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|Title:||The Forest Threshold: Princes, Sages and Demons in the Hindu Epics|
|Authors:||Parkhill, Chittenden Thomas|
|Abstract:||<p>More than simply a backdrop, the forest in the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana is one of three central environments in the Hindu epics, and of the three is easily the setting which most frequently shapes the epic action. By studying the forest, the people who pass through it and their activities there, a new perspective on Hindu epic narrative is gained.</p> <p>The central thesis of this study is that the tripartite process of transformation, first observed in rites of passage, operates in the forest-related sections of the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana, the middle or threshold phase of that process centering in the forest. The forest, then, acts as a threshold across which the epic heroes and heroines pass as they move from one life-stage to another or as is more often the case, from one state of existence to another.</p> <p>For example, in the early adventures of both Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa and the Pāṇḍava brothers, the heroes move from the brahmacarya life-stage to the grhastha life-stage. Similarly both Nala and Damayantī reflect this transformative process: Nala as he moves from being a ritually impure, possessed, insane king to a purified, liberated, sane king; Damayantī as she moves from being the wife of a madman to the wife of a just, powerful ruler. Damayantī's transition in more dramatic than first appears for in epic India a woman had very few life options, thus a disastrous marriage meant that she was as good as dead. Both Draupadī and Sītā cross forest thresholds similar to Damayantī's. The Pāṇḍava brothers and Rāma also cross smimilar forest thresholds. Their movement from a state of peace to a state of war occurs primarily during the forest exiles common to both epics. Finally, while they dwell in the forest threshold, the epic religious heroes and heroines par excellence, the tapas-doing ascetics, move from a state of existence in which they are subject to death to a state of immortality. This last process, the movement from mundane, profane sphere to sacred sphere·, provides a pattern useful for further understanding the forest activities of Rāma and the Pāṇḍavas.</p> <p>In studying these various movements between states of existence, characteristics of the threshold phase of these processes emerge. In the case of the Pāṇḍavas, when the dynamic movement of the threshold is stressed, celibacy, communitas, pilgrimage and the intersection of mythic and heroic planes are the central characteristics. In the case of Rāma, when the more static ideal nature of the threshold is stressed, the dual modality of Nowhere and Source is the central characteristic. These characteristics themselves become tools with which to understand some of the intricacies of epic narrative.</p> <p>More importantly by focusing on the forest, an essential difference between the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa can be explored. And this is certainly one of the most important contributions of this study. Very few investigations have endeavoured to treat both of the Hindu epics. The reasons for this are complex, but I suspect that to confront the whole of both epics is impossible because of their vastness, while to choose a perspective from which to see both epics simultaneously without trivializing is difficult. The forest in the Mahabharata and RamayaQa provides a substantial perspective and thus a study of it is helpful in understanding the meanings of the Hindu epics.</p>|
|Appears in Collections:||Open Access Dissertations and Theses|
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