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Mahabharata. Book 8. Of Karna (Karnaparva) [Махабхарата. Книга восьмая. О Карне. (Карнапарва)]. Tr. from Sanskrit, with introduction and notes by Y.V.Vassilkov and S.L.Neveleva. Moscow 1990 (Pamyatniki pismennosti Vostoka, XCI). 326 p.


SUMMARY

The translation of Каrnарагvа (the book of Karna), the eighth book of Mahabharata has been done in the framework of multifaceted studies of the ancient Indian epics, which constitute a major direction in the contemporary Indian studies in the Soviet Union. It continues the work going on for many years now to make a complete translation of Mahabharatainto Russian. The eighth book, marked by striking originality, in addition to earlier translations of books one to five can considerably expand our knowledge of the ancient Indian culture.

This is the first translation of Karnaparva into Russian. The arrangement of this edition corresponds to the authors' methods of work on Mahabharataand the specific features of this book. The academic prosaic translation is supplemented with a commentary and glossaries of (1) names of the main heroes including mythological characters; (2) ethnic and geographical names; (3) items and terms. The composition of glossaries and the commentary is primarily determined by the content of Karnaparva. This book is distinguished even from other “battle” books of epic series by uninterrupted development of action which only slows down by a small number of incorporations. The entire book is virtually devoted to the description of the 16th and 17th days of the great battle, and is divided, as is common in Mahabharata, into numerous descriptions of fights between heroes and various military units. The text mentions many names of kings and heroes, and for this reason, at least major names (less important names can be found in the text and commentary with the help of the index) are listed in the glossary. Names of tribes and peoples involved in the battle of Kurukshetra also occur very often, and that is why a separate glossary of ethnic names has been made. The eighth book constitutes an important component of Mahabharata, because many of the collisions, outlined in the previous books, are solved in it. For this reason, in addition to facts needed for a correct comprehension of the text, the commentary offers references to other Mahabharata books.

Karnaparva, just as other “battle-books” of Mahabharata, has virtually been ignored by researchers, with the exception of Chapters 27 and 30, which describe in a biased manner the customs of the Madra tribe and have been used as an “ethnographic” material. However, the eighth book can help solve a number of important problems of the ancient Indian history and culture. This primarily concerns the genesis of epic poetry. Typologically, narrative-technique in “battle-books”, including Karnaparva, constitute the-primary substratum, the basis of the ancient Indian epos. Stylistically, Karnaparva quite authentically reproduces the formulaic devices of singer-improviser, the ancient suta. For this reason the reader may get an impression that the book is monotonous. But for ancient audience the monotony was compensated by bright description of battles, solemn chanting and improvization skills-of a narrator.

In addition, to intensify the aesthetic effect, narrator made use-of the main poetic devices of the epos, primarily comparisons and metaphors. The analysis of the use of comparisons and metaphors in Karnaparva, gives valuable results which are needed for the comprehension of the genesis of epic poetry as a genre. It is also possible to trace at the level of poetic devices the influence of mythological and ritual models on early epic works which was convincingly shown at the level of epic plot-building by P. A. Grintzer in his book, Ancient Indian Epos. Genesis and Typology, Moscow, 1974. Epic comparison is only halfway between mythological identification and comparison as a conscious artistic device. The description of rituals through comparisons is notable because the object of comparison is often not a traditional Brahmin offering-ritual, but a “preclassic” potlach-like ritual built on a dual model. A number of works by F. B. J. Kuiper and J. Heesterman were devoted to reconstruction of this ritual. For this rea&on, the-idea once suggested by M. Mauss and G. J. Held of the potlach-like ritual as an ethnographic substratum of Mahabharata's plot is confirmed.

In addition to mythological and transitional comparisons (in which a mythological image is indistinguishable from a personified natural phenomenon or elements of both codes are present), Karnaparva has many purely “natural” comparisons which constitute a conscious stylistic device devoid of any mythological predictability. These comparisons are often distinguished by very elaborate details. Sometimes, the narrative rises above the usual epic level in its compositional perfection and psychologism (e.g. the stress on contradictions between Karna and his chariot-driver Shalya, and at the same time, the absence of any collisions between Arjuna and Krishna prepare the reader for a tragic fate of Karna). The tragic image of Karna is very complicated. Here many ethical problems are emphasized, which strongly distinguishes the Indian epos from epic monuments of other nations.

Karnaparva has not yet been duly recognized as an historica source also, which may give, however, many interesting his'orica data. But the researcher should not forget that the epos reflects a generalized but not concrete history. Of great historical interest, is the principle of division of different contesting tribes that engaged in the Kurukshetra battle. Despite the fact that the conflict is described as a family quarrel in the ruling Kuru dynasty, as it often occurs in the epics of various peoples, it undoubtedly reflects the centuries-old confrontation between the Vedic culture of northern states in the Ganges valley (the Pandavas and the Pagucha-las) and two hostile political forces, the East (Magadha, Anga) and North-West (Punjab, Sind and Gandhara).

Karnaparva also contains much data on the material culture of ancient India: the army; military trade; military ethics. In a single picture, features of various ages are combined. For the Epic in the later phase of its oral transmission the chariot fighting, though so often described, was a mere reminiscence of the remote past — just as it was for Homer, who depicted the bygone reality of Mycenean Greece (in India chariots were in military use until the first centuries В. С). But in compliance with the historical truth, Karnaparva describes Indian and alien tribes from North-West as engaged in massive horse battles, and South Indian Dravidians primarily using infantry. The description of various military rituals and “war magic” actions are also of interest. Monologues and dialogues of hero-warriors on the eve of a battle (most likely deriving in form to eulogies and “cursing” poems) are linked with certain ritual behaviour patterns: the psychological training before the battle; the magic reinforcement of one's own military might; and magic weakening of the enemy.

Given the above merits, the translation may be useful not only for the specialists in various fields of ancient Indian culture, but also for general readers.

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Keywords


Arjuna
battle books
Indian epic
Karna
Karnaparva
Krishna
Kurukshetra battle
Mahabharata
rituals
Shalya

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