Reading the Fifth Veda

Studies on the Mahābhārata - Essays by Alf Hiltebeitel, Volume 1


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Often spoken of as the 'Fifth Veda', i.e., as a text in continuity with the four Vedas and outweighing them all in size and import, the Mahābhārata presents a complex mythological and narrative landscape, incorporating fundamental ethical, social, philosophic, and pedagogic issues. In a series of position pieces and essays written over a span of 30 years, Alf Hiltebeitel, Columbian Professor of Religion, History, and Human Sciences at The George Washington University, articulates a compelling new approach to the epic: as a literary work of fundamental theological and philosophical significance rich in metaphor and meaning. In this three-part volume, the editors gather some of Hiltebeitel’s seminal writings on the epic along with new pieces written especially for the volume.

This two volume edition collects nearly three decades of Alf Hiltebeitel’s researches into the Indian epic and religious tradition. The two volumes document Hiltebeitel’s longstanding fascination with the Sanskrit epics: volume 1 presents a series of appreciative readings of the Mahābhārata (and to a lesser extent, the Rāmāyaṇa), while volume 2 focuses on what Hiltebeitel has called “the underground Mahābhārata,” i.e., the Mahābhārata as it is still alive in folk and vernacular traditions. Recently re-edited and with a new set of articles completing a trajectory Hiltebeitel established over 30 years ago, this work constitutes a definitive statement from this major scholar. Comprehensive indices, cross-referencing, and an exhaustive bibliography make it an essential reference work. For more information on the second volume please click here.

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Vishwa Adluri, Ph.D. (2002) in Philosophy, New School for Social Research, teaches in the Departments of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York. He has published extensively on ancient philosophy, Indian philosophy, and religion. His work mainly explores the epic traditions (both Greek and Indian). Recent and forthcoming publications include Parmenides, Plato, and Mortal Philosophy: Return from Transcendence (Continuum Publishing) and the edited volume Greek Religion: Philosophy and Salvation (De Gruyter, forthcoming). An edited volume on the Mahabharata is currently under preparation at BORI. He is currently working on a monograph on German Indology (co-authored with Joydeep Bagchee) titled The Nay Science: A History of German Indology.
Joydeep Bagchee, Ph.D. (2009) in Philosophy, New School for Social Research, is a post-doctoral fellow at Marburg University, Germany and has interests in Heidegger, Indian philosophy, and the Bhagavad G¯ıt¯a. He is currently completing a monograph on the history of reception of Indian thought in Germany (The Nay Science: A History of German Indology). In addition, he has published numerous articles and reviews on Indian philosophy and religion. Bagchee is also the author of two forthcoming translations of Heidegger’s work (Indiana University Press).
"Hiltebeitel sees the Mahābhārata as a work carefully designed from the outset, a view that has colored much of his writing and theorizing. His sophisticated and accomplished work linking epic text, history, performance, mythology, and well-constructed argument is essential for anyone with an interest in the Indian epics." - Frederick M. Smith, University of Iowa, in: Religious Studies Review 38.2 (2012)
All those interested in Indian Epics and Purāṇas, Indian philosophy, religion, issues of writing and orality, and the study of religion.
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