Just how many retellings of a story can you take? The correct answer for me: As many as possible. And if the retelling happens to be a simplified version of the epic, Mahabharata, presented in a visually attractive format – then bring it on!
Mahabharata, put very simply, is about the story of two families, who fight to find the rightful ruler of a kingdom. (The backstory of the war is certainly more important and interesting but I have used up all of my childhood to watch it one TV, and a good part of my reading time to know about the events and yet, I cannot remember them all.) But in a nutshell – the 100 Kaurava brothers (and their supporters) fight the 5 Pandava brothers (along with supporters again, of course) after having disrespected their wife (one wife, 5 brothers) in public.
Amruta Patil’s version of Mahabharata is split into two brilliantly bright graphic novels – Adi Parva and Sauptik. The former deals mostly with the generations preceding the Pandavas and Kauravas, tells the story of how a king’s ego stars the whole cycle of events, with a curse nonetheless. The second book however, focuses more on the characters we know or read about, including Krishna and Karn – two important figures in the battle story. The storytelling is simple but doesn’t lose the stream of thought. However, it does keep moving back and forth between a Sutradhar (a storyteller who traditionally passed knowledge through stories) and the story. The Sutradhar’s role is important here because I feel the villagers sitting huddled close to her/ him (the Sutradhar changes) ask the questions which need to be asked – whether it is about the role of Dharma or about who should have been the favourite of the Gods, and many more. One of them, Patil’s questioning of whether Karn should ideally be looked at as the hero who lost everything, is interesting. We have been told forever that Karn – left at birth by his unwed mother (who later give birth to the Pandavas). Karn and Arjun – step brothers – were given similar powers and capabilities. However, while Arjun decided to learn patiently and follows his guru (the chapter on Arjun being able to see only a bird’s eye when asked to practice archery), Karn wanted to learn as much as he could even if his teacher was not ready to teach him yet.
It must also be a challenge when trying to fit one of the most complex and longest stories of Indian mythology into 2 books. Therefore it makes sense that some episodes get left out from her storytelling. I am still glad that she does dedicate a few pages to Krishna, including the story of him picking up a whole mountain on his little finger, and the one where he dances on top of the serpent demon Kaliya after defeating him in a battle in the river Yamuna. Oh and also, how a young Krishna manages to charm every single Gopi in the neighbourhood and they all come together to dance with him and each of them have a part of his divine attention, yet Krishna never belongs to any of them.
The books have their shortcomings but they are definitely a good read, especially if you enjoy Patil’s art style – bright with defined lines and less texts. Graphic novels are expensive, but if you find it in a library, I’d suggest you to buy it. (Attaching some photos of some of my favourite pages from both books below).
You can also follow me on Instagram because I update that more often with the books that I am reading or buying (I often buy more than I can read and i do not repent this at all). My Insta handle @indiancuriositea