John Hellweg

PETER BROOK'S THE MAHABHARATA: THE EXIGENCIES OF INTERCULTURAL AND INTERSEMIOTIC TRANSLATION

Peter Brook's The Mahabharata provoked considerable controversy in the late 1980s. It was denounced as "only orientalism" (Wirth 288),"cultural piracy" (Zarrilli 98), or "worse, cultural rape" (Chaudhuri 193). It was celebrated as "the theatre spectacle of the century... a theatre event of such epic proportions that it will change the Mahabharata-as-world-text-forever" (Mishra 201). There has been a virtual deadlock of opposing claims about Brook's The Mahabharata and about the subsequent film adaptations of the production which were released in 1989.

However, when we review opposing claims about the production and the films, it becomes clear that many critics have failed to account adequately for the exigencies of intercultural and intersemiotic translation, the processes involved in the transmission/adaption of a text from one culture to another, and the transformation of a text from one sign system to another. It is now time for a fresh appraisal of the production and the film which focuses upon the exigencies of translating from one culture to another and from one medium to another.

This reappraisal is relevant to contemporary theatre practice because, in Yoshi Oida's words: "all theatre is continually under the threat of death or at the hands of theory or of cheap and vacuous entertainment" (qtd. in Williams 108). Many of the criticisms directed at the production spring from a reflexive distrust of intercultural activity, misapprehend the possibilities of intercultural translation, and misread (or misrepresent) the strategies and intentions of theatre practitioners. They also bear upon issues of representation, of cultural "property," and the criteria by which intercultural artistic activities may be evaluated. If intercultural criticism should become a focus of divisive, polarizing debate and thundering pronouncements, then intercultural theatrical experimentation is put at risk of being summarily discounted, or conflated with the outrages of cultural imperialism.

Before considering Brook's The Mahabharata, we should first locate the Mahabharata in Sanskrit literature, society, and culture. The Mahabharata has been regarded as a repertory for performances and, as well, as a literary text (van Buetinen 1974 49-50). It was originally meant to be recited or enacted by professional bards, musicians and dancers. As a text, it is the world's longest poem, containing, in the current Indian version, over 90,000 stanzas divided into eighteen parwas, or volumes. Although its authorship is traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyasa (lit: "the Compiler"), who appears as a character in the poem, it was doubtless composed by a great number of bardic poets and revised by priests, who, added substantially to the ever expanding text. Unsurprisingly, the longer versions of the whole poem are rarely performed in their entirety, in South Asia. The composition of the Mahabharata is usually dated between 400 B.C.E. and A.D. 400, a span of eight centuries.

The central plot of the Mahabharata revolves around a conflict between two sets of cousins: the Pandavas, five brothers and their wife, married in common, Draupadi, who are aligned with dharma (roughly: fundamental order or righteousness), and the Kurus (or Kauravas), a larger cognate group of 100 brothers and one sister, who are associated with adharma, the disruption of order and of righteousness. The leader of the Kurus sought to deprive the Pandavas of their dynastic birthright, the throne to the kingdom of Hastinapura (believed to be close to modern New Delhi). After many conflicts and a lengthy period of exile, the Pandavas were forced to battle the Kurus. While the Pandavas prevail, their victory is achieved at the price of extraordinary devastation. This relatively straightforward core narrative evolved over centuries into an elaborate exegesis on human behavior, augmented with numerous retellings of stories within stories, and manifold observations on society, culture, and religion. One of the most important works in the Hindu religious literature, the Bhagavad Gita, is included as an expository discourse on the nature of salvation given by Krishna to one of the Pandava heroes on the battlefield immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities (Basham 409ff).

In terms of our focus on intercultural and intersemiotic translation, it is relevant to point out that there are many Mahabharatas, that there is an extraordinary plurality of texts and tellings, and that it has been transmitted and transformed through a bountiful array of performance genres both within and beyond South Asia (c.f. Varadpande 1990). It has been transmuted as it passed from being recited by sutas (bards) to kshatriyas (warriors or rulers), as it came under the custody and influence of brahmins (priests), as it was transported between rituals, festivals, palaces and villages and as it was disseminated into Southeast Asia. It has been transmitted and transformed—intersemiotically translated—from many performative genres into textual versions and from textual versions into performative genres.

