A brief about this series if you are reading this part first - The Great Indian Epics series is a multi part post on the Mahabaratha and Ramayana. More specifically, reviews on the books based on these two epics (those that I have read so far). The intention is to encourage readers to pick up a few themselves, enjoy and benefit from knowing about these two epics that are verily epitomes of our culture and to feel proud of our great and ancient history.
You can read Part 1 here.
Mahabaratha being a personal favorite between the two, I start with that :)
Mahabaratha - By C. Rajagopalachari
To be able to read extrapolations of sub plots and creative re-tellings, one must first know the original version. I recommend 'Mahabaratha '- By C.Rajagopalachari for this purpose. The Mahabaratha is a huge epic and the himalayan proportions of names, relations between them, and sub stories can puzzle any reader.
In his book, Rajaji tells us the main story with the most important details along with the necessary sub plots. Very well written and an absolute page turner, this book can be the one to educate the reader about the epic in totality. I read this book when I was in class 6 and to this day, this one remains to be my favorite version. Today,as I write this post, I can still see in my mind's eye, the scene of Arjuna shedding his disguise as Brihanalanna, twanging his Gandhiva as the chariot rolls into the battlefield and shooting arrows at the feet of Bhishma and Drona as he passes by, as a sign of respect. I can still fell the goosebumps that sprouted in my hands and the awe that filled my 11 year old self as I read it. So vivid and enthralling is Rajaji's storytelling.
I strongly feel that especially children who are going to read the epic for the first time must read this kind of a relatively puristic version before they start thinking about how it could have otherwise been. It creates a sense of awe and respect for our country and it's culture before it is put under scrutiny and validation. It is certainly not wrong to do so, but one must know well before questioning, is it not?!
Yajnaseni - By Pratibha Ray
'Yajnaseni' is Mahabaratha retold from Draupathi's perspective.As the title suggests, Draupathi or Yajnaseni (the one who emerged from the Yagnyakunda or the portals of the sacrificial fire) is the protagonist in this retelling.
Drapathi is addressed as 'Krishnaa' in the book, a name she gets because of her dark coloured skin. As a dark skinned beauty, a voracious reader and a woman with high intellectual prowess, she stands out amongst the 'usual' royal women who are drunk with vanity and revel in their pampered lifestyle.
One of the main themes of this book is Krishnaa's love for her Lord Krishna. She is the lord's 'Sakhi' who pines for his company and her devotion for him shines forth in the book. Pratibha Ray also highlights Draupathi's sense of helplessness over her destiny. She makes the reader thoroughly empathise with the lady whose wishes are always overruled by what is meant to be.
Another strong emotion that is felt by the protagonist and makes a lasting impression on the reader is the futility of war. The book beautifully brings this out through Drapathi's thoughts, as she watches the massacre, its aftermath and the pointlessness of a kingdom won after so much bloodshed. This is something we will all do well to have in mind in the present day world too.
The book is very well written and is a beautiful extrapolation of the epic from the eyes of one of the most important characters of the epic.
Note - I read this book about ten years back and have highlighted whatever my memory has retained. Originally written in Odia by Prathiba Ray, the English translation by Pradip Battacharya is a delight to read.