Book Review: Mahabharata

Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan

Author: Kamala Subramaniam

Pages: 870

ISBN: 9788172764050 

The story of the Mahabharata is an invaluable legacy for both the old and young. Keeping in mind the same, the version by Kamala Subramaniam that begins with the meeting of Ganga and Shantanu. The book moves ahead as it describes their marriage and Ganga drowning seven children until Shantanu asks her the reason for doing so. From there, the story progresses through the lives of Satyavati, Dhritarashtra, Pandu and the Pandava and Kaurava princes. It eventually concludes with the entry of the Pandavas into heaven. 

This version by Kamala Subramaniam published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan does a marvellous job of translating and abridging the Mahabharata. At 870 pages, the book is an excellent page-turner despite its numerous stories going on tangents. As a writer, she tends to write in short, jerky sentences, using adjectives and adverbs in abundance. She spills the melodrama left, right and centre and is not afraid to overdo it in the emotional sector especially in the character graphs of Satyaki, Bhima and Radheya. Her narrative of the post-war section takes up less than 70 pages. 

Kamala Subramaniam’s Mahabharata 16th Edition was originally published in 1965 and since then it has been reprinted fourteen times because of its popularity. Besides being one of the finest epics, it is a romantic tale consisting of heroic people and some divine characters. It is a complete literature in itself and provides readers with a social philosophy, code of life, speculative perspective on human issues, and philosophy on ethical relations. And most importantly, at the heart of the epic is the Bhagavad Gita. 

The story of the Mahabharata is an invaluable legacy for both old and young. And keeping in mind the same, Kamala Subramaniam provides a vivid narrative in this book and retells the famous story of the Pandavas and Kauravas in a convincing manner. Though it is an abridged version of the epic, the author has ensured to cover all the important events of the story in this book.

At the very best, this book is a good starting point for adults who are reading the Mahabharata for the first time but a word of caution that ignores the various sub-plots and overlooks many of the supporting characters. However, in lucid English and despite spelling errors, her version gives a very compelling rendition especially in the war sequences. While I felt that most parts of the book were well-covered, there is an unusual sense of sympathy for Radheya especially during the war sequences which I felt takes away the "objective" tone of writing.


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