Mahabarata – A Modern Retelling

For some reason I saw this book and felt compelled to read it, which derailed me from my other studies. That is okay. I finally finished reading this modern and easily digestible abridged version of the epic Vedic poem/story and religious text that British poet Carole Satyamurti deftly composed in blank verse. It was very interesting and enlightening, with numerous similarities to other religions and/or belief systems. This tragic story is told through the ancient bard Ugrashravas as relayed to brahmin seers. I will highlight only three thoughts. In no way can I do justice to this work; however, do recommend it as an easily read and followed poem/story all 888 pages no including the Forward and Preface, which are important. I would also recommend going to the back and reading the Afterword, which further defines the extent of Ms. Satyamurti’s work. I consider it is worth keeping handy among my other religious texts and studies. I include only page numbers behind quotations and the pagination is the same in the hard and soft cover versions. I initially discovered it at our local library then Kathy bought me a used copy in December that I can tab and write in, which already has some helpful highlights!

In the Prologue, the assertion that runs throughout the story, is that “‘What the poem contains concerning dharma, pursuit of wealth, pleasure, and final freedom, may be found elsewhere. But you can be sure that what it does not contain is found nowhere.'” (6) I consider this to be an interesting and relevant assertion when one compares some of the foundational characteristics found within Mahabarata to other beliefs. Placing to the side the three monotheistic religions of the book, are there essentially X numbers of god/desses, stories, teachings, etc, parts of which bards, seers, scholars of various religions/beliefs have adopted to their own belief systems? This is plausible and one among several regions in which such an adaptation occurred was Roman Gaul and Britain where god/desses were different yet the same, in simplistic terms. The beginning assertion is found verbatim in the Epilogue (843), and elsewhere…the beginning and the end meet in the middle of the war.

In the Prologue the gods are summoned by Brahma based on a please from Earth due to the ensuing havoc that the human world was spreading throughout her world. Earth pleaded with Brahma and bowing before him said “‘O Lord Brahma, I am overwhelmed by so much wickedness. I shall be destroyed!'” Brahma told all of the gods that “‘Earth is in danger. You must each be born as humans, using a portion of yourselves to endow a human being with god-like power. Employ your attributes as you see fit. Pitch your strength against the demonic forces which threaten to engulf the entire earth.'” (9) While this story begins with concern the Earth Mother, the bulk is about brutal warfare and fulfilling one’s duties in their current life based on the karmic influences on actions and outcomes. Modern warfare is brutal but we have learned that ancient warfare, especially that on a grand scale was truly unrelenting with its extraordinary vicious acts. The gods in Mahabarata bestowed upon men, some who were conceived by the gods, celestial weapons of mass destruction, to use modern terminology. I have to wonder that mas destruction of a dynasty of humankind was not exactly what Earth Mother envisioned as the end state of Brahma’s guidance to the gods.

Is there such a thing as karma? I believe nothing is mere coincidence yet really dislike the adage the everything happens for a reason, blah and so on, and so it goes says Voltaire in Candide. I can put in a working context the idea of karma shaping one’s life through actions in past lives and souls (good and evil) being “reborn” into new forms. How else can one explain the continual downward spiral of humankind and its treatment of all living beings, destruction of Earth, Waters, everything? In The Teaching Continues, after the massacre of two dynasties, Bhishma exonerates the royal cousins of blame saying instead that “A person’s karma shapes their life and death. And, beyond that, there is the cosmic plan, the grand design constructed by the gods.” (747)

I would be interested in what other Folk know and understand about the Vedic pantheon. I am primarily Celtic but have aspects of Greek and Egyptian, and am quite interested in the Vedic.



Satyamurti, Carole. Mahabarata – A Modern Retelling. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2015.