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The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic Paperback – October 15, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Narayan is a trustworthy guide to the heart and mind of India.”
(Sunday Times)

From the Inside Flap

The Mahabharata, together with the other great Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana, embodies much of the cultural and religious heritage of India. Based on the narrative of the great war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, it tells of warriors, kings, saints, and goddesses caught up in the romance and drama of family intrigue. With its diversity of plots and themes-including the philosophical teachings of the Bhagavada Gita-the Mahabharata has entertained and influenced Indian audiences for nearly two thousand years. R. K. Narayan's abbreviated prose version provides a superb and elegant rendition of this great epic.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226568229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226568225
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #881,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Walter O. Koenig on January 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is only useful for those who want a very basic introduction to the Mahabharata, and only want to invest a minimum of time doing so. This book will give the reader the basic outline of the Plot, but does not dwelve into the many important Philosophical portions of the Epic, and the "outside stories". The book is well written. I like the style of R.K. Narayan. As an introduction this book is much better than that of Buck, not only because Narayan is a better writer, but because he had a better knowledge of the Epic, Hinduism and Sanskrit Literature.
If you must get an introduction, I recommend the one by C.V. Narasimhan, which based on selected verses, and brings the reader much closer to the Mahabharata.
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By Zerzura on November 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
This shortened prose version of the Mahabarata by R. K. Narayan presents the engaging adventure of the five Pandava brothers' efforts to reclaim their empire. The story itself has nearly everything anyone could want in a good book: edge of your seat action and edge of your mind inspiration. In addition to celebrating the Pandavas' super-human strength and feats of daring, the book also catalogs many types of human relationships: mother-child, sybling-sybling, husband(s)-wife, king-courtier, mentor-apprentice, even writer-reader..... Long after you finish reading this book, you'll be realizing why Hindus recognize it as one of their two most sacred books---it's got everything! And yet it rarely stoops to the level of being preachy. (Narayan also has a shortened prose version of the other sacred Hindu book---The Ramayana.)
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Format: Paperback
This is a good book for those who do not know Mahabharat story. The reason it is good for the beginners is that it is concise and flows through the subject quickly. So it would be a good book for new readers who can quickly get a sort of overview of Mahabharat.
If you already know Mahabharat plot and story, try and get a little advanced book.
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Having just been mesmerized by my exposure to Indian literature through Ramesh Menon's outstanding version of the Ramayana, I looked to continue my journey through this corner of the literary world by reading the Mahabharata. Unlike the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita (which I intend to read next), no version of this tale jumped out at me on my perusal through Amazon reviews. I decided to give Narayan's version a shot due to name recognition and popularity. Having just finished the tale, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I found the story itself to be interesting and Narayan's prose to be quite readable; on the other, I felt like I just scratched the surface of this great tale. I typically avoid abridgments, and should've known better than to think that an epic could be reduced to a mere 190-some pages, but I was truly disappointed by the abbreviated nature of this version. After relishing the richness of Menon's Ramayana, I felt like this version captured neither the rich grandeur needed to appreciate the scale of the epic nor gave the attention necessary to allow the reader to dwell on the deeper philosophical points. Because unlike the Ramayana, which was truly an archetypal "good versus evil" struggle, the Mahabharata is full of interesting moral wrinkles because it keeps the battle in the family. Brother fights brother and protege fights mentor, as several generations of this family are involved. Although the Kauravas (and Duryodhana in particular) are cast as the instigator and oppressor, I cannot fully disagree when Duryodhana gives his side of the story or when Yudhistira has his misgivings both before and after the war. Most emotionally and philosophically poignant are the doubts of the stoic and brave Arjuna as the families are at the brink of war.Read more ›
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Reducing the Mahabharata to a digestible narrative is VERY difficult (the poem being about 8 times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined). However, Narayan has done a nice job in his attempt, and a text that would otherwise be almost totally inaccessible due to its daunting size, is made thus accessible. So, job well done on that score. However, so much is left out, elided or smoothed over that it's hard to really make use of the text as a means of understanding the Mahabharata's epic style and points of interest. If you want to simply acquaint yourself with the overall basic (but still incomplete) narrative then this is a reasonable option, but if you want to enter the world of the Mahabharata on a level anywhere approaching its cognate Greek cousins - this is woefully incomplete. For that purpose I would begin looking at Narasimha's work and that of J.D. Smith. If you REALLY want to enter this world there is the still incomplete Chicago translation, the Clay Sanskrit Library rendering (also still incomplete and not based on the critical edition), or the, again still incomplete (but moving faster than the rest), rendering by Bibek Debroy.
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Highly readable and tells the story well for a modern audience. However, its success is also its weakness, as the retelling shifts the weight of the storytelling to the events prior to the war itself, saving only a few pages for the actual battle, which takes up most of the Sanskrit epic. Also, Narayan tends to whitewash some of the Pandavas' more questionable actions, some of which Doniger points out in her Foreword. Narayan's effort at telling this story does not exceed his skillful retelling of Kamban's Ramayana. I use this version when I teach the Bhagavad Gita in my Religions of India course just to give students the basic context of the text in an easily digestable format. I would not use this version if my primary goal were to teach the Mahabharata itself because the whitewashing often means that complicated choices are not visible, and the complexity of the story is somewhat lost. Also, Narayan has the tendency to summarize the story, rather than just tell it in concise form, which makes it expository in tone at times.
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