Religion16 Nov 2008 05:55 pm
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most famous religious texts in the world. In 700 verses, it recounts a conversation between the god and charioteer Krishna and the Pandava prince and archer Arjuna. The conversation takes place on a battlefield at Kurukshetra, right before the fighting begins. Unsure that he should continue with the battle that would kill so many, Arjuna argues to Krishna that he should not fight. Krishna responds with an argument in favor of action and duty. For thousands of years, massive commentaries have been written on this short text, purporting to find a complete philosophy of life and the afterlife in it. But none of those commentaries is nearly as massive as the work in which the Bhagavad Gita is contained. That work is the great Hindu epic known as the Mahabharata. It is 74,000 verses long, ten times longer than both Homeric Epics – The Iliad and The Odyssey – combined. The Gita, tucked away in the middle of Box Six of the Mahabharata is less than one percent of the total.
The Mahabharata is the epic tale of Iron Age (or “Vedic”) India, and focuses on the Kurukshetra war—a conflict between the clans of Kauravas and the Pandavas for the throne of Hastinapura. A number of translations of this work are available or in progress. The poet P. Lai has recently completed a verse translation, and two prose translations are currently in progress. One, by the University of Chicago Press, was begun in the early 1980′s by the scholar J. A. B. van Buitenen, but was put on hold for 20 years after he died in 1983. The press has recently begun releasing new volumes again. In addition, a complete translation of the Mahabharata is going to be included in the Clay Sanskrit Library from New York University Press. The Clay Library aims to be the Sanskrit equivalent of Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library. The Loeb Library, published in small green hardcovers, provides Greek and Latin texts with facing page translations of the major works of Ancient Greece and Rome. In addition to the Mahabharata, the Clay Library is producing a complete translation of the other major Hindu epic — the Ramayana — as well as other religious, poetic and philosophical works. It promises to be a great resource for Devoted Intellectuals everywhere. Visit it here.
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