Mahabharat is one of the great ‘itihaasas‘ or histories of Indian culture. The other being Ramayana. Is it real or not, I am not the expert. But it is an amazing story. The Mahabharat is supposed to hold the answer to all our problems. It deals with a multitude of issues, dilemmas, lessons. If it could be a soap, it will last for centuries. It has stories and then backstories, then backstories for the backstories. Which has been aptly reflected in the book Forest of Stories by Ashok Banker. I can remember my mother quoting so often from the Mahabharat when faced with a dire situation. Like if we lost a dear one. Mom will immediately say, Draupadi survived the death of her 5 young sons, we will too.
Yudhishthir who is the epitome of righteousness had still made many mistakes even though he walked the prescribed path and never deviated from Dharma. Krishna who is God also commits cheating but he justifies saying it was the only way to win the war. He tells us to focus on the ultimate goal and not on the means to achieve the goal. There is no preaching in the book. Every character is flawed. And many more.
Almost all Indians are familiar with the Mahabharat thanks to TV Serials of the same name. Books retelling the Mahabharat have been around for centuries. Every story has its own elements, spiced with local flavours. It is the ultimate book of war between cousins for gaining power, to become the King.
Another of my favourites is Randamoozham by M T Vasudevan Nair. It is in Malayalam and has an English translation. But the translation is terrible and so not included in this list.
But here, I am selecting three books which have different takes.
It is one of the simplest and clear book I have read on Mahabharat. With fluid language and many unfamiliar stories, it looks at the Mahabharat with a bigger picture. He has provided back stories of many of the events in the book, which will never see the light of day in a visual medium like TV or movie. Sprinkled with illustrations, it is a must read.
This book tells the Mahabharat from a woman’s point of view, that of Draupadi’s. It shows the way a woman lived during the era. As a queen, though the world thinks she has everything, she still feels empty. The book show’s the woman’s way of thinking when it comes to war, her family, her mother-in-law. It shows the relationship between Draupadi and Krishna, Draupadi and Karna. It hints at a romance, an unfulfilled and unacknowledged love between Draupadi and Karna. That was the best in the book.
This book is a great sarcastic take on the Mahabharat which is set in the times of the Indian freedom struggle. The book is humorous. Towards the end, it slows down a bit, but it shows how the Mahabharat is still present in our everyday lives. Though the place, situations and era has changed, the characters remain the same. Shashi Tharoor writes a very witty prose. He has stripped off the mythology of its myths and fantasy stories and given a more realistic rendition. And you pause to think, is it the story of the Mahabharat in the Indian freedom struggle or is it the Indian freedom struggle in the Mahabharat.
I have mentioned only three books here. Let me know your recommendations.