Interview with Prof. Vishwa Adluri on “Mahabharata and Modern Scholarship”

Interview with Prof. Vishwa Adluri on “Mahabharata and Modern Scholarship”

IndiaFacts interview of Dr. Vishwa Adluri on Mahabharata, modern scholarship and their new book “Philology and Criticism: A Guide to Mahābhārata Textual Criticism”

Mahabharata is one of the foundational texts of Indian civilization. Along with Ramayana, it has transformed high abstract philosophies of the Upanishads into an aesthetically appealing literary work which has touched the hearts of millions of Indians and has further manifested as performing arts which has been lived and experienced by common people throughout Indian history.

Yet, today, we have a modern Mahabharata scholarship which is predominated by the Indologists who have continuously tried to downplay the traditional reception of this text of Itihasa and has instead posited Mahabharata as an evidence of a successful Brahminical conspiracy that turned an originally Kshatriya epic into the current text of Mahabharata which considers itself “Panchamaveda”.

Two notable exceptions to this general trend in modern Mahabharata scholarship is Dr. Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee. They have created a large reservoir of academic works that not only examines the history and theological basis of the modern scholarship of Mahabharata, but also raises serious questions about their treatment of the text.

In their new book “Philology and Criticism”, they continue this critical examination of modern Mahabharata scholarship.

On the behalf of IndiaFacts, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Adluri on Mahabharata, modern scholarship and their new book “Philology and Criticism”.

[Editor’s note: Page numbers in the interview refer to Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee, Philology and Criticism: A Guide to Mahābhārata Textual Criticism (London: Anthem, 2018). The book is available in open access here.]

Nithin Sridhar: Dr. Adluri, please accept my congratulations on your latest book Philology and Criticism. You have described your new book as a companion to your previous volume The Nay Science. How does Philology and Criticism carry forward your work in The Nay Science? How does it differ from it?

Dr. Vishwa Adluri: Thank you, Nithin. In The Nay Science, we traced the origins of contemporary views of the Mahābhārata back to their origins in the work of nineteenth-century German Indologists such as Christian Lassen, Adolf Holtzmann Jr., and Hermann Oldenberg. We showed how these scholars imported racial prejudices into Mahābhārata studies—for example, that an original, heroic epic existed that reflected the Indo-Germanic or Aryan worldview, or that this epic was corrupted due to racial mixing with the dark-skinned population of India. We also demonstrated that the idea of so-called critical scholarship originated with German Protestantism, specifically its rejection of traditional hermeneutics, its insistence on the literal meaning, its emphasis on the historical context, and its desire to recover “original” meanings. Yet when we looked at the work of these scholars, we found there was nothing critical about it. They were trading in anti-Brahmanic and anti-Judaic stereotypes.

In Philology and Criticism, we continue our critical work on twentieth-century Mahābhārata scholarship. We examine the work of contemporary scholars such as Georg von Simson (19–22, 24, 27–28) and John Brockington (273, 429–53), and also some lesser figures such as Wendy Doniger (14–15) and Michael Witzel (269, 320–24). The book shows how, except for slight changes in terminology, the same prejudices about the Mahābhārata continue (25, 45, 53, 62, 67, 70, 87–88). Thus, scholars now argue that the Mahābhārata critical edition (completed in 1966 by Sukthankar and his team) reconstructs a mere “normative redaction” of the Mahābhārata (2–3, 45–89), that is, a version the Brahmans created from an earlier oral epic tradition. Although these scholars claim they are doing textual criticism, their work reveals that they have not grasped the basics of this method. Brockington, for example, confuses genealogical classification with typological, as discussed here. Both books are about textual criticism. Whereas The Nay Science focused on literary and historical aspects (so-called higher criticism), Philology and Criticism focuses on technical aspects (so-called lower criticism). Philology and Criticism is more abstract and technical, but it is actually the easier book to read.

What about the BhagavadgītāPhilology and Criticism does not mention it much.  

