World of Wonders

The Work of Adbhutarasa in the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa

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Alf Hiltebeitel
  • Oxford: 
    Oxford University Press
    , April
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Arvind Sharma forthcoming.


**Only an e-book is available for review.**

In World of Wonders, Alf Hiltebeitel addresses the Mahabharata and its supplement, the Harivamsa, as a single literary composition. Looking at the work through the critical lens of the Indian aesthetic theory of rasa, "juice, essence, or taste," he argues that the dominant rasa of these two texts is adbhutarasa, the "mood of wonder." While the Mahabharata signposts whole units of the text as "wondrous" in its table of contents, the Harivamsa foregrounds a stepped-up term for wonder (ascarya) that drives home the point that Vishnu and Krishna are one.

Two scholars of the 9th and 10th centuries, Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta, identified the Mahabharata's dominant rasa as santarasa, the "mood of peace." This has traditionally been received as the only serious contestant for a rasic interpretation of the epic. Hiltebeitel disputes both the positive claim that the santarasa interpretation is correct and the negative claim that adbhutarasa is a frivolous rasa that cannot sustain a major work. The heart of his argument is that the Mahabharata and Harivamsa both deploy the terms for "wonder" and "surprise" (vismaya) in significant numbers that extend into every facet of these heterogeneous texts, showing how adbhutarasa is at work in the rich and contrasting textual strategies which are integral to the structure of the two texts.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Alf Hiltebeitel is Columbian Professor of Religion, History, and Human Sciences, Emeritus, at George Washington University. He is a historian of religion, with primary interests in Hinduism, with ongoing interests in South Asian religions, Daoism, and the comparative study of Judaism and Christianity. He works mainly on the two Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata (including the Harivamsa) and the Ramayana, and does fieldwork on the Tamil Draupadi cult, which worships the Mahabharata's leading heroine.


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