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The Subtlety of Subtales: Subaltern Voices of Sūkṣma Dharma in the Mahābhārata

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Hindu Studies
Issue number1
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)37-62
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date23/02/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Many scholars have identified sūkṣma dharma (subtle dharma) as a central theme of the Mahābhārata. However, beyond recognizing it as an understanding of dharma that is elusive and ambiguous, there has been relatively little investigation into the meaning and implications of sūkṣma dharma. As this article shows, even if the central episodes of the main story leave sūkṣma dharma undefined or unclear, the Mahābhārata’s embedded narratives (upākhyānas) offer more explicit descriptions and demonstrations that can shed light on this otherwise elusive understanding of dharma. By focusing on three substories, the article argues that sūkṣma dharma is presented as a coherent and communicable teaching about how to act in morally ambiguous situations. This understanding of sūkṣma dharma, as the article shows, is often associated with subaltern characters who demonstrate their knowledge through—what the article characterizes as—intuition and spontaneity in everyday situations.