Everything in the Mahabharata happens twice and everything that happens to one agent with respect to another agent, happens again with respect to that agent and the dual of the other. It is a system of multiplying symmetries such that the ordinary person- without much grasp of the language of exposition- can reflect upon the story and determine for himself that those who quote its authority to further their own ends are lying or deluded or both.
If the Gita contains a theophany of Lord Vishnu to Arjuna, the Kiratajuniya contains the theophany of Lord Shiva to our intrepid, but somewhat bone-headed, hero.
In the Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna to shoot his arrows at will for the truth is that it is not Arjuna who slays but Lord Krishna himself who encompasses the death or injury of the enemy. In the Kiratarjuniya, Arjuna contends that it was his arrow which killed a boar he was hunting, whereas the Kirata Chief considers the prize lawfully his as his arrow had hit the same mark at the same moment. Clearly, both episodes deal with the same question.
What is that question? One answer is to say that it has to do with Freedom and Necessity. Are our actions conditioned such that Freedom is an illusion- we are merely clockwork toys acting upon each other by Leibnizian 'pre-established harmony'? Is God merely a sort of magician or stage-director who has already decided everything that is going to happen, including everything we think we think, and who is simply watching the show for some purpose of his own? If so, what is the meaning of 'karma'? If God has all the power and we have none, it is scarcely meaningful to speak of our sin or merit, our guilt or joy- no power means no agency, no agency means no intentionality or inwardness. Language itself is meaningless. Is life itself merely a delusion or a sort of waking dream or hallucination?
The kiratarjuniya of Bharavi, written in the heroic vein, justifies an optimistic interpretation of the Gita and a positive answer to the question posed in the last paragraph. Arjuna and Lord Shiva (in the guise of the Kirata hunter) fight to determine whose arrow killed the boar- in other words, for the duration of the agon an epochee where life is meaningful exists.. In the Gita, the epochee arises because Arjuna does not want to fight. This is a good thing, because everybody is welcome to kill as many vampires or angels or talking monkeys as they like- precisely because such creatures don't exist. The moment people want to start killing human beings, you need someone to step in and say cut it out buddy. Go take a cold shower.
Unless, of course, they are a God or vampire or talking pony or other such creature which doesn't exist. In that case hie thee to a mad-house, telling them the while that you have already complied with their wishes, everybody is already dead and could they kindly fuck off to heaven or wherever.
The other thing about God is that sure if he turns up claiming your kill as his own, shoot arrows at him. This is okay if he is similarly armed. Don't for fuck's sake shoot arrows at someone who says he's God but isn't shooting at you. That's how you end up with a murder rap.
What I like about Bharavi's kavya is the stress laid on Duryodhana being a good King and the paradox he highlights of Arjuna's practising austerities not for any spiritual purpose but merely so as to get his elder brother an office of profit he has already, by his own free actions, forfeited and which his cousin is occupying in an exemplary manner.
Bharavi lived and wrote at a time when the Nyaya school was flourishing and, (I'm guessing) Purva Mimamsa was going great guns. Intellectually, that's a lot of gristle to be chewing on which, by itself, is going to make its stylistic alamkars that much more interesting to translate.
Furthermore, my guess is, important mercantile castes claiming Kuru descent and adhering to Saivite religion would have had their own performance and bardic traditions in the background to the courtly foreground.
So, there's bound to be meat here is my reasoning.
Lord Shiva's boon to Arjuna tell us something else- Arjuna is being bracketed with Ravana. In a sense the stage is being set for his being a samrambha yogi or virodha bhakta- attaining highest Union to God through hatred, enmity and following an evil course. But, stupidity (Vikshepa) is the greatest metaphysical evil. 'Rama was a King and Ravana was a King' is a Tamil saying. 'Against stupidity,' however as some stupid Kraut said, 'the Gods themselves are powerless'. Yet Krishna and Arjuna- a bit like Buddha and Ananda- are great pals. Arjuna is a bit of a bone-head but you can see why Krishna loves him. In the same way that, in a sense, Ananda becomes responsible for Lord Buddha's death, so too does Arjuna become responsible for Lord Krishna visvarupa theophany- which, since it is an act of condign self-praise, is itself morally equivalent to suicide (this is something Krishna explains when Arjuna expresses an understandable desire to kill his elder brother- not Karna, the one younger than Karna- y'know, the one with the comic name.)
I'll be starting translation of passages from Bharavi in the next week or two and the leading thought in my mind is that it is the Kiratarjuniya which Vivekananda and Tilak and so on ought to have focused on. The fact is the British and their loyalists weren't all that bad. Yet there was a moral argument for the 'garm dal' to challenge them- if necessary by force- compare India's formidable state apparatus to that of Sri Lanka's (after its decimation by the Socialist Mrs. Bandarnaike) and the horrors that Nation endured in consequence, especially in connection with the even more Socialist JVP and ultimate silly-arse marxist nutjob Rohana Wijeweera ( himself, plausibly, a descendant of the Kauravas) and the sort of demonstration effect it had.
It is interesting that 2 of Vishnu's incarnations- Buddha and Vamana are considered to have brought aggressive foreigners, or demons, under control by what was essentially a piece of dissimulation or a disingenuous doctrine.
Perhaps, the Gita's unmatchable grandeur comes from Lord Krishna- the enchanter and beguiler of hearts- sacrificing himself in so many ways to every single sentient being, such that Draupati's indictment of God as mayin and ordainer of karma- 'stained by the sins, he has ordained'- is, in fact, expiated. That too with no diminution of Godhead. Om purnam adah &c.