Disclaimer- I am looking at the Mahabharata as a story, just a story here.
Pandavas Vs Kauravas. Dharma Vs Adharma. Jaya Vs Ajaya.
Whenever I have read the Mahabharata or discussed about it, it had always left me with a lot of questions jamming my mind. I couldn’t accept the fact that the Kauravas could have been pure evil and the Pandavascould be complete innocents. Something was always amiss for me. I have read different versions, but every version ended with good over evil, Pandavas won over Kauravas. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the epic. Just that I always felt a lot of disconnections in the story. But now I can positively say I am very clear about my thoughts on the epic after reading the Ajaya series by AnandNeelakantan.
The book argues from the side of the Kauravas, putting forward their perspective, narrating their point of view. The best part of the book is the balance the author maintains. The book never argues that Kauravas were right and Pandavas were wrong. The book merely narrates how both sides believed they were right, how both sides believed they were fighting for dharma and how both sides believed their rule would bring a much better future for India. The book throws lot of questions that are worth pondering about, especially on the topic of Dharma. The book brilliantly narrates beyond the victory, what happened after the victory, which none of the versions I have read had done. Was there really jubilation? Were the Pandavas able to bring about the dharmic revolution they dreamt of? Portraying Duryodhana aka Suyodhana as a gentle yet arrogant human wasn’t definitely out of place, but it made a lot of sense to the entire story. Every incident in Mahabharata, which were always told from the Panadavas perspective, when read from the Kauravas perspective made it more logical. Mind you, I am not telling Kauravas were right in every incident. I am just saying, the reasons behind every incident, the background information, gives more meaning after reading.
Every character has been given a lot of depth, both their positive side and their not so positive side clearly put down. It’s just not the main characters, but characters like Bhishma, Vidura, Eklavya, Aswathama and mainly Jara add so much interest to the entire reading. Reading the life of Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi, Bhanumati, Subhadra, Vrishali and even Sushala brings up the strong women power among the men folk. They didn’t fight the Kurushektrawar on the field, but they had their own wars going on. The author has done a great job in including the smallest of the characters in the book, showing how small incidents involving Samba, Krishna’s son and Suyodhana’s daughter Lakshmana had laid down stones for the war. Of course, I felt the entire war was a war between two masterminds, Krishna and Shakuni. The actions of both had a reason, a reason till before reading the bookwas unknown to me. You actually start to enjoy both their mind games at one point of time. The author is able to successfully immerse the reader into his world of Mahabharata. Every character is relatable. The narration of every incident has been written poignantly. The pace of the narration is really good. The story does go without much action for some time in the second book making the reader grow impatient, but once the action gets back, the importance of the non-action portions are realised.
The book makes you think, makes you think a lot before you can decide which side you want to support. Honestly, I am still unable to decide which side I am actually on. Both sides had made their own share of mistakes. Every move of Pandavas during the war, which were always portrayed as smart moves of Krishna before, comes across as just moves of deceit to end the war quickly, planting the seeds for confusion in my mind once again. Was the war battled fairly? Did Pandavas win fairly? Would the Pandavas have won if Krishna wasn’t there on their side? Did Krishna just use the Pandavas to restore the dharma he believed in? A new set of questions crop up at the end of the book. At the end, the entire epic Mahabharata is a sad story, an unnecessary war that was fought because there was no mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, a war with caste as its basis.It also eventually makes you think of the current situation our country is in with respect to caste. The author cleverly tells how the winner of the war would go down in history as the purest souls while the other would become the evil. In case the Kauravas had won, Pandavas would have been the evil guys. Conclusion- The beliefs of Kauravas weren’t evil as it was claimed. The term dharma in itself cannot have a fixed definition.
The bits which I absolutely loved reading. The beginning of the first book with Bhishma abducting Gandhari. The author’s description of Gandhari and Bhishma, and the foundation laid for both the characters were really impressive. The interactions between Balrama and Suyodhana left a smile. Every chapter involving the friendship among Aswathama, Karna and Suyodhana gave a nice positive feeling. Dhridharastra’s clever ploy of projecting himself as the fool was a surprise. Honestly, the book made me realise that even after the war, it was Dhridharastra who was the King and not Yudishtar. Emotions flow at the death of every great warrior during the war, immaterial of which side they belonged too. Finally, Aswathama stole the show for me. I wouldn’t divulge more there.
To a person who is open to varied views about Mahabharata would love this series. The book doesn’t ship Kauravas, but just puts forward the reasons behind their actions which in general are ignored. One cannot change the epic story, but to read and experience how different the story can sound when heard from the other side was an amazing experience. A must read for mythological fans.