teacher, Ekalavya regarded himself as Drona’s disciple.

Extra/additional MCQs

1. What is the main focus of social history according to the text?

A. Political history
B. Military history
C. Economic trends
D. Social trends

Answer: D. Social trends

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34. Who is considered as an incarnation of god Vishnu according to the Mahabharata?

A. Yudhishtira
B. Bhishma
C. Krishna
D. Karna

Answer: C. Krishna

Extra/additional questions and answers

1. What is social history?

Answer: Social history is an area of historical study. Some writers consider it a social science that attempts to view historical evidence from the point of view of developing social trends. In this view, the social history may include areas of economic history, legal history and the analysis of other aspects of social society that show the evolution of norms, behaviours and more.

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34. How did the growth of the Mahabharata continue after the writing of its Sanskrit version?

Answer: The growth of Mahabharata did not end with the writing of its Sanskrit version. Beginning from ancient times, versions of this great epic were written in different languages through a continuous process of dialogues between peoples, communities, and those who wrote the texts. Many stories about the events of Mahabharata that originated in specific regions or circulated among certain peoples and communities found place in the epic. Even the central story of the epic was often told in different ways. The episodes were also depicted in sculptures and paintings. These episodes also provided themes for a wide range of performing arts – plays, dances, radio, cinema, and television, and other kinds of narrations.

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