Reading Guide. Just as the ancient sage Valmiki is credited with composing the Ramayana, the Mahabharata is attributed to Vyasa, and Vyasa will also be an important character in the story itself. This first episode explains how Vyasa came to dictate the Mahabharata to the elephant-headed god Ganesha, and you will also read the story of Vyasa's birth.
Image: The illustration below shows the sage Vyasa dictating to the elephant-headed god Ganesha; it's a sculpture in Murudeshwar, a town in Karnataka, India.
Source. The Mahabharata, A Summary by John Mandeville Macfie (1921). [400 words] Macfie's book is a very brief summary of the Mahabharata, but it is very readable and comprehensive.
The author of the Mahabharata was Vyasa, who also arranged the Vedas. He was very anxious to get somebody to write it down but declared that no one on earth was worthy of such a task. It contained every thing that man ought to know of things on earth and in heaven. Brahma appeared and told him that the god Ganesha would be his scribe. Ganesha agreed on condition that his pen was not allowed to stop for a moment.
Vyasa himself repeated it to his disciple Vaishampayana, and Vaishampayana in turn recited it at a snake sacriﬁce conducted by Janamejaya, king of Hastinapura. Janamejaya was the great-grandson of Arjuna, one of the ﬁve Pandu brothers, who were themselves the grandsons of Vyasa.
Vyasa is not only the composer of the Mahabharata; he is also a character in the epic. Here is the story of his birth:There was a king called Uparichara, king of Chedi, so devoted to asceticism that the gods feared he was seeking to rob them of their power. They accordingly sent Indra to bribe him with the offer of a crystal car capable of carrying him through the sky, a privilege designed for him alone of all mortals. One day in spring, as he was flying through the sky, his semen fell into a river. It was swallowed by a female ﬁsh with the result that ten months after, when the ﬁsh was caught by a ﬁsherman, two children — a boy and a girl — came forth.
The ﬁsherman told the king of his wonderful ﬁnd. The king took possession of the boy but left the girl to be reared by the ﬁsherman’s wife. The girl was very beautiful, but she had a ﬁshy smell. Her name was Satyavati. She often helped her foster father, who acted as a ferryman on the river Yamuna.
One day she was ferrying across the river the rishi Parashara. The rishi persuaded the girl to yield to his embraces by promising that she should remain a virgin. She also made a condition that she should lose her ﬁshy smell. She became so sweet-smelling that the fragrance could be smelt seven miles away.
A child was born, and because he was born on an island, he was called Dwaipayana or Island-born. He is called Vyasa because he arranged the Vedas.