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Book Review: Ramayana versus Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

Ramayana, known as the Aadi Kavya (the first poem) is the story of how Ram, the prince of Ayodhya abdicates his claim to the throne, and goes on exile, to fulfil the promises made by his father King Dasarath. During the exile, his wife Sita is abducted by Ravana. What follows is the tale of how Ram rescues her with the help of an army of monkeys, only to desert his pregnant wife later to uphold Rajdharma.

Mahabharata, the longest epic ever written, is a story about family feud. Two clans in the Kuru dynasty – Pandavas and Kauravas – fight over their rightful inheritance. The epic battle at Kurukshetra sees the Kaurava clan decimated. But do these tales follow such simplistic storyline? The version of Ramayana and Mahabharata that we read – are they are real stories, itihasa, as it is claimed?

India’s favourite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik answers these questions, and many more in his new book Ramayana versus Mahabharata. As he himself claims, this book is his ‘playful comparison’ of the two epics. There is a perception that Ramayana is set in the Treta Yug and is an idealistic narrative. The Mahabharata, on the other hand, is a more realistic tale where rules are meant to be broken – to preserve dharma. Devdutt Pattanaik challenges these claims, and presents his version of events. He even claims, it is possible that the two tracks of events may have happened at the same time period.

Although seemingly different, Ramayana and Mahabharata have several similarities – both the stories involve exiled princes, avatars of Vishnu; both presuppose a crisis of kingship; they are both set in similar geographical terrains; both are composed by witnesses;  both begin with childless king and feature ambitious queens; wives are won in archery competitions in both the epics. The similarities are aplenty.

Ramayana and Mahabharata have their dissimilarities too. In Ramayana, Ram, the avatar of Vishnu is unaware of his divinity; Krishna is well aware of his divine powers in Mahabharata. Ram plays the king while Krishna is kingmaker. In Mahabharata, the brothers are sparring – which forms the basis of the epic; in Ramayana, brothers are loyal and devoted. Pattanaik opines, these similarities and dissimilarities are neither accidental nor coincidental. Rather, these are intended to bring Vedic wisdom into the household.

In short, these epics only reveal that dharma is a work in progress. In Hindu mythology, non-enlightened beings are hungry, frieghtened and restless. Enlightened beings are neither. Dharma cannot be established without empathy, and these epics reveal how both Ram and Krishna struggle in this enterprise.

‘Ramayana and Mahabharata’ is a brisk read. True to his style, Devdutt Pattanaik communicates deep philosophical thoughts with ease, in a ‘playful’ narrative. The short snippets about the epics, little anecdotal references strewn over the places, little pearls of wisdom always make it enthralling to read his books. No matter how many times you read these books, you’d still be left with this question in the end:

Within infinite myths, lies an eternal truth

Who sees it all?

Varuna has thousand eyes,

Indra, a hundred.

You and I, only two.

 

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

 

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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Book Review – Empress by Ruby Lal

History is a subject, which most students hate. I was no exception in school. The dull drudgery of remembering dates was excruciating. William Dalrymple’s books changed that perception of history for me. I discovered, history is nothing but fantasy stories, with basis in well-researched facts (or the lack thereof).

If one asked me which period of Indian history is most exciting to read about, I’d not bat my eyelid before blurting out ‘Mughal’. Books by Dalrymple and Alex Rutherford made that period more fascinating, nothing short of an adventure series. Barring exceptions like ‘The Twentieth Wife’ I have actually come across books that focused on the Mughal women. Ruby Lal seeks to correct that wrong with her book ‘Empress – The Astonishing reign of Nur Jahan’.

If one asked me to name notable female figures from the Mughal period, the most certain answer would be Nur Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal and Jahanara. Among them, Nur Jahan is undoubtedly the most intriguing, and perhaps the most powerful, woman in Mughal history. She was famously called the ‘Tiger slayer’. She was the ‘Empress among Emperors’, but also a celebrated designer and architect.

Nur Jahan was the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir, and his favourite in the harem. She held a position of power, which was unthinkable in that era. Along with her husband, she ruled the vast stretches of the Mughal empire.

Daughter of a Persian nobleman, she was born as Meher-un-Nissa on 31st May 1577. Her father had come to India during Akbar’s reign. She swiftly rose to power, after her marriage with Jahangir, and assumed the reigns of the sovereign as her husband’s health started failing. She was the first, and only woman, to rule over the empire as co- sovereign.

Nur Jahan was not only a great administrator, but a compassionate human being too. She gave jewels, horses, elephants and cash to royal men and women and supported the wedding of 500 orphan girls. Having risen through ranks, her concern for the ‘common man’ never flickered in the face of arrogance of power.

What makes Ruby Lal’s account of Nur Jahan stand out is the personal touch she has added to this retelling of history. Her admiration for the Mughal queen, and how the interest was kindled at an early age, is a fascinating read. Having read only accounts of male Mughal rulers in our textbooks, this remarkable narrative of India’s female ruler four centuries ago is commendable indeed.

Lal’s book is not just a biography of Nur Jahan, but also a commentary on the sixteenth century Mughal India. At a time when romeo squads are beating up couples in New India, upper caste parents don’t dither killing their child for falling in love with a dalit, and universities offer courses on how to become an adarsh bahu, Nur Jahan’s ascension to power is a lesson that needs attention.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart’s Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter. This is my sixth post.

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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