Book Review · Books

The Mahabharata Retold


The timeless epic Mahabharata or, more accurately, Jaya has been translated into numerous languages and adapted into various formats for dissemination to the hoi polloi. From oral narration, TV serials to e-books the Mahabharata has been a popular source of entertainment and spiritual support to countless generations of Indians. The gospel of God – The Bhagavad-Gita – is a small part of this epic.

Jaya by Dr Pattanaik is a delightful adaptation and serves as a good introduction for the modern youth who do not time to sit and wade through the original text with its countless repetitions.

This sentence could not have been understood by me as a teenager four and half decades ago before the cyber-age, “Thus the ninth night marks the shift from binary logic to fuzzy logic, where lines are not so clearly drawn between points of view”.

BY the end of narrative, it is quite obvious that it was not about a straightforward battle between good and evil but more like a struggle for supremacy between changing shades of grey. The Pandavas accompanied by the scheming and devious Krishna break every possible rule of ‘good’ conduct at every turn of the chronicle – be it on the battle-field, in dealing with women and the numerous illegitimate offspring sired by them, diplomacy and statecraft.

Besides Krishna’s gospel there are other soliloquies about morality, viz, those by Ashtavakra and Bhishma. The latter says this as he lies dying (made into a pin-cushion slyly by a gender changing Shikahandi),” Our merits create fortune. Our demerits create misfortune. Merits bring us joy. Demerits bring us sorrow. We are thus fettered by karma. Karma binds us to the material world, compels us to be born and compels us to die. No one can change this, except one. That one is God. Pray to God to cope with the fetter of karma”.

The comments by the author at the end of each chapter offer his insights and those from other interpretations of the Mahabharata.

One thing stuck in my craw – the author claims that in the 18-day war over one billion two hundred and twenty million were killed! This figure is surely an exaggeration.

The highly stylized illustrations by the author add zing to the book.


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