Three Rails of the Mahåbhårata Text Tradition

How to Cite

T. P. Mahadevan. (2022). Three Rails of the Mahåbhårata Text Tradition: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 19(2), 27–73. Retrieved from


A critical edition (CE) of a work, by definition, is an assemblage of its available texts, anchored on the twin maxims of textual scholarship: brevior lectio praeferenda est (the shortest text is to be preferred) and Schriftartenprämisse (manuscripts [MSS] in the same script belong together.) A CE thusforegrounds a constituted text from available manuscripts of the work and relegates
its variant readings to the critical apparatus. The reader has before him the shortest but most complete text of the work, along with what may be thought of as its “alter texts,” the latter arising from a number of historical vicissitudes of transcription and transmission of the text and placed in the critical apparatus of the CE. Much discourse has been expended on the issue of whether the Mahābhārata (Mbh) epic, or indeed more generally an Indic text, can rise to meet the strict criteria of a “critical edition,” developed and arrived at for works of the Western canon. Equally, and alternatively, the issue has been framed as to whether the Mbh needs to stoop to meet such criteria; rather, perhaps, should it not conquer and transcend them, the latter developed after all in the safety of Western texts? (See Hiltebeitel 2003; 2011, in this volume, for an admirable airing of the various views on both sides.) I avoid in this paper both polemical
extremes, addressing instead the questions that arise, when we place the Mbh tradition as a whole and its Poona CE in particular, against the strict canons of the CE.

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