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

Black, B. (2022) The Subtlety of Subtales:Subaltern Voices of Sūkṣma Dharma in the Mahābhārata. International Journal of Hindu Studies, 26 (1). pp. 37-62. ISSN 1022-4556

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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.

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Journal Article
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International Journal of Hindu Studies
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Deposited On:
03 Mar 2022 12:00
Last Modified:
16 Sep 2023 02:27