The very first chapter of Mahābhārata (Mahabharata) is called Anukramaṇikā-parva (Anukramanika-parva) or Anukramaṇī (Anukramani). The Sanskrit root kram signifies ‘to move in an order’. Therefore Anukramaṇikā-parva signifies the introductory chapter which recounts the order in which the narrative of Mahābhārata is retold. However, according to some, this chapter of Mahābhārata is peripheral and of minor importance.
On Vyāsa’s (Vyasa) order Vaiśampāyana (Vaisampayana) narrated Mahābhārata at the snake-sacrifice (sarpa-yajña; sarpa-yajna) performed by King Janamejaya, where it was heard by Ugraśravā Sauti (Ugrasrava Sauti), son of Lomaharṣaṇa (Lomaharshana). After travelling exhaustively across the country, Ugraśravā Sauti reached Samantapañcaka (Samantapanchaka) and then Naimiṣāraṇya (Naimisharanya). There was a twelve-year-long extensive yajña going on at Naimiṣāraṇya under the supervision of the great sage Śaunaka (Saunaka). Upon being requested by Śaunaka and other hermits, Ugraśravā Sauti, offering prayer to the deities, started retelling the narrative of Mahābhārata. At this juncture he made a very important statement about the narrative. “This history”, he said, “has been told by poets of yore, is being retold by poets of today and would be told again in future by poets of the days yet to arrive” – ācakhyuḥ kavayaḥ kecit sampratyācakṣate pare/ ākhyāsyanti tathaivānye itihāsamisaṃ bhuvi. This verse at the very beginning of the narrative plays the role of an important tool in explaining existence of interpolations from later days in the corpus of Mahābhārata.
Ugraśravā said, “Sometimes Mahābhārata has been narrated in short form, and sometimes elaborately” – vistaraiśca samāsaiśca dhāryate yaddvijātibhiḥ.
He also informs that traditionally Mahābhārata-narration has three forms or manners. Some start narrating from the very beginning of the epic, with the verse nārāyaṇaṃ namaskṛtya (variously, from the episode describing the first Manu, namely with the verse dharmātmā sa manu dhīmān or pūruravāstato vidvān ilāyāṃ samapadyata); some start narrating from the Episode of Sage Āstīka (Astika); some start the narration from the story of King Uparicara Vasu (Uparichara Vasu) – manvādi bhārataṃ kecidāastīkādi tathāpare/ tathoparicarādanye vipraḥ samyagadhīyate.
Primarily, there are one hundred thousand verses in the entire body of Mahābhārata – idaṃ śatasahasrantu ślokānāṃ puṇyakarmaṇām.
In one opinion, out of these so many verses, the actual story of Mahābhārata comprises only twenty-four thousand, whereas the others tell numerous digressive anecdotes – caturviṃśatisāhasrīṃ cakre bhārata saṃhitām/ upākhyānairvinā tāvat bhārataṃ procyate budhaiḥ. And Anukramaṇikā-parva, bearing the gist of the epic narrative, is written in one hundred and fifty verses – tato’dhyarddhaśataṃ bhūyaḥ saṃkṣepaṃ kṛtavānṛṣiḥ.
According to Ugraśravā, Vyāsa wrote another Mahābhārata comprising six million verses. Three million of those six million found their way into heaven; one and a half million of them, into the domain of the manes (pitṛloka; pitriloka); fourteen hundred thousand verses are preserved in the domain of demigods (gandharvaloka), and one hundred thousand can be found in the mortal land in the form of Mahābhārata as we know it.
The chapter-wise topics and their order in the corpus of Mahābhārata (as told by Vaiśampāyana) has been presented in the form of a dialogue between Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Dhritarashtra) and Sañjaya (Sanjaya).
This Anukramaṇikā-parva is said to be the body of Mahābhārata – bhāratasya vapurhyetat satyañcāmṛtāmeva.