What Is The Longest Epic In The World?

by Amy

Epic poetry has captivated audiences for millennia with its grand narratives and exploration of profound themes. Among these monumental works, one epic stands out as the longest in the world: the “Mahabharata.” This article delves into the details of this extensive epic poem, exploring its content, themes, historical significance, and lasting impact.

Identification of the Longest Epic Poem

The longest epic poem in the world is the “Mahabharata.” This ancient Indian epic is attributed to the sage Vyasa and is composed of approximately 100,000 shlokas (couplets) or over 200,000 individual verse lines, making it roughly ten times the length of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” combined.

Introduction to the Epic

The “Mahabharata” is a vast and complex narrative that weaves together mythology, history, philosophy, and morality. It is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the “Ramayana.” The “Mahabharata” is traditionally dated to around 400 BCE to 400 CE, though its origins likely go back further.

Detailed Description of the Epic

Main Plot and Key Events: The central narrative of the “Mahabharata” revolves around the Kurukshetra War, a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The epic details the events leading up to the war, the war itself, and its aftermath.

Major Characters: Key characters include the Pandavas (Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva), their cousins the Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, the wise and enigmatic Krishna, and many other kings, warriors, sages, and gods.

See also: What Is The World’s Oldest Epic Poem?

Themes and Motifs

The “Mahabharata” explores a multitude of themes and motifs, including:

Dharma (Duty and Righteousness): The epic delves deeply into the concept of dharma, examining the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by its characters.

War and Peace: The narrative offers a complex portrayal of war, highlighting both its necessity and its devastating consequences.

Fate and Free Will: Characters struggle with their destinies, and the epic addresses the interplay between fate and human agency.

Family and Loyalty: The relationships and conflicts within and between families are central to the story, emphasizing themes of loyalty, betrayal, and kinship.

Cultural and Historical Significance

The “Mahabharata” holds immense cultural and historical significance in India and beyond:

Cultural Identity: The epic is a foundational text in Hindu culture, shaping religious, ethical, and social norms.

Philosophical Insights: It contains the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text in Hinduism that addresses profound philosophical and theological questions.

Literary Influence: The “Mahabharata” has influenced countless literary and artistic works in India and other cultures.

Legacy and Influence

The influence of the “Mahabharata” extends far beyond its original context:

Literary Works: It has inspired numerous retellings, adaptations, and interpretations in various languages and formats.

Art and Performance: The epic has been a source of inspiration for classical dance, theater, and visual arts in India.

Modern Adaptations: The “Mahabharata” has been adapted into films, television series, and modern literature, showcasing its enduring relevance.


The “Mahabharata,” as the longest epic poem in the world, offers a rich and multifaceted narrative that continues to captivate and inspire audiences. Its exploration of themes such as duty, war, fate, and family, combined with its cultural and philosophical depth, underscores its significance in world literature. As we continue to engage with this monumental work, we gain valuable insights into the complexities of human experience and the timeless nature of epic storytelling.

FAQs about Epic Poetry

1. What is the longest epic poetry in the world?

The longest epic poem in the world is the “Mahabharata.” This ancient Indian epic, attributed to the sage Vyasa, consists of approximately 100,000 shlokas (couplets) or over 200,000 individual verse lines, making it roughly ten times the length of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” combined. It encompasses a vast array of stories, philosophies, and teachings, centered around the Kurukshetra War between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.

2. What is the longest epic in the Philippines?

The longest epic in the Philippines is the “Hinilawod.” It is a traditional epic poem from the Panay Island in the Visayas region and is considered one of the oldest and longest epic poems in the Philippines. “Hinilawod” narrates the adventures of the demigod brothers Labaw Donggon, Humadapnon, and Dumalapdap as they embark on various quests and face numerous challenges. The epic reflects the rich cultural heritage and mythology of the Visayan people.

3. What is the oldest epic in the whole world?

The oldest epic in the world is “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” Originating in ancient Mesopotamia, this epic dates back to around 2100 BCE. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and his companion Enkidu, exploring themes such as friendship, the quest for immortality, and the nature of humanity. The epic was discovered on clay tablets written in cuneiform script, providing a valuable glimpse into the early literary traditions of the Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians.

4. Which is the most ancient epic?

The most ancient epic is “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” As the earliest known epic poem, it predates other famous epics by several centuries. Composed in ancient Mesopotamia around 2100 BCE, the poem has been preserved through clay tablets discovered in archaeological excavations. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” remains a foundational text in the study of ancient literature and offers profound insights into the early human experience and the cultural heritage of Mesopotamia.

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