Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ramblings on a Wondrous Epic - Mahabharata!

I am a mythology buff. Indian mythology to be precise. The traditions, the folklore, the little known legends, the trivia, and the facts – they fascinate me to no end. I love reading them over and over again and I haven’t yet found another culture such as ours that is so rich in traditions, myths, customs and legends.

And my most favourite of them all is the epic – MAHABHARATHA. I have lost count of the number of times I have read this, watched this, the number of viewpoints on this and the underlying and interconnected backstories as well as the intricate strategies employed in them. And always it is interesting to read the lore, albeit from different viewpoints or just the story as such. So far, one of the best versions that I have read has to be “Jaya” by Devdutt Patnaik.

I recently read 2 more versions of it. One was a story written from Karna’s second wife – Uruvi’s viewpoint! (I didn’t even know Karna married twice. I always thought he was married only to Vrushali.) and the other was a story from Duryodhana’s viewpoint. Both interesting and thought-provoking in their own way. Out of all the various versions of the epic that I have read (which is a little over 7 versions), as well as all the articles that are minutely related to the saga of one family, I have always been fascinated by the lives of Karna and Arjuna.

2 heroes, one glorified and the other vilified.  Countless verses have been written about these two protagonists, each mighty in their own right. There are stories that champion the cause of how Karna is a better archer than Arjuna and there are others that say that Arjuna was better than Karna, citing examples even.

Back when I read this epic for the first ever time, I was drawn towards the character that was Karna. A kind of empathy for the way his life had turned out. Loyal friend, victim of circumstances, wronged from birth and always misunderstood. However, subsequent versions have led me to believe that there is no one who is fully right or fully wrong in this epic. Each one is but a victim of circumstances. I have read snippets of how Duryodhana was actually named Suyodhana and the “Dur” prefix came in much later thanks to the histrionics of Shakuni and his vile ways!! How much ever, we dissect situations and say that this one did right and that one did wrong, ultimately, there is an underlying reason for the same.

Suyodhana’s love for Subhadra, Karna’s generosity, Draupadi’s lust / love for Karna, Krishna’s strategies and why he brought about the war… the deaths of Ghatotkacha, Iravan and Abhimanyu, etc.. The stories of course are never-ending… but reading through a multitude of versions throws up a lot of questions… and a lot of ifs and buts.. 

The picture below by Molee Art symbolizes my perception of the Mahabharata precisely. 

Krishna as a master puppeteer and everyone else under this master strategist.

                                                  [Pic Courtesy: Master of Puppets, Molee Art

Would the war even have happened had Kunti declared and accepted Karna as her son at the exhibition of the princes’ skills and prowess?

Would Duryodhana have hated Karna after knowing that he was a Pandava?  Or would he have agreed to give away whatever was rightfully theirs, because he valued Karna’s friendship over all?

Did Draupadi really love Karna? Was it only because Krishna told her to that she insulted him at the swayamvar? 

If Karna knew about the curses on him beforehand, why didn’t he do something to overcome / neutralize them, over the course of the years? 

Who was the better archer in fact? Karna or Arjuna? And then what about Ekalavya? What happened to him? 

Is Ashwatthama still alive and roaming about pus and sore-filled somewhere in the world? 

Why did Gandhari choose to suffer alongside her blind husband instead of being the eyes he didn’t have?  Wouldn’t that have been a better choice? 

The one thing that is evident in the entire epic is the cycle of Karma.

If one's action bore no fruit, then everything would be of no avail,
if the world worked from fate alone, it would be neutralized. - 

No one becomes a villain without any reason and everyone is a stranger until you give them a chance! As you sow, so you reap!

Disclaimer: This post initially started out as one just about Karna and Arjuna. As it happens most of the time, it became totally something else. Call it my ramblings about a wondrous epic! And expect many more ramblings in days to come! :-)

PS: If you are interested in reading Mahabharata, do read the following for a different perspective. You should know by now how much I am hooked on to this.

Jaya – Devdutt Patnaik, Palace of Illusions – Chitra Divakarunni Banerjee,Ajaya – Anand Neelakantan, Karna’s wife, the Outcast’s Queen – Kavita Kane, Mrityunjay – Shivaji Sawant, Arjuna  - Anuja Chandramouli, Yuganta – Iravati Karve, Bhima, The Lone Warrior – M T Vasudevan. 


  1. Very good ramblings -:) Keep them coming. Loved it.

    Anand Venkatram

  2. Very insightful ramblings indeed. Thanks for the list of books.

  3. Good one. Please do read the series "Govinda", "Kaurava" and "Kurukshetra" by Krishna Udayashankar.


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