Saturday March 17, 2018

Sons of Gods: A new version of the Mahabharata


By Ambaa Choate

Sharon Maas reached out to me to share this retelling of The Mahabharata that she has created. It is called The Mahabharata — Sons of Gods: The Mother of all Epic Sagas. Reviews praise this version as being a good way to get introduced to what can be a very complicated and confusing story! Ms Maas also agreed to answer some questions about it. Here is her interview.

Tell us a little about your background. How did you discover The Mahabharata? What got you interested in Hindu history and philosophy?

Sharon: I grew up in Guyana, South America, a small country with a large Hindu population. Though I came from a Christian/atheist background (my parents were atheist but their families were Christian) I was always fascinated by the colorful, gaudy even, pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses you’d see in the shops and market stalls. Later on, as a teenager, my best friend was a Hindu and I was able to experience first hand some of the ceremonies of that culture.

As I grew older, I felt a longing for something “more”. As a young journalist at my first job, I got to interview a Yoga teacher visiting the country, and that was it. I was hooked. My first Yoga lesson was utterly life-changing. I went on to borrow every library book I could find on Yoga, Hinduism, Vedantic philosophy and educated myself. This was in the late 60s, early 70s.

Then in 1972 I found the book that was to set my on fire: it was about Ramana Maharshi, the  eminent sage who had passed away in 1951. I had to get to his ashram. I begged, borrowed and worked for the money to get me to India. Finally, I left in 1973, flying to England and from there overland to India with some Swiss friends.

It was while staying at the ashram—I was there for eighteen months – that I first read the Mahabharata. I couldn’t put it down – I was riveted and read it day and night. That was a big book, but I simply devoured it!

What led you to feel that there was space in the market for a new translation? What sets your version apart from others?

Sharon: The book I first read told a magnificent story, but the writing itself was extremely simplistic – almost as if written for very young children. Also, I felt there were some flaws in the storytelling itself. I had always been a voracious reader of fiction so I had high demands. Though I could feel past the flaws to the story. I felt the need for a better version, one that brought the story alive. So I went on to read other versions.

Yet every version I read seemed to have some major flaw. In most cases it was the writing – such a magnificent book deserves magnificent writing! Mostly, the books I read were mere summaries of the great work, with very bland, lifeless storytelling. But when I found a book with exquisite writing – William Buck’s version – I found that the story was not cohesive, did not flow, omitted certain vital aspects of the “plot” and so on.

Every single version I read left me wanting.

But as I read all these different versions, I discovered that a new vision, a new understanding of the book was rising within me.

In “my” version, it wasn’t the Panadava brothers, Arjuna especially, who are the heroes of the story. It is Karna. I have placed him center stage, made him the lynch-pin of the story. Without Karna, there would have been no war, no Mahabharata. No other Mahabharata version makes this clear.

I felt this very strongly way back in the early 70s.

I began to write this version down back in 1975. Over the years, I developed and improved it. One day, I decided to share my vision with others – that was in 2012 when I put a digital version of Sons of Gods online. By then it had been over 30 years in the making. Of course the writing isn’t as perfect as I would like it – I am never satisfied! But by then I was a professional novelist and was able to restructure the entire book, add dialogue, scenes etc to bring the story to life, and so on.

Have you studied Sanskrit? How was your translation done? Is it like Ezra Pound with reworking previous translations to make them smoother?

Sharon: It isn’t a translation—I know several words of Sanskrit but never studied it. It isn’t necessary for the Mahabharata – there are so many English versions, as well as a full translation of the original, that it’s possible to imbibe the story without knowing Sanskrit.

Some Mahabharata writers pride themselves on sticking close to the original version, not changing anything. I make no such claim; in fact, I have deliberately changed, subtracted, added elements to make the story “round” and alive.

We must remember that The Mahabharata was originally in the oral tradition, passed on from story-teller to story-teller. Each teller of the tale would almost certainly have been creative in the telling of it, used different words and so on. The main thing is the living story, wordless, at the centre of the tale.

The Mahabharata is a very long story. How did you choose which parts to include in your version?

Sharon: The central story is actually quite clear, and it is this core narrative we find in all the condensed versions. As I had made Karna a central figure, I linked it all back to him.

I don’t think that cutting the original is necessarily a bad thing.

