The contents and line of argument pursued by this paper are shaped substantially by my own work with the Mahåbhårata. The Mahåbhårata can of course be understood in many different ways and approached from numerous distinct perspectives, but for me the most appropriate understanding of the Mahåbhårata is as a sacred text, which is venerated by the Hindu community and which provides moral, ritual and spiritual guidance for Hindus. Though Hindus may hold a different appreciation of the role of scripture in religious life, the Mahåbhårata is just as much a sacred text as is the Koran for Muslims or the Gospels for Christians. To some I am sure the point will hardly need to be made, but it is one that is sufficiently important to warrant repetition. In working on the Mahåbhårata, I am always aware that I am a guest in a community’s religious experience—generally I find that I am a very welcome guest, but a guest nonetheless—and as such a sense of respect, decorum and good conduct is called for. It is my strong conviction that we in the academic community are not the owners of this text; it must remain the property of those from whose traditions it arose and who continue to revere it as a work that stands at the heart of their religious lives. So let us tread softly in our discussions, for we
are treading on dreams.
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