Vassilkov Ya. Indo-European Motifs in the Mahābhārata: “Glory Drinking” and the “Hero’s Goblet”
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography
(Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences
St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
ABSTRACT. Having summarized the currently available data on the Indo-European legacy in the Mahābhārata, the author has found in the epic one more motif with parallels in some other IE epic traditions. Researchers and translators of the Mbh have been encountering difficulties interpreting the episode in which the hero, having overcome his enemies, is “drinking glory”. This phrase is usually understood as a metaphor. The article refers to several contexts in the kāvya poetry in which the early concept of “glory drinking” is brought into play. The author suggests that “glory drinking” might have initially designated drinking as a ritualistic act performed to glorify the winner in a battle or contest. This suggestion is supported by references to several episodes in the Mbh in which a “hero’s goblet” (vīrakāṃsya) is mentioned. A majority of the Mbh copyists, medieval commentators, modern scholars, and translators have failed to perceive the true meaning of this phrase. The main heroine of the epic, Draupadī, turns up at her svayaṃvara (the rite of a girl choosing herself a husband from the suitors taking part in a nuptial contest) with a “hero’s goblet” in her hands. The same object appears in the rite of a warrior's setting off for battle. Apparently the goblet was offered to the warrior by a girl, and as soon as he touched it, his strength would multiply. The ritual of offering a goblet of alcoholic drink to a victorious hero was practiced by the peoples speaking Indo-Iranian languages: Scythians, Ossetians, and Nuristanis (Kafirs). The wedding rite of a svayaṃvara type, in which the girl chose a husband by offering to one of her suitors a goblet of wine, was probably practiced by Scythians and is widely represented in Irish folklore. Considering that the motif of the “hero’s goblet” is known to the Celtic, Indian, Nuristani, Scythian, and Ossetic traditions, we can suppose that it goes back to the Proto-Indo-European antiquity.
KEYWORDS: Mahābhārata, wedding rite, warrior rituals, Indians, Scythians, Ossetians, Nuristanis, Celts, Proto-Indo-Europeans
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