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Frank Stewart
Manoa, Volume 22, Number 1, 2010, pp. vii-ix (Article)
Published by University of Hawai'i Press

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and humans had unleashed—not for the first or last time—a level of evil (adharma) and atrocity (atyachar) that.” et cetera. as is appropriate. how are we to lead moral.” Andha Yug makes for riveting drama and poetry. The setting is the palace of the defeated Kaurava clan on the last day of the Great War. Alok Bhalla translates dharma as “honor. as Bhalla puts it.” “ethics. Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated. and therefore requires us to look vii .” “law. But Andha Yug probes deeper yet—into the human heart and the human condition—and the play’s moral complexities reach across time and place. The powerful wisdom of the Mahabharata and Andha Yug rests partly on the recognition that dharma has many elusive meanings. religions.” “righteousness. ethically confused. Andha Yug may be a mirror of the twenty-first century. Given the frailty of our imperfect human nature. fate. with our urgent and perplexing problems for survival. and cultures in South Asia since 1947. Beyond the walls. and lacking the wisdom to solve the crises that threaten to destroy all living things. blaming their adversaries. which they refer to with the capacious term dharma. A handful of Kaurava survivors huddle in grief and rage. “we may not go [beyond] without inviting the wrath of the sacred. deceit. the classic epic of India. For contemporary readers. Even if viewed as no more than the retelling of a tragic battle scene from an ancient “myth. compassionate lives in the perilous conditions we’ve created? Andha Yug and the Mahabharata question the nurturing and orderly basis of ethical relationships. In Andha Yug.” The play reimagines a crucial event from the Mahabharata. We may derive more meaning by viewing the play as parabolic commentary on the hair-trigger tensions that have existed among nations. divine capriciousness— anyone or anything except their own moral choices—for the destruction of their families and their kingdom.” “truth. We see in the play a world sliding irrevocably toward self-destruction—violent. despairing. the once-beautiful city of Hastinapur is burning and the battlefields are covered with millions of dead warriors.F R A N K S T E W A R T Foreword Written in 1953. Dharamvir Bharati’s play Andha Yug is a response to what translator Alok Bhalla calls “the genocidal days” of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan.

The surviving Kaurava warriors justify their actions as adherence to ancient warrior codes of vengeance and as loyalty to family connections— conduct that for them takes precedence over the well-being of humanity as a whole. and a separate dharma for one who would maintain services? Is dharma a self-determining reality that gives direction to a person’s life. “My honor is my loyalty. tolerance. the way forward is difficult even for the wise. a different dharma for the king. “and the wheel spins / without a center.’”2 Countering this horrific. writhes with bitterness and cynicism and blames others for what has happened. The defeated King Dhritarashtra weeps with remorse. We’re reminded of the self-justifying slogan of Hitler’s SS. the moral philosophy in these literary works will not allow us to surrender to relativism. and another in times of distress.with considerable effort for its significance and application. As the play begins. another dharma for the householder. disordered logic is the kind of reasoning that tries to keep faith in humanity’s capacity—though finite and imperfect—to know the Good and to refrain from cruelty.” How is it possible to act decisively—to kill. truthfulness. Like the Mahabharata. forgiveness. Indeed. divine authority. to sacrifice oneself if necessary—without also weakening the ground that supports compassion. and is to be discovered in a process of self-discovery as to what one is meant to be?1 Nowhere in the Mahabharata or in Andha Yug is the moral complexity of our relations to others—and the difficulty of knowing ourselves—simplified. blaming his physical blindness for his moral blindness. trumpets sound and the curtains rise. these works clearly demonstrate the difficulty of unraveling dharma’s many enigmas: whether the nature of goodness.’ to be ‘superhumanly inhuman. vengeance. In times of atrocity. The philosopher Chaturvedi Badrinath writes: What is dharma? What are those foundations upon which all human relationships everywhere are based? Who determines what those foundations shall be? Are they given as inherent in human life itself? Are they subject to the varying conditions and circumstances of a person’s life. Andha Yug charges us to persevere in seeking the true nature of goodness—particularly in our own time of unfathomable atrocities—by warning us of the consequences of succumbing to the cruelty and cynicism of a blind. and nonviolence? viii Stewart . The gods themselves can mislead us. dispirited age. however. or nihilism. and unrestrained cruelty. for example? Is there one dharma for the scholar devoted to learning and teaching. “The axle is broken. His wife. and justice are knowable—and whether such categories even exist. Nevertheless. when all sides have committed wrongs.” and the Third Reich’s seductive appeal to its benighted heroes of darkness: “We realize that what we are expecting from you is ‘superhuman. We see two guards walking among the ruins created by armed ambition.” the sage Vidura says in Andha Yug. Gandhari. so that there is one dharma for normal conditions.

When reading Homer or the Athenian tragedies of the fifth century b. however. and hope. the lack of detailed background knowledge need not be a hindrance to experiencing the play’s immediacy and nuances. the puzzling behavior of the Olympian deities. 105. fate. readers may similarly wish they had a better grasp of the ancient Greek worldview. titled in Persian the Razmnama (literally. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin. commissioned by the Mughal emperor Akbar. 2006). 2. These elaborately illustrated pages are as much an example of Hindu and Muslim cooperation as the Mahabharata translation itself. The history of Akbar’s interest in rendering the Hindu sacred text into a language readable by the empire’s Muslim elites is summarized here in an essay by professor Yael Rice. notes 1. The images on the cover and throughout this edition of Andha Yug were created to illustrate a Persian translation of the Mahabharata. where the paintings reproduced here are housed among the treasures of the John Frederick Lewis Collection.. as in Andha Yug. are recognizable as the inheritance of every human being: rage. suffering. and might contribute to the lessening of violence and intolerance—an issue central to Andha Yug. Readers with little knowledge of the events from the Mahabharata referenced in the play may want to start by reading the brief summary at the back of this edition of Andha Yug.c. assistant curator of Indian and Himalayan art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some Western readers may feel daunted by the references to the great Indian epic.e. The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition (Hyderabad: Orient Longman. We wish to thank Professor Rice and the Free Library of Philadelphia.Written in Hindi. Foreword ix . “The Book of War”). the moral concerns in those stories. and the social customs and laws of Achaean warrior culture. agency. 2006). death. Yet with some effort (and a skillful translation). 4. Although Akbar may have had many political reasons for making the sacred texts of Hinduism available to his Muslim subjects. Bharati’s play relies on the audience’s familiarity with the characters and events in the Mahabharata. ruler of the northern part of South Asia from 1556 to 1605. Hannah Arendt. love. he surely hoped that greater understanding between communities long at odds with one another was possible.