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Disorienting Dharma: Ethics and the Aesthetics of Suffering in the Mahabharata

Hudson, Emily


This book explores the relationship between ethics, aesthetics, and religion in classical Indian literature and literary theory by focusing on one of the most celebrated and enigmatic texts to emerge from the Sanskrit epic tradition: the Mahabharata. This text — one of the principal sources for the study of South Asian religious, social, and political thought — is considered a major transmitter of dharma, or moral, social, and religious duty. But basic questions such as precisely how the epic is communicating its ideas about dharma and precisely what it is saying about it are still being explored. In the book, Hudson examines these issues through a variety of interpretive lenses including Sanskrit literary theory, reader-response theory, and narrative ethics. One of the first book-length studies to view the subject through the lens of Indian aesthetics, Hudson’s work brings to light one of the primary narrative tenses of the epic: the vexed relationship between dharma and suffering. Hudson demonstrates how reading the Mahabharata, perhaps the most harrowing story in world literature, can be a fascinating, disorienting, and ultimately transformative experience.

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