Chariot Carving – 12th Century
PRESS RELEASE: Long Artistic Journey of Award-winning Author
Contact Andy Fraenkel story108 at juno.com
Multicultural storyteller and author Andy Fraenkel recently received two Finalist Awards (Spirituality & Religious Non-Fiction) from 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His book, Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest, is the epic story from ancient India of five princely brothers who were cheated out of their kingdom and banished into the forest. Fraenkel, also a recipient of a 2005 WV Artist Fellowship Award and on the roster of presenters with The WV Division of Culture & History, Artsbridge, and Greater Columbus Arts Council, travels widely offering presentations and workshops at schools, colleges, libraries, museums, and conferences
Fraenkel first became interested in Eastern spirituality as a student at the City University of New York. “I was majoring in theater and working at the college library,” he explains. “At the library I came across several books on Hindu stories. One of them was The Indian Story Book (1914) by Richard Wilson. I turned one of the stories into one-act play for my theater class. The class decided to use my piece as one of four short plays we performed for elementary schools in the New York area.”
After graduating in 1970, Fraenkel left New York and, over the years, was involved with several regional theater groups, including the long-lived Broom Street Theater in Madison, WI. In the early 1980s, after moving to West Virginia, he formed his own group, called the Theater of Understanding, which staged stories from world cultures for schools and colleges. Eventually, Fraenkel made several trips to India, which helped shape a full-length, two-man Mahabharata drama that appeared Off Broadway in 1987 at the American Theater of Actors in Manhattan.
After suffering a heart attack, Andy transitioned to dramatic storytelling and became a member of the National Storytelling Network and the WV Storytelling Guild. He also spent more time writing, and worked on Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest periodically for ten years. With the publication of his book last year, Fraenkel has come full circle since the time he first discovered The Indian Story Book at college. He explains the intent of his rendition of Mahabharata was threefold, “To deliver the story as good literature, to give it a cinematic slant, as potentially the basis for a film, and to keep it at a length that could easily be studied in high school and college classrooms.” His book has received acclaim from scholars across the country.
Fraenkel fondly remembers how he met an old Hindu monk on one of his trips to India. “We had discussed Mahabharata, and before I left him he told me, ‘Once you let the story into your heart, it will never leave you’.”
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ARTICLE: Mahabharata And Our Generational Challenge
By Andy Fraenkel
In 2012-13, as I was bringing my book – Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest – to completion, I kept asking myself: what about the Mahabharata would be most relevant to today’s readers. The book has endured for thousands of years. It’s revered by millions of Hindus all over the world. But what does it have to say to anyone else? Is Mahabharata just for Hindus or does it have a place in world literature, or in the very fabric of our diverse cultures?
The German poet Goethe coined the phrase “world literature” in 1827, and he used it in the context of books transcending national themes. To put it more emphatically, it means literature that speaks to all peoples. Mahabharata is the first of books. The Dharma teachings, the responsibilities of leadership, and warnings of the impending Kali-yuga (our age of darkness) are described as the five thousand year old epic unfolds. It’s not only the first of books, but it’s also the first that can be said to be in the class of world literature. Mahabharata belongs to all of us.
Why? The book itself tells us that what is not found within its pages is found nowhere else. That’s a bold claim to make. Plato commented on two books we consider classical literature – Iliad and The Odyssey. At the time of Plato, those classics were already seven hundred years old. He regarded the books as beautiful poetry and great stories. But he lamented: Where was the philosophy and the moral standards to help guide people to live better lives?
Plato would have liked the Mahabharata. It’s not only good poetry and a great story, but is also the embodiment of dharma. The book exists just to help us understand what is dharma or, in other words, what is our collective moral compass. When we understand the Dharma we can live a life of wellness. That means we live in a balance of both the spiritual and the material. In this way, both the individual and society as a whole prospers.
Dharma has various nuanced meanings. It could mean one’s religion, or occupation, or moral responsibilities to family and society. It could mean ‘the Path.’ On a deeper level, it means who we are and our purpose in life and our eternal relationship with the Divine. All these are addressed in the Mahabharata.
To maintain the Dharma in society requires good leadership. The pillars of Dharma are honesty, compassion, cleanliness and self-sacrifice. In all fields, especially in spirituality, politics and business, leaders need to understand and practice these qualities.