That is correct. We already published several papers on the Bhagavadgītā, including “Paradigm Lost: The Application of the Historical-Critical Method to the Bhagavadgītā” and “Who’s Zoomin Who: Bhagavadgītā Recensions in India and Germany.” Perhaps we should collect this research along with sections from The Nay Science and publish it as a separate book. Studying the Bhagavadgītā is useful because Gītā studies presents in a nutshell all the problems with Mahābhārata studies. German Indologists called their work “scientific” as compared with the tradition, yet no two scholars could agree on the extent of the “original” Bhagavadgītā. The idea of an “original” Gītā, moreover, emerged with Adolf Holtzmann Jr., who claimed that there must have originally been a shorter, “heroic” version of the poem that would have been appropriate to the Indo-Germanic warriors. Our paper “Paradigm Lost” showed how contemporary scholars such as Mislav Ježić had fudged their own criteria to fit this prejudice. They were frightened to contradict the academic dogma the German scholars had instituted. 

You have been arguing for the importance of the Mahābhārata’s critical edition. Can you briefly describe what a critical edition is? How does it differ from the texts preserved by the commentarial tradition/the vulgate text? How should a practicing Hindu approach the critical edition? Why do you think a critical edition is important?

A critical edition achieves two things. First, it provides a text for the reader—one that strives to approximate the author’s intention as closely as possible by replacing secondary readings with more original ones. Second, it documents the textual variation in the form of a critical apparatus (that is, an apparatus of variant readings found in the manuscripts, readings the editor considered secondary). A critical edition thus differs from the vulgate editions (in the Mahābhārata’s case, Nīlakaṇṭha’s 17th c. text) because it reconstructs the earliest stage of the text possible and provides an overview of the entire manuscript tradition.

Readers should approach the critical edition like any other text. The sole difference is that, for the first time, they have the entire life of the text before them. The critical edition also allows readers to approach the text confidently after two centuries in which Western scholars claimed that Indians were ignorant of the Mahābhārata’s true nature and were reading a “corrupt” work; that the core of the Mahābhārata was about a historical war, etc. Sukthankar created the critical edition to defend the Mahābhārata. He wanted to show that the text, as far back as we can scientifically reconstruct it, validates the traditional reception of the Mahābhārata as a dharmaśāstra and a mokaśāstra. The critical edition disproves Western scholars’ claims that bhakti was a later interpolation into a Brahmanic work, that the Brahmans had taken over and distorted an original heroic epic, and that the Mahābhārata was composed over 800 years between 400 BCE and 400 CE. Romila Thapar wrongly attributes this view to Sukthankar in an interview with Teesta Setalvad. Sukthankar says the exact opposite in On the Meaning of the Mahābhārata (on page 9). You see how much ignorance about the Mahābhārata exists and how centuries-old prejudices still thrive. Romila Thapar is considered an expert on ancient India, yet her work recirculates the racial and anti-Semitic views of Lassen, Holtzmann Jr., Hopkins, and others already critiqued in The Nay Science.

In the introduction to Philology and Criticism, you mention three misconceptions concerning the critical edition: “(1) that it is eclectic; (2) that it is not a text; and (3) that it can be replaced by any other text with an apparatus of variants.” Can you elaborate?

Wendy Doniger calls the critical edition a “Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together from various scraps of different bodies; its only community is that of the Pune scholars, the Frankensteins.” This is a common misunderstanding: because a genealogical-reconstructive edition reconstructs the archetype, the latest common ancestor of the extant witnesses examined for that edition, people wrongly assume that it “pieces together” different texts. In reality, the constituted text does not take one line from one manuscript and another from another to produce a composite text. Rather, for every line, it infers what the reading of their common ancestor must have been such that we can account for the observed variation. The genealogical-reconstructive edition is a mixture of older and newer readings, but less so than the surviving manuscripts, because the editor tries to reconstruct a definite stage of the tradition and print the most original reading (innovations in one or more witnesses being moved to the apparatus as “corruptions” of this reading).

