Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

Title: Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Pages: 372
Genre: Mythology

Given my penchant for hoarding books inspired by Mahabharata, I had this one too lying on my book-shelf for months now. After finishing Badrinath Chaturvedi’s ‘The Women of the Mahabharata’ (which by the way is another good book on the subject), I picked this up for reading.

I have read about 10 books on Mahabharata, and if I were to suggest one book that you should read on the subject, I would highly recommend this book. It amazingly captures everything I have read in those 10 books (in just 372 pages with illustrated drawings also for better understanding). The flow is smooth, the language is lucid and it goes much beyond than merely telling a unidimensional story. After every chapter, the author tries to explain the practical aspects behind the stories that we have heard, so that there is better clarity, for e.g., birth of 100 kauravas, birth of 5 pandavas, and several other things. It is perhaps the best thing that the author has done. Otherwise whenever we read such stories we are left wondering how this or that could actually happen, because there is way too much exaggeration.

It is for the first time, I came to know about the story of Shakuni, which I also found on Wikipedia later. The only things I found missing in this book, as also in any other book on Mahabharata that I have read, are a little more perspective on Duryodhan, and a little more about the ‘danveer’ aspect of Karna. Duryodhan has been known to be a good king, while Karna’s danveer nature has been known to all. Otherwise, I found this book perfect.

A few questions which I found myself pondering about, after reading this book were:
  • Mahabharata is said to be a war for ‘dharma’ but actually if you see, Pandavas (with help from Krishna) flouted more rules to kill their enemies than Kauravas. The only time Kauravas overlooked the rules was when Abhimanyu was killed in Chakravyuha, and when Ashmathhama lights a fire in Pandava’s camp and also kills Dhrishtadyumna and all five sons of Draupadi. On the other side, Pandavas killed Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Duryodhana and even Jayadratha by folly.
  • If you look at it, Pandavas might not have won, had it not been for Krishna
  • The irony of Mahabharata was that while the Kauravas were killed and went to heaven, Pandavas were left to rule a kingdom of corpses, widows and orphans.
  • Kauravas and Pandavas were fighting for the right to the throne, but the truth was that neither of them were from the true lineage of the Kuru dynasty
  • Yudhishthir, in all the books that I have read, comes across as a weak character. He loses everything in the game of dice, even his wife; and when Draupadi gets their freedom back from Dhritarashtra, he again loses his right on the kingdom and gets for Pandavas and their wife thirteen years of exile. What a man!
  • How can Yudhishthir be forgiven of the adharma of manipulating his mother’s words to marry his younger brother’s wife!
  • There are 2 things which I have never been able to comprehend. First, just because Kunti asked the brothers to share the alms, how can they share a wife! Secondly, why nobody objected to Draupadi’s humiliation in the court. Which dharma allows it?
  • Frankly, this so-called dharma elaborated in such detail in the epics have all been written by men and they have some really weird perspectives on what a woman should do.

Well, anyways, this book in undoubtedly fabulous. Go for it. 

Check out my compilation of Books on Mahabharata here.    

Image courtesy: http://devdutt.com


  1. I think am getting this book. After reading Palace of Illusions my interest in Mahabharata has increased!!!

  2. Definitely get it. You would love it. Happy reading!

  3. Great review! I loved it, and will have to get the book soon.

    I haven't read any books on Mahabharata yet, but always wanted to read one.

    I have read the Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das which talks about characters from Mahabharata but is different from ones that contain stories about it. That's a great read by the way.

    I think I will have to get this one soon. Thanks for your review!

  4. @ Manshu - Yes, it is a great book and if this is going to be the first book on the subject, it is just perfect. Simple, easy-to-read and quite a page-turner.
    Btw, I have got 'the Difficulty of being good'. Haven't read it yet though!
    Thanks for dropping by :-)

  5. Seems an interesting read.

    Another book by Devdutt Patnaik - Myth and Mithya is also nice, though it is more like a handbook of mythology ... Would suggest to read it also, if you wish to. Apart from hat, Yuganta by Irawati Karve is also an interesting take on Mahabharata.

