The Mahābhārata contains two beginnings at 1.1 and 1.4, each beginning with the identical line lomaharṣaṇaputra ugraśravāḥ sūtaḥ paurāṇiko naimiṣāraṇye śaunakasya kulapater dvādaśavārṣike satre (1.1.1 and 1.4.1). In this paper, I demonstrate the failure of text-historical methods to provide an adequate explanation for this feature. Arguing that it is no mere accident, but a meaningful duplication, I show how the double beginning is integral to the form, content, and function of the epic. The Indian epic, the Mahābhārata, is a literary work of stunning complexity. At its core, this narrative recounts the story of the vicissitudes of the Kuru
dynasty, but this story is located within a far more comprehensive literary and philosophical program. The central story of a fratricidal conflict over the throne of Hāstinapura is nothing if not a cipher for fundamental philosophical and cosmological reflections concerning issues such as time (kāla), fate (daivam), right action (dharma), the fulfillment of the goals of human life (the puruṣārthas),
the soul and the nature of consciousness, and the being that transcends all becoming (Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva). The complexity of this philosophical vision places tremendous demands on the epic’s structure, forcing it to break with the bounds of a simple linear narrative. In this paper, I analyze some aspects of the epic’s structure, focusing especially on the first major book of the Mahābhārata, the Ādiparvan.
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