Moreover, whereas the extant manuscripts may combine readings from different branches, the editor typically discards contaminated specimens and the text he reconstructs is purer and better than any of the available exemplars since it represents the consensus of the main families. Doniger’s metaphor is colorful, but inaccurate. It follows that the constituted text is a text like any other—in fact, it offers a more readable, scientific, and historically accurate text than the others—and deserves to be read as such. Finally, some scholars randomly restore passages from the critical apparatus to the constituted text because they think these passages are typical of a heroic culture or appear “Kṣatriya”, etc. This is to misunderstand the purpose of a critical apparatus: it is not a flea market from which anyone can take anything. There are rules for reconstructing the archetype. Each reading must be justified individually in terms of the manuscript evidence. As Philology and Criticism demonstrated, we should exercise a justified skepticism towards German Indologists’ claims that they do textual criticism (319–24, 339).

Source: Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth

In his blurb, Bruce M. Sullivan notes, “Adluri and Bagchee describe how the critical edition’s evidence does not support theories of a prior oral epic or ‘layering’ in the text.” Can you shed some light on the academic debate surrounding the oral tradition and layering, including your views on these issues?

We must distinguish between two senses of “oral tradition.” The first refers to oral retellings and performances of the Mahābhārata, which have always existed, belong to the work’s transmission, and have been essential to communicating its message. This tradition belongs to the history of reception of the text and it is vital to understand its meaning and continuing interpretation. The second is the sense the German scholars primarily intended by the term—namely, a tradition of “orally improvising bards” who hymned the heroic deeds of Kṣatriya overlords in battle. No evidence exists for such a tradition. Rather, German Indologists tendentiously inferred its existence from the Mahābhārata, arguing that the Brahmans would have taken over and distorted an earlier oral epic to create the Mahābhārata “as an instrument of [their] addiction to spiritual domination” (Lassen). They read the Mahābhārata nationalistically as the saga of a chosen race (the “white Aryans”)— their conquest of an inferior race (the “dark-skinned aboriginals”) and their ultimate downfall due to the priesthood (the “Brahmans”). In this sense, “oral tradition” is a code for an anti-Brahmanic prejudice. (We traced the origins of this prejudice to Protestant anti-Judaic tropes and to German anti-Semitism in “Jews and Hindus in Indology”). It implies a vision of India before the Brahmans and, with some luck, also after them: free, heroic, egalitarian, rational, civilized, developed, etc. No accusation is so base or ridiculous that it cannot be leveled against the Brahmans. One participant at the 17th World Sanskrit Conference asserted a connection between Indian toilet habits and “Brahmanic ideology”. Philology and Criticism demonstrates that no evidence exists for an earlier heroic epic. Mutatis mutandis, Western scholars’ attempts at identifying earlier and later “layers” on the basis of their adherence to a Kṣatriya/Brahmanic ideology have been a failure.

In conversation, you mentioned that you consider the Mahābhārata śabda pramāṇa. Can you explain? The Mahābhārata is generally categorized as an itihāsa, although it also titles itself an Upaniad. How should we approach the Mahābhārata?

This is a good question. The Mahābhārata calls itself an itihāsa but also pañcamavedakārṣṇaveda, and an upaniad. The text sees itself as linked with the Veda, yet somehow different from it. Vyāsa, the conscious authorial agency, first “divided” the Veda into four before “composing” the Mahābhārata. The Mahābhārata thus represents the continuing Revelation in the Hindu tradition, especially regarding dharma and moka, the subject of vedānta. But the Mahābhārata is also the Veda for all: it is the strīśūdra-veda. It introduces several innovations—for example, the idea of yugadharma, which changes over time. It critiques patriarchy and celebrates strong women. It criticizes brāhmaas (Paraśurāma and Droṇa) and katriyas (Duryodhana) alike for running amok. It upholds the point of view of a woman (Draupadī) and a stigmatized outsider (the transgender hero Śikhaṇḍin). It praises the virtue of a hunter, who performs lowly work, over an irascible brāhmaa. Thus, while upholding the eternal dharma, the Mahābhārata is more radically egalitarian than liberal democracies today. It is almost “post-modern” in its deconstructive gesture. Without the concept of yugadharma, scripture will become dogmatic and fundamentalism threatens. We would not know what must be changed in society and what the ultimate goals are, which cannot be compromised. Alternatively, there would be skepticism about all values and moral relativism and nihilism would reign. The Mahābhārata presents the praxis of thoughtful inquiry into dharma as an alternative to permanent revolution. It is critical and self-reflexive, and thus historically aware in a way that the Indologists who preached a Reformation for India could never hope to be. I thus regard the Mahābhārata, especially the Bhagavadgītā, as a pramāṇa in itself. I also think it is the best interpretation of the Vedic pramāṇaitihāsapurāṇābhyāṃ vedaṃ samupabṛṃhayet.