  6. Most of what I have read about Mahabharata, there are certain answers that I have come across for the points you have put up.
    -- The attempted murder of Pandvas at Lakshagrah and poisoning of Bheem easily tell who flouted the norms. Mhbrt was not only about the war it was the situations leading to the war as well.
    -- The point should not be about what Pndvs got after the war, it should be about what kind of city they left for Parikshit. They were not after the wealth. It was the fight for their right and their survival.
    -- Losing a game of dice doesnt make Yudhishthir weak. And once into the game, the intensity and humiliation of a loss and the hope of recovery keep the player from withdrawing. Maybe he played because he thought it as the easy way out rather than going to war. Maybe he wanted to avoid war at all costs. He lost and paid the price. He held his dignity and should be applauded.
    -- It wasnt he who molded his mothers words. Vyasa himself describes the insecurities of Kunti when she observed how all of her sons were enamored with Draupadi when they brought her home. To avoid the feeling of jealousy and disharmony amongst brothers she took that decision of marrying her off to all of them. Yudhi simply illustrated that its not against dharma by quoting a story from the past.

    Its a great epic and the more we discuss the more we learn about it :)

  7. @Naren - Thanks for writing in your views. Mahabharata is a great epic and any number of discussions will only throw more light into this great story. It never fails to amaze me.
    I can buy all your arguments but I will never accept any argument on why betting Draupadi was necessary.

  8. Hey.... Lovely review... I am interested in reading Mahabharta.... I have no idea about it.... Shall i go for this book or will you recommend some other?

    And do you have any idea of what book shall I pick up for The Ramayana.


  9. @Aman: Thanks for dropping by. If you want to start with the basic story, then C. Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata can be the starting point, and then this one. Of course, there are several interpretations of Mahabharata to explore. But you can start with these two. Thanks for your feedback, I will incorporate the email thing.
    I have not explored Ramayana as yet, but know one - C. Rajagopalachari's Ramayana. You can google interpretations of Ramayana.

  10. Thank you so much... I have ordered both the books....

  11. I just hope you enjoy both the books. Mahabharata is one interesting story and I have already read so many interpretations and yet I never feel bored. It always sounds new, there are several perspectives to it, it is truly multi-dimensional.
    Do share your feedback on the books.......

  12. Thanks for the review.

    Although its difficult to accept that abridged versions can do justice to the story of Mahabharata, I'll definitely check this one out!

    PS :
    Link for those who are looking for an Unabridged version of the epic Mahabharata :


    Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata#English_translations

    There exists a Critical Edition of 13000 pages from Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, but it is in Sanskrit.

  13. @ Abhi - Thank you so much for the links. I know, abridged versions cannot do justice to the original but 'Jaya' is something which took me by surprise. I have read several versions (but not the original as yet) and 'Jaya' seemed to capture all the essence in one book. It is so reader-friendly, I think it can act as an introduction to Mahabharata for the beginners, who have discovered the multiple dimensions and layers of Mahabharata. It is definitely a must-have for all Mahabharata fan though.

  14. @Nik - Sorry, somehow I missed your comment here. Yes, I have read the Yuganta, and it has been one of the best books I have ever read! 'Yajnaseni' is another one. Actually, Yajnaseni opened my eyes to the fact that there are several versions of Mahabharata with different perspectives. Thanks for dropping by!

  15. Found this article when I deciding to buy the book. You have mentioned few points about Mahabharata. I made some observations about them.

    1) No other husband stopped Dharma because Dharma was on Kaurava side as Yudhistir promised kingdom and wife.

    2) The reason how everyone dies is because of their karma. Even Krishna was killed in a fight. Drona, Karna, Duryodhana had to pay for their karma.

    3) On Yudhistir, I wonder if Mahabharata says that men who stand by their word (Dharma) might have to pay huge price in their lives!

    4) Betting Draupadi was, I thought, a foolish and insane idea. Yuganta brings this out beautifully. Draupadi apparently said to Yudhistir, 'am I your slave?'

    If she was his slave, how can a wife be a man's slave? On the other hand, if she wasn't his slave... why didn't people like Bhishma object her betting?

    Yuganta, as you mentioned in one of the comments, I thought is a decent read. Though I have reservations on some narrations in it.

    Very intriguing! Mahabharata is one story that will haunt all our lives.

  16. @dolphin : thanks for sgaring your views and I second your words that Mahabharata is one amazing tale! I think one can just read Mahabharata all her life and yet keep finding out new perspectives! What fills me with angst evey time I read about Draupadi's fate, is the fact that all our stories commodify women or let me put it this way, women are always in the background and even all the blame for such battles and war in Ramayana and Mahabharata are attributed to Sita and Draupadi respectively. Why all our stories are from male point of views. What also intrigues me always is the fact that in Mahabharata it is often said what is the duties of a woman or say a lower caste, which in fact are all created by men. How could these be defined as Dharma?

  17. @Reema

    Totally! I forgot to mention it. I hated the fact mentioned in Yuganta that 'friendship can only be between equals' (Drona and Drupada). And to divide people by their castes is ridiculous.

    From what I know, Vedas said that people are sudras not by birth but their deeds. Hence, a person born as brahmin will be a sudra if his deeds are bad and vice-versa.

    May be humanity has evolved from that time for good as we are more aware today that one should treat all people the same way.

    It is also beyond me why women were mentioned merely as mothers and wives but not nothing more, as you mentioned.

    Thank you for the wonderful blog! I am now looking to read the next book on Mahabharata (from your post - http://recommendbooks.blogspot.com/2009/03/yajnaseni-by-pratibha-ray.html).

  18. @Bhanu - I agree with you. To come to think of it, I don't agree with a lot of things there :-) I am glad you are reading 'Yajnaseni'. It was the first book which made me hunt for several other perspectives, and I'm eagerly waiting to read one with Duryodhan's perspective. He has always, everywhere been painted black. I read somewhere that he was a good king. He can't be so vicious! There's definitely more to the story!

  19. I ordered Yajnaseni. Got hold of 'The Palace of Illusions' by Chitra Banerjee. Started reading it.

    I will let you know what I think of it as I finish it!

    I always thought Duryodhana as Ravana of Mahabharata but better than him. This might help you as well (from Bhima's perspective)


  20. @Bhanu - Aha, I already have several versions of Mahabharata, and 'Second Turn' is just one of them. It is from Bhim's perspective. It goes beyond the general image of Bhim as a glutton. It is another good book which you can read. There are others like 'Mrityunjaya', 'Yugandhar', 'Parva', ' And now let me sleep', etc, etc. Most of these are translations. I will reserve my comments on Palace of Illusions, until you read it :-)

  21. There's so much read!

    I will try to get my hands on as many as possible :D

    Thanks for the recommendations once again!

  22. Absolutely, ther's so much to read! And I have just started discovering new perspectives on Ramayana. I would really like to explore it because it has been too unidimensional all these years! Please share your views once you have read the books, and also if you discover new perspectives :-)

  23. Hi,

    I finished reading Palace of Illusions (review here - http://bookseyereads.blogspot.com/2012/01/palace-of-illusions-by-chitra-banerjee.html). Thanks for recommending the book!

    I liked her writing so much that I finished another book by her, Queen of Dreams and began The Unknown Errors of Our Lives.

  24. @Bhanu Kamapantula- Now that you have read it, I can tell you that I did not particularly like her take on Mahabharata. I had read several other versions before reading this and this did not match up to other literature on Mahabharata. But I would still recommend it to people who are initiating into Mahabharata. It is easy to read and relate to.

  25. I read lot about Mahabharata and the war kurukshetra in wikipedia,articles,blogs. Now I got this book just two days back and read almost half..it makes me to finish up in one sitting.
    I wonder, polygamism was soo prevailing in those days.

    1. You are right. Polygamy was extremely prevalent but in most cases marriages signified collaboration between kingdoms. Many times the wives stayed back in their kingdoms.
      All said and done, Mahabharata is extremely fascinating. I think I should have a page dedicated to the books based on Mahabharata and Ramayana.
      Thanks a lot for dropping by :-)

  26. Hey Reema, maybe you should watch the Star Plus show Mahabharat. It answers quite a few of your questions. Yudhisthira is against betting Draupadi, but he is forced to for the Kauravas question her character. He is supposed to bet everything he prides on and he is forced to accept that though Draupadi is married to 5 men, she is pure and is his pride.

    1. Hi Suhasini, Thank you for dropping by. Hmm, I have vaguely heard about Mahabharata running on TV at the moment but since we are a no-TV household, I haven't seen it yet. May be I will catch it on YouTube. I like the sound of it. Thank you for suggesting :-)