Book Review: The Aryavarta Chronicles, Book 1: Govinda

I just finished reading Book 1 of Krishna Udayasankar’s Aryavarta Chronicles and liked it enough to start writing this review immediately. Like any other Indian, I’m familiar with the Mahabharata, my knowledge having being acquired through numerous Amar Chitra Katha comics and some prescribed study while at school. I’ve always thought that the Mahabharata is a lot more exciting than the Ramayana. In any event, it is a lot more fascinating than the Greek epics. There are various versions of the Mahabharata and I should confess that I am not expert enough to know of the various types and the differences between them. However, I do know that Udayasankar’s version cannot be the mainstream one.

To start with, the main characters are not divine. They are just ordinary men who performed exceptional tasks in extraordinary circumstances, invoking gods such as Rudra or Hara. Maybe future generations elevated them to the status of Gods as their legends grew. The women in Mahabharata, especially Panchali, are not the supine creatures they are made out to be, in the mainstream narration of the Mahabharata. Panchali especially is her own boss and comes across as a powerful personality, intelligent, brave and of course very beautiful. Udayasankar uses lesser known names for many of her characters. Arjun is always called Partha.  Yudhistir is Dharma, Dhuryodhan is called Syoddhan, Kunti is Pritha, not even once is she called Kunti, and Krishna, the hero of Book One, is Govinda Shauri or just plain Govinda. Some of the names are spelt in a manner which I assume is closer to the language which may have been spoken during Vedic times. Panchali’s brothers Dhrishtadyuman and Shikhandi are called Dhrstydymn and Shikandin. Shikandin is not a half-man-half-woman. Rather he is a brave and fearless warrior who is misunderstood by many, including his own father.

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