Shakuntala was the love child of Kaushika and an Apsara called Meneka. She was abandoned on the forest floor later to be found out by Rishi Kanva, who raised her like his own daughter. Dushyanta, a descendent of the Pururava, later married Shakuntala and their child was named Bharata. Bharata was a unique King. Unique, not only because he was a descendant from solar line of Kings through his mother but also because he was a descendant from the lunar line of Kings through his father, and the land he ruled was named Bharata-Varsha or simply Bharata after him.
That’s how the land beyond the Indus, India came to have got its identity. India in the post modernism era has been an outcome of a series of continuous changes, for that matter any civilization in the world has been though. That is how over generations and years together the Indian culture has been carved out, resulting from various ideologies.
Although complex, supporting all these narratives and philosophies are a series of texts. Texts as old as 2000 B.C.E. Broadly, there are the Bhramanical texts which were assigned in two groups, The Vedas (Revelation) and the Smritis (Tradition)
If we look at the chronological order of these texts from the beginning, the story dates back to about 2000 B.C.E, where the first scriptures were the Vedic Chants known as Mantra Samhita. These were the antecedents to a narrative. Then there were the Brahmana’s in around 1000-800 B.C.E. These were the ritual manuals that offer narrative explanation.
These were followed by the Upanishads which traces its origin in 800-500 B.C.E.
There’s a difference between Vedas and Upanishads at times is confusing. Upanishads are a part of the Vedas; in essence the concluding chapters. Over time these texts have evolved and taken the shape of what we know as the Hindu Philosophy. A very insightful but a little heavy book on our Hindu philosophy is Vedanta by Swami Vivekananda.
Itihas literally translates to the course of events in the past as it is. These include epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Mahabharata has been my all-time favourite. It often reminds me of the Amar Chitra Katha days. I still reminisce those times. It was something about mythology back then too which intrigued me, and a lot of credit goes to Mr Anant Pai, for making it all seem so magical.
Time and again each retelling of the Mahabharata has added to my existing knowledge base of the facts which I was unaware of, -or the stories I hadn’t heard before. But each retelling was by and large the same. Until I put my hands on Devdutt Pattanaik’s – Jaya. Jaya which literally translates into victory has by far the best retelling of the epic.
The Mahabharata lasted for 18 days, battled between a total of 18 armies and had a total of 18 chapters. The Mahabharata also focuses a lot on individual relationships and Jaya has done justice in conveying its intricacies. A lot of stories are subtle and one might have to read between the lines for deeper learning. But Jaya itself is quite comprehensible and easy to understand. One might get confused with the number of characters involved but that should not deter him/her from appreciating the book.
Stories in Indian mythology have always been a conversation between a narrator and a listener, -and Jaya has been narrated in the same manner, by Vaisampayana, to Janmejaya, who is the son of Parkishit and grandson of the great archer Arjuna. This has been illustrated effortlessly.
This modern rendering is accompanied by a lot of illustrations. Devdutt’s style of writing is accompanied by intricate artwork which makes one want to read the book and the facts/small notes at the end of each chapter are a plus to the writing style.
Another modern retelling of the Mabahabharata has been written by Ramesh Menon and has been highly appreciated as well. For readers who want to delve deeper may consider reading it as well. As for me, it’s next on my list.
The epic is complex and interesting. But its ultimate goal is to revolve around dharma, which is human potential and not righteous conduct. The rework of this Indian epic, which caused the dawn of Kali Yuga, the fourth and final of all the Yugas is highly recommended.
Indian Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik
Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik
My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik
Header Image Source: Devdutt.com