From Jaya to Mahabharata

Mahabharata 21 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, August 29, 2010

Reading the Mahabharata makes one experience rage; reading the Ramayana makes one experience peace. But things do an about turn when one reaches the last chapter.

The last chapter of the Ramayana speaks of how Ram abandons Sita; it shatters the peace and fills one with horror and disgust. The last chapter of the Mahabharata explains how Yudhishtira finally experienced heaven, and one is filled with great joy.

Why did the authors of the two epics twist the tales so? It is like creating a grating sound at the end of a superb musical concert or giving succulent fruits after a lousy meal. The experience transforms at the moment of climax. The negative ends on a positive note and the positive ends on a negative note. Was this deliberate? Or was this a coincidence, an accident? I feel this was deliberate.

The two epics are twin epics – meaning one cannot be understood without the other.. And so they display remarkable congruence in form. Ramayana is about rule-upholding at any cost. Mahabharata is about rule-breaking. Rule-upholding seems good in the Ramayana until the last chapter, when innocent Sita is at the receiving end of draconian family traditions. Rule-breaking seems necessary in the Mahabharata, until one realizes the underlying truth through Yudhishtira’s epiphany in the last chapter.

Most retellings of the Ramayana ignore the dark last chapter of Sita’s abandonment. It is too much to take. It destroys our image of Ram. Likewise, few narrators of the Mahabharata amplify the epiphany of Yudhishtira in the last chapter. It is overshadowed by the complex plots full of dark secrets, intrigue, exploitation, rage, rape, yearning, frustration and bitterness.

Not surprisingly, Mahabharata has not merited as much translation as the Ramayana. Most storytellers focus only on a few episodes, those that bring joy, like Bhima killing Bakasura, Drona teaching Arjuna, or Krishna rescuing Draupadi. Modern sanitized versions of the tale edit out the controversial characters like Shikhandi and disturbing stories related to sex. Not good for the children, is the standard excuse. So many generations of Indians have grown up with little knowledge of the true extent of this grand cultural inheritance.

The original epic was called Jaya, then it was called Vijaya, then Bharata and finally Mahabharata. Jaya had about twenty five thousand verses while the final form had over one hundred thousand verses. Jaya was about spiritual victory, Vijaya was about material victory, Bharata was the story of a clan and Mahabharata included also the wisdom of the land called Bharat-varsha. What began as an auspicious idea, ended up becoming a massive documentation of realities that frightened the common man. Many modern scholars, writers and playwrights, exhausted and overwhelmed by the maze of stories of the final version of the epic, are convinced that the Mahabharata is only about the futility of war.

But if one strips out the excess fat, one realizes that the Mahabharata is not a preachy tale appealing for peace. It is a determined exploration of the root of conflict. Hence the original title Jaya, which means victory where there are no losers, contrasting it with Vijaya, which is victory where there is always a loser. We realize that the Pandavas achieve Vijaya in Kurukshetra but only Yudhishtira attains Jaya, much later, six chapters after the war ends.

  • Ips

    This is a very thought provoking note on Ramayana and Mahabharata. I believe the modern versions of both are highly diluted and socially accepted forms of the original text. Issues/ events/ norms that we feel wont suit our ‘culture’ or thought process have been weeded out by the ‘learned’ translators and re-narrators of the original verse.
    Your book Jaya is one text that I found extremely focused for reading compared to the plethora of books on the same topic flooding the book stores.


    Its very much clear from all this, Nothing is Right or Wrong…its the situation that makes you decide between the Right and the Wrong !!!

    • Amol

      You’re absolutely spot on my friend! Life is all about exploring, negotiating & re-exploring that ‘Grey’ area between ‘Right’ & ‘Wrong’!

      • Don’t you think it also depends on the perspective of the person? The same situation can be viewed diffently by two people. What’s terrorism for one may be a freedom struggle for someone else. Relative reality.

    • Rashmi

      I agree!

