Two <i>Dharma</i> Biographies? Rāma and Yudhiṣṭhira

Alf Hiltebeitel

in Dharma

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780195394238
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199897452 | DOI:

Series: South Asia Research

Two Dharma Biographies? Rāma and Yudhiṣṭhira

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Chapter 9 takes up how the epics portray Rāma and Yudhiṣṭhira's lifelong biographies. It argues that each epic carries its king through a similar archetypal pattern evident from the structuring of Books, which it considers the Mahābhārata to have established. It then takes up the handling of ancillary stories. In the Mahābhārata these serve Yudhiṣṭhira's education and supply some legal precedent, while the Rāmāyaṇa treats them as sidestories that foreground Rāma's dharmic virtuosity. Only the Mahābhārata calls them upākhyānas (“subtales”). The chapter then compares Rāṃā and Yudhiṣṭhira in two paired episodes. First, each has an encounter with a monster at the end of the “Forest Book.”Kabandha tells Rāma to befriend the monkey SugrIva, who will help him recover Sītā. Yudhiṣṭhira must answer the questions of a Yakṣa who turns out to be his father Dharma. Dharma vouchsafes Yudhiṣṭhira's choice of noncruelty (ānṛśaṃsya) as the “highes t dharma,” and provides guidance for spending a thirteenth year incognito. The Yakṣa episode is interpreted as a possession scenario and as a type of upākhyāna called a “puzzle piece.” The second episodes compared are Rāma's killing from ambush of the monkey king Vālin and Yudhiṣṭhira's lie to abet the killing of the Brahmin Droṇa. The latter includes discussion of the killing of Ghaṭotkaca, the portrayal of Karṇa as a uniquely “good man” or satpuruṣa, Vyāsa's recommendation that Yudhiṣṭhira act out of noncruelty, and Kṛṣṇa's recommendation that Yudhiṣṭhira lie. It argues that the episode should not be interpreted in favour of Arjuna by appealing to the Bhagavad Gītā.

Keywords: biography; Rāmāyaṇa; Mahābhārata; Rāṃa; Yudhiṣṭhira; archetype; upākhyāna or subtale; Kabandha; Yakṣa's questions; noncruelty or ānṛśamsya; highest dharma; killing of Vālin; killing of Ghaṭotkaca; killing of Droṇa; good man or satpuruṣa; Karṇa; Vyāsa; Kṛṣṇa; Arjuna; Bhagavad Gītā

Chapter.  35924 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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