My dear friends Charvi @ Not Just Fiction, Shruti @ This is Lit and Nandini @ Unputdownable Books are back again hosting the Indian Lit Readathon this weekend, motivating us all to read and promote more books written by Indian authors. The theme for this year’s readathon is the Mahabharata and all the challenge prompts derive from the epic. Click on the blog links above to know more about the readathon and how to participate.
As I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to read more than one book for the readathon itself, I have decided to do a recommendations post instead of a TBR. Mahabharata is considered the longest epic poem in the world, and even after all these centuries, it has not lost it’s importance in our life. Through the years, there have been many versions of the epic, some staying close to the spirit of the original, others trying to interpret for a more modern reading; and it’s a pleasure and delight to be able to read it from so many different perspectives. Below are just some of the books which are based on/inspired by the epic and I would love to share them all with you….
If any reader wants to get to know the story of the Mahabharata which is close to the original source, but also prefer it in an abridged format should definitely start with Mahabharata by Kamala Subramanian. It is pretty fast paced and takes us through the major events that occur in the story.
For a slightly more detailed version of the story which also has many chapters dedicated to the Bhagavat Gita and the Kurukshetra war, I would highly recommend this two part The Mahabharata by Ramesh Menon.
While many avid readers of the epic consider Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik as too simplistic, I think it’s an easy introductory book for someone who doesn’t have much idea of the original. However, it can sometimes feel like a disjointed collection of stories rather than a single long one, and that might throw off more newbie readers. As someone who already knows the story, the best part about this book for me were the footnotes, which had some amazing versions of the same tale with respect to the different regions of the country.
Originally written in Bengali, Yajnaseni is the retelling of the Mahabharata from the POV of Draupadi, the Queen of the Pandavas and one of the most fascinating women from Indian literature. This book brings to life the more tragic moments in her life and how she wasn’t really the agent of her own destiny.
One of the most popular retellings of the Mahabharata is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, another told from the POV of Draupadi. This book is excellently written and the character of Draupadi is one of the most memorable you’ll ever read. She is much more strong and resiliently depicted in this book, giving us a deep insight into her thoughts, principles and desires.
Shifting the narrative to the mother of the Pandavas, The Kaunteyas is told from the POV of Kunti. While the story itself is well written, I loved the way this book made us realize the importance of telling stories through the perspectives of women, and how they have historically been prevented from doing so.
I actually haven’t read the finale of this trilogy, and the author takes a lot of creative liberties while telling this story, but it’s brilliantly written. It also has POVs of multiple female characters Ganga, Kunti, Madri and Gandhari, and does a deep dive into their motivations and lives and how they contribute to this epic. All the main male characters who are generally considered the heroes of the epic almost take a backseat in this narration, and I really liked that.
While we are always used to reading the Mahabharata as a story of the struggle between the good Pandavas and evil Kauravas, Anand Neelanatan flips the narration in this duology and tells us the tale of Suyodhana, the eldest Kaurava. The author does a marvelous job convincing us that the Kauravas are not the villains with some very entertaining storytelling.
Translated from the original Malayalam version called Randamoozham, this book is the story told through the eyes of the second Pandava, Bhima – who is probably the strongest warrior in the epic but is often overshadowed by his more heroically written younger brother. I have not completed reading this book yet but I assure you that the way it’s written, it feels like a very personal and human story, making us feel much more attached to the characters.
Originally written in Kannada, Parva is one book on this list I haven’t read yet is because I can’t find a reasonably priced edition of it. But I have heard that the author strips all the mythological elements from the epic, and narrates the epic like a commentary on the socio-cultural elements of 12th century India. I have only read Aavarana by this author before but I was thoroughly impressed, and I can’t wait to search for a copy of this book when I travel to India.
Set in space, A Spark of White Fire trilogy is inspired by the tale of the Mahabharata and the author uses so many of the important thematic elements of the epic to tell us a brand new space opera story, while also neatly bending the fantasy and sci-fi genre conventions. I promise you can thoroughly enjoy these brilliant books without knowing anything about the original, but for those of us who do, there are lots of delightful parallels that make for a very enjoyable reading experience.
In Aru Shah and the End of Time (and Song of Death), the author Roshani Chokshi gives us a brand new middle grade series set in the modern world, while wonderfully juxtaposing it with elements from the Mahabharata as well as the broader themes of Hindu mythology. Just like Rick Riordan’s books, we have gods and their mortal childeren and their quests to stop the end of the world, and it’s a highly entertaining series that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Have any of you read the Mahabharata? Or other versions of this brilliant epic? Are you interested to get to know the story better ? Let me know all your thoughts and any other Mahabharata versions I may have missed in the comments below…