Overview for Religious Doctrines in the Mahabharata
Though it is widely known as an epic text that recounts the exploits of heroes, gods and villains, the Mahabharata is equally significant as a repository of the principal religious doctrines of the Hindu tradition from the period immediately following the rise of Buddhism in India. Without imposing any preconceived theory of overall meaning, this study delineates the major themes of religious ideology offered by the great epic in a way that does justice to the rich variety of material contained in its corpus. It thus functions on one level as a catalogue of doctrines, indicating where specific religious ideas are presented in the Mahabharata, in a manner that allows all sections equal merit whether they be a part of the central narrative or the didactic interludes that punctuate the principal story. This study further offers an analysis of the epic's teachings by seeking to identify its principal doctrinal tendencies and the specific answers it gives to major questions of religious thinking such as the nature of God, the path to salvation, cosmic and personal eschatology, ethics and the authority of scripture. Through this approach the text is allowed to speak in its own terms and justice is done to the genuine diversity of perspectives contained in its various sections. Ultimately it is recognised that whilst it is legitimate to speak of 'epic thought' in a general sense, the Mahabharata represents above all the rich diversity of Hindu religious ideas. It does not have merely one aim or one ideology, but allows various concepts and systems of thought to exist alongside each other, challenging the reader to accept diversity rather than a rigid creed and to explore rather than resolve the inevitable tensions existing in the varied human responses to the phenomenon of religion.
Nicholas Sutton (Author)
Nicholas Sutton, having gained his first degree in Theology from the University of Birmingham, has moved successfully into the field of Indology, studying for his Ph.D. in the Department of Religious Studies at Lancaster University. He is thus able to draw upon the insights and methodologies of both disciplines in his approach to understanding the Sanskrit literature of classical Hinduism. He has contributed a number of articles on the Hindu epics and is currently working on English translations of passages of the Moksadharma-parvan of the Mahabharata. Dr. Sutton is Lecturer in Eastern Religions at Edge Hill University College in Lancashire, England.