The following extract is from the introduction to The Mahabharata: Volume 1 by Bibek Debroy.

There are many different versions or recensions of the Mahabharata. However, between 1919 and 1966, the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune produced what has come to be known as the critical edition. This is an authenticated text produced by a board of scholars and seeks to eliminate later interpolations, unifying the text across the various regional versions. This is the text followed in this translation. One should also mention that the critical edition's text is not invariably smooth. Sometimes, the transition from one shloka to another is abrupt, because the intervening shloka has been weeded out. With the intervening shloka included, a non-critical version of the text sometimes makes better sense. On a few occasions, I have had the temerity to point this out in the notes which I have included in my translation. On a slightly different note, the quality of the text in something like Dana Dharma Parva is clearly inferior. It couldn't have been 'composed' by the same person.

It took a long time for this critical edition to be put together. The exercise began in 1919. Without the Hari Vamsha, the complete critical edition became available in 1966. And with the Hari Vamsha, the complete critical edition became available in 1970. Before this, there were regional variations in the text and the main versions were available from Bengal, Bombay and the south. However, now, one should stick to the critical edition, though there are occasional instances where there are reasons for dissatisfaction with what the scholars of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute have accomplished. But in all fairness, there are two published versions of the critical edition. The first one has the bare bones of the critical edition's text. The second has all the regional versions collated, with copious notes. The former is for the ordinary reader, assuming he/she knows Sanskrit. And the latter is for the scholar. Consequently, some popular beliefs no longer find a place in the critical edition's text. For example, it is believed that Vedavyasa dictated the text to Ganesha, who wrote it down. But Ganesha had a condition before accepting. Vedavyasa would have to dictate continuously, without stopping. Vedavyasa threw in a counter-condition. Ganesha would have to understand each couplet before he wrote it down. To flummox Ganesha and give himself time to think, Vedavyasa threw in some cryptic verses. This attractive anecdote has been excised from the critical edition's text. Barring material that is completely religious (specific hymns or the Bhagavad Gita), the Sanskrit text is reasonably easy to understand. Oddly, I have had the most difficulty with things that Vidura has sometimes said, other than parts of Anushasana Parva. Arya has today come to connote ethnicity. Originally, it meant language. That is, those who spoke Sanskrit were Aryas. Those who did not speak Sanskrit were mlecchas. Vidura is supposed to have been skilled in the mlechha language. Is that the reason why some of Vidura's statements seem obscure? In similar vein, in popular renderings, when Droupadi is being disrobed, she prays to Krishna. Krishna provides the never-ending stream of garments that stump Duhshasana. The critical edition has excised the prayer to Krishna. The never-ending stream of garments is given as an extraordinary event. However, there is no intervention from Krishna.

What reasons did the Bhandarkar Institute offer to edit out the Vyāsa-Gaṇeśa conversation from its critical edition of the Mahābhārata?

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    I feel tags bori and indology are not needed. I don't expect any questions in near future about them. Moreover it is just an institute. Why do we have questions about BORI? It becomes a meta tag. Ganesha and vyasa would be better. – Sarvabhouma Aug 24 '17 at 17:08
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    People tend to use history or philosophy tag more. But indology is a new one. Could be useful if made popular with some excerpt and wiki. But I am not sure about BORI. Because it is a dependent tag and can't exist as a single tag on questions(which makes it a meta tag). There wouldn't be any independent questions about that tag. We can't have tag for every institute or translator E.g: KM Ganguli,Motialal etc., because it will be already addressed in the title or the body. Tag about an institute? I am not sure about this one. – Sarvabhouma Aug 24 '17 at 17:42
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    I agree with @Sinister, a tag for the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute is pointless. If you really want you could put a critical-edition tag, a manuscript tag, or an interpolation tag. But there's no need for a BORI tag. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 24 '17 at 18:04
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    If I come up RAM-Obedient-Research-Institue (RORI) edition today, can we get a tag for that too ? Scholarly brain does not equal discernment of truth. The main editor for this BORI book, V.S Sukthankar lived/studied in Britain & New-York, married a British woman etc. What else other than western atheistically-inclined interpretations can we expect from them. To answer your question, Their brain did not want to accept these extraordinary events, so they edited it out – ram Aug 24 '17 at 22:48
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    Regarding the 'cryptic' verses, I have heard it as verses having multiple meanings due to श्लेष अलंकार​, and the condition was that गणेश​ was supposed to understand all of the meanings before proceeding. There are such verses at near-regular intervals in the MBH and the authors here seem to allude to something else. – user1952500 Aug 24 '17 at 23:51

When scholars of the BORI prepared the critical edition of the Mahabharata they excluded from the critical edition those verses which per their opinion do not have enough support in the available manuscripts of the Mahabharata text. For example, if some verses appear in only 1 or 2 manuscripts but they do not appear in the most other manuscripts then in the opinion of the scholars those verses could be an interpolation, and they excluded those verses from the critical edition. This is explained in the paper published by the BORI:


See footnote number 2 that tells exactly about the Ganesa-Vyasa episode.
But even those excluded verses were included in the second edition of the critical edition with copious notes, as mentioned by Bibek Debroy in the quotation of the question.

You can find this paper on the internet with a simple google search: INTERPOLATIONS IN THE MAHĀBHĀRATA - M. A. Mehendale

Of course we can either agree or disagree with that methodology used by the BORI. My personal opinion is that there could be many genuine Mahabharata verses even if they are to be found in just 1 or 2 manuscripts.

  • "But even those excluded verses were included in the second edition of the critical edition with copious notes" - To clarify, those verses were deleted from the second critical edition of the Mahābhārata. I don't know if they were present in the first edition. – sv. Sep 20 '17 at 15:13

It is most likely because, as with most popular Gods, Ganesha worship came to dominance in the Guptan Era; and Mahabharata predates Gupta age. Secondly, self-referential verses are often latter interpolations to a text.

I don't understand why people are frustrated over this. Religious Studies (a subset of Anthropology) is not Theology, this distinction is maintained in other religions as well. Even in hindu orthodoxy we understood that the text as-we-know-it was composed over a long period of time. From wikipedia,

The Mahābhārata itself (1.1.61) distinguishes a core portion of 24,000 verses: the Bhārata proper, as opposed to additional secondary material, while the Aśvalāyana Gṛhyasūtra (3.4.4) makes a similar distinction. At least three redactions of the text are commonly recognized: Jaya (Victory) with 8,800 verses attributed to Vyāsa, Bhārata with 24,000 verses as recited by Vaiśampāyana, and finally the Mahābhārata as recited by Ugraśrava Sauti with over 100,000 verses.[18][19]

  • Thanks for attempting to answer but you seem to be just speculating. I want to know the exact reason why that part is edited out from the critical edition. – sv. Aug 28 '17 at 22:22
  • Yes that's true, I was trying to make it explicit that it's my intention. In all seriousness, you can try contact the author and hope he responds. – Leafy Aug 29 '17 at 5:25
  • No, there's no need to contact the author. Anyone who can understand Sanskrit can read thru the 'copious notes' that Debroy mentioned in his introduction. – sv. Aug 29 '17 at 15:45
  • Please link these notes so that others can help you out with the question. I do not understand why you would rather not contact the author, given that you asked the question. – Leafy Aug 30 '17 at 18:10
  • I'm still trying to figure out what/where those notes are. BTW, I reached out to the author, unlikely he'll respond though. – sv. Aug 30 '17 at 18:26

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