In modern novel-writing we writers are warned not to “pad” the story – too much of a good thing can dilute the essence of the story, thus hiding the spirit in a multitude of excursions, stories-within-stories, and so on. My aim was to find the essence and concentrate on that.

Besides, a work of that length (18 volumes) can be so intimidating that many readers wouldn’t even start. Even the two- and three-volume editions require a huge amount of time to finish. That whole version is out there if anyone wants to read it, but for an introduction, and an understanding of the spirit of the Mahabharata, a short version works better.

It was really a matter of picking out the essential scenes and characters, and weaving them together into a unified whole.

The amount of time you spent, Ms. Maas, is impressive! It probably takes at least 30 years to really get the story right. I appreciate the emphasis that you placed on Karna as  a character. He is a tragic hero and someone it is very easy to admire as well as relate to. 

(The interview was first published at The White Hindu)

You can purchase the book from Amazon.


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Life Lessons We All Should Learn From Lord Shiva

There are lot's if life lessons that one can learn from this Hindu deity

There are many life lessons that one can learn from the philosophies of Lord Shiva. Wikimedia Commons
There are many life lessons that one can learn from the philosophies of Lord Shiva. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • Lord Shiva is the supreme Hindu Deity
  • He is a symbol of peace and tranquillity
  • There are lot’s if life lessons that one can learn from this Hindu deity

Lord Shiva as everyone knows is a Hindu God. He is one of the Trinity and is the principal deity of Hinduism.  God Shiva is considered the “destroyer of evil and the transformer” of the world. The Birth and history of Lord Shiva are topics of great discussions and confusions.

Lord Shiva is one of the principle deity of hinduism. Wikimedia Commons
Lord Shiva is one of the principle deity of Hinduism. Wikimedia Commons

Lord Shiva is known to have no end and no beginning, yet, the origin of his birth is a much sought-after topic for several generations. Many ‘Puranas’ claims Shiva to be ‘aja’ meaning the one who has no birth. Some other scriptures claim that Lord Shiva was born out of Lod Narayana or Lord Vishnu. However, the authenticity of all the claims remain unclear, and there is still a solid mystery which surrounds the origin and birth of Shiva.

Shiva is also known Mahadev, i.e., the gods of all gods and rightly so. Throughout the Hindu mythology, Shiva has been portrayed as a tranquil and peaceful figure who grants all prayers of his followers and devotees. His another name is ‘Bhole Bhandari’ because of his innocent nature.

Lord Shiva is known for his peace and tranquillity. Pixabay
Lord Shiva is known for his peace and tranquillity. Pixabay

However, other than his peaceful nature, the other thing Lord Shiva is famous for is his flaring temper. Indian mythology is full of stories about Lord Shiva causing mass destruction due to his anger. The opening of his third eye is said to cause mass destruction.

Also Read: Enigmatic Mount Kailash: The abode of Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva’s appearance is a beautiful shade of blue because of him consuming the poison from the sea to save the world. However, just like his body is shades of blue there are many shades to his personality as well. Here are few life lessons of Lord Shiva that we all need to take a note of.

  • Come what may never tolerate the evil. Being destroyer of the evil himself, Shiva teaches us to never tolerate or bow down in front of the evil.
  • Self-control is the key to living a fulfilled life. Excess is of everything is bad and losing control ourselves is worse. One should always have a control over themselves to live a successful and fulfilled life.
  • Materialistic happiness is temporary. To be happy, be adjustable like water. Shiva says that attaching our happiness to earthy, material things won’t give us long-lasting happiness.
  • Keeping calm is very important. Lord Shiva used to meditate for hours and is easily the epitome of calmness and that’s what he advocates too.
  • Desires lead to destruction. Shiva believes that desires lead to obsessions which in turn leads to destruction. Never desire more than what you deserve. Be happy with what you have and work hard for what you want to achieve.
  • Respect your family. Lord Shiva is husband to Goddess Parvati and father to Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya. He respected his children and especially wife a lot. Respecting one’s  family is very important for living a successful life.
  • Control your ego and let go of pride. Ego prevents us from achieving greatness. Let go of your pride and control your ego to live a fulfilled life.
  • Everything is temporary. Everything in this world is temporary. Time changes as do we and our choices and desires. It is better to let go of all the ‘moh maya’ and live in the moment happily with what we already have.