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upākhyāna

The serialisation model

K. Ayyappa Paniker, Indian Narratology, New Delhi, Sterling, 2003, pp.6—8

Serialisation implies the structure of the typical Indian narrative, which seems to prefer an apparently never-ending series of episodes to a unified, single strand, streamlined course of events, centring around a single hero or heroine and whatever happens to the central character. Homer could highlight the wrath of Achilles in Iliad, […] the structure is so tight as to keep off everything that is not particularly relevant. The Indian epic, on the other hand, is made up of episodes, some of which are detachable without any detriment to the total frame. In Mahābhārata, for instance, there are the episodes or upākhyāna-s relating to Nala or Śakuntalā; these provide a sort of expansiveness to the central story, but are not integral to it.

The long narrative in India is reminiscent of the Indian temple or palace architecture: there are many entrances, many archways, many substructures, which give to the whole structure a spatial extension: the mini temples dedicated to minor deities or mini palaces occupied by young princes or princesses or concubines reassure the sumptuousness of the divine or royal splendour, but are not essential parts of the central authority. They may be vacant or disused or damaged, but that does not affect the power of the presiding deity or royalty. The villages of India too are structurally identical to this: they may look ramshackle to the westerner who has his own idea of how a well-kept rural set-up should be like. It is not that the Indian village has no cohesiveness, but it is organised on a very different idea of social cohesion and space management. The episodic looseness of the Indian narrative allows for variations in tone and style in the middle of the work; even gaps are provided for as a part of the system; and wherever necessary, a song or dance or variety show could be inserted to fill the gaps when it is felt necessary. […]

This decentralisation in a way contributes to the internal richness of the human experience adumbrated in a long narrative. The medieval campu-s in Indian languages too display such an organisation. The apparent looseness results from the serial nature of the work, which makes it collapsible as and when needed, and provides an openness to the text: any new item or episode can be added or inserted, just as any old item or episode can be removed or eliminated.