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Eschatological Imagery in Some Mahābhārata Similes

Per-Johan Norelius

Pages 131 - 140


The article discusses a number of similes in the Mahābhārata (Mbh), which speak of the possibility of saving/carrying across (tāraya-) one's ancestors by means of rites, pious deeds, or virtuous conduct. A good son or male descendant is likened to a boat that carries the forebears across the sea to safety; more unfortunate ancestors “sink”, boatless, into hell or “darkness”. It is argued that the verb tārayate/tārayati used in these passages, while often meaning “to save”, may at least in some places have to be taken in its literal sense as “to carry across”. It is shown that the imagery of the son or descendant who carries his forebears across like a boat has Vedic antecedents. The images of darkness, water, and hell, which seem to merge in the epic similes, are already closely associated in Vedic texts, where mention is made of a vast, watery gloom at the ends of the world, bordering the realm of the dead.

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