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The Mahābharata in the Dasam Granth: Kings and Sacrifices in Giān Prabodh


· Robin Rinehart Lafayette College (Easton, PA, United States of America)


07/28 | 18:10-18:30 UTC+2/CEST


The Dasam Granth, an 18th century Brajbhāṣā anthology attributed to the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), includes the composition Giān Prabodh, which opens with verses praising an ineffable, attributeless lord, and then shifts to a conversation between an ātma and paramātma. The ātma asks about various types of dharma, providing the occasion for describing events from the Mahābhārata, including the frame story of its narration to the king Janamejaya. The paramātma narrates Parikṣit’s death and Janamejaya’s effort to avenge him with a snake sacrifice. Janamejaya halts the snake sacrifice at Āstīka’s intervention and summons the sage Vyāsa, but then goes to battle to win the two daughters of a king of Kāśī, wedding them both and bearing two sons. He fathers another son with one his wives’ maidservant. Later, he massacres Brahmans who have laughed at one of his wives, and is cursed with leprosy. It is in seeking a cure for his leprosy that he hears the story of the Mahabharata, condensed into 27 quatrains in Giān Prabodh. Janmejaya laughs at the ending, and dies, his leprosy uncured. His sons struggle and fight one another, and Giān Prabodh ends with a story of the origin of the Rājpūts, and the goddess Caṇḍī conducting a demon sacrifice. The Mahābhārata’s frame story is here embedded within another frame story—that of the paramātma’s conversation—which itself occurs within a composition praising a formless god. This presentation will analyze this particular retelling of the Mahābhārata in the context of the Dasam Granth’s overall exploration of the ruler’s dharma and the Sikh doctrine of mīrī-pīrī or temporal and spiritual leadership.