he age old traditions of the Mahabharata are being celebrated in the capital this week through the festival of Jaya Utsav. The festival celebrates the living traditions of the epic, bringing together the disparate customs and multiple interpretations of this ancient text that have evolved in various parts of the country. It aims to highlight the rich diversity of the Mahabharata, bringing to light various facets of the epic. This month-long festival, which will conclude this week, has theatrical performances, dance shows, symposiums, book fairs, ritual demonstrations and films.
"Mahabharata comes directly with oral traditions. There are many texts of the Mahabharata and we wanted to explore their relationship with the original. But, we also wanted to experience the actual traditions and not only the intellectual side of it. That's how the Jaya Utsav came into being," says Dr Molly Kaushal, curator of the festival.
An initiative of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), the festival derives its name from the original composition credited to Ved Vyas. "Jaya was the first composition, of 8,800 verses, by Ved Vyas," says Kaushal.
Over 1200 folk artists from all over India performed various devotional dances. The festival also hosted a number of theatrical interpretations of the Mahabharata, notably the Manipur Dramatic Union's rendition of Abhimanyu. There were also a number of ritual demonstrations, including such unusual practices as Agni Nritya, a form of firewalking from Rajasthan.
Another interesting performance was by people who congregate at the Aravan Festival every year, which is a festival of the transgender community that takes place every year in Tamil Nadu. "We selected the Aravan festival because we wanted to fight stereotypes. They have a high aesthetic expression and their performance represents a celebration of their identity," Kaushal told Guardian20.
Kaushal stresses the Mahabharata remains a vital text, even in the modern context: "The Mahabharata draws attention to the futility of war and talks about peace and harmony," she says. "If we want to maintain our philosophical equilibrium we need to look at living traditions that may not be part of the mainstream."