Wednesday, February 15, 2017


All these years, there was a thought in the back of my mind which surfaced now and then, like a migratory bird which keeps on taking the same route over and over again and it has lately been picking furiously at me: read Mahabharat.

So I picked up an abridged version of the massive original text, Mahabharat A Modern Rendering by Ramesh Menon. The book is written in contemporary English and thankfully there are no traces of prudish archaic Victorian prose. Though it is an abridged version, it has around 1500 pages and appropriate credit must be given to the author for his handling of the plot while keeping the pace of the story tight.

These are my biased opinions on the story and its characters, reading which was an epic journey of a month in itself for me. The fact is, I can't write anything unbiased; In India, almost every child grows up with the bits and pieces of the stories from the epics of Mahabharat and Ramayan and I was no exception to that. I have fond memories of them. Though unrelated to Mahabharat but just to exemplify the memories related to Indian epics, I played a part as "Ravan" in our 7th grade skit which poked fun at Ramayan and such a bad-ass time we had preparing and presenting that 30 minute skit during the annual cultural fest in the school.

If my views sound unintelligible or confusing, please bare with me because I haven't read the reference text of about 13000 pages, which might have enough room to explain some of my doubts.

1. Yudhishtira and Vidura are very much the heart of the earthly wisdom which is conveyed through their conversations with various characters. Especially the advice of Vidura to Dhrutrashtra just before the war begins is pure ethics and full of wisdom with which it can easily compete with the Bhagwad Gita and can even beat Gita for the agnostic/atheist souls including me.
2. Duryodhan ended up in Heaven even if he was the key antagonist in the great war. Why? Only the reason that he died as a Kshatriya on a battlefield sounds hollow in the present context of the world. Maybe at time in the Vedic Indian kingdoms, it might have had the utmost importance for a Kshatriya to die in battle. He was quite an interesting character though; probably the full text has enough stories about him which throws light on good dimensions of his character besides his greed and envy of Pandavas.
3. Krishna's character seem manipulative as well as arrogantly high brow at times. He is quite frequently referred as the Blue One with a smile on his face. I asked the whole time whenever his mystic knowledge of everything was hinted, if he thinks he can get rid of the darkness all by himself then why does he wait for the bloodshed and let it happen instead of cleaning the negative things himself with just a flick of his wish: Maybe then we won't have a story to read and maybe to acknowledge that destiny is not something which even the God incarnate can bend.
4. Karna is probably the most cursed and probably that is why also the most beloved character for many people including me. How he is forsaken since his very birth, how he gets cursed twice, how Indra himself weakens him by asking for his golden armor and golden earrings as charity, how he is told just before the war who he really is and what really belongs to him, even after all the revelation, how he renounces it and how he fights for the sake of loyalty and his friendship with Duryodhana and dies for him is a tragic life story in itself. "Mrutyunjan" by Shivaji Sawant is on my to-read list for 2017 ;) It tells the story from Karna's perspective and the most amazing thing is that the original novel is written in Marathi!
5. The female characters of the story definitely play the most pivoting roles. Kunti and her gift of the Mantra to summon any god she wishes ends up procreating the demigods called Pandavas from different gods as fathers. Draupadi and her timely "bitchiness" instigates the hatred between the cousins. Matsyagandha and her family's conditions before agreeing to marry Shantanu ends up in a lifelong celibacy for Bhishma. It all beautifully boils down to the finality which is the cruel war.
6. I enjoyed reading the "Adi Parv" which craftily develops the backdrop for the enmity between the Cousins: Kauravas and Pandavas. Especially the role of the Vyasa, the original author of Mahabharat, who keeps on coming in the story and even helping keep the Kuru line alive by fathering Dhritrashtra and Pandu who are fathers of Kauravas and Pandavas respectively. The story of how Vyasa himself is born as well as how the hundred Kauravas come to the world is bizarre and pretty interesting.
7. The role of Bhishma is also confusing given that he was one of the wisest ones in the story, but still he turned a blind eye to the whole game of dice and Draupadi's harassment. Maybe because he was indebted to Dhritrashtra and his sons for providing for his respected place in the Kindgom.
8. The Bhagwad Gita section of the story is actually the most boring part of the book. It is full of esoteric metaphysics of Hinduism told by Krishna while he freezes time on the battlefield when Arjuna is heartless and looses the courage to fight and kill his cousins, elders and teachers. But for sure, I will read Gita in itself someday with enough time to ponder upon what Krishna says. Probably I am not going to buy most of the Godly stuff in it anyway but from the cultural and philosophical point of view it will be an interesting undertaking.

After getting involved for days on end with the intertwining plots including wise old rishis who either mediate, lustly shed their semen with seductive Apsaras or angrily destroy someones life with their curses or bestow lavish boons, handsome and evil princes, ugly as well as glorious rakshasas, gods(not the God), weapons, oaths and other fantastic stuff, it is not astonishing that I felt void at the end of the war, when pretty much every interesting character is dead. I felt pity for Yudhishtira who was himself drastically depressed though he became the emperor of the Kurus after the gruesome war. At the end after settling peace in the world for decades in form of Yudhishtira's kingship, the death of Krishna and his people is solemn and portrays how it was all destined to be and how even God incarnate binds to the laws of fate and curses.

Finally a quote from the Bhagwad Gita which I came across during the post-reading research which left me with an arcane feeling: "You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies."  


  1. Vaishali Khairnar22 February, 2017 09:50

    Hey, Nice Blog! :) Khup changlah lihitos.