Chronicle and Epic, or the Introductions to the Mahāvaṃsa and the Mahābhārata: Selected Comparisons

  • Nicholas J. Allen
Keywords: Mahāvaṃsa, Mahābhārata, Indo-European mythology


The Mahāvaṃsa, composed in Pali verse around AD 500, has sometimes been called the ‘Great Chronicle of Ceylon’. It summarises the origins of Buddhism in North India and the spread of the religion to Sri Lanka, where it flourished. The Mahābhārata, India’s ‘Great Epic’, was reaching its current written form at the start of our era, and is a foundational document in the Hindu tradition. Nevertheless, if the two texts are examined closely, they show surprising and extensive similarities. The present paper, which condenses a much longer study, tries to demonstrate this claim by selecting similarities from the introductory section of each work. The similarities are of many types ‒ for instance, of form as well as content, and call for historical explanation. Possible explanations are various, and need not be confined to interactions within South Asia; though the idea is not explored here, the similarities may have arisen before the Indo-European languages reached India.