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.

 

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ISKCON Sues Shemaroo Ent and Comedian Surleen Kaur For Defaming Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma

A legal complaint has been lodged against Shemaroo Ent and comedian Surleen Kaur ISKCON trust for defamation

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Rishi Muni
Rishi Munis and hinduism has been trolled for long but now ISKCON has decided to act against it. Pixabay

BY Varuni Trivedi

In a new-age trend of trolling, masqued under the name of comedy Hinduism/Sanatan Dharma, Rishi-Munis and culture are constantly abused people or organizations. These people undermine the tolerant nature of the followers of Sanatan Dharma, advocates ISKCON trust in a complaint to Mumbai police against Shemaroo Ent and comedian Surleen Kaur.

Demonising Hindutva and defaming Hindu saints and mahatmas has become the order of the day for most Web series and stand-up comedians. A knowledge of culture and scriptures in addition to lack of legal action has made them bold in this practice. However, bashing this ongoing trend ISKCON has made clear that the organization will seek to put an end to these malicious ways.

The latest example of this trend that started this fire was when, comedian Surleen Kaur defamed ISKCON and also portrayed Hindu rishi and Munis along with the age old Sanskrit language in bad light. In one of her recent acts she was quoted as saying “Beshak hum sab ISKCON waley hain, par andar sey sub harami Porn waley hain”. She went to say that, “Dhanya ho hamarey Rishi-Muni jinhoney thodi si Sanskrit use kar key apney badey badey kand chupayehai….Kamasutra”.

ISKCON
ISKCON’s complaint against Shemaroo will not be taken back says Radharamn Das. PC: Organizer

ISKCON has initiated a legal proceeding against Shemaroo Entertainment and Surleen Kaur for defaming the organization, demeaning Sanatan Dharma, and associating the followers with sick content. Radharamn Das, the Vice President & Spokesperson of Kolkata ISKCON has stated that strict legal action will be taken against them.

ISKCON, in its complaint to Mumbai police commissioner, has stated that the comedian’s act was highly objectionable and derogatory, it has caused great pain to the followers of Sanatan Dharma. Hindus and ISKCON devotees worldwide feel raged at these defamatory comments.  The video which was shared Shemaroo and all its social media platforms has caused irreparable loss to our society and sentiments, the complaint states.

The complaint mentions that “There is a growing trend in India, where Hinduism/Sanatan Dharma and our Rishi-Munis, Deities etc are being constantly abused by a group of people and organizations. They are misusing the tolerant nature of the followers of Sanatan Dharma and their abuses and language and volume of abuse has only grown louder day by day.

 

ISKCON Complaint
ISKCON Complaint against Shemaroo Ent & Comedian Surleen Kaur for defamation of Sanatan dharma. PC: Organiser

There is a hidden propaganda and conspiracy to defame Sanatan Dharma, our Rishi Munis so that the youths can be easily manipulated. Through app’s like Tik-Tok etc. the focus of the foreign power’s is to destroy the character of the masses so that country can be easily controlled & destroyed”.

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An F.I.R under relevant sections against Surleen Kaur and Shemaroo Entertainment limited has been requested by ISKCON to Mumbai Police. Meanwhile, Shemaroo has accepted that the act performed by Surleen Kaur was in fact found derogatory and the same has been taken down with immediate effect from all social media platforms. However, ISKCON has clearly stated they don’t accept the apology and will continue with the legal action.

Radharamn Das of ISKCON has clearly stated that they will not accept Shemaroo’s apology, “This has become a trend to demean Sanatan Dharma. No more. We will make an example out of this nonsense”, he said.

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Author Maria Wirth Shares Her Opinions on The Idea of Hinduism

Author Maria Wirth speaks on Religion, Indian Culture, etc

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Maria Wirth
A picture of Author Maria Wirth. Facebook

By Muskan Bhantagar

Author Maria Wirth belongs to Germany and has been living in India from past 38 years.  She is the author of the book ‘Thank You India: A German Woman’s Journey to the Wisdom of Yoga’. Newsgram gets in a conversation with her over a telephonic interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Muskan Bhantagar: 38 years back when you came to visit india, what was the thing about indian culture or precisely hinduism that made you fall in love with it and stay back in India?

