The Illustrated Mahabharata

The Definitive Guide to India’s Greatest Epic.

Over the many centuries since its inception, and despite this tale having been told and re-told in multiple formats, languages and media, the story still resonates today because it speaks to current day conflicts and ongoing dilemmas. The Mahabharata: the Great Story of India; an epic poem of 80 000 shlokas (verses) written over 18 massive chapters is a sometimes daunting challenge, but always a satisfying mountain to climb and to understand and learn from.

Having read multiple text-only versions of the Mahabharata over the past 25 years, I welcomed this illustrated edition. It added life and context to the story in ways I only imagined previously. I had of course watched the massive television serial but none of it ever felt authentic in the way the books did. Perhaps it was the bad acting, poor special effects and the never-ending facial-expression close ups!

This massive new tome, a large-format, 510-page glossy table-book is a collaborative effort from the Indian division of Dorling Kindersley. A team of writers and contributors worked on this, under the watchful gaze of globally-renowned Mahabharata expert Devdutt Pattanaik and the scholar Bibek Debroy (author many books including the 10 volume, critical discourse of the subject).

On first impression, the book is gorgeous. It contains numerous photos and illustrations and the beauty and crisp fidelity of the varied images is stunning. The sheer number of artworks found in this book, from photos of temple carvings and locations to scans of actual pages of ancient text, to line illustrations, oil paintings and water colours are exhaustive, far-ranging and of excellent quality.

The book does a fine job of introducing concepts to readers not familiar with Hindu mythology; covering the basics of Scripture, the pantheon of Gods and the Cosmos, as well as a look at the Hindu concepts of the Eras of time. It then goes into each of the 18 Parva (chapters of the Mahabharata) in great detail.

The stories in each of the Parvas are written in novel-like form, rather than the Original-Then Translation format that some texts use. It is well-written and engaging in style and well-sorted and beautifully illustrated.

This definitive guide, while not a literal translation of the verses, is encyclopaedic in its nature and layout. It gives the novice and learned reader new and valuable insights into the great epic and does so in an entertaining and well-organized way. To tackle so much detailed story, with this many characters is something possibly only Game of Thrones readers would understand in the modern context. But this book makes the sheer size of it manageable and does so with great aplomb.

Highly Recommended.