In an interview with Swarajya, you stated, “Itihāsa is history that has overcome historicism: history that has become critical and self-consciousness.” Can you elaborate? How does this affect one’s understanding of the Mahābhārata?

Let us start with a philosophical problem. What is the reality of the external world and what is the validity of sense perception, our primary source of knowledge about the external world? Until we answer these questions, every history is merely contingent. We only have sense perceptions. Often, what we have is not perceptions of events but of artifacts, which we use to draw inferences about their underlying events, ultimately connecting the events into a narrative in view of some overarching purpose. There is thus no bare historical cognition. Rather, history is something we generate.

What we call “world history” is a creation of German scholars and philosophers in the nineteenth century. They provided a new intellectual framework for arranging events: the idea of a common historical space, a world stage on which cultures enter and successively vanish. This was a new way of looking at the world’s cultures—and of extrapolating the law of their succession. For Hegel, history was the process by which Spirit actualized itself, developing from primitive forms of statehood such as China and India to its ultimate expression, Prussia. Compare this with the Mahābhārata: external reality is problematized through the author’s interventions in the narrative. Human affairs mimetically enact the paradigmatic conflict, the devāsurayuddha. Humans themselves follow the paradigm of their divine archetypes, the devas and asuras. Instead of a linear, progressive history, we have cycles of time. Instead of a distant salvific event, we have the inexorable rise and fall of souls caught between the conflicting imperatives of dharma and adharma. There is no national salvation; only singularized jīvas. This is a different understanding of history, closer to Empedocles, Plato, and Nietzsche than to Hegel and Ranke. Thus, itihāsa is a history that has become critical about external reality and self-conscious about history’s status as a narrative. And it is asking the Nietzschean question about the uses and disadvantages of history for life: Why do we need history? What purpose should history serve?

In your introduction to Reading the Fifth Veda: Studies on the Mahābhārata, you note that Alf Hiltebeitel, who has argued for treating the Mahābhārata as a unified literary text, holds that it was composed by a committee of Brahmins over two generations; Vyāsa is just a “narrative fiction.” How different is Hiltebeitel’s position from the Indologists’ speculations that it was originally a Katriya text that was later corrupted by Brahmins? Both positions discard the traditional Hindu view of Vyāsa as the author.

I prefer “authorial presence” or “textual self-consciousness” to “narrative fiction,” since Vyāsa erases the boundary between empirical and textual reality by showing that both are of the essence of narrative. If reality itself is a fiction, what do we gain by calling Vyāsa a “narrative fiction”? The term presumes that there is still something that, by contrast, we can call non-fictional—a real or a historically existent Vyāsa, against which the textual Vyāsa would be fictive. The Mahābhārata, however, absorbs the mundane world of sense experience into an aesthetic experience of the text (this is why I speak of “the textual universe of the Mahābhārata”). The goal of this “phenomenological reduction” is to show that all experience is illuminated by the intellect and governed by dharma.