Maria Wirth: Actually, it was not too much India that attracted me. When I was in Germany still i had many questions like i was very much intrested in what is life and what is the meaning of life and I was reading on Buddhism at a time and I was not connecting Buddhism to India strangely, and i knew very little about India. So a friend convinced me to stop over in India and only when i bought a book by Swami Vivekananda, i discovered what great treasure is in India. I had no idea, anything about what Hinduism is about. it’s just what you hear usually in the west, is about caste systems,etc. So I didn’t associate India with anything positive actually and then by chance, I discovered there’s such a great treasure here and it is such a pity that we don’t know about it.

Maria
Maria recalls how initially she could not relate India with anything positive. Pixabay

Muskan Bhantagar: As we read in your articles that Islam and christianity have been promoting and propogating their religion for years now, but the hindus don’t do so. What do you think can be the reason behind this? 

Maria Wirth: Well I think, I was just writing an article I mean when you think how much Hindus have suffered over the last thousand years. So many were beheaded and tortured under the Muslims and then again under the British also. British were also very very brutual, especially after 1857 and etc. And hindus had no way to stand up for their religion. And I think this has gone very deep into the system of Hindus.

And then ofcourse after Independence, this secular education and even Hinduism is now put down even more than earlier. Earlier, education was not so under the Muslims, they had to lie low but they could still have gurukuls and their schools but not now.

So I think one reason is that you have been intimidated so much and also expect so much and like Arun Shourie, in his book he writes that 6th standard students learn in school, etc in Bengal that Islam and Christianity are the only religions which treat the human beings with dignity and equality. I mean such sentences. When you’re a child, it goes into you and then you just look down on it. And I think slowly slowly, even parents of these children say they have been brought up already like this.

Maria
Maria says that Hindus were previously tortured under the Islamic Community. Pixabay

Muskan Bhantagar: A large number of Indians are unaware about their own culture and heritage. What do you think can be a solution to this problem?

Maria Wirth: I mean it should get also in the schools. I was so shocked when I came to know that nothing is taught in Indian schools. Neither Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishad. Upanishad is philosophy, there is nothing to do with religion. It was very insidious that the British kind of bend or this stuff from being taught, because it doesn’t help them because it would make people strong. They wanted to destroy Indian sanskriti, Indian culture because it has lot of strength. Now like the young generation in India, they were brain-washed into believing that Hinduism is not worth anything. It’s so wrong, so wrong.

Author Maria Wirth spoke to us over various topics. We’re thankful to her for taking out time to talk to us and share her wise opinions. We hope to get more of her soon and help viewers know her better.

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The White House Echoes With Recitation of Hindu Vedic “Shanti Paath”

Religion also plays an open role in election campaigns

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White House
Introducing the peace prayer at the multi-religious service on Thursday, Pujari Harish Brahmbhatt said, "In these troubled times of COVID-19, social distancing, and the lockdown, it's not unusual for people to feel anxious or not at peace". IANS

The Vedic Shanti Paath derived from the Yajurveda has been recited at the White House during the National Day of Prayer by a pujari from a Swaminarayan temple.

Introducing the peace prayer at the multi-religious service on Thursday, Pujari Harish Brahmbhatt said, “In these troubled times of COVID-19, social distancing, and the lockdown, it’s not unusual for people to feel anxious or not at peace.”

Making a spiritual prescription for these troubled times, he said, “The Shanti Paath, or the peace prayer, is a prayer that does not seek worldly riches, success, fame, nor is it a prayer for any desire for heaven. It is a beautiful Hindu prayer for peace a” Shanti.

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Brahmbatt is from the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey.

Background, Black, Yellow, Om, India, Symbol
The Vedic Shanti Paath derived from the Yajurveda has been recited at the White House during the National Day of Prayer by a pujari from a Swaminarayan temple. Pixabay

Representatives of various Christian sects, Judaism and Islam participate in the service with US President Donald Trump.

Religion plays a central role in public affairs in the US and has evolved from dominance by protestant denominations to being more inclusive with the participation of other Christian sects and other religions.

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Both chambers of Congress and several state legislatures start their sessions with a prayer. Religion also plays an open role in election campaigns. (IANS)