By Anuj M Nichani, L&T Construction
It is said that with the end of the Mahabharata came the end of the Dvapara Yuga and the beginning of the Kali Yuga – this is the end of an epoch (Anth of a Yuga) referred to in the title of this fascinating book. Unlike other commentaries on the epic which emphasise on the teachings of morals (dharma) and spirituality (bhakti), this book is a critical analysis of the main characters.
Irawati Karve, sometimes referred to as India’s first woman anthropologist, had evidently been a student of this epic for almost her entire life.
Before the analysis of the characters and their situations, there is a section devoted to describing the history and evolution of the Mahabharata itself, it is stated that over time the story has been corrupted with additions and modifications.
The author then clearly mentions that all her inferences are being made from the “Critical Edition” – published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institue of Poona – this edition has been arrived at through an International effort by comparing various editions from different regions and eras.
At several points in the book the author highlights the different versions of some stories as presented in different editions of the epic, it is quite intriguing to see how some stories from early editions are almost unrecognisable in their present form. The author tactfully poses questions about the intentions and sources of such modifications which will set you thinking long and hard.
The main focus of this book however, are the several essays on the main characters – obviously the more familiar one is with the story of the Mahabharata, the more interesting the analysis of the characters will be. As stated earlier, there are no long rants on morality or spirituality in this book. The characters as viewed at as being human – complete with their blemishes and insecurities. The main characters covered in her analysis include Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi, Vidura, Dharma, Drona, Ashwathama, Karna and Krishna. Other characters are also studied but in less detail.
Except for the slight bend of feminism in her tone mixed with a palpable distaste for the caste system of the time, the author has skilfully broken down all of the characters and does not paint any of them with her own judgement. Apart from this, there is a lot of commentary on the social rules and traditions of the time. It is difficult to say more without robbing you of some insightful revelations made in this book.
As many sources say, unlike other epics in the Indian culture, the Mahabharata is not about ideals but is instead about being Human. The whole point of the epic is to realise your nature is not just yours but is just human nature. I believe a reading of this book will further this realisation in the reader. This point is also driven home by the author in one of the closing paragraphs of the book ~”I am indeed fortunate that I can read today a story called “Jaya”, which was sung three thousand years ago, and discover myself in it.”