There was a time many years ago when the busiest streets in India would be deserted. People would rush home from work, kids wouldn’t go out to play and families would come together just to watch television. It was the time of the popular television series Mahabharata.
It is a tale of love, murder, revenge, war and death. It is the narrative of the Kurukshetra, the glorious battle between the Kauravas and Pandavas or as simply told between good and evil. Since the first television series on Doordarshan, the epic mythological text has been retold by many authors and filmmakers who have related the 3000 year old text to a much more modern context. There are many versions of the story re-written throughout Southeast Asia. Often the battle is narrated from different perspectives. Sometimes the story is told by the powerful Bhima, Draupadi, Karna and many others. There are multiple versions of the epic and here are just a few of them.
Author Gurcharan Das focuses on the term ‘Dharma’ in his book The Difficulty of Being Good. He relates the Mahabharata to present day situations and makes it something that can be discussed in relevance to issues that concern us in the present day instead of just being a story of the past.
Devdutt Pattanaik makes the Mahabharata a fun book to read in his interpretation Jaya – An Illustrated Re-telling of the Mahabharata. With illustrations of the sequence of events, he managed to catch the reader’s attention. The book goes beyond the days of Kurukshetra and reveals the events that took place after the war.
Told from the point of view of a character in the Mahabharata, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni brings a new twist to the tale in her novel The Palace of Illusions. Here the story is told from the point of view of Draupadi, the daughter of Panchal king Drupad and the wife of the Pandavas. It describes her unhappiness about her name and gives us new insights into the epic tale which has never been told before. The book provides a fresh perspective to the character of Draupadi who is often portrayed as a victim. In this version she appears strong and independent, taking her destiny into her own hands.
There have been many plays on the Mahabharata and probably the most remarkable one being Urubhangam which is an ancient play by Bhasa which gives Duryodhana’s point of view. The highlight of the play is the duel between Duryodhana and Bhima where he fears for his life but refuses to break the rules of the duel. He is defeated after an attack by Bhima on his lower body but is sent to heaven for being a just ruler and upholding the King’s principles.
Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen tells the story of the Mahabharata through the perspective of Uruvi who is the wife of Karna, the beloved hero. Narrated by Kavita Kane, it is a side of the story that has rarely been told. Not many know about the family life of Karna, his first wife Vrushali or his 7 children.
Bibek Debroy who is the man responsible for translating the Puranas, Vedas, Gita and Upanishads has also undertaken the daunting task of translating the Mahabharata which he started back in 2009 and is expected to be completed by 2014. The final manuscript has a total of 11 volumes which Bibek Debroy has prepared with love.
While some may not be too happy about authors adding a modern touch to the Mahabharata others disagree saying that it is necessary to relate it to a modern situation in order to make it relevant even today. Everyone loves the epics and retelling the story again and again is what keeps the tales alive through the generations. In spite of being a mythological tale, the Mahabharata always seems to work its magic on the reader.