Carried meaning in the Mahābhārata
The Mahābhārata describes itself as both a comprehensive and exhaustive text, incorporating a range of genres while presenting diverse perspectives through a matrix of interacting narratives. Its main story and subtales are the subject of productive contemporary studies that underscore the significance of the Sanskrit epic, though this scholarship is also famously criticized for overlooking literary inquiry. The following dissertation enacts a close reading of four subtales, Nala’s Tale, Rāma’s Tale, Sāvitrī’s Tale, and The Yakṣa’s Questions, in context with the larger work to uncover the implications of a literary study of the Mahābhārata. By conducting translations of passages from the epic, this dissertation builds sites of alliance among frame and subtale, literary and translation theory, critical analysis and contemporary scholarship, as well as the Mahābhārata and other works of literature in order to consider the ways in which meaning is generated throughout the text. Language, constituent parts, and operative principles are found to reverberate in the epic, eschewing didacticism and stasis for literary vitality. Themes of loss, love, disguise, and discovery veer throughout the subtales as sideshadows that at once collaborate and contradict to continuously redefine one another. The Mahābhārata’s self-conscious and reiterative reinterpretation of its own constructs presents critical insights on translation as dialogical correspondence, occurring within utterances as well as between languages. The act of translation, utilized by the poem itself to develop and proliferate significance, reveals difference and bears legibility within the epic.