JLF 2015: Discussing Mahabharata's myths and moral questions

  • Manjula Narayan, Hindustan Times, Jaipur
  • Updated: Jan 25, 2015 18:19 IST

A conversation between novelist Amish Tripathi and Bibek Debroy -- economist, translator of Mahabharata into English in 10 volumes, and now member of the newly appointed Niti Ayog -- at a session entitled The Conflict of Dharma in the Mahabharata. The event drew a large crowd, including the beleaguered Shashi Tharoor who was accompanied by Suhel Seth.

The session touched on interpretations of the idea of dharma and karma, stories from the Mahabharata like the tales of Yayati, of Bhisma, of Shakuntala and Kunti and ruminations of how one should live one's life.

Discussion also veered towards who exactly emerged the winner at the end of the epic, and the peculiar logic of Indian storytelling that leaves listeners and readers with no clear conclusions and no sense that all the strings have been tied up.

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"In many Indian stories the approach is not to leave with a sense of conclusion. The story should leave you more troubled so that you will find answers and philosophy that makes sense to you," said Tripathi, who added that as a nine-year-old, the ending of the Mahabharata made absolutely no sense to him, especially when he learnt that the Kauravas weren't consigned to hell but were in heaven.

The talk also took in the women of the epic with Debroy pronouncing that he considered Shakuntala the most spirited. He also talked about the story of a starving sage Vishwamitra, who enters a Chandala village to steal the hindquarters of a dog's carcass to feed his family. The Chandala, who does not want Vishwamitra to eat flesh that would 'pollute' him as a Brahmin, attempts to dissuade him.

"The next 10 chapters are devoted to a discussion of the question: "Who am I?"Am I the physical body or the atman?"says Debroy, who revealed, to much applause, that he alludes to the story whenever someone asks him how he, as a translator of the Mahabharata, continues to eat non-vegetarian food and drink liquor.

All in all, a session that appealed to those interested in both, myth and the great moral questions that continue to plague humankind.

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