Saturday, June 4, 2011


Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata (Amazon, Kindlefrom Flipkart, my review on

Jaya is a fascinating retelling of the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, by author Devdutt Patanaik. While the story of the Mahabharata has been told and retold thousands of times over thousands of years, the story never gets old, nor does its relevance lose relevance. Each honest retelling adds something to our knowledge of this great epic, and each time a reader reads a new retelling, he learns something new about this great epic, and about life itself.

This book is a little different from other retellings because of several reasons

Firstly, it includes tales from regional versions of the Mahabharata, going to places out of India like Indonesia where the Mahabharata is part of the folklore. This helps you become aware of how pervasive this epic is in India and elsewhere.

Second, the organization of the book itself is interesting. It is divided into 18 chapters, and a total of 108 sections. 108, you see, has immense significance in Hinduism. 108 names of Vishnu, 108 beads in a rosary, and so on.

Third, there are comments sprinkled all over that point us, the reader, to specific aspects of the epic, whether they pertain to the status of women in ancient India, or the acceptance of transgenders, or the unintended consequences of karma - a central tenet of the Gita, and much more.

Fourthly, the book takes a critical look at the some of the central characters in the epic - Arjun, Drona, Bheeshma, and others. We often forget that Drona was a brahmin who became a warrior. Was it his dharma to have done so? Was he motivated by a sense of revenge? Of taking revenge on his once childhood friend, Drupada? In acting has they did, each of these characters were doing as they thought their dharma was. Even the rascal Jayadratha - who, along with Duryodhana, believed in "matsya nyaya" - the rule of the fish, as in the larger fish eat the smaller fish. There are observations galore, interspersed after sections and chapters that give the reader occasion to pause and reflect.

Finally, I believe this book is best read if you are already somewhat familiar with the epic. If not, it may be worthwhile to get your hands on a shortened version of the epic and then jump into this book. There is no shortage of books on the Mahabharata. The most common and popular ones are the ones by C Rajagopalachari (Mahabharata), for decades the de-facto starter edition for millions of Indians. This, along with the one by RK Narayan (The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic), are the simplest, but also very sanitized, versions of the epic.

Finally, finally, note that there are some sections in the book that are slightly graphic in nature, and not suitable for reading by young readers. The author notes as much in the introduction.

For those wanting to dive into a multi-year study of the epic, there is the critical edition. One by KM Ganguly (The Mahabharata - a trifle 4900 pages), and a more recent one by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, also known as the Poona edition (The Mahabharata, for the First Time Critically Edited (POONA EDITION: CRITICAL EDITION SET OF 30 LARGE VOLUMES, WITH THE PRATIKA-INDEX)).

This book is a rewarding experience and helps you see the epic in a new light.
Kindle e-book excerpt:


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