Apr 13, 2012

Books || JAYA ~ Devdutt Pattanaik



It was through the episodes of Business Sutra on YouTube that I first came to know about Devdutt Pattanaik. His in depth knowledge of Indian mythology and an uncanny ability to apply those stories to our present-day situations made the series an extremely interesting watch. Of course, I had to read all about him immediately, and when I found out he had authored books too, I was excited. A medical doctor by degree and leadership consultant by profession, Devdutt Pattanaik's true passion is mythology. Among several books authored by him is Jaya - a retelling of the epic Mahabharat. I've never been much of a mythology enthusiast but I must say, "Jaya" is truly un-putdownable.




Until I read this book, I must admit that I had only read the story of Mahabharat in bits and pieces. I knew the main characters, I knew the basic story line, etc., but I had never read it in depth with an intention to reflect on its wisdom and apply it to my life. Having said that, Jaya was a good place to start. The book touches upon the entire story without going into too many details, it manages to give a good glimpse of what the epic stands for along with any underlying symbolism. Devdutt Pattanaik's narration is in simple English, his style of writing is pretty smooth. He also provides footnotes to each chapter/story with his interpretations and thoughts. These footnotes make a lot of sense and provide deeper perspective into the characters and their lives.

The Mahabharat as narrated by Dr. Pattanaik, to say the least, is a fascinating tale. He starts with a brief description of the original author of the epic, Vyasa, as well as its original structure. The epic consists of 18 chapters, and a total of about 100,000 verses. The chapter about the gambling match where the Pandavas lose all their fortune alone has about 4311 verses. To read and make sense of all those verses written in an ancient language is extremely difficult for someone like me, so it's books like Jaya that I rely on. I know there have been several retellings of the Mahabharat so far, but this is the first one I've read from cover to cover, so do spare my enthusiasm for the experience. 

Summarizing or reviewing the book would be of little use, since it in itself is a summary of a much larger epic. As I went through the book, there were several little points of 'wisdom' that I stopped to ponder upon.  Some of them I even earmarked for future pondering, since of course, there is no end to introspection. Perhaps several other blog posts will arise as I return to the timeless wisdom of the Mahabharat time and again. But for now, I will list out a few things that really got my attention. 

  • It occurred to me as I was reading this book, that the Mahabharat is not very different from present-day fantasy novels, but for its epic proportions. Of course, I'm putting all religious significance aside. No blasphemy intended. Undoubtedly it is a tale of great wisdom that one can learn several things from, but there are also present within it all the elements of fascination associated with the fantasy genre. For instance, the misunderstood/rejected hero - Karna. And of course all the creatures, some of which are friendly to humans and some that are not. Dr. Pattanaik points out:"The Mahabharat is populated not only by Manavas or humans but also by a variety of beings such as Devas who live in the sky, Asuras who live under the earth, Apsaras or nymphs who live in rivers, hooded serpents who talk called Nagas, forest spirits called Yakshas, warrior-musicians of the woods called Gandharvas and brute barbians called Rakshasas."
  • But then again, it would be a wrong to call the Mahabharat a mere fantasy novel, because it is also a lot like real life. Characters change. They evolve. They learn things. And yet, they forget their lessons and make mistakes. Krishna advises Arjun before the battle of Kurukshetra that the war must be fought for Dharma, out of a mere sense of duty. He understands it then, but it soon becomes personal for Arjun after the death of his son. And at the end of it all, the story is not just about who won the war. The Pandavas may have won, but the story doesn't end there. The true ending is when Yudhishtir, the eldest Pandav, wins the battle over his own anger, his own prejudice, his own self. 
  • A recurring theme in the Mahabharat is that of karma. What is most striking thorough various stories is the fact that what seems like bad luck could end up as good luck, and what seems like a fortune could actually bring ruin later. Dr. Pattanaik observes, "No one on earth can foretell the consequences of any action, however wise he may be." Also, not every good deed brings positive consequences and not every bad deed brings negative ones. For it is impossible to even distinguish between bad and good. A deed that benefits one, may cause a deep loss for another. Such is the ambiguity of life and karma. 
  • The conflict between varna-dharma (taking up the vocation of forefathers) and choosing one's own path in life is another theme that is brought out through the epic. In various instances, those who digress from their family professions have various motives to do so. For some it is desire (Karna), for some vengeance (Drona), and for some (Krishna), it is mere duty - doing what needs to be done. 
  • The Mahabharat is not filled with just beautiful women who please men. The words of Chitrangada, the ugly warrior princess, as she reveals her true self to Arjun, truly speak out to me: "I am not beautifully perfect as the flowers with which I worship. I have many flaws and blemishes. I am a traveller in the great world-path, my garments are dirty, and my feet are bleeding with thorns. The gift that I proudly bring you is the heart of a woman. Here have all pains and joys gathered, the hopes and fears and shames of a daughter of the dust; here love springs up struggling towards immortal life. Herein lies an imperfection which yet is noble and grand."
  • "Vyasa keeps asking what makes a woman a wife. It emerges that it is civilized society with its laws of marital fidelity that makes a woman a wife. But in the forest, there are no rules. Can a woman still be a wife? It is evident through the story of Jayadhrata that neither society nor forest can make a woman a wife; it is only the desire and the discipline of man that can do so."
  • The importance of travel is highlighted in the Mahabharat. Of course, not the kind of sightseeing and luxury travel that we do these days. But travel as a means of exploring the world, and also one's inner self. The 12 years spent by the Pandavas travelling through forests was an important period as it changed them in many ways. They met with Rishis who told them stories, they meditated in caves, "saw the sun rise from sacred mountain tops" and bathed in holy rivers and lakes. "The journey gave them a fresh perspective on life." 
  • Draupadi's beauty: "Even though she is innocent, her beauty arouses all men who end up wanting to hurt and humiliate her because she is chaste and unavailable." I can correlate this to a few women I have known in real life. 
  • "That which deludes you to be unhappy can be overpowered by another delusion that causes greater unhappiness." This beautiful truth is explained in the story of Gandhari, who is mourning for the death of her 100 sons. In a moment of extreme hunger, she comes across a sweet mango and forgets all about her sons, even using their carcasses as a stepping stone to reach the fruit. This is the power of maya.
  • The last chapter is particularly profound. I cannot go into it entirely as it would take very long, but here are the last lines of the book: "Let us all have faith. Let us all be at peace - with ourselves, our worlds, and all the rest there is."

