mtvessel: (Default)
Oct 2007
The Mahabharata - R.K. Naryan - Penguin, 2001
* * * *
I have an ongoing personal project to correct the gaps in my education caused by my school’s apparent belief that Christianity was the only religion about which one needed to know. Divinity classes were in fact pretty good - we were taught Form Criticism and Redaction Criticism, two tools which are essential to understanding the gospels properly - but as far as I recall other world religions were never spoken of or discussed, thereby denying us the wisdom or insights that they might have to offer (and providing a completely inadequate preparation for the multicultural society in which the majority of us live). So every now and then I have made a point of acquiring major religious texts and reading them cover to cover.

It’s always risky to comment on books that people consider to be sacred, but I feel that I am on safe ground with this one because despite its title this is not the Mahabharata. The real thing is one of the longest epic poems in the world; it has 100,000 verses, 1.8 million words and comes in 18 hefty volumes. This version is a mere 180 pages long and is a prose palimpsest of the main story, similar to John Crace’s Digested Reads in the Guardian (but without the satirical intent). Hindus may be offended by the exclusion of the long passages of moral instruction and philosophical discourse found in the original (including the Bhagavad Gita), but the result is a tale that has an engaging Homeric flow, and which by incorporating the principles of Hinduism into the story rather than spelling them out didactically serves to point up their universal human appeal.
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