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Kumaravyasa’s Bharata is a crown jewel of Kannada literature, beloved by scholars and common people alike. In this 15th-century classic, Kumaravyasa reimagines Vyasa’s epic, making it more compact, dramatic, closer to everyday life and language. He dispenses with most didactic material, cuts out subsidiary tales, and concludes with the end of the war. Here, Krishna, who is cool, clever, charming, and charismatic, is the central character, but many others, such as Draupadi, Karna, and Duryodhana leave an indelible mark. He narrates the story through fast-moving, deftly crafted situations, where characters confront grand conflicts and articulate subtle and complex emotions in brilliant metaphorical language. In this series of masterclasses, Professors SN Sridhar and Krishnamurthy Hanuru will introduce the audience to several aspects of Kumaravyasa’s poetic genius, illustrating them with the modern English translations the first volume of which has just been published as The Kannada Mahabharata by Harvard University Press in the Murty Classical Library of India series.

The second session discusses some of the themes, characters and episodes in Kumaravyasa’s Bharata, such as the sexual harassment of Draupadi, the diplomacy of Krishna, the manipulative, determined Duryodhana, the tragedies of Abhimanyu and Karna, the killing of Shishupala, the tragic death of Pandu, and Arjuna’s confrontations with Shiva and Urvashi. We will also see the contemporaneity and universality of Kumaravyasa’s ideas about class, caste, war, power, human relations, patriarchy, women’s status, and so forth.

This is an excerpt from an in-person masterclass series that took place in January 2024.

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