Just finished reading Irawati Karve’s ‘Yuganta– The end of an epoch‘. It is an English version of the original Marathi book written in the 1960s. In a series of compelling essays, she draws sketches of the most prominent characters of the Mahabharata. What is striking is that she treats the Mahabharata, not as a religious text, but as a historical journey with nuggets of anthropological information from that era.
Krishna is not treated as God but as a normal human being with superior political wisdom. Each character’s strengths and flaws are highlighted. Bhishma falls short of her expectations when he repeatedly disregards consent or wishes of women (Amba, Ambika, Ambalika, Kunti, Madri, Draupadi) in his quest to consolidate Hastinapur’s position. Was Draupadi’s ambitiousness welcome in that age? There are pertinent comparisons such as: when Sita was in trouble in the Ramayana not one of her own family supports her. While the contrary happens with Draupadi where the whole of Panchal enters the Kurukshetra to avenge her dishonour.
What I loved most about her research is the effort to sift later adulatory additions from the original text. The last chapter revisits the era, its moral value system, and traces how stark reality in literature in India (displayed in the Mahabharata) eventually made way for the Bhakti phase. And later, all Sanskrit plays talked all about perfect and ideal heroes and heroines rather than real people. The Mahabharata is all about the choices we have to make. As Krishna says in the Bhagavadgita, one cannot be a witness or bystander in this journey of life. You have to act. And the circumstances in which you act, the choices you make, determines one’s greatness.
A very thought provoking read. And yes, the Mahabharata is undoubtedly my most favourite book.