As progressive as Hiltebeitel’s stance on composition is vis-à-vis the German Indologists, it still grants them too much credence. Ultimately, all speculations as to authorship are trivial before the work, which by its very nature as a great literary work resists reductive analyses about the circumstances or motivations for its composition. This has been the greatest failing of Sanskrit studies generally. Every year more vapid dissertations appear, asserting that some work was written because the author wanted to enhance his status or to oppress someone or to insinuate himself with some sect or to assert the superiority of “his” gods. Every year more papers, these “unlovely exercises exacted by the scholarly code” as Arrowsmith calls them, are added to the pile. We are drowning in scholarship, yet little work of philosophical or artistic merit is done. Through Protestant literalism and its emphasis on the realia, we have entered a non-literary, indeed, a non-literate age. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche mocks the anti-intellectualism of the German university. Ironically, Sheldon Pollock runs around exalting the nineteenth-century German university (see my review of World Philology) when the best of the Germans already saw through it and discarded it.

What has been the reaction to your work from Indologists? Have they responded to your criticisms? How do you think they will react to the new book? How has your criticism affected the field? How will it develop in future?

There has been no intellectual counterargument. Many Indologists were enraged that we provided a critique that situated them historically and identified their Protestant biases. There were several ad hominem attacks, suggesting that we were “angry” or that we were “Hindutva.” Eli Franco wrote a review of The Nay Science, painting the book in broad brush strokes and accusing us of things we had not said. We wrote a rejoinder titled “Theses on Indology.” The Nay Science exposed the nineteenth-century foundation on which the discipline of Indology rests: names like Rudolf von Roth, Albrecht Weber, Christian Lassen, Adolf Holtzmann Jr., Edward Washburn Hopkins, Hermann Oldenberg, Richard Garbe, etc. Philology and Criticism pursues this inquiry into the work of twentieth-century scholars. The questions that now arise are: (1) Why were these scholars cited as expert authorities, when their work was erroneous (269–74)? (2) Why did scholars fail to detect problems as grave as racism and anti-Judaic and anti-Brahmanic biases, when universities are supposedly bastions of liberal values such as non-discrimination and religious tolerance? (3) Why did academics, who are paid high salaries to discriminate between good and bad scholarship, not notice the many technical errors in their colleagues’ work? (4) Beyond nineteenth-century “‘historical’ method”, what methods and approaches do the Indologists now offer? (5) Why continue with the standard disciplinary hagiography (Pollock’s interview in The Indian Express is a good example) when the episteme is in shambles? (6) What contribution has Indology made to Sanskrit or to India aside from its historicist, interventionist concerns? (7) Finally, how have the Indologists contributed to pedagogy and ethics in their own countries? Except for claiming that certain sections of the Indian population require enhanced oversight, they have not contributed to pedagogy of Indians. Rather, they have used their institutional status to bait Indians, mock their values, seek the thrill of playing stereotypes of East and West against each other, and provoke phony outrage to propel their own careers. The texts have survived for centuries without the Indologists and their “critical” philology. They will continue to survive without them.

Let me now shift from your academic engagement with the Mahābhārata to your personal engagement with the text. What is the Mahābhārata to you as a person? How has the Mahābhārata influenced you in your personal life? Please share some insights that you have discovered in your long journey with the text.

The darkest hour in my life was my PhD at Marburg University. I faced horrific racism, disguised as “scientific” philology. As I struggled with my dissertation on the Mahābhārata, my friend and scholar Arbogast Schmitt consoled me, saying ‘Think of the heroes in your Mahābhārata: you must be heroic like them.’ The Mahābhārata saved my life. The German Indologists formed a powerful clique. No one wanted to antagonize them. People talk about how Ambedkar was refused education, but I had a similar experience, and no one objected. I was punished because, like Ambedkar, I didn’t believe these caste or race hierarchies should exist. I didn’t believe I was lower than the German professors, and I didn’t believe I should have to bow to them. I didn’t believe that, as an Indian, I had to follow their unscientific and uncritical episteme blindly and unthinkingly. I could have chosen the path of victimhood, killed myself or burned books. Instead, like Ambedkar, I chose to fight. I read all the Indologists’ works and crafted an intellectual critique. I chose to show how their episteme was responsible for othering. I chose to expose the unjust system. I chose to talk about my experience. I chose to show the collaboration of some Indian Sanskritists (for example, Bhandarkar, Bhargava, and Mehendale), which has perpetuated the legacy of colonialism in Sanskrit studies. Bhandarkar lectured the Indians, “Let us … sitting at the feet of the English, French, and German Ṛṣis, imbibe the knowledge that they have to give.” Can you imagine the scars this left on the minds of young Indians? What gratuitous cruelty! I can’t help thinking that some Sanskritists collaborated with the German Indologists in encouraging deference from the Indians. The Germans profited from this, and rewarded their collaboration (with grants, funding, invitations, semesters abroad, positions, honorary titles, publication venues, etc.).

