Monday, May 22, 2006

The Mahabharata

Every Sunday afternoon is Mahabharata-time for us; Channel 14 is showing the entire 94- part series made in India in 1988. It's not because we lived in India for 3 years in the 90s; that period of our lives is still something we prefer not to think about, except when we're joking and recounting some of the more outrageous things that happened. I didn't learn to love Hinduism in India, that's for sure. But watching it now (and I also have Peter Brook's 1989 version on dvd) I keep realizing that Chesterton was correct when he said that, next to Christianity, the only serious religion in the world is Hinduism.

We're up to the part where Dhritarashtra has partitioned the kingdom, in an attempt to quell the civil war brewing within his family. Of course, it's not going to work, as Duryodhana, egged on by his Uncle Shakuni (we call him "Uncle Sneaky") can't be satisfied with anything less than absolute possession and power. So many times I'm struck by how superior the thinking is in Hinduism to Islam, especially in regards to women. There was one episode where a man was planning to sacrifice himself to a wood demon, in order to save his tribe. His wife didn't want him to go - she said she'd go instead, but he couldn't allow it, because it was his duty to protect her. Then their daughter offered to go, but the father refused again; "You are a life-bearer; to lose you is to lose countless generations." I thought how unlikely one would be to hear such a thought coming out of Islam; it would be taken as given that ALL women should be sacrificed before a man. Even when we lived in India, and we were always hearing terrible stories about bride-burnings, and the hardness of life for women; I could still see that, compared to Muslim women, the Hindus were FREE. There was nothing worse than being a female Muslim.

Often the ethics of Hinduism come very, very close to equalling Christianity, but at the last moment, they sort of swing aside. There's something missing there. I think it has something to do with the absolute, inflexible ORDER of life for humans. In last night's episode, Balram is being tricked by Duryodhana and Dushassana. His brother Krishna knows it, because he knows everything, of course. But he doesn't interfere - "What can I do? He is older." The younger brother can't correct the elder, even if he is god incarnate. Even if he knows better and by doing so, can prevent mischief. And this happens time and time again. Of course, by the end, the rules are overturned, and by Krishna himself, so the answer isn't as simple as that. But it must take a native acquaintance with the religion to really understand how this order and disorder work together, and who is in charge of setting and breaking the rules. But in Islam, the questions wouldn't even occur - there is no life outside the rules.


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