Vyasa is a central and revered figure in most Hindu traditions. He is also sometimes called Veda Vyasa or Krishna Dvaipayana (referring to his complexion and birthplace). He is the author of the Mahabharata, as well as a character in it. He is considered to be the scribe of both the Vedas and Puranas. Vyasa is also considered to be one of the seven Chiranjivins (long lived, or immortals), who are still in existence according to Hindu belief.
According to the Vishnu Purana, “Veda Vyasa” is a title applied to the compilers of the Vedas who are avatars of Vishnu; 28 people with this title have appeared so far.
The festival of Guru Purnima is dedicated to him. It is also known as Vyasa Purnima, for it is the day believed to be both his birthday and the day he divided the Vedas.
In the Mahabharata
Vyasa appears for the first time as the compiler of, and an important character in, the Mahabharata. It is said that he was the expansion of the god Vishnu who came in Dwaparayuga to make all the Vedic knowledge available in written form which was available in spoken form at that time. He was the son of Satyavati, daughter of the fisherman Dusharaj, and the wandering sage Parashara (who is credited with being the author of the first Purana: Vishnu Purana). He was born on an island in the river Yamuna. There are two different views regarding his birthplace. One of the views suggests that he was born in the Tanahun district in western Nepal, another view suggests that he was born on Island of Yamuna river near Kalpi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Vyasa was dark-complexioned and hence may be called by the name Krishna, and also the name Dwaipayana, meaning ‘island-born’.
Vyasa was a grandfather to the Kauravas and Pandavas. Their fathers, Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were the sons of Vyasa. The third son, Vidura, was born to a serving maid Parishrami. Shere as Dhrutharashtra and Pandu are Sons of Ambalika and Ambika.
Vyasa is believed to have lived on the banks of Ganga in modern-day Uttarakhand. The place was also the abode of sage Vashishta along with Pandavas, the five brothers of Mahabharata.
Hindus traditionally hold that Vyasa categorised the primordial single Veda into three canonical collections and that the fourth one, known as Atharvaveda, was recognized as Veda only very much later. Hence, he was called Veda Vyasa, or “Splitter of the Vedas,” the splitting being a feat that allowed people to understand the divine knowledge of the Veda. The word vyasa means split, differentiate, or describe.
The Vishnu Purana has a theory about Vyasa. The Hindu view of the universe is that of a cyclic phenomenon that comes into existence and dissolves repeatedly. Each cycle is presided over by a number of Manus, one for each Manvantara, that has four ages, Yugas of declining virtues. The Dvapara Yuga is the third Yuga. The Vishnu Purana (Book 3, Ch 3) says:
In every third world age (Dvapara), Vishnu, in the person of Vyasa, in order to promote the good of mankind, divides the Veda, which is properly but one, into many portions. Observing the limited perseverance, energy, and application of mortals, he makes the Veda fourfold, to adapt it to their capacities; and the bodily form which he assumes, in order to effect that classification, is known by the name of Veda-vyasa. Of the different Vyasas in the present Manvantara and the branches which they have taught, you shall have an account. Twenty-eight times have the Vedas been arranged by the great Rishis in the Vaivasvata Manvantara… and consequently, eight and twenty Vyasas have passed away; by whom, in the respective periods, the Veda has been divided into four. The first… distribution was made by Svayambhu (Brahma) himself; in the second, the arranger of the Veda (Vyasa) was Prajapati… (and so on up to twenty-eight).
As per Vishnu Purana, Guru Drona’s son rishi Aswatthama will become the next sage Vyasa (title), who in turn divide the Veda in 29th Mahayuga of 7th Manvantara.
Author of the Mahabharata
Vyasa is traditionally known as the author of this epic and likewise features as an important character in it. Vyasa told her that child would suffer from anaemia, and he would not be fit enough to rule the kingdom. Later this child was known as Pandu. Then Vyasa told Satyavati to send one of them again so that a healthy child can be born. This time, Ambika and Ambalika sent a maid in the place of themselves. The maid was quite calm and composed, and she got a healthy child later named as Vidura. While these are his sons, another son Suka, born of his wife Pinjala (Vatika), daughter of the sage Jabali, is considered his true spiritual heir. He makes occasional appearances in the story as a spiritual guide to the young princes.
Vyasa with his mother (Satyavati)
In the first book of the Mahabharata, it is described that Vyasa asked Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, but Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. To which Vyasa then made a counter-condition that Ganesha must understand the verse before he transcribed it. Thus, Vyasa narrated the entire Mahabharata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas while Lord Ganesha wrote.
Vyasa is supposed to have meditated and authored the epic by the foothills of the river Beas (Vipasa) in the Punjab region.