The Mahabharatha or Jaya, the poem of victory stands tall as a story, guide and text to human behaviour.
Those who are drawn into the Mahabharata are forever engaged. The Mahabharata was written in Sanskrit and composed of over 100,000 shlokas or couplets. It is supposed to be written between 8th and 9th BCE. It is considered an epic poem longer than the Odyssey and Illiad combined together. The versions of the poem of victory or Jaya are numerous, with each version having its dedicated following. It is a learning tree in itself, with its many characters, each well etched. A treasure trove of stories to learn and relearn from.
Its sheer size and language would mean that it's audience today would be esoteric. Thankfully, there are scholars who have helped bridged the language and size barrier. It is an important book that introduced to children can give them a million reference points in their everday dealings. It also helps parents teach children that while the way of right conduct is adviced, it is not without difficulties. The Mahabharata highlights how the decietful will always seem to be winning and the good struggling. It elaborates how there is good in the evil and some evil in the good.It does this and much more in the most engaging way.In it’s telling of the deep, bloody duel of cousins it tells the story of their forefathers, their extended family, neighbouring kings and children.
Namita Gokhale is one such scholar. Her ‘The Puffin Mahabharata” is one telling of the eternal poem. Retold in 63 short chapters the book has a family chart and a glossary of terms that is categorised under Devas-the Lords, Demons and Celestial beings, Astras-weapons, Flags and Ensigns ,Military terms, Mountains, Rivers and Grasses and Yugas. The glossary is a learning in itself. Take for instance the Yugas or the four quarters of time.
Satya, The first, where Dharma is believed to have walked firmly on two legs to todays Kaliyuga where Dharma, the Lord of order and originator can be found limping on just one leg.
The chapters trace the story of the descendents of Bharata starting from Satanu, moving to Bhishma, Pandu and Dhritarashtra to the Pandavas and Kurukshetra.
Each chapter is a story in itself. The author has chosen to retell the Suta’s Mahabharata.
The stories are written in simple elegance, as this excerpt from “The Lessons of Dhronacharya” will show.
When Dronacharya had finished teaching all he knew to his students, he called them one by one for a final test . As a target, he perched a bird made of straw and cloth high above on the branch of a tree. First, Dhronacharya instructed Yudishtra, the eldest of the Pandavas, to take aim at the bird. ‘What do you see? he asked, after his student had positioned his bow and arrow. I see the tree,the bird, the bow, the arrow, my arm and you, Yudishtra replied. ‘Stand Aside’, said Dhronacharya and called in Duroyodhana, who gave the same reply, as did his younger brother Dusasana and the ninety-eight after him.
The same question was asked of Ashwathama. He too positioned his bow and arrow and replied that he could see the bird, the leaves around it, the branches and the sky. Dhronacharya told him to put away his bow for he was not yet ready to shoot the bird. At last it was Arjuna’s turn to be called. ‘Take aim at the bird’s head and let loose your arrow when I instruct you.Tell me Arjuna, what is it you see?’
‘I see the eye of the bird, and nothing else’, Arjuna replied. Dhronacharya rejoiced, for atleast one among his students had understood the essence of what he had tried to teach them. ‘I have made you the best bowman in all the world! You have learnt well, Arjuna’, he exclaimed. ‘Now you may shoot.’
Drona and his students
Accompanied by the realistic, detailed and beautiful illustrations of Suddhasattwa Basu, The Puffin Mahabharata’ is a wonderful book to read, gift or share for children and adults alike.