The wonderful thing about our epics is how open-source they are. Over the centuries, people have been free to remix them and interpret them as they like. Indeed, Hinduism itself has been open-source, to the extent that you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. Pwnage, no?
Sadly, in recent times, pseudo-fundamentalist forces have tried to reshape Hinduism as a static, puritanical religion—the same kind of people who protest at Paley’s film, and who object to all kinds of things in the name of Hinduism. They have been strident and militant, and their claims to standing for Hinduism are taken more and more seriously because the counter-claims are too muted. Indeed, the finest counter to the likes of the BJP and the RSS is perhaps not from a standpoint of liberalism or secularism or anything like that, but from a standpoint of Hinduism itself. The intolerance of Hindutva is anti-Hindu—that is a potent case to make, because it strikes at their very raison d’etre.
Having said that, if recent election results are anything to go by, most people get that intuitively anyway.
In related reading, check out this superb interview of Wendy Doniger, on similar lines to the subject of this post. And also my friend Prem Panicker‘s Bhimsen (pdf link), a retelling of the Mahabharata from Bhim’s point of view.