Yesterday, Tharani was suddenly fascinated about reading the Bharatha and was wondering from where to read the original Vyasa’s version. I am not too sure where to read it from or if it is in a readable format. I say readable format because even its translation to English from the original Sanskrit will be in poetry format which will only make it difficult to comprehend (that too for a poetry illiterate like me!) While we were discussing the various versions, I thought why not make a post of all the versions of the epic that I’ve read so far. That way I thought may be, I can get a few more recos to read any more versions of the epic. So, here goes.

If you are really looking to start reading Mahabharatha from somewhere, I would suggest three versions of the epic for you.

1. Rajaji’s Mahabharatha. This one is offers a very traditionalist view of the Bharatha. This book, for me, was like sitting on my grandfather’s lap and listening to him narrate the story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. You might not be able to agree to a few points of view made by Rajaji because again, this is a traditionalists’ version. His facts are right and more importantly, the volume of the book doesn’t intimidate you.

2. Mahabharatha by Kamala Subramaniam. This is also a very traditionalist retelling of the epic which cater to the bhakti notions of the reader. A 800-page book, this one is a favourite because of the importance the author had given Karna (he was called Radheya through out the book!) Also, this is a book which kind of doesn’t have a bias. I remember Duryodhana being given the benefit of the doubt by the author who blamed his father more for spoiling him rotten. So there.. this is a great read.

3. Mahabharatha by Ramesh Menon. This book, as the cover page contains, is a modern retelling of the great epic. I’ve read a few (other) books written by Ramesh Menon and I have to say I am a fan of his writing style. His writing style is really contemporary and the book has all the facts intact. You can form your own opinion on all the characters without any judgments being made by the author. The only downside of this book is the volume which spans over a few thousand pages. But, it is the Bharatha and a few thousand pages shouldn’t intimidate you, right? 😉

Well.. These are the ones for beginners. But, if you are like me, a Bharatha addict, then there are a lot more books that you can read.

4. Jaya by Devdutt Patnaik. The truth is that I was a little confused whether to recommend this book to beginners reading the Bharatha. If you ask me, this is a book that I love the most about Bharatha. It has every possible regional detail of the epic. Right from Shakuni’s story to Arjuna’s various womanly expeditions, you name it and you can find it in Jaya. Also, the volume of the book will not scare you. The only reason I would not suggest this book for beginners is that there is too much detail in the book which might actually confuse you. Otherwise, this book is a keepsake; of course, because it is Devdutt!

5. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Devakurni. I started my tryst with Bharatha with this book. This book is the epic retold from Draupadi’s perspective. The author has taken a lot of creative liberties with this book which means the book vastly differs from the original. What I really loved about the book was that the relationship between Draupadi and Krishna were portrayed beautifully. This book gives Draupadi a more contemporary-woman feel. Any case, the book is unputdownable. Go for it!

6. Yajnaseni by Prathiba Ray (in Oriya) translated in English by Pradip Bhattacharya. This again is the epic retold from Draupadi’s perspective; the number of ‘Draupadi’s perspective’ versions that exist today are a bit too much which is simply a ‘no shit Sherlock’ ‘cos of the complexity in Drauapdi’s character. The Draupadi Ms. Ray has portrayed is a woman of her times; yet, a woman among us. I should say I liked Ms. Ray’s Draupadi better than Ms. Banerjee’s. She had her pride; yet her humility. She had her flaws; yet she shone with them. Of course, she being the protagonist of the book, the author had taken a lot of deviations from the original and made Draupadi a super hero material. The best I liked about the book is the philosophy that is spewed across the book. Every chapter begins with something worth chewing for a long time.

7. Bhimsen by Prem Panicker in English. As the name suggests, this one is the Mahabharatha from Bhim’s perspective. This book was originally written by MT Vasudevan Nair in Malayalam titled ‘Randamoozham’. Bhimsen is not a published book but a loosely translated English version which is available for free, here. It is a beautiful read about Bhim. Bhim is already a loveable character and this book only adds to it.

8. Arjuna – Saga of a Pandava warrior by Anuja Chanramouli I remember picking up this book cos the reviews in Flipkart suggested the book would do justice to the epic. But, I felt this book was a great let down to the epic. Probably, because I have read enough and more of this epic. I am not particularly a big fan of Arjuna, but that should in no way be a deterrent for me reading the epic. The book lacked both continuity and innovation. There was nothing like a ‘Palace of Illusions’ kind of a feel to Arjuna nor was it the ‘Bhimsen’ kind of protagonist story telling. If I were to write a book on Arjuna, I would go by how Devdutt does his ‘Book on Ram’. Arjuna has ten different names like Jishnu, Partha, Savyasachi and so on; these given to him because of various reasons at varied points in time. I would rather weave the character of my protagonist based on the stories behind these names. Sigh. So, you know what the verdict is. Readable book but could have been much much better.

9. Yuganta – The end of an epoch by Iravati Karve. This is a small 200 page book that details the characters from the Mahabharata. Apparently, the source of this book is a Marathi book on the same. One essential requirement before reading this book is that the reader must be familiar with the Mahabharatha. Only then, will this book make any sense. This is a book that has made me view the epic in a completely different light. All those versions that I’ve read including that of Menon and Devdutt bring out the epic with all the mythological impact in place. While, this one looks at the epic as a mere historical narrative and the author concludes that all the miraculous happenings and godly images were later additions. She does this, not just stating the facts but by giving reasons to support them that we start wondering if she is right. Krishna, who we consider as an avatar of Vishnu, is just a smart Yadava chieftain who makes the right moves to bring about the world and war that he wanted, is what the author says. The way the author dissects the humanity and the weakness behind every character sometimes make us doubt our own understanding of such characters. For instance, when my much-loved Karna’s weaknesses are shown blatantly, I began to doubt if he is really the unblemished person that I thought to be. Also, the way the author draws parallel comparisons of Sita (of Ramayana) and Panchali (of Mahabharatha) is worth reading. Although, on first look both of them seem to be in the farther ends of the character-spectrum, on closer examination, both of them have so much in common. Highly recommended read.

These are the books that I’ve read on the epic. Are there any other versions (or retellings) that you can suggest? I would particularly appreciate any books from Karna’s perspective ‘cos I just realized while compiling this list that I haven’t read any.  Sigh.