Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Ropar


HSS Seminar


Arjuna’s problem and  its Resolution in two Mahabharatas


B. N. Patnaik


Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, Kanpur

October 3, 2012 at 5 PM
Venue : Lecture Hall 3


The two Mahabharatas in question are Vyasa Mahabharata and Sarala Mahabharata, a retelling of it in Odia. In the former, as Arjuna surveys the Kurukshetra battlefield, he becomes despondent and refuses to fight; in the latter, he is unwilling to start the fighting. The moral issues involved are different and Arjuna’s problem is resolved in the two narratives differently: Krishna intervenes in Vyasa Mahabharata to persuade the reluctant warrior to fight, but in Sarala Mahabharata he plays no part. Thus Srimad Bhagavad Gita is part of Vyasa Mahabharata, and there is nothing corresponding to this profound discourse in Sarala Mahabharata. Adopting a comparative perspective, this talk deals with some of the moral issues of clear relevance to each resolution. It invites attention to certain straightforward moral issues that are not raised in Bhagavad Gita. It is suggested that had these been raised, the issue would perhaps have been resolved without the weakening of the link with the immediate context of the impending war and the introduction of deep and profound metaphysical matters into the discourse. This apart, what Arjuna did not see in the Universal Form of Krishna was arguably what he did not want to see. Or was what he would not have wanted to see concealed from him? Then there is hardly any mention of Gita in the narrative after the war started, although there were quite a few contexts for the same, even during the war itself. This is rather surprising and needs explanation. One tends to think that the Sacred Text is not well integrated into the Mahabharata narrative. “No first strike”, which is a moral position, does not invite a Gita-like discourse; it calls for a different discourse, perhaps of a practical, rather than moral, nature or some inflammatory action. That is perhaps why in Sarala Mahabharata there is no Gita-like discourse, and Arjuna’s problem is resolved so differently in the narrative.

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