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Updated: June 30, 2012 16:35 IST

Epic with no cuts

SWATI DAFTUAR
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Bibek Debroy's Mahabharata series. Photo: Special Arrangement
Bibek Debroy's Mahabharata series. Photo: Special Arrangement

Showcase: The fifth volume of Bibek Debroy's 10 volume translation of the unabridged Mahabharata is due for release

Bibek Debroy took on an epic task when he launched his 10 volume translation of the unabridged Mahabharata. Now, with the fifth volume due for release, he is halfway through the project and things are looking good.

The Mahabharata’s basic framework is common knowledge. We know of the fight between the Pandavas and the Kauravas; Draupadi’s marriage; the Bhagavad Gita.

But there is much more to this epic: countless threads of intrigue, stratagem, scheming, administrating and planning; innumerable sub-plots that accommodate fascinating meanderings and digressions, and a formidable length of 80,000 shlokas.

Debroy’s translation is based on three unabridged translations in English: by Kishori Mohan Ganguly (1870s), by Manmatha Nath Dutta (1890s) and The Pune-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute's Critical Edition in the 20th century.

It is no doubt an ambitious project, with Debroy wanting to “flesh out the myriad nuances” of the Mahabharata. The first four volumes have Debroy giving accounts of small but dramatic and telling conversations between both major and minor characters.

The fifth volume will complete the Udyoga Parva with the story of Amba who was reborn as Shikhandi.

It includes the Bhishma Parva, which covers the first 10 days of the war and has Krishna's advice to Arjuna; the Bhagavad Gita. This volume gets into the war proper.

There have, of course, been a deluge of books on the epic; each one giving this age-old tale a fresh new packaging and perspective.

The Mahabharata has a timeless quality that lets it speak to any age, any decade, quite effortlessly.

Ever so often, we find ourselves revisiting it, gleaning newer ideas and interpretations of this text.

Among the many versions of this story, there is Namita Gokhale’s The Puffin Mahabharata, Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, Trisha Das’s The Mahabharata: Re-Imagined and Amruta Patil’s Parva: The Epic. But the epic has very few complete and unabridged English translations. Most are abridged versions, owing to its formidable length.

Debroy’s massive project came from the knowledge that “familiarity with Sanskrit as a language is dying out”. In order to prevent familiarity with the epic from dying out too, there is a need to make it accessible in English, the language of globalisation.

An economist by profession, Debroy is Research Professor (Centre of Policy Research) and a columnist with the Economic Times. He has also translated the Vedas, the Puranas, the Upanishads and the Gita (into English).

Bottomline: Fleshing out the myriad nuances of the Mahabharata

Mahabharata: Volume 5; Bibek Debroy, Penguin India, Rs.599

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