On the Mahābhārata: Internal, Ancient Pantheon Conflicts

12burningforestThis weekend, I started analyzing the narrative about the burning of the Khandava Forest. One thing which came to the surface was how I should understand the conflict between the gods and team Arjuna-Krsna. In the case of this passage within the Mahābhārata, the conflict is seemingly Arjuna, Krsna, and Agni (Fire) against Indra and the gods. Yet, when we consider the textual and oral context of the Mahābhārata, another important factor comes into play.

By the period in which the Mahābhārata was being compiled, the Rigveda was an normative text. Predating the Mahābhārata, the Rigveda is a series of poems composed c. 1500 BCE. In it, one of the predominant gods is Agni. Agni is also the Fire god present in the burning of the Khandava forest. This is important because in a few of the English translations of the Rigveda which I have quickly examined, the first hymn in the first book is about Agni, the god of Fire. And because the Mahābhārata was composed in a period when Vedic traditions from the Rigveda were known, it is reasonable to suggest that Fire (Agni) in the Mahābhārata evoked memory of a very ancient deity.

Likewise, Indra is one of the most important figures in the Rigveda. During the Vedic period, he was one of the main gods. Thus, we may assume that any mentions of Indra evoked memory of a deity who was known to be very ancient.

According to Britannica, Agni was second only to Indra. In light of this information, it offers an interesting perspective from which to read the burning of the Khandava forest. It draws emphasis away from conflict between team Krsna-Arjuna and team Indra. It re-focuses emphasis upon the ancient, internal conflict between Agni (Fire) and Indra, important members of the ancient pantheon as presented in the Rigveda.

After I tease out my analysis of the narrative structure, I hope to consider how this approach to the text may be fruitful.

*These thoughts are in no way meant to be complete. This blog is merely an extension of my brain. Writing these on a public sphere is a chance for me to draft and test my ideas before further exploring them. Also, please forgive the lack of proper citations. Feel free to check the entry for Agni on Encyclopedia Britannica or the dating for the composition of the Rigveda.

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On the Mahābhārata: Tradition Versus Tension

snakesacrificeFor my course on the Mahābhārata, I read through two chapters of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus. I was particularly intrigued by how she speaks of the various ideas within the Mahābhārata. She views the competing ideas within the narrative(s) of the Mahābhārata as tensions. The tensions are the conflicting accounts. It seems they are viewed as “tensions” because they present competing, and often conflicting, worldviews. The narratives in the Mahābhārata attempt to iron out the conflicting worldviews, although they often fail.

In my brief reading of the Mahābhārata, I see the conflicting worldviews not so much as tensions. In their current form, though, I do not deny that the conflicting worldviews are tensions. My interest lies in what elements make up each thing that is in tension. In other words, I look at conflicting narratives and see distinct traditions made of similar and dissimilar elements. So, if two narratives in the Mahābhārata try to approach an issue in different ways, I focus on what is unique about each tradition.

In this manner, I think I understand my own approach better. I tend to focus on identifying the variety of traditions and their uniqueness therein. On the other hand, Doniger focuses on identifying the dialectical elements of the traditions. Perhaps these aren’t necessarily different approaches. Maybe Doniger is able to focus on the dialectical elements because she has explored the traditions independently already. If, though, she first focuses on the text from a dialectical perspective, it may shroud the unique traditions found within the Mahābhārata.