I read this book “Jaya” by Devdutt Pattanaik over the weekend. The book is a retelling of the Mahabharata. Why was I reading this?. Don’t I know already the story of Mahabharat (or) if I am being spiritual then I may be wanting to read Bhagavad Gita (in Tamil from LIFCO here).
This is why. Glancing the book it appeared that Devdutt seems to have told the story in a simple & interesting manner with nice hand drawn illustrations & I have read his writings in Economic Times & enjoy it. My knowledge of Mahabharat has been from stories I have heard, reading Amar Chitra Katha, from TV Serial & Movies – I have not read it in any detail before this. Mahabharata is said to be carrying learnings which are timeless and the epic with all its branch-out stories is always interesting.
Dr.Devdutt Pattanaik is a trained medical doctor, was a E & Y Business Advisor and Chief Belief Office in Future Group (Big Bazaar, Pantaloon). He has written many books on demystifying Indian Mythology, Sacred Stories & rituals. What I like in his columns are his ability to connect what seems to be on surface disparate subjects – Business Management & Mythology; Even when he is talking Mythology the ease with which he brings examples from cultures around the world (Greek, Biblical, Hinduism, Jainism and so on) is something to enjoy & cherish.
Coming to the Book, Devdutt calls his retelling of Mahabharata as Jaya because that is how it had been first titled earlier. Jaya in Sanskrit means Victory, Victory over what is the question the epic tries to answer. The book starts with the customary introduction that characters of Vyasa’s (the great Rishi & author of Mahabharata) tale were people he knew (his grandsons), it had sixty portions & only one part reached humans through his students. Devdutt continues saying that as the tale moved from one storyteller to another, new tales were added. At first it was about an idea. Before long it became not about any idea but about people. It was retitled Bharata, the story of Bharata clan and the land they ruled. The expansion continued, detailed conversations on genealogy, history, geography, astrology, politics, economics, philosophy & metaphysics were included. This is how the Bharata came to be the Mahabharata, the “great” epic of the Indian people. Devdutt says his version of the epic is based on the Sanskrit classic as well as its regional & folk variants, it is firmly placed in the context of the Puranic worldview. No attempt has been made to rationalize it. Some tales in the epic are sexually explicit – and need to read by children only under parental guidance.
For us readers, the book starts with the story of Parikshit (grandson of Great Arjuna & son of Abhimanyu) locking himself in a tall tower isolated for fear of being killed by a snake in seven days due to a curse. Eventually he gets killed and his son Janamejaya being furious organizing a grand yagna (sacrifice) to destroy all snakes. Just then Astika (nephew of Vasuki, King of Nagas) appears before the King and Astika begins to narrate the epic (which is also the story of Janamejaya’s forefathers) and asks him to break out of this circle of vendetta. The telling of the epic ends with Yudhistra entering Vaikund (the supreme heaven) after releasing the true self & winning (Jaya) over himself.
(Above seen is genealogy of Arjuna from the book)
What I enjoyed in the book are the lucid narration style of Devdutt, informative & enjoyable at the same time. The side notes after each chapter that compares & contrasts with versions of the happenings in the chapter with other versions of Mahabharata including Tamil Nadu street dance, Oriya Kathak, Kerala Thaiyyam, Indonesian version & Jain version of Mahabharata – this gives us readers a wide angle to look at the story & understand it. Devdutt also intercepts in these side notes, historical perspectives of the happenings with beliefs and practices that were believed to be prevalent during the time of the particular version of the storytelling – this gives us readers a way to look at how faith & beliefs have been undergoing continuous change from vedic period to european invasion to India.