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Interpreting the Mahabharata [video]

September 26, 2015

Watch the full panel discussion.

MIDDLEBURY, Vermont -- To a backdrop of exquisitely colorful illustrations, President Laurie Patton and illustrator and fine artist Abhishek Singh helped bring meaning to the Mahabharata, the epic 100,000-verse poem that is one of India's most ancient texts. The talk, presented in conjunction with the exhibition, "The Art of Storytelling: Five Tales from Asia, Then and Now," drew a crowd of about 150 faculty, staff and students to Robison Hall.

Professor of History of Art and Architecture Cynthia Packert moderated the discussion, which focused on the famous work's textual and visual interpretations. Patton is author or co-editor of nine scholarly books on South Asian history, culture, and religion. Singh is author and illustrator of the 300-page graphic novel Krishna: A Journey Within.

Patton noted that the Mahabharata endures as an important classroom text to this day. "What's very powerful about it as a story is that you feel the tragedy of the war in almost every conversation that occurs and in almost every story that is told," said Patton. "You also feel the power of human relationships. And I think that is one reason why it has remained as popular and engaging a story as it has."

Singh described his personal journey as an illustrator that led him to create his own epic volume. As an art student studying Animation Film Design at India’s National Institute of Design, he fell in love with the great European masters, but he also immersed himself in the world of Indian folk art.

"From the visual side, I got interested in the cultures they were coming from; I got interested in the storytelling cultures," said Singh. "It became a quest to understand the reservoir of stories these cultures were trying to depict. And these cultures were literally constructed around these storytelling traditions."

"The Art of Storytelling: Five Tales from Asia, Then and Now" is on view in the Overbrook Gallery of the Middlebury College Museum of Art through December 13. Visit the museum web site for more information.