What can we learn from an ancient text about war and peace, among the many other topics in the Mahābhārata? Or as a new adaptation puts it: “In times of division, how do we find wholeness? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors? And how can we build a new world when we have nearly destroyed this one?”
The production’s co-author, Miriam Fernandes, also stars as a storyteller – a key role in the Mahābhārata’s own story. It’s been told and retold in many different forms over the centuries, and part of its appeal is that it leaves us with questions, inspiring us to think for ourselves what to do with its message.
“The story is really a meditation,” Fernandes explains in our conversation. “It’s not about a specific lesson, or a take-home.” Instead, she says: “I hope the audience walks away and reflects on it more, because I think that’s what’s the story is asking us to do – to reflect on the story, reflect on ourselves, and on our own actions.”
Among other topics, we explore:
Why dharma – or doing the right thing – is “a slippery fish”
What this says about contemporary problems such as ecocide
How to end cycles of revenge in which both sides feel righteous
The extent to which fate and free will define human activity
Who gets edited out, and which themes are prioritised
Links to resources discussed in the podcast are posted below.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for a retreat based on the Mahābhārata – more on that soon at danielsimpson.info, where you can sign up for news about forthcoming courses.
Why Not Theatre’s Mahābhārata was staged at the Barbican in London last year.
Another of its influences is Devdutt Pattanaik’s illustrated retelling, titled Jaya.
Partial scholarly translations have been published by the University of Chicago Press, the Clay Sanskrit Library and Wendy Doniger. Plus the Penguin Classics edition by John Smith paraphrases chapters he doesn’t translate.
A full nineteenth-century translation by K. M. Ganguli is available online.
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