From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Harivansa, HarivanZa, Harivansha

The Harivanśa is considered as the khila part[1] of the great epic Mahābhārata. Its main purpose is to supply the details of the Kṛṣṇa story, especially of the childhood and the boyhood days. It is sometimes classed among the upapurāṇas, as it contains the five well-known characteristics of a standard purāṇa.

Classification in Mahābhārata

It has three sections and each section is designated as a ‘parva’. The following are the details:

Parva Chapters Verses
Harivanśaparva 55 3,111
Visnuparva 128 7,817
Bhavisyatparva 135 5,205
Total 318 16,133

Classification in Mahābhārata's Critical Edition

However, in the Critical Edition of the Mahābhārata, the details are as follows:

Parva Chapters Ślokas
Harivanśaparva 1-45 2442
Visnuparva 46-113 3426
Bhavisyatparva 114-118 205
Total 118 6073

The Harivanśaparva[2] gives detailed geneologies of Yadus, Vṛṣas, Andhakas, Vṛṣṇis and Madhus. The list is quite exhaustive.

Difference from Viṣṇuparva & Bhāgavata

Harivanśa gives the details of Kṛṣṇa’s life. The story is almost same as in the Viṣṇuparva and Bhāgavata. Some minor differences between the details given in Harivanśa and the two purāṇas may be noted here:

  • The word ‘Rāsakridā’ has been substituted by ‘Halliśakriḍā’ which means the same thing
  • When the people of Gokula were not willing to go to Vṛndāvana, as suggested by Kṛṣṇa, he created a very large number of wolves from his own body to frighten them and force them to leave[3]
  • In the Govardhana hill episode, the description of Indra’s defeat is less ignominious to him
  • The incident of taking away the pārijāta tree from svargaloka (heaven) has also been described in a similar vein
  • The Bhavisyatparva includes the following stories:
    • Janamejaya’s sacrifice
    • Creation of the world by God
    • Episode of the king Pṛthu
    • Destruction of Dakṣa’s sacrifice
    • Stories of some of the avatāras or incarnations of Viṣṇu, Śiva and Kṛṣṇa
    • Kṛṣṇa’s killing of several demons


  1. Khila part is known as an appendix or addendum.
  2. It is also called Vanśaparva.
  3. Harivanśa 2.9
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore