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Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata - Book Review

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Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling Of The Mahabharata

Book Title: Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Author: Devdutt Pattanaik

Approx Leisure Read Time: 320 – 360 min

Review:  Impressions first. Book’s cover is really eye catching. The illustration of Arjuna and Krishna on the chariot on the front cover indicated to me how the book is going to treat the Mahabharata. It somehow told me, ‘Look, if you are looking for meaning in life and want to get all the answers, then please stop, this one is more suitable as a brisk read for those who want to know what the fuss is all about this great Hindu epic called Mahabharata. For a deeper meaning of the incidents, find some other retelling. And that’s what exactly I found it to be. Fast paced, hard to keep down and interesting (for the fact that author seems to have done a bit of research and this is his synthesis of various versions of Mahabharata from various regions of the world.

Almost every Indian has come across Mahabharata, sometime in their life and has an inkling about its story in some form or the other. Whether its a myth or history will always be a matter of debate, but its an epic in true sense of the word. There have been many attempts in its retelling by various people over the years. What this has done to a story is that, various opinions have crept in, side stories have got attached as a part of the main story etc. And the interpretations and retellings would keep building up on that. Eventually it takes the form of an epic as it is heralded as today. Mahabharata, the epic has multitude of characters and their story of the consequences of their actions has been woven into a great tale with attempts to synthesize the meaning and reason for the existence of this very epic.

What Mr Pattanaik has done with his attempt is to try to bring together all the various versions of the epic from various regions of the world and compile them and highlight where they differ in form of short notes at the end of each chapter. He also paints and assimilates the VishnuPurana as a part of the greater storyline while Ramayana as a story of a more historic timeline and try to weave a story of what happens when humans don’t uphold dharma on earth which seems to be the underlying motto of Indian Mythology.

For me this book has been a quite an interesting read, as I never before had went into the details of this epic story. Now I know it, though superficially and can relate when others mention a situation or a behavioural tendency that we aren’t supposed to harbour. I said superficial because, the book takes you through the entire story at a brisk pace but delving deep into only some parts of the story, skipping various details of interactions between characters unless it helps the story move ahead overall.

If you want to dive deep into the mythology, then this book will not satisfy that expectation. Read it as an interpretation and a skeletal version of Mahabharata to well verse yourself with the story. I gave it four stars because it compelled me to think about how a story over many retellings has become soo big? Was it real? Or imagination has been playing its part all along its development to what it is today. Go to Amazon to get your copy.

Note: I came across this book first during my MBA days when my batchmate and friend Garima Shah showed me what she was reading at that particular time. I was fairly surprised by her choice of the book when we all were trying to groom ourselves to be business leaders one day. Anyways, the book stuck in my mind and few months back I came across it and I picked it up. The story that the book retells does seem to teach us something, “It teaches us to be better”. Thanks Garima. I wouldn’t have picked it up, if not for the encounter that day.

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