Nell Hawley, May 9th, 2019
The weight of the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata exerts a kind of gravitational pull on South Asian literature. Retellings of the Mahābhārata fill South Asia’s languages and literary genres, and each retelling answers the dark and violent world of the epic in its own way. In this presentation, I discuss one particularly unexpected response: the Sanskrit drama Pañcarātra (“The Five Nights”), attributed to the early poet Bhāsa (ca. 200 CE), which imagines a Mahābhārata in which the central characters of the Sanskrit epic actually avert the very war that is the Mahābhārata’s defining feature and live more or less happily ever after. In my reading, the play presents the epic in double vision—a feeling of construction, or integration, layered over something much more unstable.