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Professor Kevin - ‘Three Bhārata Heroes: Karṇa ~ Bhīṣma ~ Kṛṣṇa in Epic Mahābhārata’

Professor McGrath begin his lecture with recitation of a Sanskrit shloka ‘mahābhāratam ākhyānaṃ yaḥ paṭhet susamāhitaḥ sa gacchet paramāṃ siddhim iti me nāsti saṃśayaḥ’. He began has lecture by asserting that the books I and XVIII of the poem make this claim repeatedly that a work of art perfects a human being. He then said that in his talk he will try to investigate this causal relation between Poetry and Human perfection.

Professor McGrath then explained that since the Heroes and heroines of the Mahābhārata suffer and die singing about their lives and ordeals possesses both moral and spiritual efficacy (that is what the poem is claiming). He then explained that the performance of the epic song is salutary, therapeutic, and healing for an audience. Professor McGrath explained that in the times when the world is suffering from a pandemic of Covid-19 this performance of the epic song becomes extremely pertinent.


He pointed out that in order to investigate how a work of art can contribute to human perfection he would like to focus on one word Kīrti (this is how the poem frequently refers to itself). Kīrti, he said, can be translated as fame and explained it further by saying that this fame is not in the manner of it being received rather this is a fame that is apprehended and it is substantial and epistemological. He then transmission of this Kīrti and explained that it leads to siddhi. In this process he began to talk about the three charioteers (Karṇa, Bhīṣma and Kṛṣṇa) who are central to the plot and explained how all three express or demonstrate an understanding of or affinity for yogic consciousness and it is this which leads to the production of fame (Kīrti) which is efficacious and thus conducing to human perfection: yoga, kīrti, siddhi.


The speaker for explaining Kīrti talks about the five points (1) Genealogy where he explained that Mahābhārata is composed in two fashions, inspiration and edition. In here he also explained the three inspirations and talked about the inspirations of Janamejaya, Saṃjaya and Vaiśaṃpāyana. (2) Time where he explained how heroes and heroines walk with deities, speak, dine, sometimes make love and how some are not fully human. Here he also explained how the poem is not specifically historical and thus the heroic age is an artificial retrospective synthesis of an ideally hypothetical time, incorporating fifteen hundred years of material and cultural experience also drawing from the archaic and from the classical. He then talked about the core plot and explained that the poem consists of many simultaneous narratives.


After explaining the two points began to speak about the first hero Karṇa and this he said is the third point. He explained him as a Sanskrit Hero, superhuman and ancient Indo-Āryan solar hero. While explaining to the audience briefly about the character and deeds of Karṇa he mentioned various incidents from the poem such as Karṇa’s actions which explains the generosity of kṣatriya, his dialogue with Indra in book III, his sacrifice of his earrings, kavaca and also he mentioned ŚASTRAYAJÑA thus explaining the heroism of Karṇa.

After explaining the character and deeds of Karṇa, Professor McGrath, spoke about second hero Bhīṣma. He talked about his character and deeds such as he is being the paramount warrior. He explained about the incident of his birth when divine speech uttered and his terrific name originates from sky, Bhīṣma. Explaining further he said that Bhīṣma like rival Karṇa was the displaced eldest son, he was like Vyāsa, the stepbrother of the same generation, he was like Pāṇḍavas he is half-human and also that his mother is a divinity.

After explaining the character and deeds of Bhīṣma, Professor McGrath, spoke about Dhyāna which is also the fourth point. Dhyāna he said was first used in Indian literature in the Bhīṣma parvan.


Professor McGrath then talked about the Plot and mentioned it as the fifth point. Here he explained instances such as Arghya, Silence at dicing/Draupadī, Śikhaṇḍin, effective yogic āhiṃsā and so on. It is in here he talked about the third hero Kṛṣṇa. He explained Kṛṣṇa as the superlative charioteer who discourses on extraordinary skills. Here he explored the plot, the tactics, the dual kingship and talked about Yogic telepathy.


In conclusion of his talk, Professor McGrath said that these expositions tell us that Causal relationship between Poetry and human perfectibility is intense and pertinent. He said that this process of examining Kīrti we looked at three heroes and understood how the origin of the poem is inspirational. He mentioned the presence of yoga and explained how it is intrinsically active at heart of heroic discourse, and that the Kīrti is therapeutic, healing. Professor McGrath then concluded by saying that the Bhārata is an extraordinary beauty which encapsulate the permanent and indestructible basic system of cosmos.



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