You have repeatedly stressed the importance of approaching the Mahābhārata through a hermeneutics of respect rather than the hermeneutics of suspicion. Can you shed more light on this, perhaps with an illustration of how you have cultivated it in your study of the text?

I come from a scholarly culture that venerates texts. I studied with Reiner Schürmann, who was a brilliant philosopher and a Dominican monk. I had friends who were rabbis. I took courses with Seth Benardete, the most careful reader of Plato I know. Even the tradition of philosophy I was trained in—continental philosophy—works carefully with texts, always in dialogue with past thinkers. Swami Prabuddhananda taught me the text-commentarial tradition of Śaṅkarācārya and his successors in the Advaita parapara. Everywhere I see scholars and readers working carefully with texts, painstakingly interpreting them, trying to make sense of them and learn from them, inspired to ask questions about life, death, ultimate meaning, and the universe. I do not understand what the Indologists do or why they are paid for it. Most Mahābhārata scholarship is jejune. The Indologists barely contributed to pedagogy in their home countries. Even if you argue that a premium was placed on reading texts against the grain, I doubt this qualifies as “a hermeneutics of suspicion”. The latter implies a commitment to a sustained reading, a desire to explore in the depths or locate in the margins an alternate reading immanent in the text. Show me one person who has read the Mahābhārata or the Rāmāyaṇa as carefully as Derrida reads Heidegger. Deconstruction is an art; what the Indologists practiced was the crudest form of iconoclasm, national chauvinism, and vandalism.

How do you see your work in the context of the long Mahābhārata tradition going back several thousand years in India, on one hand, and Western academic studies of the Mahābhārata in the last two centuries, on the other?

What strikes me about the traditional commentators is the emphasis on prayojana. No one studies a text without some purpose—prayojanam anuddiśya na mando ’pi pravartate. The commentators clarify the purpose of reading not only the Mahābhārata but also their own commentaries. All study must serve some purpose—dharmaarthakāma, or moka.

What purpose does the kind of scholarship the Indologists developed serve? They don’t believe in dharma; in fact, they assert that the tradition’s failing was that it had prior ontological and ethical commitments, whereas their work is “factual” and “presuppositionless”. There may have been artha once, but most PhDs today will not earn a decent living. Even currently employed research assistants are exploited. Indology also does not contribute to kāma unless we allow the perverse pleasure of exercising oversight over Indians. (Think, for instance, of the pleasure some academics get from baiting Indians online, tweeting statements that offend them and feeling smugly superior when they react.) Clearly, most Indologists did not gain aesthetic enjoyment from Sanskrit texts, since they called them “monstrous”, “debased”, “degenerate”, “corrupt”, “immoral”, “licentious”, “childish”, and “silly.” We must then assume that they gained a perverse pleasure from denigrating other cultures’ texts, especially scriptures. Finally, few academics believe in transcendence, much less any ultimate or existential concerns that challenge us as humans.

