chapter  10
17 Pages

Tagore’s Readings of the Mahābhārata

BySudipta Kaviraj

The author teases out the multi-layered and complex ethico-aesthetic effects of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘telling’ of Kuntī’s story in nineteenth-century modern India and also suggests a conceptual framework to make space for such retellings. Tagore stages a dialogue between Kuntī and Karṇa in which the hitherto hidden story of Karṇa’s birth is revealed to him. The dialogic form, according to Kaviraj, shifts the rasa aesthetics of the episode and enables a glimpse of the act of a mother giving up her son from the inside. The two protagonists revealing themselves to each other (in twilight – a liminal darkness of shame, secrets, dream-like appearances, mystery) come to represent the modern quest for subjective springs of action. Is Tagore’s story a ‘new’ tale? Kaviraj introduces the idea of an ‘infra-narrative space’ – an under-narrated and under-determined moment in the story of a fictional character, which others can then pick up and fill out in another story – to address the extent of its novelty in Tagore’s retelling of the episode. According to Kaviraj, retellings of the Mahābhārata foregrounding contemporary ethical struggles and affective milieus become a strategy to incorporate and negotiate historicity in a text with the conceit of being ‘eternal’.