Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Marvels and Mysteries of the Mahabharata by Abhijit Basu: Book Review

A passion from the depth of one’s soul supported by years’ of study can only bring up such literary works. If Mahabharata is your all-time intriguing tale, this book is sure to add glory to your bookshelf!
Marvels and Mysteries of the Mahabharata (will refer to as MMM henceforth) is a genuine attempt to critically analyze a few of the prominent characters of the great epic – Vyasa, Krishna, Yudhishthira, Arjuna and Draupadi. It also sheds light on several enigmatic  episodes within the plot. The author, along with providing insights, engages his readers with his exemplary correlations of characters and incidents with Greek, Biblical, Islamic, Semitic and other ancient tales.
While there are 100s of books on Mahabharata, what’s so unique about MMM?

MMM gives us interesting revelations about the personalities of the main characters.We know Vyasa appears now and then throughout the epic.
MMM tracks the count to 41 times and emphasizes the significance of three most important Vyasa’s interventions – One, when Satyavati assigns him the familial job to beget the Kuru progeny; second, when Kunti’s words to the Pandava brothers to share their alms equally (referring to Draupadi) comes as a thunder to the two families and the third, when he tries to warn Dhritarashtra to negate the possibility of a war. That’s how the book begins, with the Vyasa-centered destiny of events. The characterization of Yudhishthira carries most weightage in the book. Though dharma won at Kurusketra, the son of Dharma went into a deep distress after the war. The author dives deep into the after-war mental states of Yudhishthira, elevating his pure conduct in the minds of readers. Suspicions about his paternal origins from Vidura is pointed and supported well. A stunning record of 65 out of the 126 pairs of questions and answers between Yudhishthira and Yaksha is tabulated in the book. And how he attains salvation finally is another beautiful narration by itself. Arjuna is little spoken-of and the already-known strong woman in Draupadi is more precisely unveiled. Her advice to Satyabhama on the code of conduct for righteously inclined wives of all ages is sure to put one into awe.

What was impressive was the unbiased analysis of what is seemingly adharma in the story like the burning of the Khandhava forest and krishna‘s tricks during the war. The author does not justify Krishna’s acts on the name of dharma. The final fate of Bheeshma, Drona and Karna by Krishna’s adharma ways are aptly criticized. At the same time, a probable explanation of Krishna’s duty as an avatar is also clearly presented. As a final note, how Duryodhana’s and Gandhari’s curses on Krishna and His clan come true leading to Krishna’s death is vividly portrayed.

The detailed analysis of Mahabharata’s historicity deserves great appreciation as well.

Who would MMM benefit?

MMM is more like a research thesis than a fiction. Especially, the first 10 pages of the introductory chapter is similar to a historical text. One should patiently wait till the chapter of ‘The story’ begins to get geared up. As mentioned earlier, one who enjoys debates on the causes and consequences of the Mahabharata will find it a great read. MMM is a rich source for students and professionals doing research on the epic. The notes and references at the end of each chapter and constant references to other historical and cultural similarities are worth a mention. For instance, I didn’t know Arjuna had a Naga queen through whom he begot a son until I read in the reference section. However, for a commoner who is moderately interested in the Mahabharata, I doubt if MMM could be interesting. It definitely demands strong knowledge and depth of the story for anyone to get hold of this book. It must be remembered that MMM is only an attempt to discuss the important twists and turns of the plot and should not be expected for narration of the entire story.

What’s not-so-good about MMM?
On one side, the comparisons to Greek mythology and other ancient texts and tales deserve laudable admiration. However, at some places it seems irrelevant, disturbing the flow and interest. Minor spell errors (like in page 90) can be corrected. 

Marvels & Mysteries of the Mahabharata is
Thoroughly researched, extensively referenced and deeply analyzed!

Reviewed for Leadstart Publishing

Title: Marvels and Mysteries of the Mahabharata: Probing the Folds of India’s Epochal Tragedy
Author: Abhijit Basu

This review was originally posted at my Book Review Blog on March 17, 2014

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