This spring I started re-reading the Mahabharata for the first time since I was about twelve years old. It is a Hindu epic that culminates in a war between two sets of cousins. The picture above shows the war about to start, and the warrior Arjuna is having doubts about fighting against his own family. He kneels on the ground to ask Lord Krishna for counsel. Krishna explains why Arjuna should fight, and why following his duty as a warrior is the right thing to do. The dialogue between the two is captured in the Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the most important religious text in Hinduism.
This dialogue plus the ensuing war took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. According to Wikipedia, Kurukshetra was in the present-day Indian state of Haryana. I’ve been wondering about this claim. How do we know where Kurukshetra was? And how do we know that Ayodyha, the site of Lord Rama’s kingdom, was next to Faizabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh?
Hinduism is a cyclical religion. That is, Hindus don’t believe time flows in a single direction. There are four ages, or yugas, and right now we are in the Kali Yuga. Between each yuga the world is destroyed and recreated. The Mahabharata occurred in the previous age. According to the Mahabharata the world ended after the war, and our age began.
So if the world was destroyed, what does it even mean to assign a physical location to Kurukshetra? When Hindus say the world is destroyed, do the countries and continents more or less stay in the same spot? Does archaeological and physical evidence transition from one age to another? Do all humans die, or just some of them?
As I wrap up my series of posts on Hinduism, I come back to questions like these. I wonder if I’ve drifted away from my childhood faith because I’ve tried to intellectualize it more than it is meant to be. Hinduism, even more than Christianity, is an experiential religion. I really shouldn’t be thinking about it so much.