From being an activist to writer to an orator and critic, Prof. Dr. Sunil P Ilayidam has donned many roles through his lifetime. His latest musing Mahabharatam Samskarika Charithram puts up a cultural and historical look in through the age old epic. Mahabharata, which is considered to be the oldest and maybe the most expansive epic which went through multitudes of retellings and reinterpretations within a time period of more than a millennium has always been a subject of a scholarly and spiritual interest. With many devising and arguing about the derivation of cultural identities from the epic, Dr. Ilayidam looks at it through the lens of a cultural narrative with many forms and interpretations rather than a linear ideological text that shapes the cultural identity of the people.
While talking about the book, he mentioned that there is no other book or epic which is capable of accommodating the ancient history of region other than Mahabharata. The origin of the epic is considered to be in the 1st millennium BC from the fables and songs on the conflict between the kuru tribes in the northern part of India. It is contained in the heroic tales of the Suthans and the Agathans. It has taken many forms and came together in its complete form in 4th or 5th century A.D. Thus it creates an expansive time period spread over more than a millennium which no other text in modern history can claim. The influx of ideas and narratives during this time period which evolved with narrative of the text, influencing it, has together created the complete rendition of the text that we have now. The famous quote from Mahabharata ‘Whatever is here, may be found elsewhere; what is not cannot be found anywhere else,’ describe this expansive and historic nature of the text that spans over more than a millennia.
Mahabharata has now become text containing a hundred thousand shlokas. It might have originated as heroic tales and songs and has evolved through the forms of Jayam containing 800 shlokas to Bharatasamhita containing 25,000 shlokas and then took the shape of Mahabharata with a hundred thousand shlokas. During this, all the narratives and ideas that came up in this time period would have influenced the text. It took many shapes throughout the centuries and has travelled through time in different forms and took different forms and narratives with it. Mahabharata is the name of an expansive cultural narrative and not the name of a linear ideological text.
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