Recently read the book “Parva”, a reinterpretation of the Mahabhatha by S.L. Bhyrappa. I have been meaning to read the Mahabharatha for quite some time now and Devdutt Patnaik’s video, where he says “‘good guy triumphs bad guy’ interpretation is a very pedestrian interpretation of the epics” was another trigger. I wasn’t interested in the version involving gods and divine powers, but more interested in the characters’ perception of “right and wrong” and their thought process behind their choices. A friend suggested Parva, which turned out to a be a pretty good fit for what I was looking for. I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in a non-mythological interpretation of the Mahabharatha.
Some quick summaries:
“Parva considered to be the Magnum Opus of Bhyrappa, is the interpretation of the Mahabharata from the point of view of 20th century mind. The Mahabharata story is removed from its mythological elements and the whole theme and characters are placed in the historical time of 12th century B.C in India. Bhyrappa spent five years in researching the social, economic and cultural details of the period.”
“Parva is a non-mythological retelling of the Mahabharata and is widely acclaimed as a modern classic. The story of the Mahabharata in Parva is narrated in the form of personal reflections of some of the principal characters of the epic. Parva is unique in terms of the complete absence of any episode that has the element of divine intervention found in the original.”
My own summary? After reading the book, I just felt “Such is life” — and that I think is the best tribute to an epic novel. There is no absolute “right/wrong”. Most of the story is narrated via reflections of the characters and their struggle with their own conscience to do what is “right” and their emotions after the so-called “victory” — something that you can relate it much more to the “gray” shades of everyday life. For a related post, see “The world is not binary” by my friend Shree. An important advantage of this narrative style is that it teaches life lessons. Literal interpretations can be confusing since
moral rules vary over time and space in societies (eg. polyandry and niyoga were acceptable in ancient India and even in some regions today), but people always judge the past according to the current society’s lenses — hence it’s easy to dismiss a message by questioning the morality (according to today’s standards) of the messenger. One other question that popped in my mind at quite a lot of situations was “But, is it fair?” — but I don’t want to open that door now :).
I wanted to quote sections from the book, but there were simply too many :). I will just mention that Bhima turned out to my favorite character in the book. He is brutally frank, has no respect for authority/social norms and more importantly, his actions reflect his thought process. I felt that the parts where Bhima and Draupadi reflect upon their relationship were etched out brilliantly. I am curious to read Prem Panicker’s Bhimsen as well, which an interpretation of Mahabharatha from Bhima’s viewpoint.