Notes and Reading Material on the Mahabharata

Cross-posted from my note: Notes and Reading Material on the Mahabharata on Quora

People have shown some interest in reading material for the Mahabharata, this post should save me from repeatedly typing the same things.

Introductory books

These books are straight-forward narrations of the Mahabharata. They introduce the reader to all the major characters and plot turns. In my experience, people are not even aware of the major players in the Mahabharata. To them, it's simply the story of 5 good Pandavas vs 100 evil Kauravas. If you have never read the Mahabharata, or are unsure about what you have read, one of these books is a good place to start.

  • The Mahabharata - Amar Chitra Katha. [English, Comic]: This book, accompanied by my grandfather's stories, is my introduction to the Mahabharata. If you read this book, be sure to also read one of the two other books listed here. This book is a bit too simplistic, it's here because of nostalgic value.
  • The Mahabharata - Ramesh Menon [English]
  • The Mahabharata - Kamala Subramaniam [English]: I recommend reading this book.

Point of View (POV) Narrations

Now we come to the interesting part of the Mahabharata. If you choose to abandon a Sanjaya-esque all-knowing view of the Mahabharata, and read it from the point of view of a single character as it interacts with the Mahabharata world, you will discover that every character was right in every action they took. This is the real beauty of the Mahabharata. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. The characters behave as human beings would behave. They make decisions based on incomplete/incorrect knowledge. They are driven by lust, ambition, revenge and other human emotions. Unfortunately, I've come across precious few English books that take this approach. The bulk of the great writing related to the Mahabharata is in regional languages. (In my case, Marathi, my mother-tongue)

  • Bhimsen - Prem Panicker [English]: (from the POV of Bhima) This book is a loose English translation of M. T. Vasudevan Nair's Malayalam master-piece Randaamoozham (meaning 'Second Turn'). It is freely available on the Internet. (I recommend reading this book)
  • Mrityunjaya - Shivaji Sawant [Marathi] 'Conqueror of Death' (from the POV of Karna)
  • Dhananjaya - Rajendra Kher [Marathi] 'Conqueror of wealth', one of Arjuna's names. (from the POV of Arjuna)
  • Duryodhana - Kaka Vidhate [Marathi] (from the POV of Duryodhana) (I recommend reading this book)
  • Yugandhar - Shivaji Sawant [Marathi] 'Leader of an Era' (from the POV of Krishna) (I recommend reading this book)
  • Radheya - Ranjit Desai [Marathi] 'Son of Radha' (from the POV of Karna)
  • Parva - S L Bhyrappa [Kannada] A masterful retelling of the Mahabharata that eliminates all divine elements. I read the Marathi translation, which was brilliant. I assume the original work is even better.

Short stories and analyses. (Intermediate level)

We should now turn to books that explain the Mahabharata (or parts of it) in detail.

  • Yugant - Irawati Karve [Marathi] 'The End of an Era' (I recommend reading this book). The English translation of this book is also written by Prof. Karve herself and is very good.
  • Jaya - Devadutt Pattanaik [English] 'Victory'
  • Karna khara kon hota? - Daji Panashikar [Marathi] 'Who was Karna?'
  • Kapatneeti - Daji Panashikar [Marathi] 'Politics of treachery'

Short stories and analyses. (Expert Level)

I've separated these books from those in the previous section because I think they are better books. This is my personal opinion.

  • Mahabharat: Ek Sudacha Pravas - Daji Panashikar [Marathi] 'A Journey of Revenge' (I recommend reading this book)
  • The Lore of Mahabharata - Amaleśa Bhaṭṭācārya [English] (Translated from the original in Bengali) (I recommend reading this book)

Don't touch these books with a 10-foot pole (Personal Opinion)

These books are utter bunkum. Do yourself a favor and don't read them.

  • The Mahabharat - C Rajgopalachari [English] This book is the number one reason why people think of the Mahabharat as 5 good Pandavas vs 100 evil Kauravas. Throw it away if you have a copy.
  • Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni [English] I hate this book. Here is a balanced review of this book, one which I agree with: Palace of Illusions: The Good, Bad and Ugly Jai Arjun Singh has been kind to it. We consider books sacred in my house, so I didn't burn it, but I gave it away as fast as I could when I finished reading it.

The Reference Book

Kisari Mohan Ganguly [1883-1896] translated the Sanskrit texts into English word-for-word. He has done a great service to idiots like me, providing a ready reference that I can look up anytime I want. You can find the translated text here: The Mahabharata

You can also find the entire text of the Mahabharata in Sanskrit here (Note: this is not the critical edition printed by BORI, which is considered the authoritative version): The Mahabharata - Sanskrit

Books I want to read

These books are gems in Mahabharata literature (from what I've heard), and they are all inaccessible to me either because they are out of print or because they are in an unknown language. If someone has read one of these books and is willing to explain the salient points to me, I will pay for dinner and drinks.

  • Yajnaseni - Pratibha Ray [Oriya] 'Daughter of Fire' (from the POV of Draupadi)
  • Ini ñān ur̲aṅṅaṭṭe - P Kesavan Balakrishnan [Malayalam] 'And now let me sleep' (from the POV of Draupadi AND Karna - interleaving sections)
  • Randaamoozham - M.T. Vasudevan Nair [Malayalam] 'The Second Turn' (from the POV of Bhima)
  • The Stone Women and other stories - Shashi Deshpande [English]
  • Krishnavatara - Dr K M Munshi [Hindi] (on the life of Krishna)

Crowd-sourced Books

  • Jyeshtha - Anant Manohar [Marathi] 'Eldest' From the POV of Yudhishthira (Suggested by Sushrut Bidwai)
  • The Mahabharata - Bibek Debroy [English] (Suggested by Makarand Sahasrabuddhe)
  • Vyasaparva - Durgabai Bhagwat [Marathi] (Suggested by Aditya Kulkarni)
  • Mahabharata na Patro - Moolshanker Bhatt [Gujrathi] (Suggested by Rachana Sudharshan) A series of stories from the POV of various characters

Published On: Fri, 21 Sept 2012.