Translation from one culture to another raises many theoretical and practical issues which require careful and patient analysis, especially given the "vertiginous nature of any attempt to theorize translation" (Chow 183). One relatively straightforward issue is the potential loss of much that is considered to be essential to the form and substance of the 'original.' In this regard, the editor of the filmed versions of The Mahabharata, Nick Gaster, observed that in editing "you find a situation where a whole battle scene can be better replaced by a line of dialogue or a whole page of dialogue replaced by a look. You have to give up your most cherished moments" (qtd. in O'Connor 140). While he is referring to film editing, his observation applies to intercultural translation as well. The transmission from one culture to another and the transformation from one medium to another require a rallying of strategies which will maximize the communicative effectiveness of the subsequent rendering, even at the expense of some of the most cherished features of the original.

In fact, Brook's The Mahabharata was bitterly attacked for its simplification of characterization and plot, its attenuation of a Hindu world view, its downplaying of caste and its avoidance of "a confrontation of the historical context of Indian culture" (Bharucha 232). Could a rendering of the epic which is streamlined and "decontextualized" be meaningful?

Such has been the case in Java and Bali. The Mahabharata has played a central role in the cultural life of the Javanese and Balinese peoples. Ninety five percent of Javanese theatrical presentations draw upon stories from the Mahabharata cycle (Foley 124). In Bali, its "most important incidents and characters are very well known... Many subplots and subsidiary scenes make the Mahabharata a rich source of material for dramatization, especially in the Wayang Kulit" (Bandem and deBoer 131). And yet "until recently only eight of the eighteen volumes or parwas, of this epic were known in Indonesia" (Hobart 38). All Javanese versions of the epic have radically simplified characterization and plot (Keeler 206), and have sanctioned the eclipse of a Hindu world view by an Islamic oneóone, indeed, in which the eldest Pandava, Yudhishthira, dies a Muslim, as ordained by Allah (Woodward 222). These traditional versions have eliminated reference to caste (Anderson 7) and have "localized" the epic, "ethnocentrically," treating it as a sacred chronicle of Javanese ancestors (Brandon 1967 114 and Woodward 221). In sum, "though originally from India, over the centuries the Mahabharata has become very Indonesian." (Reed 3).

Are the Javanese assimilations of the epic to be regarded as trivializations? Should we focus upon what has been lost or upon how the epic has been reformulated? Is the Indian epic less significant because of the multiple ways it is read and valued? Clearly, an epic can be transmitted and radically transformed from one cultural to another. Referring to a similar process of transmutations of Ramayana texts, Romila Thapar writes:

The appropriation of the story by a multiplicity of groups meant a multiplicity of versions through which the social aspirations and ideological concerns of each group were articulated. The story in these versions included significant variations which changed the conceptualization of character, event and meaning. (qtd. in Richman 4)

This suggests that we need to be wary of criticism which insists on a single authentic version of an epic or which reactively denounces as "orientalist" any perceived infidelity to the original. Indeed, "nativist demands of cultural "fidelity" have a great potential of becoming prohibitive deterrents against cultural translation altogether." (Chow 179).

Brook and Carrière had to develop a strategy to translate the Mahabharata so that it would be meaningfully received by international audiences and so that it could be presented in accordance with the theatrical language which they had developed and espoused in work which preceded this project. They chose to maximize accessibility and identification by widening the focus of the story itself, expanding its frame of reference from its being the poetical history of India to its being the "poetical history of all mankind." This choice is akin to the Javanese reading given the Mahabharata by the Yogyakarta court traditions which holds that the characters in the Mahabharata descended from Adam and Eve (Woodward 221), the forbearers of all mankind according to Islamic, Judaic, and Christian tradition.

Brook and Carrière's choice established the foundation for most of the subsequent interpretative decisions about the production and it established the foundations for the most pointed accusations of orientalist appropriation. Jean Claude Carrière explains:

Maha in Sanskrit means "great" or "complete"... Bharata is first of all the name of a legendary character, then that of a family or a clan. So the title can be understood as "The Great History of the Bharatas." But in an extended meaning, bharata means Hindu, and, even more generally, man. So it can also be interpreted as "The Great History of Mankind." (qtd. in Williams 61)

This point of departure presented problems and difficult interpretative decisions. India is the source and setting of the story. How is it to be represented? How deeply is it to be evoked? Brook's answer was to selectively "suggest" the Indian context, and not to represent it:

