“Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani”
This is the shloka heard by millions across India on many a Sunday morning in the 80s as they diligently made time to sit in front of their TV sets watching in awe one of the most popular epic series of Indian television–Mahabharata. Of the countless books written about this epic, with every author positing his own point of view, Jaya – An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata is a masterpiece authored by Devdutt Pattanaik.
The Mahabharata was initially an oral story told by Ved Vyas, and over centuries written down, finally assuming its modern shape. This retelling by Pattanaik aims to take the readers through the main events of the epic right from the very reason the story is told, to how it’s told and the lives it covers.
Pattanaik has detailed the key events of the great epic not with the intent to glorify or criticise, but with a keen discerning eye that breaks down various myths and provides a reasonable critique of the Mahabharata. Expertly binding all the tales with a single fine thread of the concept of ‘dharma’ as in the Hindu mythology, he touches upon the key principles from the Gita as sermonised by Krishna to Arjun.
In the process, the author infuses the book with his accurate understanding of how the modern Hindu ideals took shape. It throws light on the way our polity has, over centuries, enveloped this oldest story in its own perspectives and local legends. This, in turn, has resulted in the story providing a distinct perspective and inspiration to its readers irrespective of caste, creed or gender. Pattanaik makes this retelling even more sumptuous and soul satisfying by blending his illustrations into the book.
My takeaway from Jaya is not how grand the war in the Mahabharata was, how viciously it was fought, who the winners and losers were, and not even the highly advanced technology described thousands of years before modern man could fathom it. My learning is that the epic has been written solely as a grave pointer towards the futility of war, how ultimately all of us are tied to the sacred thread of cause and effect, and how even the mightiest of us (in this book, God himself) are ultimately judged on the sole standard of one’s deeds viewed through the prism of ‘dharma’.
Pattanaik has shunned popular opinions aside by including all versions of the epic in his book, even the ones which could be disputed. In this work, he truly makes his retelling of the Mahabharata one for the whole country–just what the actual epic intended to do.