We outline the story ofthe play and ofthc epic transformation of the Glasgow venue.

The Mahabharata is the longest poem in the world. Fifteen times longer than The Bible. it is known in India simply as ‘The Epic‘ and contains the source of thousands of

English translation of the title is

probably ‘The epic story of mankind’ ~ ‘maha' meaning ‘great’ in Sanskrit. and ‘Barata' being a family name but also meaning ‘man’ in a more general

contemporary world needs little emphasising.

The original poem is marvellously rich in style and content. moving with the same vitality and literary power as the (ireek epics. The stage adaptation began thirteen years ago when adaptor .lean-(‘laudc (‘arriere and director Peter Brook met a professor of Sanskrit. Philippe Lavastine. who started to tell them the stories. They met regularly and (‘arriere began a stage adaptation. He and Brook travelled to India to research their production and in 1985 their work finally bore fruit. when the three-play cycle was given its premiere in French at the Avignon Festival. The English version. written in lively.


The Mahabharata tells the story of two sets ofcousins in a royal family whose origins are bound up with the

deities. Their story is told on stage by the poet Vyasa to a small boy. ‘It‘s the story of your race. how your ancestors were born. how they grew up. how a vast war arose.‘ he tells him. ‘It‘s the poetical history of mankind. If you listen carefully. at the end you‘ll be someone else.‘ One reason for this is that the story illustrates ‘dharma‘. the law at the heart of the world and at the heart of every individual. which if respected. is the guarantee of peace and order in the world. In the three plays that

beliefs. legends and stories in Indian life and literature. Written in Sanskrit. the first known written versions of it date from the 5th or 6th century BC and it developed over

sense. And the story told in the poem is the story ofa family. but it is also the story of mankind. telling how a royal family of Cousins come to quarrel and have a huge

uncluttered modern English. and often very funny. was translated by Peter Brook and was premiered last year in Salzburg. ln (ilasgow the plays are presented individually on

follow. the boy and Vyasa remain on stage. watch and become involved. as the story is told of how the families quarrel and cause a terrible war.

the next thousand years. to find a definitive form around AD 400— but additions have been made right up until the 20th century.

The nearest we can come to an


The infamous tons ofclay necessary to stage The Mahabharata in Glasgow‘s former Museum of Transport are only the beginning of Peter Searle’s problems.

As Technical Director (Glasgow) for the production. it has been his task. and obvious pleasure. to transform the vast. leaky museum (formerly a tram-building works) into the very special theatre required by Peter Brook and his company.

Director. Brook. like so many of his clan. asks for the deceptively simple; ‘()ne needs the opposite of a stage. In most plays the action is on the other side of a window. We want to feel that the audience and the actors are sharing the same natural space.” In Avignon and Adelaide. the obvious solution was to perform out ofdoors. For the ‘cold countries‘. the answer. says Brook. was to find ‘somewherc where the earth on the ground fits naturally with the walls: somewhere with a feeling that life has gone through it.’

Forty potential venues were vetted by the Glagow Festival organisers. Neil Wallace and Bob Palmer. The Transport Museum was chosen at the end of last year. giving three months for the mammoth task of transformation. ‘At that time I saw the show in New York .’ says Peter Searle. ‘After the first play I thought. what‘s the point'.’ There’s no way we can do this in (ilasgow.‘ Searle soon realised that (to borrow a phrase from Peter Brook). his work was not to imitate but to suggest.

The result is. he says. quite different from New York. The clay. from a local quarry. makes a living. warm golden floor. ‘the biggest stage in Scotland by a long way.‘ The main nave of this cathedral among

10 The List 15 28 April 1988

all-encompassing war. employing the ultimate deadly weapons. It

possibly has some basis in a real war

: that happened thousands of years i B(‘. its awesome relevance for the

! theatres is 57ft long. and is framed by

' lofty brick walls. some the sand-blasted originals and some

specially created with a deliberate. crumbling air; a 75ft long river flows across the back of the stage. and a great red cliff. dotted with hand—holds looms over all.

Ilaving somehow created the awesome landscape within ten weeks. Searle and the team of designers. builders and technicians i sat ‘like schoolchildren' on Sunday ) night. while Peter Brook inspected ; their work. ‘We were all thinking.

i what if he doesn‘t like it‘.’ but he was thrilled with it.’ says Searle.

j The long-term future ofthc

| Transport Museum is most

l uncertain. Due for demolition after l the production ends in mid-May. it

will need a quick rescue package

separate nights. and in marathon all-day performances of the whole cycle (one overnight).

from (ilasgow‘s councillors after the elections on 10 May. Bob Palmer will be fighting for its continued use as a venue for events ofall kinds. as long as they're big. Peter Searle is. for the moment. still concerned with the leaky roofand building control regulations. lle surveys his theatrical landscape with satisfaction: ‘After all. you don't have the luck to build so many theatres in a lifetime.‘ During the Marathon showings of all three plays of The Mahabharata. there are two intervals. one of halfan hour and the other ofan hour. During the intervals and before the show. there will be a licensed bar and buffet-style food will be available. Catering is by The Drawing Room of (‘lyde Street and Cafe lndia of North Street. Glasgow. Julie Morrice


We learn of the mysterious origins of the family. The poet Vyasa himselfis at once creator. teller and part of the story early on he has to help continue the family line (and the story) by fathering the two sons whose families fall out. Vyasa is so dirty however that of the two princesses he makes love to. one closes her eyes at the sight of him and the other turns pale. Their sons are therefore called Dhritarashta. the Blind and Pandu. the Pale.

Dhritarashta marries Gandhari and they have one hundred sons- the Kauravas. Pandu takes two wives. Kunti and Madri. but he is cursed so that if he makes love to either ofthem he will die. The two wives therefore invoke the gods to conceive: Kunti gives birth to Yudishsthira (son of Dharma. therefore wise. flawless and a born king). Arjuna (a perfect warrior) and Bhima (the strongest of men). Madri gives birth to Nakula and Sahadeva. as inseparable as patience and wisdom. These then are the five Pandavas. cousins of the one hundred Kauravas.

Bhishma. the great uncle ofthe cousins and a wise and saintly man. tries to bring up the cousins together. but they are already becoming rivals. During an archery contest. Arjuna, the fine warrior. is challenged by a newcomer. Karna (who is in fact a son of Kunti. fathered by the sun. and therefore Arjuna‘s half-brother). They quarrel. however. and Karna swears to fight Arjuna one day.

The Pandavas marry one wife. Draupadi. the paragon ofwomen. and befriend Krishna (Krishna is the human form of Vishnu. one of the three gods. Brahma the Creator. Shiva the destroyer. and Vishnu). The oldest Padava. Yudishsthira becomes king and reigns splendidly. But the Duryodhana. eldest ofthc hundred Kauravas. is jealous of his cousin‘s power and happiness. He discovers that Yudishsthira has one weakness: gambling. He challenges him to the famous game of dice Yudishsthira gambles his family away and is banished to exile in the