Dr. Molly Kaushal - Text & Performance: Exploring the Living Folk Traditions of the Mahābhārata

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Dr. Kaushal begins her lecture by exploring the living traditions of India. To do that Dr. Kaushal began her exploration with the texts and stories of the Rāmāyaṇa. She then spoke about the folk traditions and explained how Ramleela is important when we talk about a living tradition. She then explained a general explanation on the Mahābhārata and explained how it is generally considered to be a book of war, about conspiracies, plots and so on. But a deep analysis of the text shows a very vibrant living tradition and thus, Dr. Kaushal explained the impact of Mahābhārata (even though it is considered to be tabooed) in the society even today. She then explained the relevance and impact of the text by explaining the journey of the text first as Jaya then as Bhārata and then later on as Mahābhārata. Dr. Kaushal then explained the various living traditions from the Mahābhārata and thus brought to us various events such as Vyāsa Katha Vāchana which still takes place in Banaras at Vyāsa Peeth.

Dr. Kaushal then mentioned an eighteen day Mahābhārata taking place in south India where the whole episodes of Mahābhārata are being enacted. Dr. Kaushal explained how these traditions when enacted successfully erase the social hierarchy thus by erasing the caste differences that lie in the society. It is here, Dr. Kaushal, explained how these traditions are functioning in various layers and levels thus explained at one level it was transporting the entire space and time thus transcending the entire level of space and time into the cosmic level of space and time at the same time it is also shaping the communal harmony and also helps in shaping the community identity. Thus, Dr. Kaushal explained how these texts become a living tradition and become a medium for social mobility.

She then explained how the texts are being taken and interpreted by the people and said that the sources for their enactment are not the same around the whole country when it comes to Mahābhārata. These sources can be creations which vary from the original writings. So, Dr. Kaushal said that when you are performing the story of Mahābhārata in a way you are performing your own story and you are performing history. This history, she says, is the history of what it means to be a community. To explain the same, Dr. Kaushal, mentioned many communities who perform the Mahābhārata in their traditions.

Dr. Kaushal shared some stories and her own experiences showing how Mahābhārata as a living tradition is vital for the society. She explored through her stories how these performances and texts help in forming new rituals, ideologies which help the society to come together. She explained through many stories how the role plays helps people to identify with characters in a manner that they identify with the pain, sorrow, and happiness. These emotional attachments and these identification, Dr. Kaushal said, makes the Mahābhārata a living tradition.

To learn more about the folk and tribal traditions keeping ancient epics alive, please tune into our Youtube Channel!

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