Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

My first interaction with this book was in 2011 fall at Mumbai Literature Festival. The Author of the books Devdutt Pattanaik was speaker at the event, the way he conducted the whole seminar and spoke about the book I made a note to check this book. The first look of the book charmed me towards it and as usual I began to interact with her by checking the back cover and zapped… was hooked to this book.

Why hooked??? It goes thus……

A son renounces sex so that his old father can remarry

A daughter is a prize in an archery contest

A teacher demands half a kingdom as his tuition fee

A student is turned away because of his caste

A mother asks her sons to share a wife

A father curses his son-in-law to be old and impotent

A husband lets another man make his wife pregnant

A wife blinds herself to share her husband’s blindness

A forest is destroyed for a new city

A family is divided over inheritance

A king gambles away his kingdom

A queen is forced to serve as a maid

A man is stripped of his manhood for a year

A woman is publicly disrobed

A war is fought where all rules are broken

A shift in sexuality secures victory

The vanquished go to paradise

The victors lose their children

The earth is bathed in blood

God is cursed

Until wisdom prevails.


The Author choose to call this books “JAYA- an Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata” instead of simply naming ‘Mahabharata Retold’. It’s not intentionally named just to stand apart from various other versions, No but he justifies his choice of title very satisfactorily before he ends the book.

The books is also literally ‘illustrated’ by his line drawings which are simple yet reminiscent.

Till today the story of Mahabharata continues to captivate, intrigue, fascinate and mesmerize to us. This one epic story from which we have learnt the art of war, the art of living, art of business which is relevant in today’s times also as it was 3000 years back. In his book Devdutt takes us into a ride of fascinating journey and retells the story in his own but brilliant way.



Vyasa narrating the Mahabharata to Ganesha. An illustration from the book.


Author has divided the book into 18 parvas same as Ved Vyasa has done in his version of Mahabharata but there are no correspondence between the versions made by each. Like the Vyasa version books has described the Great War into 4 parvas out of 18 which were devoted to – Drona Parva, Bhishma Parva, Karna Parva and Shalya Parva whereas Devdutt has compressed it into just 1 parvas. This is done because the book emphasis more on something beyond the war. It attempts to find a meaning and message for mankind hidden in the convolutions of this epic saga.

All the chapters end with some footnotes which presents alternate versions of the stories contained in the chapter, explaining historical and philosophical significance in context of the overall story. These were the best part of the book and made worth to read it numerous time. It is very easy for one to miss out the forest for the trees when one board upon this adventures trip of Mahabharata, so the Author spells out for you. Moreover, each chapter is self-reliant, in the sense that there is an appropriate start, middle and end to all of them. None of the chapters ends as a cliff-hanger.  So even when all the chapters are chronological arranged, one can read in any order, if they desire.

There was an monumental task to keep the fabric of the Mahabharata plot intact while telling the various tales and within the tale enlightening the consequences of Karma, ancestry,  social hierarchies, practices and prejudices, relationship between vedic and non-vedic tribes has been done beautifully.




Krishna delivering the Bhagavad Gita to Arjun at the scene of battle. An illustration from the book.


Beside the book is an abridged version of the Original Mahabharata, so obviously author had comprised many details. Out of the several sub-plots, he shed light only those which appealed to him. Author also missed out an opportunity to develop some of the character’s in context to keep the chapters simple, short & sweet.   Lack of poetry can be sense in his retelling of the story which focuses more on plot. All these reasons why this should not be the only books one should read about the Great Epic- Mahabharata.

Nevertheless, highly recommended book from my side.

Rating: 4.8/5










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