Wednesday February 20, 2019

Sons of Gods: A new version of the Mahabharata

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Photo: hindutva.info

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.

 

Next Story

Westerners Adopt Indian Practices, Deny Giving Due Credits

There is an argument by some Hindu liberals thinking “what the problem in it”? They think our knowledge is globalized by West in the same way we consume inventions of the West. But it’s a very naïve argument.

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Its time Indians in general and Hindus in particular should be vigilant and should have an academic mind set to respond to such misadventures to protect our own heritage and Dharma. Hindu Council Of Australia

By Shashi Holla (WA) and Surinder Jain

Colonial or a white supremacy mind set may be clever enough to adopt Hindu practices but denies giving credit where it is due. Stealing Hindu Intellectual Property, they do not hesitate to rename and repackage so that they can sell it back to India for immense profits. Off course, they will leave no chance to tell Indians to stop their superstitious ways and to adopt the new scientific knowledge which “they” have “invented”.

Following has been already digested or appropriated by West. Some of the Western academics don’t believe that they belong to India.

Yoga Nidra   AS  Lucid Dreaming

Nadi Shodhana AS Alternate Nostrils Breathing

Vipassana  AS Mindfulness.

The latest addition to this list is

Pranamyam AS Cardiac Coherence Breathing

Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders.[29] But the latest attempt has taken the appropriation too far. An American magazine “Scientific American” in its article titled “Proper Breathing Brings Better health” termed “Pranayama” as cardiac coherence breathing. (15 January 2019). The article gives us an idea about how West is so sophisticated in stealing knowledge from ancient cultures particularly Hinduism.

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Man doing Yoga. Wikimedia Commons

Prāṇāyāma is mentioned in verse 4.29 of the Bhagavad Gītā.[11] According to Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is, prāṇāyāma is translated to “trance induced by stopping all breathing”, also being made from the two separate Sanskrit words, prāṇa and āyām.[12] Pranayama is the fourth “limb” of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[14][15] Patanjali, a Hindu Rishi, discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice.[16] Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana.[18]

“Pranayama” a department of Yogic science practiced and documented 5000 years back ( even 15,000 years back) by Rishis is not even acknowledged by the author of the article. If one read the article they vaguely suggest that breathing exercises also existed in China, Hindu and in Greek culture.  This is how appropriation of ancient techniques takes place by West.  As Sankrat Sanu an entrepreneur, researcher and writer put it in his tweet “after erasing the origin they claim it as their own invention, attack original traditions as Superstition”.

As famous Indian American Author Rajiv Malhotra summarizes: “The article standardizes cardiac coherence breathing as Chinese, Hindu, Greek and various traditions as equal origins, and then modern West turns it into science”. Its time Indians in general and Hindus in particular should be vigilant and should have an academic mind set to respond to such misadventures to  protect our own heritage and Dharma.

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The article standardizes cardiac coherence breathing as Chinese, Hindu, Greek and various traditions as equal origins, and then modern West turns it into science”.  Pixabay

There is an argument by some Hindu liberals thinking “what the problem in it”? They think our knowledge is globalized by West in the same way we consume inventions of the West. But it’s a very naïve argument. West has created an eco system and mechanism in which their knowledge system is Well protected and patented by international norms. Unless West does not give a new name and fits into their framework native wisdom is not recognized in academia and media. Whereas Hindus were generous in sharing their health techniques freely from millennium never thought they will struggle in proving things which belong to them. In fact in a westernized framework of Yoga and other techniques Indian scholars, insiders and practitioners are blatantly ignored. So our own knowledge will be repackaged and exported back to us at an extra price and conditions.

Also Read: Climate Change Will Melt Vast Parts of Himalayas: Study

Many of our practices are being called to be Biofeedback systems. According to WikipediaBiofeedback systems have been known in India and some other countries for millennia. Ancient Hindu practices like yoga and Pranayama (breathing techniques) are essentially biofeedback methods. Many yogis and sadhus have been known to exercise control over their physiological processes. In addition to recent research on Yoga, Paul Brunton, the British writer who travelled extensively in India, has written about many cases he has witnessed. (Hindu Council Of Australia)