Devastating victory and glorious defeat: The Mahabharata and Kosovo in national imaginings

Bakic-Hayden, Milica

     This dissertation explores the pivotal role of epic in the constitution of national cultures in the course of struggle for independence from British rule in India and the Ottoman rule of the Balkans, respectively. The establishment of the Mahabharata and the Kosovo poems as national epics reveals that epic may not only be symbolic as an imaginative piece of literature, but may also be a symbol of an emerging national imagination. Invocations of historic national struggles in terms of epic battles show how the single narrative theme of war is developed in two disparate cultural and religious settings, in ways reflecting different logics of conceptualization, and yet disclosing a surprising affinity in the manner of appropriation and engagement within the cultures of nationalism. Further, the epic depictions of warfare are themselves heavily informed by representations and invocations of cosmic battles consistent with Hindu and Christian mytho-religious paradigms (war between gods and demons or God and Satan). Thus, with a considerable populist appeal, seemingly secular (while effectively embedding significant religious and mythological structures), epics mediate not only religious symbolism but also its contradictions and ambiguities into current nationalist rhetoric.

Doniger, Wendy