  • i am in the process of reading JAYA. I just finished “song of god”…and it completely blew me away…..a thought provoking summary of the philosophical backbone of the epic..

    will take a few more readings to comprehend, whats been written

  • Prasad

    I agree Completely

  • Swads

    Requesting an article on the background of saying ‘Ram naam satya hai’ when someone’s dead.


  • I think your site header should change from “Author, Speaker, Illustrator, Mythologist”


    “Author, Speaker,illuminator, Illustrator, Mythologist”

  • Kesava

    where can i get the jaya Book looked for it everywhere..any link that anyone can provide me?

    Thank You somuch

    • Devdutt

      Flipkart.com or dialbook…check book sections of website

  • Dipankar Pattnaik


  • Anusha C

    Hi Devdutt,
    Heard a lot about your speeches from my father, then about the Pregnant King from a colleague. Finally, I spotted Jaya. It was a pleasure to read. Sometimes, it creates a sense of outrage, especially the treatment of women as an object of desire and tool of power. There were also many new perspectives and tidbits such as the burning of Khandaprastha to make Indraprastha, the origin of avial and so on. Just a doubt though. I remember reading the Bhagwad Gita with my grandfather and recalling that it was Bhishma who blows his conch shell first to comfort an extremely rattled Duryodhana. After that, leaders on different sides blow their trumpets, conch shells etc, creating an earth-shattering noise. Then the sermon follows. I remember being told that this made the Kauravas the aggressor, whereas you clearly state that Arjuna blows the Devdutt and Krishna the Panchajanya, announcing the start of war.
    Could you elaborate on this please? Thanx

    • Devdutt

      Its a retelling of a myth….the thought matters more :-)

  • Abhishek Bhardwaj

    Dear Devdutt sir,

    I read Jaya, Mahabharatha.
    Thank you so very much for this gift.
    I think, only silence is a true form of gratitude to you.

    I have a lot of gratitude to you and a lot of gratitude to your family and everyone involved in bringing this gift to the world.

    Kudos to you and your family for the extensive research work/hard work/sleepless nights in bringing out this gift.

    This book has completely transformed me. It is a new vision regarding Karma unexplored because it is giving a full proof with example about Karma in action. There is no question unresolved about Karma and its effect.

    Every time, I read the gift I was completely mesmerised how wonderfully you unquoted the hidden message and how wonderful that message helps to deal me with my senses that makes me feel about situation that it is a problem. Now, I see and watch my every thought that makes me sad and ask is what I am thinking is in full awareness, where is it taking me. I do a self-enquiry a that moment itself. This releases me and gives me a relaxation that is truely divine.

    Though you I came to know about he wonderful way how can we stop generate Karma and break free from Karmic cycle. It is certainly a knowledge that I was yearning for from long time.

    Thanks a lot to the Divine, Guruji, Teachers, and Family with whose help I can really try to understand the true magnificence of the gift.

    May God help you to wipe out your every Karma of this and previous birth and you ascend to the highest heaven in this life time and bring that whole heaven on our mother earth.

    Thank you so very much,
    Abhishek Bhardwaj

  • Mystical Sense

    Reminds me of Guru Nanak who wrote:
    “मन जीते जग जीत”
    May be then jaya pertains to what one wins over (overcomes) within and vijaya to what one wins over (overcomes) externally. What ensues within in this context is no less than a Mahabharata war. Externally it may be like fighting/struggling to change a social order – not necessarily a blood-shed!
    Notably, Shakti (in form of Parvati) is accompanied by Jayaa and Vijayaa.

    The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong. Carl Jung

  • vaibhav

    what great comparision

  • Ravi Goud

    Greatly illustrated, The world is all about kama, karma and moksha.

    Great sir!!


  • Prof. Sunil V. Chaudhary Anand

    Both Ramayan and Mahabharat (Bhagwad Geeta) emphasized the need for ethics in our day to day life. Both epics teaches us to respect women and behave ethically.

  • anjali bhavan

    Uh-huh? What about the Bhagavad Gita, then? Isn’t it another instance of positivity in the Mahabharata?

  • Pingback: Quora()