The best books on Indian mythology

The Books I Picked & Why

Bhima Lone Warrior

By M.T. Vasudevan Nair

Bhima Lone Warrior

Why this book?

Originally written in Malayalam and published in 1984, this Mahabharata-based novel won the Jnanapith award, the highest literary award in India, for M.T. Vasudevan Nair. The greatness of Mahabharata is that every character in the epic has a story worth telling about. In the dextrous hands of M. T Vasudevan Nair, the poignant tale of the second Pandava, attains a different dimension, forcing us to see the ancient epic in a new light. The book is a classic in every sense and in Malayalam, every word and punctuation has a lyrical quality. The English translation is excellent enough to create a long-lasting impact on the reader’s mind. A beautiful and lyrical book.


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Parva: A tale of war, Peace, Love, Death, God, and Man

By S. L. Bhyrappa

Parva: A tale of war, Peace, Love, Death, God, and Man

Why this book?

This Kannada classic written by S L Byrappa humanises each character of Mahabharata and turns the ancient epic into a modern novel. The book won the Kendra Sahitya Academy Award and is one of the greatest Indian books written in any Indian language. There is no magic, gods, or superhumans in this novel and this makes it poignant, deep, and moving. This is Mahabharata as raw as it can get and reads like historical fiction. If Bhima is lyrical, Parva is powerful fiction. It grabs you from the first page and shakes up many of our beliefs.


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Mrityunjaya, The Death Conqueror

By Shivaji Sawant

Mrityunjaya, The Death Conqueror

Why this book?

Karna is the classical tragic hero. The greatest warrior of Mahabharata, everyone who mattered wronged him. Rejected by his mother, teacher, lover, and God, the only person to stand with him was the antagonist of the epic. And that was Karna’s tragedy. He could have avoided the epic war and become the king of Hastinpura, but he chose loyalty over kingship. He could have sided with his brothers, but he chose friendship over brotherhood. The Marathi classic by Shivaji Sawant is an ode to Karna. Translated in many languages, it was one book that inspired me to become a writer.


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Thirteen Plays of Bhasa

By A. C. Woolner, Lakshman Sarup

Thirteen Plays of Bhasa

Why this book?

Bhasa, the ancient Indian poet and dramatist, who lived two thousand two hundred years ago, was perhaps the first one to think of an alternative ending to Mahabharata in his play, Pancharatra. His Oorubhanga was the first play to be sympathetic to Duryodhana, the antagonist of Mahabharata. In Pratihna- Yaugandharayanam, one of the classical Sanskrit plays in this collection, a wooden elephant in which soldiers hide is used, making us wonder whether the Trojan horse was inspired by this ancient play or vice versa. No one has reimagined Mahabharata more boldly than this dramatist of antiquity.


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Cuckold

By Kiran Nagarkar

Cuckold

Why this book?

This historical fiction is on the life of a quasi-mythical figure, the bhakti era saint, Meera. Narrated by Bhoj Raj, the husband of Meera Bhai, it is the poignant tale of India itself at the cusp of a historical event. The political and social questions Nagarkar raises in the book are relevant in every era and culture. The story of Meera, the princess who fell in love with Lord Krishna and her hapless husband who is forced to compete with God for his wife’s love. The beauty of Nagarkar’s English is bewitching. The loneliness of Rajkumar, the protagonist, throbs through every line. How difficult it would have been to be married to a saint, who is revered even after five hundred years of her death and whose compositions are still sung in temples, weddings, and homes? In my opinion, this is perhaps the best Indian English novel written so far, and I would rate it far above many of the celebrated novels for the sheer depth and power of language.


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