When my dad kept telling us that there is absolutely no plot, story or angle that the Mahabaratha hasn’t covered, I took it with a ladle full of salt, mistaking erudition for jingoism. Over the years, with every book and movie I watched, I sensed the familiar – of a story told before. And I am nowhere close to even reading 1 percent of the epic in its entirety. I’ve read the different versions of Mahabaratha for Dummies.
The latest read (for me) in the easy to digest books is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The epic from Panchaali’s point of view.
The book is INTERESTING because the epic and Draupadi are, and READABLE because of Divakaruni.
Reading this book, I couldn’t help but pick up the dozens of similarities between the epic and many of my favourite books. In particular the Harry Potter series (recent memory). The conversation between Panchaali and Krishna as the former leaves the material world is resonant of the one between Dumbledore and Harry at the railway station. Not just in substance, but even in the formation of the sentences. Also the walk through woods and Harry’s vision of the departed spirits, and Panchaali’s similar experience. Is it Divakaruni’s interpretation that is similar to the last Potter book? Or is the epic itself. I haven’t read it in its entirety to draw a conclusion on that.
But through out the book, the emotions of the different characters are akin to those of Harry, Snape, Voldemort and Dumbledore.
Then again, we can’t blame Rowling of plagiarism – for the Mahabaratha seems indeed to have covered every possible human emotion, and hence covered every conceivable plot.
Be it Pip’s misplaced loyalty in Great Expectations, the younger one’s frustration in Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, or any of Grisham’s legal pawns, or the jealousy between Betty and Veronica in the Archie’s comics, why even conversations between Calvin and his imaginary pal Hobbes – the stories have been told. At a different time, in a different environment, but told already.
I’ve always preferred the Mahabaratha over the Ramayana, simply because the first had heroes with flaws and villains with virtues, while the latter was about a real whinnie…
Though more learned folks would say that my understanding is limited. I stay with my judgement.
In any case, I do feel we need to be aware of resources other than the Amar Chitra Kathas (awesome as they are) and B R Chopra’s rendition.
This is a good site to refer too as well. http://www.bharatadesam.com/spiritual/mahabharata/index.php
One book that I read and enjoyed immensely is Mahabharata: A Child’s View by Samhita Arni , Tara Publishing. Written and illustrated by Samhita over a period of years and completed before she turned 12!
For more specific reading, http://www.asitis.com/ is a well-explained and organised site on The Gita.