India's Epic Dilemma: The Hindu
India's epic dilemma
"An ethical text is the organic fertiliser of a society. Being fully open-ended, it delights, beckons, and recaptures the deracinated Indian from the lure of the ideological camp. While it generates passion, it also respects diversity of interpretation. It represents life but, in contrast to life’s chaos, also offers options. An ethical text is a living text. India is fortunate to be the land of several epics such as Silappatikaram in Tamil or Palnati Virula katha in Telugu and so on.
I am not saying something very new here but only presenting, in a binary way, the contrast between an ethical and an ideological text so that we can fight our current politics. Because the Indian tradition has always seen the epics as ethical texts, in contrast to the political trend today, we have great commentaries such as that of V.S. Sukthankar. The sophisticated elaboration by Mehendale on the rules of war and the consequences in terms of punishment of their violation, in his wonderfully slim book Reflections on the Mahabharata war, is another illustration of the Indian tradition of diverse interpretations. Critical commentaries, dissent, alternative readings are merely different forks in the road as we explore our national cultural heritage. Unfortunately today, with the rise of cultural vigilantes, these great epics are being converted into ideological texts. Because they receive tacit support from the powers that control the state, they attempt to push everyone onto the highway and away from the byways of Indian society."