The Yuga-Avatāra Complex in the Mahābhārata and Harivaṃśa A Trial for Literary-Holist Readings of the Sanskrit Epic

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Christopher R. Austin



A recent publication (I by Simon Brodbeck, 2022) proposes to resolve a long-standing theological conundrum of Hindu mythology on the basis of a literary-holist or “synchronic” reading of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata, seeking thereby to displace earlier scholarship treating this theme. This review essay provides a thorough analysis of the arguments of Divine Descent and the closely linked matter of the two competing methodologies in the reading of the Sanskrit epics: the “synchronic” or holist approach championed by Brodbeck and the “analytic” approach, which views the Mahābhārata as a historically layered text. Ultimately, I argue here that the latter “analytic” solutions to the conundrum, which it was Brodbeck’s purpose to challenge, account for the matter far more persuasively. In particular, I make special reference to a 1960 study by Paul Hacker as a work of persisting value for understanding the historic development of the avatāra system over time .

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