Vyâsa is more properly referred to as Veda Vyâsa since the name was a common one, meaning “arranger,” or editor. Veda Vyâsa was said to have edited the four Vedas and authored the Purânas and the Mahâbhârata.
Accomplishing all that would require a human who lived several thousand years, so scholars do place the story of his achievements as those of one man in the area of mythology. Vyâsa was born to the brâhmin ascetic Parâsara and Matsyagandhî, the fisher-woman. (See main entry under Satyavâtî.)
Parâsara married Matsyagandhî gandharva style in a fog while crossing the Vamunâ River and left her immediately. Vyâsa was born on an island (dvîpa) and dark of complexion (krishna), so that he was also known by Krishna Dvaipâyana.
Although he was an ascetic like his father, he was asked to father sons by his dead stepmother’s wives, resulting in the famous kings Dhritarâshthra and Pandu. Vyâsa had another son who never entered a womb.
Nârada had found him somewhat depressed and thought that the cause was Vyâsa’s desire for a son. So Vyâsa began a severe penance near Mount Mahâmeru. But Indra was threatened and sent Ghritâcî, the apsara (celestial damsel), to stop him. She changed into a beautiful parrot who had five colors.
Vyâsa became infatuated with the parrot (s´uka) and discharged his seed on some of the firewood. As the wood was placed in the fire, a divine son was created. Vyâsa named him S´uka after the parrot. S´uka grew into a householder sage and helped Vyâsa put together a great educational institution at his as´rama (hermitage).
However, when S´uka left and attained divinity, Vyâsa became quite unstable, wandering about calling out his son’s name (“parrot, parrot”). S´uka appeared as a vision and consoled his father. Later the sage lost all his disciples. In his next birth Vyâsa was reborn as Apântaratamas, continuing his rebirths and proving that even a sage like Veda Vyâsa needed more than his great works to win release (moksha).