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Dr. Joydeep Bagchee - The Mahābhārata War and the Teaching of Yoga

Updated: Jan 23

Dr. Bagchee began by explaining how we tend to approach the Mahābhārata and gave reference to the works of Upender Singh to explain that there as understood generally, four phases of the expansion of Mahābhārata. First being the Jaya which is the battle account and is the heart of the whole thing as it is the original Mahābhārata. The second is the Jaya Bhārata which is an expansion of Jaya. Third is BhāratItihāsa and finally the Mahābhārata. Dr. Bagchee then explained how Mahābhārata is considered a text about war. While explaining this Dr. Bagchee talked about the core hypotheses of the talk and said that the Mahābhārata itself explains that some people read the Mahābhārata from Manu onwards, some from āstika onwards and so on. It is also mentioned in Mahābhārata that the sage made a version without the Upakhānas (the additional narratives), this makes people believe that this must be the original Mahābhārata. This perhaps explains the general belief that the smaller version (Jaya) is the very first and since there are additional narratives in another text it must be the later one, though such things are nowhere mentioned and cannot be true as the interweaving of the different narrations are so complex and are intertwined that they cannot be broken apart and thus each narration, each starting point presumes the other and their motives recalls the other one. Another reason mentioned by Dr. Bagchee to clarify the core hypothesis i.e., adding the upakhānas to Jaya makes the Mahābhārata does not work is that if you take all Upakhānas and count them the numbers won’t add up and the length of the Upakhānas do not take you to the Mahābhārata.


Dr. Bagchee then looked into the three starting points and said that these three points are philosophical beginnings and explained a better way to understand the three versions is not as different historical versions but as literary philosophical tropes. Dr. Bagchee then says that talk will focus on the raṇayajña in its components of war and sacrifice. It is here Dr. Bagchee explains that a deep analysis and thorough read of the war books of the Mahābhārata shows that the war books as an ultimate proof that Mahābhārata is not about war but about yoga (though in a wide sense). Thus Dr. Bagchee explains the theme of the project and the reason for including the term Yoga Consciousness in the title.


Dr. Bagchee then mentioned what the three frames looks like and explained that the first covers the outermost setting is the Naimiṣā forest, so it is a peaceful setting where the Mahābhārata is recounted. It is here we get the maxim ahiṃsā parmo dharma. The second frame talks about the the story where there is snake sacrifice happening and in the intervals of the snake sacrifice the Mahābhārata is being narrated. The third frame is innermost frame which explicates the violence of war, and basically is the story of conflict. It is not a simple war and thus Dr. Bagchee explains that it is a sacrificial war. While explaining the importance of the analysation of action, Dr. Bagchee, explains that a superimposition of yajña over raṇa is at the heart of the war books. He further posited a verse from Bhagvadgita he who sees action in inaction and inaction in action is a yogi and explains how this verse is at the heart of Mahābhārata.


In the next part of his lecture, the speaker talked about German Indology and explained the confusion of text and history and also explained the evacuation of Literary meaning. Here, Dr. Bagchee, mentions the three levels of haemorrhage of meaning to the way in the texts today are approached. The first is that the description of war in the text is considered as an imitation of an external war. The text is thus reduced to banal perceptual reality thus loses its poetry. Explaining further on the same, Dr. Bagchee, says that in this process we go from avidya to Kāma and then to karma and thus finally to ‘this may have happened’. To explain where this hermeneutic comes from he explains that since we never read a text in vacuum it is the history and hermeneutics that affects us. To explain it further, Dr. Bagchee, explained the three hermeneutic communities of the biblical revelation. He then explained how the locus of the text, the debates about how to interpret a text moved out of the text into a new place called history. Adding on to this Dr. Vishwa Adluri says that Mahābhārata remains a singular testament to reject or at least Archimedean point from the view of the horrors of why history became the method of human sciences and how detrimental it is in the studies of humanities.


Moving on further, Dr. Bagchee, explained that what he is basically trying to show is that this notion of moving to history is brought into the Mahābhārata by a certain German scholar named Christian Lassen it is in this reference, Dr. Bagchee, explains how German Indology turns to be bad apologetics because of the various bifurcations of their own thoughts and interpretations thus nullifying the true essence and thought of the text itself. Dr. Bagchee also mentioned a new way of approaching the text and thus mentions Kshatriya core and Brahmanic interpolations. He then mentions the work of V. S. Sukthankar said that it was his philology that saved the entire Mahābhārata as it put an end to speculative text-historical models of the Epic’s expansion and permitted a return to interpretation. Dr. Bagchee, to explain further mentions how Sukthankar explains the western text-historical model and explains his descriptions on “higher criticism”, “higher anti-semitism”, and so on.


Dr. Bagchee then explains through various stories, descriptions, and examples that if we look at the war books we find narratological tropes and philosophical ideas moving even the war narrative. Dr. Bagchee then in the same reference explained the relevance of the statement:

Dharmakshetre kurukshetre samavetaa yuyutsavah; Maamakaah paandavaashchaiva kimakurvata sanjaya.


Towards the end of the lecture, Dr. Bagchee explained the relevance of action and explained a conversation of Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa which explicated why the Karma must be performed. After a description of the relevance of war books in eulogising the yoga consciousness, Dr. Bagchee ended his lecture by saying “all the war books are for us, for our yoga, which means that we should read all the war books as an exercise yoga and not a to consider them a book helping us to understand historical facts.


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