To whom much is given, much is expected. The people who have the most to lose have to make the biggest sacrifices – not just the regular person on the street. The spiritual, political and business leaders have to lead the way. But where is such leadership? This is one of the important generational concerns before us today: to understand what is real leadership and to train leaders who can tackle the formidable challenges of the 21st century. Justice. The environment. The economy. Moral inspiration. We’re mired in some serious problems that are not going to go away soon.
If we don’t know what real leadership is, then it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. Examples of good leadership are very rare in these times. Without it, the philosophy of ‘greed is good’ runs rampant. If the leaders can’t be examples of self-sacrifice, then it becomes OK to give way to our desires, to secure material wealth and pleasure by any means. When we lose sight of the Dharma, greed becomes dominant and society begins to unravel. Understanding the dharma is pivotal to what Mahabharata is all about.
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Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest is ideal for study in colleges and high school courses, for discussions & study of classics and world literature, for yoga groups, book clubs, and is also ideal as a read aloud. In this section I will periodically add suggestions for topics of discussion, points to study, and further suggested readings to assist and encourage readers starting discussion groups. I will also be available for both conference calls and to offers talks and sacred storytelling at conferences and events. Thank you for your support of the Mahabharata Project. If you have any questions or suggests please contact me: story108 at juno.com
1) What does the book’s subtitle, ‘The Eternal Quest’ mean to you? Do you feel you are on a quest? Discuss.
2) Prologue Three – Krishna Tells A Story – introduces the Dharma. One of the essential purposes of the book is to present the Dharma. Dharma could mean our religion, our occupation and our duty to family and society. On a deeper level Dharma means who we are, the Path we are on, and our relationship to God and the world around us., What does Dharma mean for you? What role did it’s teachings (or any aspects of religion or spirituality) play in your upbringing? What was the point of Krishna’s story?
3) In The Vow, Chapter 1, we see how King Santanu, and also his son Bhismadev, interacts with the fisherman. What hints does this give us about the society, and the nature of the king, at that time?
4) Chapter 1 also introduces us to the Vedas. Veda means knowledge. The Vedic literatures are extensive. Many spiritual teachers of India also consider the Bible, Koran, and other such books as part of the Vedic literatures. What books and stories have helped shaped your thoughts and provided insights to your own life’s journey?
5) In Palace Intrigue, Chapter 3, Bhismadev tells a story of King Sibi. Also Drona sends Yudhisthira and Duryodhan off to perform a task. What do these two stories tells us about the qualities of a leader?
6) In The New Kingdom, Chapter 6, we are introduced to the sage Narada Muni. A saintly person can offer guidance on both material and spiritual levels. Narada Muni offers Yudhisthira both types of guidance. Discuss some of the points Narada makes in his teaching.
7) The Mahabharata tells us of many sages. What holy persons or wise persons have played a role in your life? Tell about a person who has inspired you.
8) In Exile, Chapter 8, the Pandavas travel on pilgrimage for over four years. Tirtha means holy place or place of pilgrimage. India has many such places that people visit for spiritual inspiration. The various religious traditions all have their holy places. Is there a special place where you go? What makes it special?
9) In Exile, Chapter 8, on their pilgrimage, Arjuna in the celestial kingdom of Indra, as they enter the Himalayas, and the story by the lake, etc, the Pandavas experience various difficulties. Choose an occurrence and offer your own reflections on what it means and how it strengthens them. — Sometimes in our own spiritual journey we also experience difficulty. Discuss some of those difficulties and what lessons they provide for our own spiritual progress.
10) In The Cosmic Form, Chapter 11, the Bhagavad gita is introduced. What is Arjuna’s plight? And what are some of the foundational instructions on yoga that Krishna gives to Arjuna? (Also – Recommended reading: Bhagavad-gita As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)
11) Right before the great battle begins we have the famous Bhagavad gita – The Cosmic Form, Chapter 11. After the battle we have Bhismadev’s lesser known instructions to Yudhisthira in Grandsire’s Story, Chapter 14. What are one or two points that stand out for you in the Gita and in Bhismadev’s teachings?
12) How does the story Bhismadev tells in Chapter 14, tie in and sheds light on what happened in the beginning of the book after the events in Prologue Two?