Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Lessons from Mahabharata: Black, White, and Coloured Too

he Mahabharata has lived for thousands of years for the reason that it serves as that vast ocean human emotions in which everyone can pour their own understanding and find acceptance without judgment.

There is an innate human desire to see and interpret things in a monochromatic palette of black-and-white. One could argue that stereotyping is an "energy-saving" device that allows us to make "efficient decisions on the basis of past experiences." ("Stereotypes as energy-saving devices: A peek inside the cognitive toolbox") . Therefore, is it any surprise that many of us look at the characters in the Mahabharata also through similar, stereotypical lenses? It simplifies things if we view Duryodhana as the jealous usurper, Shakuni as the manipulative uncle, Bhishma as the noble but helpless elder, Arjuna as the hero, Karna as the tragic and righteous hero fighting on the wrong side, and so on. No, it is not quite proper or kosher to include in this group of admirers (and critics) of the Mahabharata those that bring their own neuroses and neo-colonial prejudices!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Markandeya Purana, tr by Bibek Debroy

The Markandeya Purana, translated by Bibek Debroy

s far as Puranas go, the Markandeya Purana is the shortest Puranas. It is nowhere as long as the Skanda Purana (81,000 shlokas) or the Padma Purana (55,000). For more reasons than one, I like the Markandeya Purana a lot. The most obvious one is that it begins with questions about the Mahabharata. Those maddening, unending, unanswerable questions about the Mahabharata that anyone and everyone would have asked - why did the nirguna Janardana assume a human form? Why did Droupadi have to have five husbands? Why did Balarama have to travel to the tirthas to atone for the sin of killing a brahmana? And why did the sons of Droupadi have to die the death they did? Remember that they were killed after the war, in their sleep, by the son of Drona.