Mahabharata fascinates. These stories of wars and warriors have been interpreted in ways to suit the modern manager and also exist as tales that little children love to read and re-read. There are comic-books that tell these stories in their own illustrative way. So is ‘Arjuna’ yet another book that tells us the stories from Mahabharata?
This book by Anuja Chandramouli has stories from the Mahabharata where Arjuna plays a role… ‘Yes, yes,’ you might say, ‘Arjuna is all over the Mahabharata. So does this mean I’ll be reading the massive epic all over again?’
‘No, nothing of the sort. The 5.5” x 8.5” size of the book is slightly bigger than the conventional size one sees in fiction books and the font size too is large enough for even the elderly to read without straining… so the around 360 pages simply do not have the possibility of including all the stories of Mahabharata that do not have a direct connect to Arjuna.’
Let me take you through one of the chapters which is all about Arjuna winning a bride for himself… and his brothers! This chapter doesn’t just tell us about that story of Arjuna being able to pierce the eye of the fish… a story that I have been reading and listening to since my nursery days… the book strives to inform you little known facts about Drupad, the father of Draupadi and how she was actually born. I didn’t know about Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna being twins… I wasn’t very sure about the enmity between Drona and Draupad… I wasn’t completely sure about the ways in which they were all linked to Arjuna. The way the story is told in the book, makes the way destiny works, so easy to comprehend.
The language used is easy and not the sort that stiffens awkwardly and uses nuances and expressions that are now archaic. So one reads about ‘…an imprudent and blustering mode of attack’ when Duryodhana and his brother rush into a tactically shaky attack to defeat Draupad. And the Pandavas wait on the flanks and ‘held themselves in check while Draupad pummelled Duryodhana’s forces into shameful retreat.’
Another aspect of the book that I loved was the small additions that most stories tend to overlook or simply not tell. For instance, the time when Yudhishthira is forced to lie about the death of Ashwathama, most wouldn’t have read the bonus that the Gods had granted the truth-loving eldest brother and how it was snatched at that moment.
‘Ashwathama is dead!’ said Yudhishthira, his voice trembling with the deep self-loathing he felt. Softly he added, knowing he would not be heard, ‘The elephant.’
When these words were uttered, Yudhishthira’s chariot, which would levitate four fingers above the ground, became surface-bound, His strict adherence to the path of Dharma had earned him this exalted position above his fellows. But the one corrupting half-truth made Yudhishthira’s fall from the impeccable virtue, visible to the whole world.
And when it comes to noting and expressing little nuances, the book really overtakes most other attempts at telling the stories of Mahabharata. Look at the way Yudhishthira reaches his decision to let Draupadi be the wife of the five brothers…
Yudhishthira reflected briefly on the right thing to do. He noticed the covert glances his brothers threw Draupadi’s way and realised that if they were completely honest with themselves, they all wanted her and would go on wanting her.
The charming facet about this book is that it weaves in little stories within the main story without letting the entire thread of stories go haywire. So obviously if we are talking about how Arjuna wins Draupadi, we need to know not just how she was born or what the celestial connections were that made her birth possible, we’d also appreciate if the writer told us something that we just did not know. I’m sure most of the readers wouldn’t know how the Gods justified Draupadi getting married to five men. Listen, it isn’t easy to justify such an action even today… and the book gives us an explanation that is perfectly acceptable:
‘The practice of a woman taking more than one husband has become uncommon, though it is by no means without precedent. This, however, is a unique case because it has been pre-ordained. In a former life, the virtuous Draupadi could not get a husband because of her Karma. She prayed to Shiva for a boon and the three-eyed Lord appeared before her to grant her wish. In her eagerness she repeated her desire for a husband five times and Shiva acquiesced, promising her that she would have five husbands.’
So now we know that Draupadi was destined to have five husbands… and we also know how the story is having elements of thought that are so modernistic in a setting that is thousands of years ago! The Pandavas were happy with their common wife, but the real question is: Was Draupadi happy with her five husbands?
…in the deepest recesses of her heart, she would always nourish a special attachment to the handsome hero clad in deerskin who won her hand after performing a seemingly impossible feat at the Swayamvara. She kept these findings hidden within her, as neither she nor her beloved belonged exclusively to the other. Yet. Till her dying breath, Draupadi secretly loved Arjuna more than his brothers.
The book, let me remind you, isn’t just about Arjuna’s marriage… there is much more to Arjuna than just being ping-ponged by destiny to remain a part of stories that rightly belong to others. Arjuna has his own tales too and the twenty-one chapters take us chronologically through all of them. There are times when the stories within the stories tend to come on again and again… but this is something that can be expected when every event has an inherent tie with every other. With more than a hundred major characters popping up, I’m sure telling the stories from Mahabharata isn’t an easy task at all… but the book tells them all in a simple straightforward language and does it without making them sound unreal.
Details of the book:
Name: ARJUNA: Saga of a Pandava Warrior Prince
Writer: Anuja Chandramouli
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing
Price: Rs 250/- (in 2014)
Published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 27 January 2014