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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

Book Review – The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kané

There is a saying in Bengali, ‘jaa nei Bharate, ta nei Bharate’, meaning what does not find a mention in Mahabharata, does not exist in India. The biggest epic ever-written, the magnum opus tells us so many tales that every reading reveals an unexplored aspect. Mahabharata is more than just the dharma-yuddha of the Pandavas and Kauravas. There are characters galore, each with a back story that can become a novel in itself.

Kavita Kané, who is the bestselling author of ‘Karna’s Wife’, ‘Sita’s Sister’, ‘Menaka’s Choice’ and ‘Lanka’s Princess’ tells us the story of an enigmatic woman in ‘The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty’. Matsyagandha, Daseyi, Yojanagandha, Satyavati – we are introduced to the various identities of the lady who shaped the future of Bharatvarsha. Born a princess, she is denied her royal life, brought up by a fisherman and violated by a Rishi in her adolescence.

Hardened by the life of struggle, she decides she will marry a man only on her terms, and she succeeds. Satyavati becomes the queen of Hastinapur. Even as queen, she is ruthless; her political manoeuvres make her unpopular with many. Yet, she remains steadfast. She is now the matriarch who set the ball rolling for the scheme of things in Hastinapur to take shape.

On the other hand, we have Prince Devavrata, who took a vow of celibacy so that Satyavati marries King Shantanu. His great vow earned him the title of ‘Bhishma’. The rightful heir to the throne, Bhishma assumes the role of lifelong service of the king. Satyavati’s obstinacy and his stricture for astute morality change the history of the land forever.

Most accounts of Mahabharat till date, in print or TV, have mostly glossed over this phase of the Kuru dynasty. Characters like Satyavati have hardly got the attention, or interest, they deserved. Thanks to Kavita Kané, her challenges are now known to the readers. The riveting narration, solid writing and lucid and articulate language will surely arrest the interest of the readers.

The blend of facts with fiction is of the right proportion, thus ensuring the novel does not lose track. The imaginative re-invention of the characters we have all read about and seen on TV, makes you want to revisit the Mahabharata.

Overall, ‘The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty’ is a fascinating retelling of the woman, who rose from ranks of a mere fisherwoman, to be able to dictate the fate of a sub-continent. All, on her own terms. Satyavati could be an ideal for the women of contemporary India to emulate.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Westland Books

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

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