Yugant studies the characters and society of Mahabharat with a keen rational attitude that no other book has ever done. Written more than 50 years ago this book still remains to me the most significant read on Mahabharat.
I first read Yugant when I was 12 and still in school. Like every other Indian kid I also knew the story of Mahabharat by heart which was taught as a fantastic tale of triumph of good over evil. There were heroes (Pandvas) who fought against the villains (Kauravas). Yugant gave a jolt to this belief. The author Irawati Karve, an anthropologist by profession, has written 10 essays – 8 about important characters from Mahabharat, one on Maya sabha in Indraprastha and the final one elaborating her idea as to why the end of Mahabharat war was Yugant – end of an era; not the way it is interpreted in religion (end of Dvapar Yug and beginning of Kali Yug) but end of an ancient social and political order which had prevailed in India for centuries.
Mahabharat war is the culmination of the internal fighting that has taken place in the patriarchal Indian society since time immemorial. But behind this family feud was the complexity and complications of the ruling Kshatriya class and various dynasties of the time. Under the pen of Ms. Karve each character of Mahabharat is a human being – just like you and me, with all the foibles and greatness that reside within us at the same time.
She starts with the introduction that tells us about the immense efforts taken by the scholars of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) to establish the Mahabharat edition based on the oldest surviving manuscript. (This part is missing from the English version that I have, don’t know why as this gives us an idea as to how daunting is the effort of segregating the original, real “Jay”Gatha from the Mahabharat as we know today with all the later additions and how it may have distorted the original version.)
The essays portray the life of Bhishma, Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi, Karna, Ashwathama, Drona, Vidur and Krishna before us. I will not go into each of them as it will take too much space and I would rather prefer you read them and form your own judgement than be prejudiced by mine. However I cannot contain the urge to mention that the essays on Krishna and the last one synthesising the thought process of Ms. Karve are my most favourites.
Krishna as described by Mahabharat is radically different from the one that we are accustomed to. Krishna of Mahabharat is the most accomplished statesman of his times. He craves and struggles for his entire life to maintain the social and political order that he thinks is the very backbone of his society. Also the idea that though Krishna told “Gita” to Arjun, the “Karmyog” preached by him applied most to himself as the rivalries among his Yadav clan were brought forth through the war and he was visionary enough to realise that this will end only in disaster; yet he fought by the side of his friends as they were wronged and fighting for justice is thought provoking.
I also want to mention a few things that the book did to me. It totally changed my perspective towards looking at History in general and Mahabharat in particular. To me all important historical personalities became human beings – with their own charisma; but still humans. Their greatness was to rise over this, to envision beyond the boundaries of their times while their feet were firmly grounded. It gave me the confidence that if they can so can anybody. It also created in me an aversion for hero worshiping that we Indians are normally so fond of. Ms. Karve’s observation about how literature till Mahabharat was original and harsh but something that made you to think deeply versus post Mahabharat literature that became populist and awarded instant gratification to the sufferer so much so that the suffering and the sacrifice both seem unreal is spot on. (Till date this trend is continued by Bollywood and all the soap operas on our ever increasing TV channels).
It also changed the way I look at religion. Though not an atheist, to me my conscious is my religion and Yugant through its reasoning that – to an ordinary Hindu his real “Dharma” still remains anonymous and a deeply individual affair has a significant bearing on my belief.
Finally – A brilliant book; you may not agree with all the arguments of Ms. Karve but it will certainly compel you to think and therein lies its triumph. A must have in your collection that you would definitely want to pass on to the next generation.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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