Self-referential Vyasa

Mahabharata is a great epic that details the story of the clan of Kurus in ancient India (Bharat). The Mahabharata is attributed to Sage Vyasa. It contains many stories that are full works in their own right including a concise retelling of Ramayana, Nala / Damayanthi, Shakuntala, Rishyashringa … etc.

Five Philosophical Works in Mahabharata

Mahabharata also contains five big philosophical works:

Mahabharata - the biggest of them all

At this point if you are wondering how come Mahabharata has so much, it is not without reason that it is the longest epic comprising 100,000+ shlokas (verses) and just for an idea for comparison of the size alone that would be six times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined.

There is a saying that goes BharatO panchamO Vedaha that Mahabharatha is the Fifth Veda. There is another saying that praises it as Na Bharatha Na Bharatha - what did not happen in Mahabharata did not happen in India since it seems to have an outline of every plot one can think of.

Vyasa the Compiler

Vyasa in addition to writing Mahabharatha also did a few other things.

And as seen already, he wrote Mahabharatha which has the Bhagavad Gita and four other philosophical works as shown above.

Prasthana Trayam of Sanatana Dharma

The foundation of Hinduism is based on three works - they are called Prasthaana Thrayam. They are:

The Upanishads are called Sruthi Prasthanam. Sruthi means that which is heard. No one claims ownership of these works. Hence called Apaurusheyam (that which does not have an author). Everyone keeps punting it back to their gurus and ancestors ad infinitum. The reason being they believe this knowledge exists in the Universe already created all the time and it was just “heard by” the sages whether in their meditations or their teachings or a super power revealing it to them. So explained above, Vyasa consolidated (compiled) all the various disparate pieces as four vedas and all the final sections are the Upanishads.

The Brahma Sutra is called Nyaya Prasthanam. Nyaya means Logical. It is written by Vyasa and it is a work written to logically reconcile the various teachings of the Upanishads.

The Bhagavad Gita is called Smrithi Prasthanam. Smrithi means Memory (that which is remembered). Hence called Paurusheyam - has an author - which of course, is Vyasa.

The one and only Vyasa the Self Referential Vyasa

Thus we get to the point that the Mahabharata and even more so Vyasa is as self-referential as anything can get.

  1. Mahabharata is written by Vyasa who is also known as Badarayana and as Krishna Dwaipayana. Vyasa is a descendant of Sage Vashishta who is the son of Brahma who is the son of Vishnu. (Refer appendix 1).

  2. Vishnu Sahasaranamam is of course about Lord Vishnu. Vyasa is writing about his earliest ancestor.

  3. Vishnu Sahasaranamam is narrated by Bhishma who is the step-brother of Vyasa.

  4. Vyasa is also an Avatara of Lord Vishnu himself. (Refer appendix 2).

  5. Mahabharata is also the story of two rival factions the Pandavas (Sons of Pandu) and Kauravas (Sons of Dhritharashtra). Pandu and Dhirtharashtra are sons of Vyasa. Vyasa is writing about the great war between his two grandsons.

  6. Mahabharata has Bhagavad Gita which is the dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna (one of the sons of Pandu). Lord Krishna is also an avatara of Vishnu.

  7. In the BG itself, in Chapter 10 (Vibhuti Yoga), Lord Krishna would go on to say that
    • Among sages, he is Vyasa
    • Among Vrishnis, he is Krishna (vAsudeva)
    • Among Pandavas, he is Arjuna
  8. Bhagavad Gita and war itself is narrated by Sanjaya (a minister to the blind king Dhritharashtra) and Vyasa is the one who blesses Sanjaya with this divine vision (to see, hear, know the entire happenings in a war happening far far away but without any tiredness).

  9. From the other philosophical works in Mahabharata, we can also see that for Vidura Neethi, Vidura is also a son of Vyasa. And Sanatsujata is the son of Brahma, which would make him the brother of Vashista and hence a great great grandfather of Vyasa.

  10. Vyasa compiled all the Upanishads to four vedas and wrote the Brahma Sutras which logically ties all the teachings of the Upanishads into a single coherent Darshanam (vision).


So yeah, hence that makes him the lord, the compiler of Vedas, the compiler of Upanishads, the writer of Brahma Sutra, the writer of Mahabharata where all the characters are due to him, the writer of Bhagavad Gita (call him Krishna or call him Vyasa), the writer of Vishnu Sahasaranamam (call him Bhishma or call him Vyasa), the guru (teacher; Krishna / Bhishma) and the sishya (student; Arjuna & Yudhisthira).

The whole thing is not just HISTORY it is HIS STORY.

Hence he is called Veda Vyasa. And in honor, his birthday is celebrated as Guru Purnima. That’s also why before we begin to chant the Gita, we pray as namostu te vyasa visala-buddhe (Salutations to Vyasa’s inestimable knowledge).

And I thought Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Ponniyin Selvan could spin up stories : where they all end, Vyasa is just about getting warmed up. No disrespect, I love each one of those franchises, read the books and watched their movies.

But I have never seen such a deep level of interconnection, sophitication, literature, meaning and self-reference anywhere in any work that I have read or heard.

Happy reading!


  1. References: Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita (many versions with commentaries), Vishnu Sahasaranamam, Introduction to Vedanta, Prasthana Trayam, Essence of Upanishads and lectures of various Sages.

  2. From Vishnu Sahasaranamam:

व्यासंवसिष्ठनप्तारंशक्तेःपौत्रमकल्मषम्। पराशरात्मजंवन्देशुकतातंतपोनिधिम्॥३॥

vyāsaṁ vasiṣṭhanaptāraṁ śakteḥ pautramakalmaṣam, parāśarātmajaṁ vaṁde śukatātaṁ tapōnidhim. (3)

I salute Vyasa, the son of Vasishta, the grandson of Shakti, the immaculate son of Parasara, the father of Shukata, the treasure of austerities.

  1. From Vishnu Sahasaranamam:

व्यासायविष्णुरूपायव्यासरूपायविष्णवे। नमोवैब्रह्मनिधयेवासिष्ठायनमोनमः॥४॥

vyāsāya viṣṇurūpāya vyāsarūpāya viṣṇave, namō vai brahmanidhaye vāsiṣṭhāya namō namaḥ. (4)

O Vyasa in the form of Vishnu, O Vishnu in the form of Vyasa, O Vasishta, the treasure of the Brahman, I offer my obeisances unto Thee again and again.