In this lecture, I explore the form and function of the Sanskrit Mahabharata. I take up features of its design, its explicit statements about itself and its most prominent themes in order to make some suggestions as to what the Mahabharata sought to do, culturally and intellectually,in early South Asian society. I combine this with an analysis of the presence of the Mahabharata in select literary and epigraphical sources of the first millennium in order to explore the impact of the text from Guptan north India to Kerala and Kashmir. These investigations will be combined with a broader discussion of the role of narrative in the transmission and adaptation of understandings of past, place and preferred ideology within, and potentially beyond, South Asia. Dr James Hegarty is Senior Lecturer in Indian Religions at Cardiff University. His primary research interest is in the role of religious narrative in the cultural and intellectual history of South Asia. He has published numerous papers on Sanskrit and vernacular narrative materials. His monograph Religion, Narrative and Public Imagination: Past and Place in the Sanskrit Mahabharata is forthcoming with Routledge.