Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic

The Kirātārjunīya of Bhāravi

By Indira Viswanathan Peterson

Subjects: Asian Studies
Paperback : 9780791456149, 318 pages, March 2003
Hardcover : 9780791456132, 318 pages, March 2003

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Table of contents

List of Figures


1. Introduction: The Study of the Sanskrit Court Epic

2. The Poetics of the Mahakavya

3. The Setting and Structure of the Kiratarjuniya

4. Prelude to Action: Epic Speech in Bharavi's Poem

5. The Debate between the Brothers: Logic, Rhetoric, and Politics in the Court Epic

6. Landscapes with Women: Bharavi's Descriptive Art

7. The Conundrum of the Warrior-Ascetic

8. The Theater of Combat

9. Wrestling with God: Rasa and Bhakti in the Kiratarjuniya

A Note on the Translation Selections

Appendix A. Draupadi Rebukes Yudhisthira: Kir. I. 27-46

Appendix B. The Journey of the Apsaras: Kir. VII. 1-40

Appendix C. Arjuna's Combat with the Hunter: Kir. XVII. 1-64

Appendix D. The Wrestling Match, Theophany, and Boon: Kir. XVIII. 1-19; 42-48

List of Abbreviations




Index of References to the Kiratarjuniya

Explores the earliest literary treatment of Arjuna's combat with the great god Siva, providing an introduction to the Sanskrit court epic.“Peterson proves that it is possible and fruitful to approach mahakavya such as ‘Arjuna and the Hunter’ through the aesthetic values it embodies. She succeeds in making one of the greatest works of literature accessible and meaningful to non-specialists, as well as useful for teachers of South Asian culture and religion.” — History of Religions


Indira Viswanathan Peterson provides an introduction to the Sanskrit court epic (mahākāvya), an important genre in classical Indian poetry, and the first study of a celebrated sixth-century poem, the Kirātārjunīya (Arjuna and the Hunter) of Bhāravi. Sanskrit court epics are shown to be characterized both by formalism and a deep engagement with enduring Indian values.

The Kirātārjunīya is the earliest literary treatment of the narrative of the Pandava hero Arjuna's combat with the great god Śiva, a seminal episode in the war epic Mahābhārata. Through a close analysis of the structural strategies of Bhāravi's poem, the author illuminates the aesthetic of the mahākāvya genre. Peterson demonstrates that the classical poet uses figurative language, rhetorical devices, and structural design as the primary instruments for advancing his argument, the reconciliation of heroic action, ascetic self-control, social duty, and devotion to God. Her discussion of the Kirātārjunīya in relation to its historical setting and to renderings of this epic episode in literary texts and temple sculpture of later periods reveals the existence of complex transactions in Indian civilization between the discourses of heroic epic and court poetry, political ideologies and devotional religion, Sanskrit and the regional languages, and classical and folk traditions. Selections from the Kirātārjunīya are presented in poetic translation.

Indira Viswanathan Peterson is Professor of Asian Studies at Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of Poems to Śiva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints and editor of Indian literature for The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Expanded Edition.