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Weeping Wisdom: Rethinking Grief in Mahābhārata’s ‘Book of the Women

Date & Time:
October 19, 2018 | 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Location:
SS 541
Speaker:
Vrinda Dalmiya teaches in the Philosophy Department at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She is the author of Caring to Know: Comparative Care Ethics, Feminist Epistemology and the Mahābhārata  (OUP, 2016) and a co-editor of Exploring Agency in the Mahābhārata: Ethical and Political Dimensions of Dharma (Routledge, 2018). Her research interests are in feminist care ethics, epistemology, and comparative feminist philosophy where she attempts to initiate dialogues between Classical Indian philosophy and contemporary analytic feminist theory.

The “Book of the Women” in the Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata, is a graphic description of women wailing over dismembered corpses of dead warriors. My paper tries to make sense of this interlude of spectacular grief in what is basically a story of valor doubling as a text of ethical instruction. Reading the laments of these women against the grain, I suggest that we find here a “different moral voice.” I argue that in this episode, the epic self-reflexively stages a conundrum -- the absurdity of good people being subjected to needless and undeserved suffering.  Traditional interpretations of course, try to ‘accommodate’ such real and logical disruptions of conventional intuitions about morality or dharma while leaving the status quo intact. However, I try to show how disorientation depicted in this scene contains seeds for a new and contemporary feminist ethics articulated in terms of intimacy and uncertainty. Overall, what I attempt here then is a philosophical analysis of the ethico-political import of grief in a trans-historical and cross-cultural context.

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