We're not trying to show, but to suggest. We are telling a story which, on the one hand, is universal, but on the other, would never have existed without India. To tell this story, we had to avoid allowing the suggestion of India to be so strong as to inhibit human identification to too great an extent, while, at the same time telling it as a story with its roots in the earth of India. (qtd. in Williams 46)

This solution was easily derided: "By avoiding a strong evocation of India to ensure "human [read western] identification," Brook's "story" could not be "rooted in Indian earth." It had to float in some kind of a make-believe India, somewhere between imagination and reality, neither here nor there" (Bharucha 247). For Brook, the choice of a very selective evocation of India was essential to maximize contact and a sense of intimacy between the audience and the performers. For the critic Bharucha, it typified Brook's avoidance of Indian tradition, an "evasion of responsibility" which led to the charge of orientalist appropriation: "When Brook says in the foreword to his play that "we have tried to suggest the flavour of India without pretending to be what we are not," he is gracefully evading a confrontation of the historical context of Indian culture" (Bharucha 232).

Brookís "inadequate confrontation with the Indian context" may actually reflect his long standing pursuit of a form of theatre which would be maximally accessible across cultural divides, which would be unhindered by a reliance on contextual representation. Brook co-founded the International Centre for Theatre Research in 1970 for this reason:

The reason we started the Centre was to start working outside of contexts. My own work and the work Iíve been in contact with has always been within a context. The context is either geographical, cultural or linguistic, so that we work within a system. The theatre that works within a system communicates within a system of reference. We set out to explore what the conditions were through which the theatre could speak directly. In what conditions is it possible for what happens in a theatre experience to originate from a group of actors and be received and shared by spectators without the help and hindrance of the shared cultural signs and tokens? (Brook 124-5)

Brook's focus upon working outside of received conventions and familiar contexts was central to his three and a half month journey with eleven actors and the composer Liz Swados through Algeria, Mali, Niger, Dahomey, and Nigeria, in 1972-3, during which they presented improvised performances, "carpet shows," virtually impromptu presentations along roadsides, villages and marketplaces. According to the actor Yoshi Oida, "we were confronted with audiences who were wholly unfamiliar with our kinds of theatre... We were forced to invent everything anew, from scratch. ... In the end it became apparent that only clear simple performances would be accepted. Complex ideas, or rather the products of any intellectualization, stood no chance at all." (qtd. in Williams110) The necessity of achieving maximal clarity and contact became a guiding principle for all of the group's subsequent work.

When Brook and Carrière traveled to India in 1984, they identified a way of telling The Mahabharata which was consistent with their work in Africa, the way of the popular theatre, the way of the storyteller:

We saw that there was another style of theatre in India, just as Indian, of telling The Mahabharata story: it exists everywhere, for it's popular. This popular style is exactly like our own, what we call a "carpet show" in our terminology... And we believed that, in order for The Mahabharata to be simultaneously very close to our audience and at a certain distance from it, we would have to begin from a "low" point as opposed to a "high" one. In other words, we would have to find a starting point at a level of very natural contact, to introduce a storyteller who is on our side. (Brook qtd. in Williams 49-50)

Brook and Carrière embraced simplification and precision rather than descriptive elaboration in their script. Carrière confirmed:

We settled on a simple, precise, restrained language which gave us the means to oppose or juxtapose words which ordinarily are never used together. This careful choice of language led us to a problem which would be repeated in the stage decor, the music, the costumes, the colors and the props: one might call it "the Indian-ness." I had to open my language to rhythms and images of Asia without being caught up in the other trap, the opposite one, of merely providing local color or the picturesque. (qtd. in Williams 64)

However, the text for the performance was critically attacked for the very simplifications which Brook and Carrière embraced. One of the most detailed and most scathing critiques of the production, "A View from India" by Rustom Bharucha denounces its orientalism, focusing upon the exposure of a neo-colonialist appropriation of the Indian text. Bharucha's critique attacks Brook's "selling of the Orient" as an aggressive incursion, a usurpation of territory. His unmasking of orientalism and imperialism is an impassioned act: with the critic defending the integrity of the "original," exposing the weightlessness and the falseness of its representation. To do this, the "original" is established as foundational, profound, multiply meaningful; directing and sustaining a culture; it is conflated with the culture itself. The Brook/Carrière version was seen as excluding and trivializing Indian culture: "it exemplifies a particular kind of western representation that negates the non-western context of its borrowing" (Bharucha 231). Bharucha's critique of the production (which is contained in his Theatre and World and in Williams' Peter Brook and The Mahabharata: Critical Perspectives) established the agenda for much of the subsequent debate and discussion about it and about intercultural performance:

