Jaya – Mahabaratha [Book Review]


Fragments of fragments. That is what every information that pass through our hands, eyes and ears are. We might read hundreds of blogs and pages but what we really take away from them are only very little. And what actually reaches our conscience is even lesser. Like the sands that reach home from the beach. But what we make out of those information is solely on the person’s perceptions. Likewise the great India epic, Mahabaratha, a Pandora box of insightful tales offer us myriad perceptions on worldly living. The epic originally named Jaya and dated around 10 BCE (Before Common Era) has undergone numerous retelling over time through literature, folklore and arts, with pretty & some petty modifications along the way owing to writers imaginations or succumbing to the social norms of the time. It narrates the tale of the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas of Kuru clan, the rift arising out of greed between the brothers and the great battle of Kurukshetra, where the God himself sides with the Pandavas to establish dharma (Justice/Eternal laws of the cosmos) on earth, which he does time and again when there will be decadence.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Jaya An Illustrated Retelling of Mahabaratha” is a refreshing account of the epic directly in line with the original – Sage Vyasa’s Jaya. That is, just concentrating on what the epic narrated without losing into one’s own impressions and imaginations about the epic. Rather than just telling a story he explores the origins (lineage) of the characters, some mythical some human, in parallel provides a brief account of how parts/sub-plots of the epic have transformed in time across the country and beautifully draws out the underlying messages behind what might be perceived as a simple tale. And the simple pencil drawings in each page adds a comical touch picking up the readers interest by surprise.

The story of Mahabaratha is grand with unimaginable twists & turns and at the same time a great learning if one cares to look a bit deeper into it. It talks about karma (our actions and it’s reactions), relationship between Nara & Narayana (Man & God), desire & destiny, the laws of the Jungle and how it doesn’t apply for a Civilization. It is even said that, if it is not found in Mahabaratha then where else. Such is the vastness of knowledge the epic embodies.

Driven by greed the Kauravas trick the Pandavas to exile stripping them off everything they had. Thus the Kauravas’ might is right ways led to their vanquishment, by the God himself breaking the codes of war. Whereas the impoverished Pandavas in exile lived midst threats of numerous hostile beings, learnt from sages they met and the stories they heard. This made them much more stronger and wiser than they were. Thus a seemingly unfortunate situation is a blessing in disguise that could transform one for the better. In one of the stories the Pandavas hear, Savitri who is destined to be a widow follows Yama, the God of death, determined to get back her husband’s soul. Tired of her reckless and determined attitude Yama offers three boons which she uses cleverly to retrieve her husband’s life, altering her destiny. Through this story the author highlights how both destiny and desire are equally-able forces in shaping the future and it is only a matter of choice to act on one or the both.

At one point in exile Yudhistra the eldest of the five Pandavas is confronted by a magical Swan. It offers to return the lives of his four brothers, who just died drinking the the water from the Swan’s lake despite it’s warning, on a condition to answer it’s questions right. Yudhistra being the most righteous and honest man on the earth provided the simplest of answers that are only the eternal truth. Contented with the answers the Swan without another word returned the brothers back alive. Following are some of the exchanges between the Swan and Yudhistra.

“What is more valuable than Gold?”
– “Knowledge.”
“More desirable than Wealth?”
– “Health.”
“Most desired form of Happiness?”
– “Contentment.”
“What measures a man?”
– “Conduct.”
“What is mercy?”
– “Wishing happiness to all.”
“What is simplicity?”
– “Equanimity”
“What is the only thing man can conquer?”
– “Mind.”
“What is the most amazing thing about the world?”
– “Everyday creatures die, yet the rest live as if immortal.”

Indeed these are simplest of answers but within which lies great wisdom. But the human mind naturally would not take in the simple plain truth and keeps looking out for more complex answers. And so our quest to wisdom remains incomplete while the answers lie naked in front of us. Pattanaik’s Jaya is a great book to start with on our journey towards wisdom the path illuminated by the greatest epic Mahabaratha.


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