Mahabharata is one of the greatest epics of ancient India, the other being Ramayana. Its authorship has been attributed to Maharshi Vyasa. To record his epic for posterity is such a daunting task that he begs Lord Ganesha to be his scribe.Ganesha has one stipulation, Vyasa must never keep him waiting, for even a moment, during the narration. The poet agrees and manages to keep ahead of his writer. Ganesha writes down Vyasa's legend with a tusk he breaks down from his own face. The original Mahabharata in Sanskrit is in 100,000 couplets; seven times as long as the Illiad and Odyssey combined.
The Great War, the Mahabharata , is fought at the very end of a dvapara yuga.Hence the Gods created the Kshatriyas to establish Dharma. But in time, generations, the noble race of warrior Kings has grown arrogant and greedy. By the end of the dvapara yuga, they have become tyrants, and they are still practically invincible.
In its present form Mahabharata has 18 parvas. They are as follows:
1. Adi Parva: How the Mahabharata came to be narrated by Sauti to the assembled rshis of Naimisharanya, after having been recited at the sarpasattra of Janamejaya by Vaishampayana at Taksasila. The history and geneology of the Bharata and Bhrigu races is recalled, as is the birth and early life of the Kuru princes.
2. Sabha Parva: Maya Danava erects the palace and court at Indraprastha. Life at the court. Yudhisthira's Rajasuya Yagna, the game of dice, and the eventual exile of the Pandavas.
3. Vana Parva or Aranyaka Parva or Aranya Parva: The twelve years of exile in the forest.
4. Virata Parva: The year spent incognite at the court of Virata.
5. Udyoga Parva: Preperations for war and efforts to bring about peace between the Kuru's and the Pandavas which eventually fail.
6. Bhishma Parva: The first part of the great battle with Bhishma as commander for the Kauravas and his fall on the bed of arrows. (includes the Bhagavad Gita in chapters 25-42)
7. Drona Parva: The battle continues with Drona as commander.This is the major book of the war. Most of the great warriors on both sides are dead by the end of the book.
8. Karna Parva: the battle again with Karna as commander.
9. Shalya Parva: The last day of the battle, with Shalya as commander. The mace fight between Bhima and Duryodhana has been described, which ends the war, since Bhima kills Duryodhana by smashing him on the thighs with a mace.
10. Sauptika Parva: Ashvathama, Kripa and Kritavarma kill the sons of Pandavas in their sleep. Only seven warriors remain on the Pandava side and three on the Kaurava side.
11. Stri Parva: Gandhari, Kunti and the women of the Kuru's and Pandavas lament the dead.
12. Shanti Parva: The crowning of Yudhisthira as King of Hastinapura, and instructions from Bhishma for the new King on society, economics and politics. This is the longest book of the Mahabharata.
13. Anushasana Parva: The final instructions from Bhishma.
14. Ashvamedha Parva: The royal ceremony of the Ashvamedha(Horse sacrifice) conducted by Yudhisthira. The world conquest by Arjuna. The Anugita is told by Krishna to Arjuna.
15. Ashramavatika Parva: The eventual deaths of Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti in a forest fire when they are living in a hermitage in the Himalayas.
16. Mausala Parva: The infighting between the Yadavas with Mausala and the eventual destruction of the Yadavas.
17. Mahaprasthanika Parva: the great journey of Yudhisthira and brothers across the whole country and finally their ascent of the great Himalayas where each Pandava falls except Yudhisthira.
18. Svargarohana Parva: Yudhisthira's final test and the return of the Pandavas to the spiritual world(svarga).
Khila- Harivamsa Parva: This is an addendum to the 18 books, and covers those parts of the life of Krishna which is not covered in the 18 parvas of the Mahabharata.