Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Mahabharata: The Many-Times Told Tale

Shashi Tharoor - author of The Great Indian Novel, which is based on the Mahabharata, evaluates the epic from the standpoint of our present times.

Here are excerpts from the first part of the article - Timeless epic.

"A British friend, asked to explain to a foreigner what made England England, replied, "cricket, Shakespeare, the BBC". Though so concise an answer would be difficult for an Indian, it is impossible to imagine any similar attempt to describe India that omits the Mahabharata . . ."

And just before the earlier quote, he says:
". . . The Mahabharata has come to stand for so much in the popular consciousness of Indians: the issues the epic raises, as well as the values it seeks to promote, are central to an understanding of what makes India India."

In the second part of the article - Metaphor for our times, Tharoor looks at what we can seek from the epic in the 21st century and says:

"The Mahabharata is what you make of it. Its relevance to today's India is the relevance that today's Indians want to see in it. After all, the epic has, throughout the ages, been the object of adaptation, interpolation, reinterpretation and expurgation by a number of retellers, each seeking to reflect what he saw as relevant to his time. Its contemporary retellings — whether B.R. Chopra's soap operatic version on television or mine in satirical fiction — merely confirm the Mahabharata's traditional status as the repository of the national myth.

This includes the stories, the ideas, the social and political customs and practices, the prescriptions and values which the reteller considers significant to his retelling."

Both the articles were published in The Hindu.

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