2019-10-04 Mahabharata

Years ago, I bought a copy of the Mahābhārata. Today, I was talking to @alephnull, @sajith, @rajeesh, @klaatu, @ashwinvis, and @fitheach. I think the conversation started with them talking about the Rāmāyaṇa.

@sajith compared social media to a battle scene from the Rāmāyaṇa. 🙂

The battle at Lanka from the Rāmāyaṇa

The conversation turned to both the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata and @sajith suggested these two books:

@klaatu mentioned the animated retelling which Nina Paley dedicated to the public domain:

@alephnull said:

Devdutt Patnaik does a great job of bring out the complexities of Indian mythology. It is all mixed up with the definition of India and what being Hindu is.

I can also recommend the writings of Pradip Bhattacharya and the publications of The Writers Workshop, Calcutta. The Aurobindo translations are also good. See Hiltebeitel for the Tamil version of the Mahabharata. There is a wealth of great books in other languages.

I myself am stuck on page 34 of the Penguin Classics, “abridged and translated by John D. Smith” (791 pages). The introduction was great but this is not a modernized retelling...

I have the day off. My wife just left half an hour ago. Is this the day where I watch Peter Brook’s The Mahābhārata? It is only about five and a half hours long.

Could be! I’ve seen about three and a half hours, now. Some quotes:

Wikipedia says:

At about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of the Rāmāyaṇa. … compared … to … the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare, the works of Homer, Greek drama, or the Quran.

As it began, I thought to myself: “The beginning is suitably weird and already has a story within a story so I think I’m right where I need be. Now I need to make some tea and I’ll be good to go for another five hours.” 😅

I am fascinated by the thought that at the very beginning, when humans had but one story, every other story they wanted to tell had to basically be part of the same book. And so many old religions have this one book, a madness, a collection of all the stories these people ever told themselves, in some weird order, retold over centuries and collected by scribes. All is one.

That reminds me:

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. bears the inscription: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

Sadly, this story is probably not true. There is no evidence such a tablet existed. I don’t want to write a book, that’s for sure.

I’m still watching the movie and the story continues to be weird. I’ve got the five Pandavas and right now the first of the one hundred Kauravas made an appearance. I think I will continue spending the day on the sofa drinking chai and eating apple pie as I watch this. I’m already wondering how long I have to wait before some whiskey would be appropriate.

The movie is getting better – still weird but I love the multi-ethnic cast, and I keep wondering what strange events and prejudice might have led to this story.

The brothers are preparing for war. Krishna is asking Arjuna whether he has done absolutely everything to avoid the war. Arjuna points out that the war is inevitable. Krishna agrees but says that Arjuna gets to pick the war he’s going to fight. The dialogue is definitely picking up.

I finally got to the Bhagavad Gita and already this blog post is very long. As is appropriate for such a very long text and for such a very long movie.

I was motivated to look at this all when I saw Mukesh Singh’s art in 18 Days. How strange to compare this movie to modern concept art and movies with thousands of soldiers moving and fighting and particle effects and laser swords and all of that. How strange to see movies from the previous millennium. How strange to read books more than two millennia old.

As the battle goes on, I am fascinated by men in skirts. Wich makes me wonder about the claim of universalism vs. orientalism.

I do miss the mass battles, the flashes of super heroes and science fiction, of magic. But this movie is like a very fancy theatre production. There you have the close-ups of all these faces. There you have their words. There you have that moment to let them sink in. I appreciate that, too. Once I accepted the fact that it was basically theatre I was seeing, it worked much better for me.

I keep thinking back to the origins of this book of books. Every story we wanted to tell about ourselves had to be in this book. It’s a glimpse into the far past, where we see patriarchy in its glory, where the men in power were not satisfied with being powerful. They had to be the descendants of the gods, immortals, their weapons and their armour had to be artefacts, nobody was able to touch them. It was thus in the ancient Greek myths, and was thus in the Mahābhārata.

And like the Dorian invasion maybe resulting in the terror regime of the Spartans over the Helots, so the regime of the Brahmin over the other castes seems absolute: not even ones shadow musts fall on a Brahmin. That, to me, indicates a victory so complete, a submission so total, that the resulting world order was turned into religion. That is why there are plenty of admonitions in the text. Why does one rebel? Why does one refuse to fight? The answer is that after a total war, after total victory of one side over the other, rebellion and disobedience are heresy, they defy and defile the universe itself because that victory turned out to be about everything. Our lives. Our souls. Our freedom. Our understanding of the world itself. Truly, an age of humankind.



The faces that impressed me the most:

And this is a pretty good summary: Mahabharata Film Notes, from 2004.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-05 20:53 UTC

Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Please say HELLO.