Cardiff University | Prifysgol Caerdydd ORCA
Online Research @ Cardiff 
WelshClear Cookie - decide language by browser settings

Public reason and politics in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata

Hegarty, James 2022. Public reason and politics in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata. In: Balkaran, Raj and Taylor, McComas eds. Visions and Revisions of Ancient Indian Narrative: Studies in the Sanskrit Epics and Puranas, Australian National University Press,

Full text not available from this repository.


This chapter explores the ways in which decisions are taken by people in positions of power and influence in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata, which I characterize as acts of public reason. I explore, in particular, where acts of public reason are connected to issues that are political. I take the political, building on classical models, to involve the allocation of resources, the enforcement of values and the adjudication of disputes. There has been an underestimation of the value of the Māhābhārata as a work of political thought (notwithstanding engagement with those parts of the text that are considered to be didactically political and so amenable to study in isolation). In part, this is because of a widespread assumption that the presence of divine intervention in a textual tradition is a signal that the cultural group in question is yet to disassociate their institutions and the constitution of social order and communal life from an encompassing cosmology. If we accept that the historical context of both the composition and transmission of the Mahābhārata is one of the heterogeneous, often urbanized, societies of the pre-Common and early Common Era, this is, however, a problematic historical assumption. It is also an assumption that creates barriers to certain sorts of literary readings of the Mahābhārata viz. those that explore the potential for political import in both the plot and the descriptions of human and divine activity in the text (readings made unpalatable in recent years by their overuse in colonial-era philological and historical interpretations of early Indian literature -as records of migration and assimilation). The present chapter focuses upon pivotal moments in the Mahābhārata in order to explore the behavior and language of groups of people engaged in deliberation in the text. The aim is to begin to delineate cultures of public reason both within and beyond the Mahābhārata with an emphasis on the ways in which politics can be explored as much in performance as in abstraction.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: In Press
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
Publisher: Australian National University Press
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2020 13:45

Actions (repository staff only)

Edit Item Edit Item