The criticism of "intercultural" theatre in general, and Peter Brook's Mahabharata in particular, that was spearheaded by Rustom Bharucha... has taken firm hold in the Anglo-American academy and especially in Britain... We need only notice the recent vigorous growth of interest in post-colonial cultural production to realize how receptive audiences would be to Bharucha's judgement that Brook's Mahabharata belongs to "an orientalist framework of thought and action." (Shevtsova 1997 98)

Bharucha's repudiation of The Mahabharata included the following major points:

Decontextualization: "He has taken one of our most significant texts and decontextualized it from history in order to 'sell' it to audiences in the west" (230).

Linearity of orientation: "He has reduced The Epic to a chronological sequence of episodes which are structurally linked to the well-made play tradition of Scribe and Sardou... Nothing could be more foreign to The Mahabharata than linearity" (237).

The Loss of Hindu cosmology: "What is The Mahabharata without Hindu philosophy?... There is no framework of reference in Brook's production that provides a Hindu perspective on action in the larger, cosmic context" (232).

Accessibility at the expense of depth and complexity: "Accessibility is the determining principle of this adaptation... Carrière... has reduced The Epic to a chronological sequence of episodes... the intricate structure of storytelling reduced to a line of action" (236-7).

Erasure of characters and erasure of the contextual backgrounds of characters: "Brook erases some characters altogether. The contemplative Vidura is cut, because, as Carrière claims, 'his effect on the plot is minor.' 'Plot': that's just the problem" (241).

"A five minute encapsulation of the Bhagavad Gita" (232).

These criticisms ignore the exigencies of developing a text which is meant to shift the paradigm of The Mahabharata from being a history of India to a history of mankind and to serve a very particular approach to theatrical performance. We have seen that Brook's experimental work sought to achieve maximal communicative immediacy by muting contextual definitions which could restrict cross cultural identification. While the erasures and reductions, the simplifications and "short cuts" may be regarded as a trivialization of the "original," they actually reflect the exigencies of a performance approach in which decontextualization, linearity, accessibility and simplification are intentional. Let us briefly look at the issues which Bharucha has raised from the point of view of theatrical practice and place them in the context of a larger discussion of intercultural translation.

Decontextualization: Suggestion rather than elaboration is essential to the medium of theatre. It requires a maximalization of impact through a minimalization of detail and illustration.

When Bharucha identifies The Mahabharata with the essence of Indian culture, such an identification renders it virtually untranslatable to the stage:

The Mahabharata is not merely a great narrative poem; it is our itihasa, the fundamental source of knowledge for our literature, dance, painting, sculpture, theology, state craft, sociology, ecologyóin short, our history in all its detail and density. (230)

A similar situation may be seen in the Chinese criticism which condemns the films of Zhang Yimou:

Using contemporary Chinese cinema as a case in point, I think the criticism (by some Chinese audiences) that Zhang and his contemporaries "pander to the tastes of the foreign devil" can itself be recast by way of our conventional assumptions about translation. The "original" here is not a language in the strict linguistic sense but rather "China" as a content, a core meaning that exists "prior to" film. When critics say that Zhang's films lack depth, what they mean is that the language/vehicle in which he renders "China" is a poor translation, a translation that does not give the truth about "China." For such critics, the film medium, precisely because it is so "superficial," that is, organized around surfaces, mystifies and thus distorts Chinaís authenticity. (Chow 184)

Linearity of orientation: Carrière's translation is intended for theatrical performance.

The text is to be enacted, not to be read or narrated. Consequently, its articulation, as in the choreography for dance or scenography for film, must be immediately communicative. This necessarily requires simplifications and the imposition of a linearity of exposition. Zhang Yimou's description of the transformation of literature to film elucidates the necessary process of undoing depth and complexity in the interest of immediacy and understandablilty:

[In film adaptation] even very good literature... has to become film like. The first thing I can do is to reduce the complexity of the events, and make the story simple and popular. Film is a "one time deal." The form of its watching is compulsory: there is no time for turning back, and there is no time for thinking; you must follow the screen. When it is a matter of concise, charming words, you can keep reflecting; even when you have arrived at the last chapter [of a book] you can turn back to the front... Watching can only follow screen time. You canít let people pass without having understood what is going on. (qtd. in Chow 160-1)

Loss of Hindu cosmology: The Mahabharata may be seen from different perspectives:

"From one point of view. . . the great epic is a record of the warlike past. From another, it is a record of the self-view of the dominant Brahmanical tradition" (Van Buitenen 1974 53).

