Jaya – An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review


Goodreads blurb: High above the sky stands Swarga, paradise, abode of the gods. Still above is Vaikuntha, heaven, abode of God.

The doorkeepers of Vaikuntha are the twins, Jaya and Yijaya, both whose names mean ‘victory’. One keeps you in Swarga; the other raises you into Vaikuntha.

In Vaikuntha there is bliss forever, in Swarga there is pleasure for only as long as you deserve. What is the difference between Jaya and Vijaya? Solve this puzzle and you will solve the mystery of the Mahabharata.

In this enthralling retelling of India’s greatest epic, the Mahabharata originally known as Jaya, Devdutt Pattanaik seamlessly weaves into a single narrative plots from the Sanskrit classic as well as its many folk and regional variants, including the Pandavani of Chattisgarth, Gondhal of Maharashtra, Terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu and Yakshagana of Karnataka.

Richly illustrated with over 250 line drawings by the author, the 108 chapters abound with little-known details such as the names of the hundred Kauravas, the worship of Draupadi as a goddess in Tamil Nadu, the stories of Astika, Madhavi, Jaimini, Aravan and Barbareek, the Mahabharata version of the Shakuntalam and the Ramayana, and the dating of the war based on astronomical data.

With clarity and simplicity, the tales in this elegant volume reveals the eternal relevance of the Mahabharata, the complex and disturbing meditation on the human condition that has shaped Indian thought for over 3000 years.


For somebody who is as interested in Indian mythology as me and more so in the Mahabharata it took me an awfully long time in getting around to reading Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik. In fact the blurb above is so comprehensive and contains all the various aspects that the inimitable Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group has covered in the book that this review will probably be the most personal one I have ever written on the blog.

I have read enough and more portions of the Mahabharata in recent times when having to come up with posts for the mythology section on the blog, I also recently read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Palace of illusions” which is a retelling of the great epic from the viewpoint of Draupadi. I also just finished reading Sharath Komarraju’s “The Winds of Hastinapur”, book one of his proposed trilogy retelling the story from the viewpoint of the female characters. And I can safely say that Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya is probably the one book which stays close to the ‘original’ Sanskrit version (I say ‘original’ in quotes as the first written version of this great epic is also a ‘hand me down’ version in the sense of it being passed from guru to shishya by oral verses for quite a few centuries before it was actually written down).

I have been a huge fan of the wonderfully aesthetic yet simple illustrations that the author uses to get his point across and this book is strewn with them all over the place. Each and every one of them is apt, relevant to the context and provides a good point of reference for readers trying to visualize the events in the book. While most of us would probably use the BR Chopra TV series of the 1990s as a reference to visualize the events, these illustrations go a long way for any new readers of the great epic.

And then, there are the foot notes at the end of every chapter where the author brings in his own perspectives to the events, narrates the same events referencing other sources such as Kannada, Tamil and Oriya retellings of the epic, discussing new characters not present in the Sanskrit translation, opining about events on the basis of other famous retellings. More often than not, for people as familiar with the epic as I am, these foot notes make for more interesting reading providing otherwise unheard of and unknown insights into some of the events in the story.

And quite unlike most popular retellings of the Mahabharata, the author does not seem to suggest that the Pandavas were the wronged heroes, the Kauravas were the wrathful cousins, Krishna was the savior of the Pandavas and dharma, but takes absolutely no sides in his retelling. He stays true to the ethos of the original Sanskrit version which at its very core is just a narration of what remains probably one of the greatest stories told of the Bharata clan, hence the popular name, Mahabharata. Almost all the lessons that this epic strives to teach its readers, Devdutt Pattanaik has succinctly summarized and presented in his foot notes. While not being preachy, he manages to get his points across and in my opinion, the great sage Veda Vyasa, the original author of this epic would have been proud of the foot notes quite a bit.

If you are looking to be introduced to this great epic in its purest unbiased form, then look no further than this book. If your interest has already been piqued by the ongoing TV series and you want to learn more about the story, don’t think beyond this book. If you are already a die-hard fan of Indian mythology in general and the Mahabharata in particular, then this book is a ‘must read’ as far as you are concerned.

What are you waiting for? Click on this link to purchase the book from Flipkart or alternatively this link to purchase it from Amazon. Yes, I will make a small commission if you purchase the book from here, but rest assured, it doesn’t increase your purchase price in any form or fashion.


Name Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata
Author/s Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher Penguin
Year published 2011
ISBN 13 9780143104254
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon

8 thoughts on “Jaya – An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review

  1. This one is my favorite among the contemporary versions of Mahabharata. Read it after Palace and Illusions and I was quite impressed with the non partisan narrative. It was indeed a departure from the negativity that I sensed in Palace of Illusions where every character seemed so flawed.

    • @Palak, that was because this version is the closest to the original Sanskrit version of Veda Vyasa, which inherently did not take sides at all and just narrated the events as they are. The original story was more of a chronicling of the events of the two sets of cousins without judging any of the characters per se, and the author takes the same approach here as well.

  2. yes.. placed the book on order in Flipkart! 🙂
    Thank you! I just hope my mom doesn’t forget to get it for me!

  3. I am sorry but I have robbed you of your commission. I already have the book 🙂 One of the finest I have read and as you said, those footnotes are a treasure.
    Having said that, I still didn’t give it to my mom, who’s conventionally religious.. for I knew, it would just rub her the wrong way.

    • @themoonstone, I would suggest you give it to your mother with the warning that it is a non partisan book, ask her to read the same and then have informed ‘discussions’ or ‘arguments’ using the foot notes as a reference. Trust me, this probably is the best way to bond with your mother, over the Mahabharata 😀

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