I had this great opportunity to attend the two day intensive workshop on Mahabharata by Prof. Vishwa Adluri and Dr. Joydeep Bagchee, at the NIAS, Bangalore. It was an enlightening session for me, and I am grateful to Indic Academy and Takshashila Institute of Indian Studies, for making this happen.
I have a little background on Rig Veda Samhita, and have been studying it since last couple of years. There is a popular perception in the circles of the Veda enthusiasts that the Epics and Puranas constitute adulteration incorporated to the main pristine body of the Vedas, and that the main point is pushed to the background, and non-essentials decorations have been put forth into forefront, into this subsequent corpus of Hindu texts. Also a clear disconnect is drawn between the Upanishads and the Vedas, bringing forth that Upanishads were unidirectional insights towards “Nivritti”/”sannyasa”, and that Veda constitutes a more holistic approach to be able to live a meaningful life in the “Pravitti”/ being in the thick and thin of daily life.
My personal little ongoing journey in the world of Rig Ved Samhita, leaves me with a body of sparkling philosophical insights scattered all over the 10,000 mantras spread across 10 big books known as Mandalas. They are truly inspiring and beautiful. However, in these years of my relationship with the Vedas, I have always struggled to derive a unity in the text, searching tirelessly to carve out a holistic story to arrive at a coherent understanding out of it. I tried this by creating visualisations, mind maps, notes, exploring the semantics of the Rig Veda and discovering the pattern of the hidden meaning in the proper nouns used repeatedly across the text. With the intensive reading of the text, and their rigorous and precise translations and commentaries for stalwarts, I was able to progress much in this journey. But then that aesthetic thirst to find a coherent binding story remained in me.
This workshop on Mahabharata was the exact and precise dose of nectar I was looking for, in my scholarly struggles all these years. Trying out a satire, Prof Adluri proclaimed in the beginning of the workshop that the Mahabharata was the fifth Veda, and that Duryodhan was the modern man and Dhritarashtra was the postmodern man. That was a shock to me. I started listening with extra attention and concentrated into all the details Prof Bagchee and Prof Adluri were putting forth in their characteristic, world class scholastic rigour. (Both have PhDs form the hallowed – “The New School”, NYC).
I was fascinated, to finally having been introduced to that complex, humongous but extremely unified and coherent body of Myth that I was looking for, which was efficiently binding the entire corpus of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. So, here was the ultimate creation of the great sage Vyasa, where he gives to the world, a complete story, which if one understands, its profound philosophical nuances, can drive home all the world of the wisdom primarily from the Veda Samhitas and Upanishads.
Getting a view of that was the greatest ‘Ahaa’ moment for me. The authors focused on the first book of the Epic – The Adi Parva, and the Moksha Dharma – part of the Shanti Parva book, to bring to the point that the war story and the related historical narrative of the Mahabharata is just a small aspect of the Epic. The Epic is primarily impregnated with profound philosophical and theological narrative to drive home into the psyche of its readers the cyclical nature of time and at the same time the futility of violence, anger, hatred, jealousy, lust, anger, attachment, and arrogance. Beautifully the Epic draws fractals of self-recursive narration to bring forth this point very strongly and all pervasively. At the same time the Epic clearly and precisely demarcates the two worlds – the world of Vasu, guided by ephemeral temporality and bondage due to that (Pravritti) and the world of Vasudev – inspired by the constant companionship with Dharma leading one to the realm of ultimate freedom, continuing to carry out the daily responsibilities (Nivritti).
The professors also gave several examples of the self-recursive frames of stories within stories and the repeated parallels from various parts of the Epic to drive the point of Unity and the coherent design of the Epic. Contrary to the limited view of the German Indologist, the professors were able to present their rigorous research proving the ill-founded prejudices against the Epic by German Indologist that Mahabharata is a chaotic collection of non-relevant and extraneous stanzas. Also the limited view of the Epic as a merely historical work was challenged. Over the two days of the workshop the professors were beautifully and rigorously able to drive the point that Mahabharata goes much farther in being an aesthetically rich, literary, philosophical and symbolical tale which has a strong purpose to drive in Dharma in the everyday life of common man. Along with the heroic glorification it also drives in systematic methods that can be practised by common ordinary readers to achieve that ultimate freedom and peace.
The Profs established with their rigorous research work that Mahabharata is not a chaotic text. Everything in the book has a definitive meaning and weaves out a unified narrative which has a central dharmic theme. The epic also shows that ‘nirguna’ and ‘saguna’ are not contradictions. Rather they complement each other to strengthen that relationship with the divine. Also it proclaims that ‘Bhakti’ is not a prejudice, but rather a mode of enhanced understanding. Also finally it was brought to the table that history and dharma are not interdependent. Historicity of the epic has nothing to do with its dharmic implications and importance.
The audience of the workshop was a great conglomeration of Sanskrit scholars, and also youth and veterans from varied professional domains. The discussions and debate on the nuances of the text and philosophy rendered in this great Epic were immensely invigorating and intellectually very stimulating. I express my heartiest gratitude to Indic Academy and Takshashila Institute of Indian Studies for organising this. I request them to kindly arrange for follow up sessions to go in details into the Epic under the guidance of Prof. Adluri and Prof. Bagchee, remotely over the Internet. I am sure there would be thousands of eager scholars like me, all over India and the world, who would like to continue their journey exploring, and practising with the Epic in our day to day life. And such a difficult and worthwhile enterprise will certainly require Gurus of the like of the Profs. Adluri and Bagchee.