Mahabharata

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Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

Who writes history? Much of Indian history prior to the entrance of Muslims into the region in the 11th century exists only in literary form, as stories and tales. Examine the Mahabharata as a historical document. What does it tell us about the time in which it was set and the person, or persons, who wrote it? You might, for instance, compare aspects of classical India with parallel features of Europe during the middle ages. What does it mean to interpret history through a work of literature?

Religion and society: Investigate the similarities and differences between Hinduism, as it is presented in the Mahabharata, and Buddhism, another great world religion with its source in India. Compare the ways in which Hinduism structures society and salvation through the caste system and the critique that Buddhism offers of this system.

What is a hero? The Mahabharata contains many examples of the Hindu hero, especially in the character of Yudhishthira. Outline his characteristics and then compare them to the qualities of an epic hero from the western tradition, such as Odysseus from Homer's Odyssey, or Achilles from his Iliad. What makes these heroes "eastern" or "western" in character? What qualities to they share? Do the same with Bhima, Arjuna, or Duryodhana.