Lecture to Address Ancient India’s Mahabharata

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai to Discuss the Mahabharata
Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai will represent Kalamazoo College at 9 a.m. Eastern time Sunday in a YouTube lecture titled “The Multiplicity of the Mahabharata Tradition” that she will present through Karwaan: The Heritage Exploration Initiative.

The initiative is an independent, student-led initiative based in India, which aims to revive the love for India’s heritage and history and inspire young minds. Throughout the pandemic, it has organized scholarly online lectures on Indian history, culture, art, literature, film and religion. 

The ancient Sanskrit Mahabharata (c. 300 BCE–300 CE) is a massive epic poem 15 times the length of the Bible that focuses on the war over the Bharata kingdom between two sets of paternal cousins in the royal Kuru family, the five Pandavas and the 100 Kauravas. Pillai said the Mahabharata has been presented as poems, dramas, ballads, novels, short stories, comic books, television shows, feature films, children’s fantasy series, podcasts, YouTube videos, social media posts and more.   

Pillai’s talk Sunday will illustrate the rich multiplicity of the Mahabharata tradition through the close examination of 12 renderings of a single Mahabharata episode that was created over a span of at least 2,000 years. She will focus on the most disturbing and popular scenes in the Mahabharata tradition, the attempted disrobing of Draupadi, the shared wife of the Pandavas, and the heroine of the epic.  

In May 2021, Pillai co-edited a volume with Nell Shapiro Hawley of Harvard University titled Many Mahabharatas, which was published by State University of New York Press. The first 20 pages of the introduction she co-authored are available on SUNY’s website. Some of the Mahabharatas she will discuss Sunday will be prominently featured in her current book project which is tentatively titled Krishna at Court: Devotion, Patronage and the Mahabharata in Premodern South Asia.

The talk will be available free of charge to the public at the Karwaan initiative’s YouTube channel.