Brook and Carrière have, indeed, focused upon the first of these perspectives.

A bare, primitive ballad of Kuru wars in the course of time took the form of a huge epic—The Mahabharata. Hence here are two models, to work on for the creative person... Penetrating the layers of culture, Peter Brook in his own way tried to reach the primitive reality of the Bharata story. (Varadpande 127)

It has been argued that the epic narrative is too meager without the "deeply ingrained structure of ritual beliefs... The Mahabharata is nothing, an empty shell, if it is read merely as a compendium of martial legends, of revenge, valour and bravura" (Dasgupta qtd. in Williams 264). However, Vijay Mishra has questioned the dominant "essentialist" regimes of reading which focus upon the metaphysical categories of dharma and karma at the expense of confronting the most basic political dimensions of the story within the Mahabharata (Mishra 198-203).

Accessibility: Brook speaks of the necessity of achieving accessibility: "The primary virtue of a performance in the theatre is for it to be alive, and secondly, to be immediately understandable. Explanation and reflection can only come at a later time" (Brook 235) However, this is not to say that dramatic language is impoverished:

The language of dramatic imagery is a language which is deceptive, because it is naive on the surface... which in itself is a virtue because what is naive is accessible to everybody. However, on the other side of that muddle are levels which cannot be put into words... You go along with it because one can't resist the simple accessible level of someone saying "this story is about." Then gradually you get caught up in it and the myth begins to work the way a myth is supposed to—which is to evoke things in one's subconscious. Gradually by the flow of it, almost like music, by unfolding in a certain order, one is touched in a certain way. (Brook qtd. in Williams 52-3)

The pejorative reading of "accessibility," and the repudiation of a popular or naive approach, should not be accepted uncritically as an indication of the superficiality of western adaptations of Asian texts:

Many orientalist critics, deconstruct/destabilize the West by turning the West into an unfaithful translator/translation that has, as it were, betrayed, corrupted, and contaminated the "original" that is the East. When this revalorization of the "original" is done through a concentration on the depths and nuances of verbal texts, what continues to be obliterated is the fact that such texts are traditionally the loci of literate and literary culture, the culture through which class hierarchy is established not only in Western but also Eastern societies. (Chow 192)

Erasure of characters or of the contextual backgrounds of characters:

Translations of the Mahabharata typically include narrative summaries, genealogical charts, glossaries and indices of proper names. In fact, The Index of Proper Names in the second volume of van Buitenen's translation of books 2 and 3 of The Mahabharata is comprised of twenty-five pages with double columns of single spaced names of characters who have appeared in those two books (van Buitenen 839-64). Obviously, an overabundance of characters and contextual detail would compromise the immediacy and coherence of a performance. Furthermore, establishing what is essential or unessential is by no means undisputable: "To condense the vastness of Vyasa's epic, to arrive at an assimilable hard core narrative, is not an easy task because each person has his or her own, and often dogmatic, ideas of what is essential and what is tangential" (Lal 2). The obligation for Carrière and Brook is to present the material in such an engaging and compelling way as to inspire interest and curiosity about unexplained dimensions of the characters or the contextual background without confusing the narrative.

"A five minute encapsulation of the Bhagavad Gita."

One of the major abridgements that Bharucha and other critics decry is that the literary, philosophical and theological epicenter of the epic, the Bhagavad Gita, was seemingly passed over in Brook's production, "over before one is even aware of it," according to Bharucha (232). Is this an instance of Brook's orientalist bias? We must consider the possibility that the staging of this text without transforming its mode of articulation could actually destabilize how it would be received. This is particularly true for intercultural translation where the context which situates the terms and understandings about the text are largely unknown to the western audience. How could that context be established without confounding the narrative with exegetical interventions? However, even within India, the requirements of staging the Mahabharata mitigate against the articulation of the Bhagavad Gita in performance. In one of the most traditional and comprehensive performances of the Mahabharata in India—the eighteen day ritual reenactment of the Tamil Mahabharata in South Indian terukkuttu performances—there is no depiction of the Bhagavad Gita; "its absence is striking . . . [it] is simply shunted aside" (Frasca, 72).

