Good friend Nitin Pai had sent me the e-copy of ‘Yugantar’ by Iravati Karve. Was recommended to me by my friend Rupal Majmudar’s father some years ago. I finally had a chance to read it this year. It is a good book but my personal impression is that one would not have to feel terribly sad if one missed it. Perhaps, researchers who are interested in the ‘authenticity’ of Jaya or Mahabharat might be more excited to read her work which seeks to inform readers of the originality of the content by pointing out what she sees as later-day interpolations. These have been done by comparing different versions of Mahabharat available in India and based on the dates of those versions. The book is incisive for its character-analysis of different players in the epic.
The book acknowledges that it is an epic but given its secular nature, seeks to steer clear of divinity. She points out that not all of the eighteen chapters could have been part of the same advice given by Krishna to Arjuna. She says that the Yadava King was just the friend of Arjuna. His divine-like qualities and actions – now part of the Mahabharat – were added later.
Personally, I have no problems in accepting the later day versions. For me living in the 20th-21st centuries, both were versions prepared at a time when I was not around and about a time in which none of us were around. So, what is really ‘authentic’ becomes an alluring invitation for the argumentative Indian. Not for me.
Whether Krishna should have been depicted as just a friend of Arjuna or as a God who knew his God-like status (of course, if he was depicted as a God in the original version, then it is a valid point that his end does not fit in well with that depiction) is interesting for researchers. But, to the extent that it sustains many people, gives them hope and keeps them sane and purposeful, his depiction as God has been more than useful.
This description of ‘Saguna Brahman’ from a passage in ‘The life of Pi’ (I have not read it and I found it in an email that came as part of a mailing list) provides an indirect answer to her dismay at these later-day interpolations:
There is Brahman nirguna, without qualities, which lies beyond understanding, beyond approach; with our poor words we sew a suit for it – One, Truth, Unity, Absolute, Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being – and try to make it fit, but Brahman nirguna always bursts the seams. We are left speechless. But there is also the Brahman saguna, with qualities, where the suit fits. Now we call it Shiva, Krishna, Shakti, Ganesha we can approach it with some understanding; we can discern certain attributes – loving, merciful, frightening – and we feel the gentle pull of relationship. Brahman saguna is Brahman made manifest to our limited senses, Brahman expressed not only in gods but in humans, animals, trees, and in a handful of earth, for everything has a trace of the divine in it.