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Two different versions of Mahabharata are available, Northern and southern recension. Both of them don't have same number of chapters and verses. For example, Sabha Parva of kumbakonam version of Mahabharata has 103 chapters, but K.M. Ganguly's translation has only 80 chapters. The same goes with the Puranas. For example, Padma Purana has two versions according to this website; Bengal version which has seven Cantos and Southern version which has five Cantos.

Now, my question is, how can we identify which is real and which is not?

marked as duplicate by sv., hanugm, Sarvabhouma, The Destroyer Jan 24 at 5:22

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    It is not about truth. It is how the stories and texts were passed down by oral tradition. Absence of a story doesn't necessarily mean false or presence of a story doesn't always mean it's true. Read yourself and decide for yourself which one seems plausible. The reader is given that freedom I guess. – Sarvabhouma Jan 23 at 18:05
  • The critical editions are there! – commonman Jan 23 at 18:33
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    Reasonably speaking, the scriptures and their manuscripts, passed down through bona-fide sampradayas, should be the primary authority, and not random manuscripts of unknown origin/authorship that Indologists have collected from random places, like dug up at archaeological sites. – Ikshvaku Jan 23 at 22:11
  • Stick to sampradayic versions. Critical editions are just that. Without the guidance of a sampradaya (all the gurus to one's own), we will only end up with mental and self ego massages like one gentlemen who claimed to be a sarvatantra svatantran while making stupid claims on Lord Rama's birth. Schools and colleges are mandatory for mundane education. Same way, guru and sampradaya are must for any sort of spiritual seeker. The odd exceptions may exist... 1 in a billion. So, find the siddhanta that fits your disposition, get a guru in that sampradaya, start the swim out of samsara. – Ambi Jan 24 at 3:52
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    There are two approaches.One is find a guru and learn under him and make spiritual progress. Get all doubts cleared by your guru alone and never visit such sites.'Vaidushyam vidusham tadbad bhuktaye (including bages, scores etc etc) na tu muktaye.The second is: keep your mind open.Review everything critically.Seek the Truth.God will Himself come in form a realized guru .Some gurus of different sampradayas in these days are ignorant ones and run after fame and money.A blind cant lead a blind.As soon as you get guru, stop learning or knowing about scriptures from anyone else. – commonman Jan 24 at 10:40
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All texts transmitted over time are subject to variation from one generation after the next. Even something as recent as Shakespeare's works, with the benefit of printing, has multiple versions.

In the Hindu context - only ancient scriptures that were subject to extra-ordinary techniques like Padapatha, Kramapatha,Ghanapatha etc. have come down to us almost like a tape-recording. But this doesn't stop the emergence of multiple shakhas with small to large differences between them.

In the case of Itihasas and Puranas, there is no evidence that these techniques were used to transmit them. Apart from the difficulty of transmitting texts faithfully, with or without writing, sectarian agendas have also added and subtracted material over centuries. Some analysis can be made based on the "age" of the Sanskrit used, whether disputed material (if any) has been cited by others, comparison of different versions and so forth.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Shall we consider the scriptures preserved by bona-fide sampradayas as authentic? – Naveen Kick Jan 23 at 18:58
  • @sv. I made an edit. – S K Jan 23 at 20:18
  • @SK What's wrong with the Samhitas of the other Vedas? – Ikshvaku Jan 23 at 22:06
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    @NaveenKick Yes. The scriptures and their manuscripts, passed down through bona-fide sampradayas, should be the primary authority, and not random manuscripts of unknown origin/authorship that Indologists have collected from random places, like dug up at archaeological sites. – Ikshvaku Jan 23 at 22:11
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    @SK Unless there is evidence to show that a particular verse is interpolated or corrupted, then you should accept it as authentic if it comes from a legit sampradaya. – Ikshvaku Jan 24 at 14:03

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