The Battle Books and Boredom

As I was drinking my morning coffee in the Wellington Coffee House today (an expensive but delicious habit formed while the staffroom coffee machine was at the menders) I read about Bhima killing Duḥśāsana by ripping off his arm, then slicing open his chest and noisily drinking his blood. I would not consider myself a violent person, but I have to say I relished this gruesome description. The reason for my enjoyment, I believe, was that it reduced the boredom I have been experiencing as I read the Mahābhārata battle books. There are only so many ways of describing the firing forth of arrows and the wielding of clubs and swords. There are only so many variations on the simile of the battlefield as river (flowing with blood, hair as weeds, elephants as hippos, arms as water-snakes, bodies as crocodiles…). Although I am still completely committed to reading the whole of the epic, I have realized that boredom is going to be an essential part of that experience.

The Droṇa Parvan was the hardest, as very little seemed to happen, and I struggled with Ganguli’s translation – the print is hard to read, there is a multitude of typos and grammatical errors, and the thees and thous kept slowing me down. Now I am back on Clay Sanskrit Library volumes I am much happier – whatever the scholarly views on the CSL, I have been greatly appreciating the portability (great reading for the bus journey) and the presence of the Sanskrit for reference.

Once I am finished with the Karṇa Parvan I have only one more battle book to get through, though I am told I should steel myself for the long books of teaching and advice that are on their way! So is boredom a natural part of an epic? Or is it just a problem with trying to read an epic?

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About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
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3 Responses to The Battle Books and Boredom

  1. Nancy Gandhi says:

    I endured plenty of boredom during the didactic parts of the Book of the Forest. I’m trying to imagine that I am watching a village performance, Kathakali or one of the Indian storytelling traditions, which go on all night long and can last for days. I pretend that I am a rapt pre-cinema villager, watching gods and mortals passing across the stage, illuminated by oil lamps, throwing huge shadows… but it is sometimes hard to do.

  2. In republishing the Ganguli Mahabharata using illustrations from a six volume Hindi translation to illustrate my own edition I’m finding that all the illustrations for the battle books are looking much alike and it will be a challenge to figure out what illustrations go in which book.

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