And sure enough, as I closed the book, I felt an incredible sense of peace within me. Reading about the turmoil and conflicts faced by various characters, what happens to them finally in the scheme of life, and the very nature of life itself; it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Often one worries over small matters in life. Epics like these put everything back into place, into perspective. Into peace. 

21 comments:

  1. I had loved the book, and loved your review. You have analysed it so well!

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    1. Thanks, Smitha! Glad you like the review :)

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  2. I have read the Krishnavatara series by C.Rajagopalachari that has 8 parts and thus is a condensed form of the Mahabharata. I agree with you about Mahabharata being so relevant today as there are no just black or white characters. It is them but also every shade in between. Karna's life and character always brings tears to my eyes.
    Lovely review, Sumitra..will read this book when I get a chance.

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    1. Hi Uma, thanks I'm glad you liked the review. Yes, Karna's story is sad and beautiful at the same time. What a complex character! I will try to get my hands on the Krishnavatara series now. Never knew mythology could be so much fun!

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  3. I simply love the way you write Sumitra! Your flow of language is amazing. In fact, after reading through this well written piece, "I felt an incredible sense of peace within me" and I am not exaggerating!

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    1. Hey Sinduja, that's such a wonderful compliment. I'm on cloud 9 now. :) No seriously, thank you for those kind words. They mean a lot.

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  4. Really well written review, sumitra! I would like to read this book too. It's amazing how relevant the epics continue to be in today's world! :)

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    1. Thanks, Sruthi! Do try to get your hands on this book if you can. It's a very nice read. Epics sure are relevant in today's world.

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  5. I like the part about what makes a woman a wife. Very well told and interpreted :)

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    1. Ya Kalpana, I really liked that part too. It got me thinking about my role as a wife, got me questioning a few things as well.

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  6. Sumitra:

    I love the kind of thought you put when you write down anything on your blog.
    All the Mahabharat I know is also in bits and pieces :( I know Ramayan fairly well though :)

    Your post makes me want to read this book. And I will definitely watch out for it !

    Thanks for sharing this. really really enjoyed reading this ! :)

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    1. @kismitoffebar: Thank you so much! Your words mean a lot to me. :) Do try and read the book when you get some time.

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  7. A very well written review Sumitra. :)
    Have added this to my list as well!

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    1. Thank you, Piya! Hope you enjoy the book too.

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  8. Will have to get the book to see if it un-putdownable..but for the time being, I would say your writing is un-distractable.

    Superb piece of work!

    -Visha

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    1. Hey Visha. Thanks so much! Your words have put me on could 9 :D

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  9. I got to read this one for sure .. I am fascinated with mythology for sure, looks to be a goood boook :) thank you for sharing

    Bikram's

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    1. Please do read it, Bikram. I'm sure you will like it. :)

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  10. I so wanted to get this book when I was there. A very well written review. Have always been interested in mythology. Do also try and read the Palace of Illusions by Chitra Divakaruni; another telling tale on Draupadi's take of the epic.

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    1. Hey, Arch! Thanks. Isn't there a place you can get it at Singapore? Added the Palace of Illusions to my 'to-read' list. I'm on my way to becoming mythology-obsessed. :D

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