While The Mahabharata is understood in India as a history of legendary events, an itihasa, the Bhagavad Gita is understood to be an esoteric religious discourse which is not intended to be divulged to those who are unprepared to receive its teachings:

This is not to be revealed, ever, to one without austerities or devotion to me, nor to one who does not wish to listen, or who disbelieves in me. (The Bhagavad Gita 18.67 qtd. in van Buitenen 1981 145)

While we may agree that the Bhagavad Gita can illuminate the most critical junctures and relationships within its epic context (cf. Hudson 65-84), it is also true that the enunciation of any substantial portion of this eighteen chapter discourse on the stage would not clarify its relevance within the epic context without exegetical intervention. If our focus is upon the theatrical presentation of the central narrative itself, we must acknowledge the Bhagavad Gita scholarship which contends that it's "hardly critical to the central story" (van Buitenen in Dimock et al 49); "that the Arjuna and Krishna that we find in the rest of the Mahabharata are different beings from the Krishna and Arjuna of the Bhagavad Gita," (Mascar 22); that its positioning in the ongoing narrative is a "dramatic absurdity... its author, or whoever placed it in its present position, was interested chiefly in the religious doctrines to be set forth, not in external dramatic forms" (Edgerton, 105-6).

For Brook, an extensive presentation of a religious discourse is simply inconsistent with the dynamics of theatre: "theatre is not a lecture, theatre is not a religious ritual, theatre is not a sermon. It is a rich area of concentrated meaning between many, many diverse elements" (qtd. in Williams 56). In fact, religious language and mystical revelation have a great likelihood of seeming to be compromised or profaned through proclamation on the stage. For Brook, the differences between language of theatre and expository language are to be respected:

Here lies the responsibility of the theatre: what a book cannot convey, what no philosopher can truly explain, can be brought into our understanding by the theatre. Translating the untranslatable is one of its roles. (Brook 164)

Brook's translation of The Mahabharata to the stage and to film have been attacked for sacrificing depth and complexity for the sake of accessibility and transmissibility. However, the movement from one culture to another and from medium to medium has added to the multiplicity of ways by which the epic can be encountered.

...the word tradition itself, linked in its roots to translation and betrayal, has to do with handing over. Tradition itself is nothing if it is not a transmission. How is tradition to be transmitted, to be passed on, if not through translation? (Chow 195)

Rey Chow addresses this process of transmission with reference to Walter Benjamin's The Task of the Translator :

For Benjamin... transmissibility and accessibility are not pejorative or negligible qualities; instead they are what enable movement—that is, translation—from language to language, from medium to medium. Transmissibility and accessibility are what give a work its afterlife. (Chow 199-200)

One aspect of the "after life" of the Mahabharata is to be found in the myriad ways that this epic has stimulated performance and cultural activity in pan-India, pan-Asia and now in the west. Each year, Brook's six hour film version of The Mahabharata is presented in the Religion and Theatre in Southeast Asia course at Smith College. It is considered alongside literary translations of the epic and viewings of South Asian and Southeast Asian performances on film. And each year, there is a palpable engagement and excitement as our students encounter the extraordinary diversity of styles and media by which the epic has been transmitted. The film has inspired discussion, stimulated debate and set in motion radical lines of questioning concerning cultural translation, the ethics of representation, the transformation of material through different media and the relationship of source to translation.

The comparative assessment of Mahabharata translations and performances frequently has the effect of bringing a student to appreciate what is critical and unique to her own version of what P. Lal has termed the "hard core narrative" of the epic (Lal 2). It is at that point that new tellings can emerge, new crystallizations of the story can be presented or performed. It is in this light that we have appreciated Ramanujan's perspective on the plurality of tellings of the Ramayana:

...the cultural area in which Ramayanas are endemic has a pool of signifiers (like a gene pool), signifiers that include plots, characters, names, geography, incidents and relationships. Oral, written, and performance traditions, phrases, proverbs, and even sneers carry allusions to the Rama story... These various texts not only relate to prior texts directly, to borrow or refute, but they relate to each other through this common code or common pool. Every author, if one may hazard a metaphor, dips into it and brings out a unique crystallization, a new text with a unique texture and a fresh context. In this sense, no text is original, yet no telling is a mere retelling—and the story has no closure, although it may be enclosed in a text. In India and in Southeast Asia, no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, "always already." (Ramanujan 46)

 

back