Long Island City, NY—Dr. Lakshmi Bandlamudi, a LaGuardia Community College psychology professor and a Fulbright-Nehru Fellow, spent the past six months in India expanding research on her book examining the evolution of the Mahabharata, the epic of ancient India, and how it is interpreted by the Indian people and the culture.
Using her interdisciplinary book, The Dialogics of Self, The Mahabharata and Culture: The History of Understanding and Understanding of History, as a foundation, Dr. Bandlamudi set out to explore how this ancient text, which has influenced the Indian culture for over 5,000 years, is the site to trace the evolution of the history of the culture.
“Unlike the epics of the western work, which are seen as very different and remote, this major Sanskrit narrative of ancient India is a living text that gives birth to variations,” said Dr. Bandlamudi. “What you call the ancient past and epic text is not simply frozen in time and space, but, instead, flows. It picks up all the fragments of history. So history itself has a history.”
This is Dr. Bandamudi’s third Fulbright. She received a Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Program Award to study the cultural transformation of Bulgaria and Romania in 1996 and of China in 2004.
To further research this living narrative, she spent time at the Bhandakar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, the largest archive of the Mahabharata. There she read and interpreted the stories that make up the longest epic in the world—seven times the size of The Illiad and The Olyssey combined. She was affiliated with the Center for the Study of Developing of Societies in New Delhi, where she examined the theoretical and philosophical dimensions of interpreting the past. She also attended classical traditional performances and interviewed street performers to learn how they arrived at the profiles of the particular cultural text.
Her research examines two of the Mahabharata’s central characters, Karna, the King of Anga and a great warrior, and Draupadi, a heroic princess. “The epic captures the imagination because every character is flawed and every character has redeeming qualities,” she said.
In the case of Draupadi, who was her major focus, contentious issues were clear. She was a queen who was ostracized by society for being the wife of five brothers. “She is a controversial and fascinating character who defies the notions of femininity,” said Dr. Bandlamudi, “and is a flashpoint for gender roles and contesting patriarchy and tradition.”
For Bandlamudi, who has always had an interest in women’s issues, the study of the heroine is vital. “Maximum variation in the text is seen of the character of the heroine, more so that the hero, and that requires a cultural explanation. Looking at the characterization of the heroine throughout history, gives us a way of studying the cultural history.”
When Dr. Bandlamudi was not conducting her research she was lecturing at a number of universities. One stop was at the Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, where she spoke on the topic “Representation of Women in the Mahabharata.” She also spoke about her book, which is based on the theoretical foundations of two Russian philosophers– literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin and socio-historical epistemologist Lev Vygotsky–who both shaped her philosophy of dialogue.
“These thinkers changed my life,” she said.
After a whirlwind six months in her native India, Dr. Bandlamudi is back at LaGuardia where she has been teaching general and developmental psychology since 1993.
What is to come out of the six-month research project in India? “Another manuscript,” said Dr. Bandlamudi. “In my earlier work I examined how people interpret the text. The research in India gave me some clues on how the text evolved.”
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