About the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is one of the two main Sanskrit epics of ancient India (the other being the Ramayana). Its main chapters were compiled between the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, with the oldest part of the text tracing back to as early as 4th century BC. It is said that it was written by Lord Ganesha, as told to him by Veda Vyasa. The core of the story revolves around two brothers who fought over their kingdom’s land and who ultimately came out on top. As the story was preserved through word-of-mouth, the original story in its entirety cannot be known. The contents of the story were enriched over time and evolved into a massive 18 volume work with nearly 100,000 verses in around 1.8 million words, and is considered the longest epic in the world.

In Ancient India, oral chants spread by word-of-mouth were known as “Veda” which means “wisdom”, and the Mahabharata is known as the fifth Veda. There are four ancient Vedas –  the Rigveda, the Samaveda, the Yajurveda,  and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda has four subdivisions –  the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads. The majority of Vedas are about worship and rituals except for the Upanishads. The Upanishads represent the essence of Vedic philosophy, presenting important concepts such as the unification of the Brahman and the self, Karma and reincarnation, and the four goals of life (Dharma meaning righteousness, Artha meaning prosperity, Kama meaning pleasure, and Moksha meaning liberation). Such concepts are further elaborated in the Bhagavad Gita, the sixth chapter of the Mahabharata, which also proposes the four major branches of yoga through which to attain liberation.

For thousands of years, the Mahabharata has heavily influenced the lives, beliefs and values of Indians. Its influence has been widespread and has inspired countless works of music, theatre, dance, film, sculpture, painting and so on in the East and the West. It can be said to be a treasure trove of culture throughout history.

Artistic Director’s words

The Origin

Back in my youth, I was full of ideas and decided to pursue and cultivate a life in the arts. However, as I grew up, I soon learned that the world is not what I imagined it to be. Later, I turned to spiritual practices, trying to find the balance between the finite and the infinite. A little over 20 years ago, I started learning yoga and reading the two epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, both of which are classics of Indian literature and brim with philosophical ideas. I jokingly said to myself that once I finish reading these two books, I will be left with no more regrets in life.

In particular, I feel most deeply for the chapter on Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata. It made me ponder, is it true that man, as the poem suggests, has to fulfill his “Dharma” throughout his life as bestowed from above? This question prompted me to explore the place of the human being in performance arts. I soon realised that in order to succeed, one must learn when to give and take. Yet, before that, one must first master the wisdom of “every step counts in life, no matter big or small”. In May 2019, I made my way up to the base camp of Mount Everest. There, I had some sort of epiphany, and decided to perform the Mahabharata. The social unrest, epidemic and wars that broke out soon after seemed to reflect a line in the epic: “Whatever has been said here may be found elsewhere, but whatever is not found here does not exist anywhere else!” Is it my “Dharma” to seize the opportunity created in times like these, and to make the longest epic poem in the world known to the people of Hong Kong? God knows! Nonetheless, “wisdom without borders” is a principle that I always live by.

Tang Shu-wing
Artistic Director of Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio

About the project

Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio will be showcasing a performance of Bhagavad Gita which originated from the Indian epic Mahabharata in June 2023. In order to familiarize the public with the piece, a thematic website has been specially created to present this classic through a simple but insightful online exhibition.

About the Mahabharata
Artistic Director’s words: Words from the Artistic Director, by Mr. Tang Shu-Wing.
The Synopsis, by Professor Hui Ting-yan from Lingnan University’s Department of Translation.
An Introduction to Mahabharata, by Dr. Priyanka Jain, Director and Playwright, Teacup Productions. – an analysis of the cultural significance of this “Indian Classic” from the perspective of Indian culture.
The Bhagavad Gita, which is the most important philosophical verse of the Mahabharata and the sacred text of Indian yoga. This part is a summary guide into the basic concepts of spiritual cultivation for the audience.
Mahabharata in Arts, a compilation of the artistic works around the world which have been inspired by this epic, and a testimony to its far-reaching cultural impact.