The Mahabharata is an ancient Indian epic poem, one of two such works considered sacred scripture in Hinduism, the other being the Ramayana. The narrative of the Mahabharata covers the power struggle between the Pandavas and their cousins, the Kauravas, for control of the throne of Hastinapura. A second prominent theme of the text is the moral guidance of philosophical enquiry and devotional practice that is explored through the Pandavas' victory over the Kauravas. One chapter of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita, a philosophical discussion between the Pandava Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, avatar of Lord Vishnu that summarizes the full spirit of the Hindu tradition. Much of the text of the Mahabharata was compiled by the fourth century BCE, though it did not reach its present form until the fourth century CE.

The Mahabharata is the longest national and religious epic ever written, covering an enormous amount of philosophical, theological, and historical material. The stories related in the Mahabharata are well known amongst all Hindus and throughout Indian society. There is even a Jain version of the poem with alterations reflecting that tradition’s theology. The Mahabharata has exerted its most profound influence through the 700-verse portion of it known as the Bhagavad Gita. In the Gita, the full moral implications of the Hindu tradition and its relationship to duty (dharma), action (karma), and devotion (bhakti) is thoroughly explored. This text inspired Mohandas Gandhi and other leaders of the Hindu reform movement towards civil disobedience during colonialism. It has also influenced great western poets and thinkers including Henry David Thoreau, T.S. Eliot, and Martin Luther King, Jr.