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Misimpressions Of 'Mahabharata'

September 12, 1987

In his review of Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere's stage version of the Indian book "Mahabharata," Dan Sullivan aptly compared himself to a snake that has swallowed a rabbit in one gulp ("The Lengthy but Worthy Trip of 'Mahabharata,' " Sept. 7).

The review was one of the most patchy and confused pieces of writing that I have ever read. A little bit of research and attention to accuracy wouldn't have hurt--for instance, the "Mahabharata" was written roughly 25 centuries ago, not just "God knows when, but well before the Christian era." And the Bhagavad-Gita section is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and the warrior-prince Arjuna, not Yudhishtra, as Sullivan tells us.

Western viewers wouldn't be confused by Yudhishtra finding his "crass cousin" in heaven if they had been open-minded enough to absorb the twin concepts of the Hindu epic: karma , the concept that one reaps what one sows; and dharma , which can roughly be translated as fulfilling one's obligations in life.

Sullivan remarks that Western epics are "our stories in a way that 'Mahabharata' can never be." I strongly disagree.

The "Mahabharata" is a human story of greed and reckless ambition. It is an extremely modern exposition on how to survive in an evil age, and a sage and wise look at the ultimate consequences of violence and bloodshed. It is not a work that is uniquely Indian--it is, indeed, a work that belongs to the Bharatas , or the human race.

I really wish Sullivan had waited to digest his rabbit before coming out with his initial, inchoate impressions.


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