My Gita – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review


MyGitaGoodreads blurb: In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies The Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach—thematic rather than verse-by-verse—makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams.

In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization—even selfies!).We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight.

So let My Gita inform your Gita.

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Despite reading a fair bit of Indian mythological tales and assorted articles on the same, the Bhagvad Gita remained one of those formidable tomes which I was even scared to touch with a barge pole. However, numerous conversations with my wife on various aspects discussed in the Gita and the fact that my all time favorite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik (www.devdutt.com) wrote a book on the same, My Gita meant that it was finally time to put aside all misgivings and doubts about my ability to assimilate the vast volumes of learning from the Gita and get myself introduced to it formally. And believe me when I say this, it has probably turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I have taken in recent times.

In his own inimitable style, Dr Pattanaik takes on a subject (which in his own words has been dealt with in greater detail and better style by people more knowledgeable than him) as complicated as the Gita and goes ahead and makes it ‘his own’, quite literally given that the book is called My Gita and not The Gita. As the title suggests, the author is of the opinion that the Gita is not thematic, it is not subjective and it is not obsessed with the self. He feels that everybody reading this verse, this rhyme, this song, will do so and end up taking learnings from it which might just go on to be entirely different for the next person in line reading and studying it. Simply put, that is how powerful and life-changing this subject is.

Breaking away from the usual norm of translating the verse from Sanskrit in which it is originally written and providing his interpretation of the words and the flow of the verse, the wise Dr Pattanaik takes an entirely different approach to the Gita. He goes on and makes the book his own take on this immortal song. Instead of approaching it by chapter by chapter in a linear manner, he divides the book into various sub-themes under the overarching three main themes, viz, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Gyaana Yoga.

Peppered with various insights into his vast pool of knowledge in Indian and Abrahamic mythologies, the author manages to draw various parallels and analogies between various verses in the Gita and makes things extremely easy to understand, more so for first time readers of the Gita like myself. And I am more than sure that even people who have read and studied the Gita more than I have will surely find this book a worthy read and will enjoy the entirely different style in which Dr Pattanaik has presented this immortal song sung by Krishna to Arjuna.

While I could go on and on about how wonderfully well presented this book is, especially the various small little diagrams which are present on almost every page to explain and elucidate the various concepts, the fact remains that this is one book which needs to be read in its entirety to be enjoyed, rather than trying to understand the same through this small review of the same. As is the norm with all his books, Dr Pattanaik’s illustrations also enhance the overall book reading experience more than quite a bit.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

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


JayaCover

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.

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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.

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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

Shringara Rasa – Ganga and her love


Devdutt-Ganga

Read this post about an introduction to the Rasas.

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While most of us associate the beginning of the Mahabharata with Santanu falling in love with Ganga (I blame BR Chopra and his wonderful TV Serial of the 1980s for that), the story actually begins a lot earlier than Santanu himself.

This post shall talk about Pratipa, Santanu’s father and how the rasa of shringaram (love, attractiveness) played a part in his story.

The king Pratipa was a wise and benevolent ruled and was loved by one and all. He spent many years in asetic penance on the banks of the river Ganga. One fine day, Ganga, assuming the form of a beautiful woman rose from the waters and sat on Pratipa’s right thigh.

Upon being disturbed from his penance, Pratipa asked her what she desired to which Ganga replied that she had fallen in love with the handsome countenance of Pratipa and wanted to marry him. Pratipa responded to Ganga’s proposal by gently refusing her offer and stating that while he appreciated her beauty, it was beyond him to agree to her offer.

When Ganga asked to know the reason why, he replied stating that he had taken a vow of abstinence and that he would be committing a sin by breaking the same. He further went on to state that she had chosen his right thigh and that the right thigh was reserved as a seat only for daughters and daughters-in-law. It was only the left thigh that was reserved for wives.

Hearing this, Ganga replied stating that it would be her honor to be the wife of Pratipa’s son as being a wife of somebody from the Bharata race was an honor in itself. She also stated that after becoming his daughter-in-law, her actions could not be judged for propriety by her son and that he would attain heaven as a consequence of the sons that she would bear him, and due to his actions and conduct.

Thus, the attraction that  Ganga had for Pratipa was one of the reasons that she would go on to marry Santanu in the future which most popular versions of the Mahabharata begin with.

Image courtesy : Devdutt Pattanaik’s illustration of Ganga

A little more knowledge


Chakravyuha

 

Read my post  A little knowledge before you read this one, in case you have not already read it.

My earlier post “A little knowledge” [Link to post] seemed to have stir up quite the debate and question among readers as to why Arjuna did not impart the complete knowledge of entering, destroying and exiting the Chakravyuha to his son Abhimanyu when he was in his mother, Subhadra’s womb.

In the comments section, I had referred to two different versions of stories for this lapse on the part of Arjuna.

One version had it that Subhadra actually feel asleep when Arjuna was narrating the portion of how to destroy and then exit the Chakravyuha and that is why Abhimanyu was not equipped with this knowledge.

The second version was that if Abhimanyu were to learn the complete technique of entering, destroying and then exiting the formation, that would tilt the strategic advantage of this particular war in the favor of the Pandavas. And as Krishna wanted the war to be a reasonably fair one, he distracted Arjuna and prevented him from imparting the entire knowledge to Subhadra and his son, Abhimanyu in her womb.

As if these versions were not enough, and as luck would have it, one of my all time favorite mythological expert and authors, Devdutt Pattanaik recently publicized one of his earlier blog posts which dealt with the exact same topic [Link to blog post].

Devdutt cites three different folktales to provide the reason as to why Abhimanyu was not given the complete knowledge of destroying the Chakravyuha.

The first folktale has Abhimanyu who was actually a Rakshasa and that his demonic qualities would emerge if he survived the Kurukshetra war. That was the reason that Krishna prevented Arjuna from imparting the entire knowledge so that his son could be killed during the war.

The second folktale has that Abhimanyu was actually the son of the Moon god, who was cursed to live on the earth as a mortal. Since the Moon god missed his son too much, he requested Krishna to find a way to end his mortal life and the only way that Krishna could do that was by preventing Abhimanyu from learning the whole truth about the Chakravyuha and consequently be killed in the war.

The third, and probably the most morbid of the tales cited by Devdutt states that Krishna allowed Abhimanyu to be killed in the Chakravyuha as that would be the only way that Arjuna would take the Kurukshetra war more personally and fight more intensely.

One way or the other, all the folktales cited by Devdutt have Krishna as someone who emerges as the main sutradhar or puppeteer who pulls the strings of this memorable episode in the epic.

What heartened me the most was the fact that Devdutt also ends his post with “beware of half knowledge” which kind of corresponds to the title of my earlier post “A little knowledge”. I guess I must be doing something right with all these mythological posts and my understanding of these tales.

Image courtesy: devdutt.com  This is one of his sketches, a man of many talents, the good Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik