chapter  3
43 Pages

Constructing a signifi cant past

Introductory remarks In Chapters 1 and 2 , I took up the complexities of the narrative structure of the Mahābhārata and its relationship to antecedent Vedic ritual forms. I also began to suggest some reasons in terms of the cultural history of early South Asia as to why one might want to construct narratives on the same model as rituals. These were chiefl y connected to the internal logic of Vedic ritualism and, to a lesser extent, to historical events in the last three centuries of the pre-Common Era and the competitive knowledge economy of that period. I also began to take up the critical features of the orientation of the Mahābhārata in time. I argued that we found in the Mahābhārata a text of pre-modern ‘modernity’. I suggested that the text was concerned, if not to present a coherent system of historic and cosmic ages, then to present the aftermath of the Mahābhārata war as a period in which it was apposite, sensible, and even crucial, to offer a series of new Brahminical teachings on the conduct of politics, religion and the good life. These new teachings were lent force and power by their being set in a text that claimed for itself Vedic equivalence.