There are historical reasons for this understanding, so different from anything before it in human history. The humanities developed in a peculiar way in the West after the Reformation. Luther’s attacks on the theologia gloriae of the ancients led to a turn away from ontology. His attacks on the law and the idea that good works can save separated study from ethical conduct. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination led to a bourgeois concept of salvation. Finally, as Fritz Ringer has traced in detail, the unique social and economic conditions of nineteenth-century Germany played a key role. Lacking an entrepreneurial-industrialist class and a tradition of political liberalism and individualism, the professoriate developed differently in Germany than other Western economies. The professor replaced the courtier and cleric. Because of the Erastian state, he was a political appointee, a bureaucrat. He formed part of a mandarin elite distinguished by the fact that it did not physically labor for a living. His goal was to defend the state by providing literature justifying it (Hegel and Albrecht Weber provide good examples). High professorial salaries were accompanied by great freedom and hence were really a kind of benefice. The aim of scholarship also changed: if we are saved by faith alone, why do we need the humanities? Study does not culminate in a gnōsis theou: its sole purpose is to collect and catalog anthropological data (inscriptions, sects, tribes, practices, rituals). Positivist philology became the paradigm of erudition and technical mastery, and true learning was replaced by sophistry.

We thus have two systems of thought that are incommensurable. One will always ask about the purpose of study and aim to fulfill one of the human goals. The other is a free-standing enterprise. Its sole justification is membership in a club, even as salaries drop and few actually achieve the coveted professorship. We are experiencing the collapse of this system. In a few years, there won’t be any Indologists left to criticize. The court, along with its displays of rank and bestowal of honor, will have disappeared.

Please share with our readers something about Vishwa Adluri, the person. How do you perceive life? What is your life philosophy?

Rather than share something personal, let me share a public hope. The people who wrote the Mahābhārata were profound intellects. India has produced some of the greatest philosophical thinkers known to humankind. It has produced works we are still grappling with. I see the Twitter battles, the Marxist-baiting, the arguments over whether the Mahābhārata “really happened,” and the waste of resources determining the dates of the Kurukṣetra war or the moment Bhīṣma fell, and it saddens me. I see Indians at conferences knowing of no higher purpose for Sanskrit than to sing stutis praising their European colleagues, and it fills me with shame. I see the Indian government endowing Sanskrit chairs at foreign universities while institutes in India are destitute, and I despair. I see German scholars awarded grants and prize monies while Indian students go barefoot, and I wonder: will Indians ever learn? I hope that the path Joydeep and I have forged, the path of dedicated study, inspires others to pursue philosophy. Ultimately, identities and ideology must be set aside. A lot of so-called intellectual life or intellectual debate in India is so much self-righteous breast-beating. Indians need to rebuild their institutions and restart indigenous traditions of commentary. They should also overcome the East/West divide, which is a creation of modernity and reinforces a racial division with a cultural and epistemic one. Indian thought shares many features with ancient Greek thought: both cultures developed rich systems of polytheistic philosophy. Reading the history of the pre-Christian West helps us better understand Indian texts. Vice versa, looking at the Indian context helps us understand the history of the West better, especially how access to pagan thought was interrupted. My friend Ed Butler’s work serves as a good introduction. Colonization serves as an excuse only so long.

[Editor’s Note: Adluri and Bagchee will conduct three independent workshops covering the basics of the Mahabharata critical edition and based on their latest book, “Philology and Criticism”.  

If you are interested in this workshop go to and register, or fill this form 

Venue and Date:

 Delhi: August 11th, 2018 (Saturday); Bangalore: August 15th, 2018 (Wednesday); and

Pune: August 19th, 2018 (Sunday)

See Indic Today for more details.]

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Nithin Sridhar

Nithin Sridhar has a degree in Civil Engineering, and having worked in the construction field, he passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality, and ecology. He was the former editor of IndiaFacts (2016-2020)- a portal on Indian history and culture; He is editor of Advaita Academy dedicated to the dissemination of Advaita Vedanta. He is a Consulting Editor to Indic Today Magazine. He is based in Mysuru, Karnataka. His first book "Musings On Hinduism" provided an overview of various aspects of Hindu philosophy and society. His latest book 'Samanya Dharma' enunciates upon general tenets of ethics as available in Hindu texts. However, his most widely read book is "Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective" that examines menstruation notions and practices prevalent in different cultures & religions from across the world. He tweets at @nkgrock.