n Nidan : International Journal for Indian Studies - Muscular Mahabharatas : masculinity and transnational Hindu identity

Volume 3 Number 2
  • ISSN : 2414-8636


The climax of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata is undeniably muscular, since it involves a kṣatriya family fighting a brutal but righteous war. Many 21st century Mahabharata adaptations not only emphasize the muscularity of the epic, but also flex these muscles in an arena beyond the Kurukṣetra battlefield: the world. Through an analysis of texts such as Chindu Sreedharan’s Epic Retold (2015) and Prem Panicker’s Bhimsen (2009), I suggest that the increased visibility of epic warrior narratives across global platforms indicates a desire to re-fashion a hypermasculine identity for Hindus in the transnational religio-political sphere. I see this as an attempt to distance Hinduism from Gandhi’s ‘passive resistance’ and colonial conceptions of the ‘effeminate native’. Instead, it aligns with the nationalist and global aims of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who emphasizes the importance of Hindu traditions and physical fitness for collective prosperity. While these new epic adaptations certainly broaden the reach of Hindu culture beyond national boundaries, I suggest exhuming only warrior narratives from the epic texts oversimplifies Hindu values and threatens a range of gender identities and religious affiliations.

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