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Rethinking the Mahabharata

A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King

The ancient Indian Sanskrit tradition produced no text more intriguing, or more persistently misunderstood or underappreciated, than the Mahabharata. Its intricacies have waylaid generations of scholars and ignited dozens of unresolved debates. In Rethinking the Mahabharata, Alf Hiltebeitel offers a unique model for understanding the great epic. Employing a wide range of literary and narrative theory, Hiltebeitel draws on historical and comparative research in an attempt to discern the spirit and techniques behind the epic’s composition. He focuses on the education of Yudhisthira, also known as the Dharma King, and shows how the relationship of this figure to others-especially his author-grandfather Vyasa and his wife Draupadi-provides a thread through the bewildering array of frames and stories embedded within stories. Hiltebeitel also offers a revisionist theory regarding the dating and production of the original text and its relation to the Veda. No ordinary reader’s guide, this volume will illuminate many mysteries of this enigmatic masterpiece.

This work is the fourth volume in Hiltebeitel’s study of the Draupadi cult. Other volumes include Mythologies: From Gingee to Kuruksetra (Volume One), On Hindu Ritual and the Goddess (Volume Two), and Rethinking India’s Oral and Classical Epics (Volume Three).

375 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Literature and Literary Criticism: Asian Languages

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion

Table of Contents



1. Introduction
A. Empire and Invasion; B. Epics and Ages;
C. Gleaners and Huns

2. The Author in the Works
A. Epic Fictions; B. Author as Enigma;
C. Tracking Vyasa

3. Conventions of the Naimisa Forest
A. Narrative Conventions and Symposia; B. The
Mahabharata’s First Two Beginnings; C. Reconsidering
Bhrguization; D. Further Sattras at Naimisa

4. Moving along with the Naimiseya Rsis
A. The Vratyas: Vedic Precedent and Epic Usages;
B. Moving Sessions along the Sarasvati;
C. Setting the Universe in Motion; D. The
Mahabharata Symposium; E. What Fits

5. Don’t Be Cruel
A. The Passing of the "Older Order"; B. Vidura’s
Birth and the Limits of Impalement; C. Talking
with Animals; D. Noncruelty and Noneviolence;
E. Tempered Cruelties

6. Listening to Nala and Damayanti
A. Characters in Search of Each Otehr; B. Nala’s
Possession; C. Further Prismatics

7. Draupadi’s Question
A. Hair Pulling; B. Disrobing Draupadi, Redressing
the Text; C. The Question within the Episode;
D. Before and After the Question

8. Vyasa and Suka: An Allegory of Writing
A. Author and Sons; B. Coming Here, Going
There; C. Wonders upon Wonders; D. The Other
Side of the Mountain




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