Dec 30, 2018

Book Review: Ramayana vs Mahabharata by Devdutt Patnaik

The title of this book leads one to believe that it attempts to show how different the 2 epics are from one another. As one reads the book however, it becomes clear that the intention of the book is two fold. It brings out the similarities as well as the differences. This is also evident from how the book is structured, its grouped into 8 sections with multiple chapters and the title of each chapter begins with "Both".

For example, "Both are family disputes over property". If you have the faintest recollection of the 2 epics, you might be able to guess what this is referring to. In the Ramayana, Bharat's mother Kaikeyi convinces Dasharatha to make Rama go into exile, which he accepts willingly. In the Mahabharata, the Kauravas trick the Pandavas to do the same through an act of gambling. 

The author show other parts of the epics that relate to the same theme. For example, in the Ramayana, the family dispute also occurs between Vali & Sugriva, who are brothers. Vali overpowers Sugriva by might and banishes him from the kingdom. Ravana also does the same with his half-brother, Kubera before establishing his rule over Lanka. The latter is usually not covered in many renditions of the epic, and thus the book also educates the reader on less known facts.

There are references into local folk retellings of both the epics. For example, in the chapter "Both have secret stories of vengeance", the author draws out a retelling that shows how Surpanakha (Ravaana's sister) is the mastermind and seeks out Rama with the intention of causing Ravana's downfall. In the case of the Mahabharata, there is another retelling that shows how Bhishma kill Shakuni's father & brothers, and that's the reason why Shakuni ensures the Pandavas & Kauravas never became friends. 

These retellings lend a darker theme to both these epics and educate the reader about how the world is clearly divided into black or white, hero vs villain. The most popular renditions of the Mahabharata show Bhishma to be a noble warrior. These retellings bring out his character flaws. 

There are also references to Greek mythologies & other religions like Judaism, Buddhism & Christianity to draw out both similarities & differences. This gives the reader a wider perspective & also brings in credibility into the author's vast knowledge of the subject at hand.

Its important to note that this book is more like a summary and does not elaborate the details in a story like mode. Hence, this caters more to the advanced reader. By no means is this book an introduction to the two great epics. If one is new to either one, the reader would be lost in a sea of facts, and not find much interest in reading through this book. 

This book is a treat for all those have read multiple versions of the Ramayana & Mahabharata, including the author's own versions (Sita & Jaya). Since both these epics are usually read independently, this book is unique and gives insight into how they are related and intertwined. 

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

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