The Semiotics of Sports in The Mahabharata

Rajni Singh & Seema K. Ladsaria

Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, India

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


The article examines the sporting activities in the Indian epic, The Mah?bh?rata. A sport is an anthropomorphic manifestation that deduces the logico-deductive praxeological system of the elements of spectacle.  It is a cultivated movement that emerges from the specific social and cultural sub-system. Sport as a process of the permeation conjoins the existential phenomena with paralinguistic structural pattern in the macro system of behaviourism suggested in the society. To define the term sports, the paper concentrates on the theory of action in The Mah?bh?rata delineating the underlying “actantial structure” (Herbert) of sports played in the ancient period. The study primarily focuses on the sporting activity in The Mah?bh?rata, which involves physical action while the episodes of war and games, such as ‘Game of Dice’ remains excluded. The paper examines the non-verbal codes of sports during ‘The Tournament’ organized for one hundred and five Princes of the Bh?rata clan and the microcosm between the inter-related structures.  Through theatricality and the performitivity of the sport, one draws the parallelism between the institution of sports handled by the K?atriya, the semantic field that translates exigencies of the sociological survival and the continuum of experience into multiple referents. Hence, the paper attempts to highlight the sport-nuanced phenomena that is operationalized in the Indian society and is still relevant in the post-modern phenomena.

Keywords: Semiotics, Sports, Mah?bh?rata, performativity, India

Sport is a social institution that anticipates the emotional complexes such as, attraction, competence, and morality. The epistemological discussions of sport signify typologies of the sport function as a social experience.   It attributes “the desire for the collective expression, shared revelry, public demonstration, cathartic pleasure and the existential experience” (Jirasek and Kohe, 2015).  Sport is confronted within the different forms of the physical activities such as play, games, contest and athletics. Play as “being spontaneous, extraordinary, non-material, and non-productive” (Huizinga, 1980) “is an activity which proceeds within the certain limits of time-space, in a visible order, according to rules freely accepted and outside the sphere of necessity or material utility” (Huizinga, 1980).  Paul Weiss (1986) defines play as a “subject to rules” but only a well-played and rules governed play can be defined as a game. On the other hand, a sport is a game initiated with the set of rules. The distinguishing feature of the semiotics of sport is that it adds to the physical activity and the free will to obey the rules.  The semiotic operations of sport contributes in framing the identity and evolving the analogical devices, such as, non-verbal codes, the strings of signs of social, economic and political inequalities.

Sports in The Mah?bh?rata is a public outlet for articulating social and the cultural values, the corporeal possibilities which has its genesis from the ancient Indian cultural text. A sport in ancient India was based on the principle of ‘Dh?rma’, “Dharanad dharmamityaahuh” (Web). The erudite scholarship of sports as political and moral philosophy explores Dharma??stra and   The Artha??stra concerned with the duties of state and statesman. Both Da??an?ti and Artha??stra are subjected to determine the policy of the enforcement of law and creating the administrative machinery by choosing warriors and kings through sport’s competition. Sports in ancient India was formulated on perennial ideologies, such as, on guidelines instructed by Patanjali Yoga-S?tra, K?ya-s?dhna, dehvada, and Hathayoga, which define ethical ways of playing sports. Indian sports mentioned in the Vedic and religious scriptures, such as, the Vedic literature, The Mah?bh?rata, The R?m?ya?am, The Pur??a, the literary works of Kau?ilya, K?lid?sa, P??ini and Da??in, the Buddhist and the Jainist Literature, emphasizes on the rules of game taught through the Acarya-Kula tradition in the antiquated time.

The pluralistic conception of sports suggested in The Mah?bh?rata is a political testament of ethics for survival of human being.  From the beginning itself, the story of The Mah?bh?rata introduces the logical model of sports within the subject of both the cognitive and pragmatic performances. One finds sporting pursuits to be defined on the basis of politics and economy.  The paper dwells on ‘The Tournament episode’ (Satyamurti, Dharwarkar and Doniger, 2015) of The Mah?bh?rata. ‘The Tournament’ organized for freshly trained Princes was supposed to bring together athletes, heads of the state, and other national representatives to decide suitable heir for the state. Although ‘The Tournament Episode’ was instrumental sporting event cited in the epic, The Mah?bh?rata, one finds several other traces of sporting events such as “Eklavya’s”  (Satyamurti et al., 2015) sporting practices, which denotes the referential meaning of sports, as an  agency of self-display, ceasing the intellectual property (knowledge of sports)  and confining sports facilities to the K?atriya.

The paper primarily focuses on ‘The Tournament’ Episode of The Mah?bh?rata which significantly formulates the ground for the larger political upheaval. Nevertheless, the chief characteristic of the sporting activities, especially, in ‘The Tournament’ episode was that, there was no blood-shed. The domain of sporting was based on the competition between the powerful sports competitors like Yudhi??hira, Duryodhana, Bhima and Arjuna who were also the probable contestants for the crown of H?stinapuram…Full Text PDF

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