From this September, students in Harvard University are set to study Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The course, titled “Indian religions Through Their Narrative Literatures: The Epics” will be taught by Anne E Monius, who is the Professor of South Asian Religions at the University. According to media reports, the course will, through the stories, examine religious traditions and communities of South Asia.
The course description, according to Professor Anne E Monius, states that it will study Indian religions from poetic visions of Vyasa and Valmiki to modern performances of the epics in urban street theatres and television serials.
Wealth of Narrative Literature
Ramayana is a narrative poem of about 25,000 slokas divided into seven kandas. Mahabharata is the longest poem ever written— it contains around 100,000 verses and is divided into eighteen parvan. Bhagavad Gita forms part of it. Interestingly, according to scholar Wendy Doniger, Bhagavad Gita was the first book to be translated from Sanskrit to English in British period and gained increasing global attention because of it.
The Indian epics are long and complex narratives that speak to virtually every aspect of human experience. While the Mahabharata is a sobering tale of cataclysmic war and loss, the Ramayana is one of India’s great love stories,” said Professor Monius
According to her, scholars have studied these texts over a century as spiritual and philosophical texts while ignoring the larger wealth of narrative literature from the sub-continent.
Transcending Boundaries of Genres
Which is why the course is not going to limit itself to Sanskrit texts but will further explore dance performances, shadow puppet plays, modern fictional retellings and televised renditions of the stories. She says, “The two epics easily transcend boundaries of genres both in history and today.”
Once the course is over, she believes that her students would be able to develop varied prisms with which to examine the different practices and traditions of “Hinduism.”
The move by Harvard University was appreciated by Hindu support groups that requested that other universities like Oxford, Princeton, Cambridge, Stanford to follow suit and offer Hinduism focused classes reported The India England News.
Highlighting the intellectual wealth of the religious texts Indian Politician Shashi Tharoor had proposed of teaching them as literature in India, during an interview last year. “Instead of teaching epics Ramayana and Mahabharata like religious texts, they should be introduced as literature. The wisdom of these ancient texts could be employed to heal religious divides,” Tharoor said speaking to New Indian Express.
“Teach Shakespeare but give equal importance to the works of Sanskrit poet and playwright Kalidasa, who was no less a writer than any other greats of the world. The omission of an indigenous maestro like Kalidasa from curriculums would be depriving the young generation of a part of their culture and identity”