Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Devdutt Pattanaik 

I consider myself more well-versed with the Mahabharata than the average person, because of my interest in Hindu mythology and the amount of reading I’ve done on the subject. But I’m really glad I read this, not just because of the small details I learned about (I counted 6 things I hadn’t known about – Sahadeva’s precognition gained by eating Pandu’s flesh, Draupadi cursing dogs to copulate in public for stealing Yudhishtira’s slippers, Vibhishana being present at Draupadi’s swayamwar, a couple of stories on why Krishna stepped in to protect Draupadi when Dusshasana tried to disrobe her, why Shakuni did his best to ensure the destruction of the Kuru clan, Draupadi’s regret over Karna and at least a couple more interesting tidbits) but because of the wonderful lessons it provides. The author also mentions several variations of the tale, regional renditions and folk variations adding layers to the original story. Even as one feels the familiarity thanks to the places (which still exist) mentioned and can identify with the experiences and tribulations of the mortal characters, there is also an awe created by the elements of divinity.

The excellent illustrations and the simple yet elegant and evocative storytelling took me back to a time when I first started hearing these stories – childhood. So vivid is the prose that one can easily create visualisations of the events. The explanation of events are done on many planes – rational, metaphysical, spiritual, bringing a lot of clarity to the complex tale. The concepts of dharma and justice are explained beautifully and even as the Pandavas grow their perspective during their exile and their pride, anger etc get tempered before and after the war, there is tremendous learning for the reader too. It is easy to understand why this is indeed considered the greatest story ever told, and continues to be relevant through ages. The original tale is epic, and so is this narration. Very highly recommended.


Jaya Indeed

I didn’t attach much significance to the words on the jacket – 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 Vijaya, 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. But it was only after I finished ‘Jaya’ (by Devdutt Pattanaik) that I realised this was what the complex and layered epic was all about. While swarga is considered an afterlife phenomenon, the dichotomy above is significant for life as well.


Vijaya is material victory, where there is a loser. Jaya is spiritual victory, where there are no losers. The tale ends when Yudhishtira attains Jaya, not when the Pandavas achieve Vijaya over the Kauravas. That is the significance. Jaya is victory over the self. Only when there is undiluted compassion for everyone including our worst enemies, is ego truly conquered.

Janamejaya, probably on behalf of all of us who would like to attain Jaya, asks what insight eluded his forefathers, and Astika replies “That conflict comes from rage, rage comes from fear, fear comes from lack of faith.” He does not expand much. I’d have to assume that here, the faith is in the self, the true self that is intrinsically connected to the larger consciousness. Thanks to material advances, Vijaya itself is a moving target and difficult to achieve. With all the distractions, Jaya is even tougher. Thus very few would even attempt it, and thus the entire concept of dharma spiraling downwards across yugas is very logical.

The book provides many examples in humility. For me, the new things I learned and the increased awareness of the epic and its layers was a lesson in humility in itself. Even more humbling is the concept of Jaya.

until next time, #epic #win

What remains…

Kathavasheshan means ‘The Deceased’, and it’s one of my favourite Malayalam movies. In my mind though, I split it in a different way (inaccurately) – what remains of him after the story. I watched it on TV after a long time. Meanwhile, such was the magic of Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya that I used the ad breaks to continue my reading. Though I consider myself fairly well versed with the epic, the book was an eye opener at many levels – new interpretations and back stories, philosophy, and the narration that immensely adds to the tale’s relevance.

After the Mahabharata, as Yudhishtira is conducting the Ashwamedha and is called upon to settle a dispute, Krishna asks him to postpone his decision by 3 months as the situation would undergo a sea change, because 3 months later, the Ashwamedha will conclude and the Kali Yuga will begin. Only a quarter of the values instituted by Prithu at the dawn of civilisation will survive. Man will live for pleasure, children will abandon responsibility, woman will be like men, men like women. Humans will copulate like beasts. Power will be respected, justice abandoned, sacrifice forgotten and love ridiculed. The wise will argue for the law of the jungle. Every victim will, given a chance, turn a victimiser. Values. Dharma. As the epic explains, dharma is not about winning. It is about empathy and growth. Dharma is work in progress, and cannot be seen in the isolation of one life.

(movie spoiler) Kathavasheshan‘s protagonist is a sensitive person who has empathy for everyone around him. The story begins with his suicide and his fiancee’s search for the reason. The story progresses through the perspectives of various people whose lives he has touched and his effect on them. It finally turns out that it is this very empathy and his inability to live in a society that allows the Gujarat atrocities to happen that is the reason for his suicide. (there is a personal connection for him too)

It led me to wonder if the manifestations of the Kali Yuga were such that they could not be fought within the ‘constraints’ of dharma, and escapism was the only way.  It is only a movie and a character, but I’d like to think that he remains – in the minds of the people he touched – and continues his growth and the pursuit of dharma in his next life.

until next time, the post continues.. :)