I was drawn to this book primarily because of its name – Yuganta. The word carries a musical, soulful mystery – it is romantic, it speaks of history in gigantic (end of an epoch) terms, it promises insight into one of the greatest epics of Indian literature and religion – the Mahabharata.
Iravati Karve’s book is a storehouse of scientific and historical enquiry, of years of study and research, and deep-felt insight into the characters and the times of the Mahabharata. I confess to have found more than I had hoped for in this paperback. The Mahabharata was essentially a treatise of the life and times of certain people. It was a story told by ‘sutas’ or court bards, and further embellished by latter Brahmans and sutas, to make it an ever-growing epic.
Iravati traces historical evidence to prove that “Mahabharta” or the “Great Book of Bharata” was initially a Poem of Triumph (Jaya) and later grew to magnificent proportions, from the tale of Bharata, to the “Maha” tale of the descendents of Bharata and their family feud. Iravati has no qualms in saying that there were later additions to the original manuscript and many later tales were purely imaginary and full of fantasy.
In the essay on the Palace of Maya she gives practical evidence to prove the “reality” of the palace of illusion. Similarly, she does not divinify Krishna, but depicts the humanness of his character in incidents like the burning down of the forest and ruthless massacre of the residents of Khandava.
“’Mahabharata’ is the name of a book in the Sanskrit language telling in very simple verse form the story of a family quarrel ending in a fierce battle.” Precise, down-to-earth, realistic with literary and historic value, this is how Iravati chose to introduce the Mahabharata and this is exactly how she chose to describe the main characters in this great epic.
Iravati lends flesh and bones to the characters of the Mahabharata, be it Bhishma, Vidura, Dharma (Yudhistra), Karna, Arjun or even Krishna, she analyses their human dilemmas, emotions and social stature with simplicity and relevance. However, the greatest applause goes to the characterization of the women of the Mahabharata – Gandhari, Kunti, Madri and Draupadi are seen as women who may suffer and sacrifice, but in reality they foam and froth, they seek revenge and they retaliate, they stand by their men not as mannequins, but as women with mind, spirit, knowledge, emotions and desires.
The author asserts that the men and women of the Mahabharata are real – with follies and fallacies, pride and valor, guile and guilt, pain and pleasure, sacrifice and sabotage, supremacy and delinquency, fear and threat, selfishness and charity, grandeur and austerity – the entire gamut of everything that screams of “humanness.”
I would suggest this book as a great weekend read, especially for women readers. A woman can empathize better with the depiction of the female characters, and the reason for the choices they make – the blindfolded Gandhari, emotional and jealous Kunti, Madri and her sensuality, and Draupadi and her humiliation and the question she poses at the end, “Is Love always like that? Is it always one-sided? I pine for someone who doesn’t return my love, someone else yearns for me;….”
In the essay on Father and Son that lends a new perspective to the “word-play” in the Mahabharta and the need to delve deeper into the historical truth. The reference to the undercurrents of the emotions between Vidura and Kunti with the possibility of intimacy and the description of their last days together is poignant.
The above examples are snapshots of the plethora of human emotions that seep from the essays that Iravati has compiled. Similar, pathos and sensitivity is seen in the characterization of the men. This slim volume is bulky because of the weight of the character portrayal and some very sensitive rendering.
Get your copy of Yuganta and find your own personal favorites, find a character close to your heart, get a new perspective of the life and times of the Mahabharata.