Book review – ‘Yuganta’ by Irawati Karve

Yuganta – The End of an Epoch by Irawati Karve ( first published in 1967 ) is a detailed research on the greatest Indian Epic – Mahabharata.


This book can be shelved in  the genre of Non-Fiction/Mythology and it is a very interesting read, thanks to my sister for recommending it.  The research and the effort that the author has put in is remarkable. The writing is of a great style. There are not going to be much of spoilers here, so please read on !

Yuganta talks majorly on two things – the intricate life of a few important characters like Kunti, Draupati, Bhishma, Dharma, Karna and the after-math of Mahabharata. The author tries to substantiate the versions of Mahabharata ( yes, there are three to many versions ) and clearly dissects the great epic giving us the would-be-interpolations and the near-facts  – for example, did the enraged Krishna lunge towards  Bhishma with  his whip or discus ?

On this premise, she also tries to argue with the readers on a few very important events in Mahabharata with empathy and anger when necessary. The first version of the book was published in 1967, appreciate the bold work.

Most of us have grown to like and accept Mahabharata from the tell-tale versions and thanks to the new Star Gold version of it, we had a small re-cap. We should naturally have the basic questions to ourselves – how could the most-ideal-man Dharma have Draupati as a stake in the dice game ? How did Krishna convince Arjuna to kill his own cousins ? How did the great Bhishma let the injustice happen to Draupati in the court when she was being disrobed?

But little  did we bother to know the after-math of Mahabharata and the short-comings of important characters. The version that we were told has been edited to many layers that makes only a few researchers privy of certain facts. Thanks to Irawati, we can explore the epic a little deeper.

The burden of life that  Kunti, Vidura, Dhrithrashtra and Gandhari had to carry on their shoulders after the war is simply agonizing to read.  This books does a good job of giving us the answers for the questions that we did not ask and becks us to ask more questions. There are logical assumptions in places like who really is Dharma and how Kunti had her three sons. Despite her unforgivable mistake in Karna’s birth, she had been a great mother, a queen and counsellor to the Pandavas till her death. She had her own flaws, but never compromised or succumbed to her past. Yuganta celebrates Kunti and Draupati at places, and it also explains the plight of Gandhari – a beautiful girl from the hilly kingdom who later had to swallow her disappointment for the rest of her life and devote herself  to the blind Dhrithrashtra (their conversation towards the end and Gandhari seeing the world after many decades, is all written beautifully).The same is with Vidhura, who despite being the fittest among the three sons of Vyasa was denied the kingdom. He is so wise he learns to accept it and lives the fullest.

My favourite was the chapter ‘Draupati’ ( the next favourite was ‘Krishna Vasudeva’ ) and when I completed it, I felt it heavy to flip to the next chapter. It leaves us in shock as to who really loved Draupati more and how she failed to realize it. Each chapter is more captivating than the other. Yuganta also  elaborately talks about Bhishma’s sacrifices as well as his callousness or indifference in a few incidents where his interventions could have stopped the great war ( can call it an epic fail ?) . We come to know that the later versions of Mahabharata have been interpolated to a great extent that we see only the ideal heroes and the perfect villainous characters. Here is where Yuganta feels like a guide to interpreting the Mahabharata not only with facts but also with a rich emotional content. There is an incident where Karna deserts Dhuryodhana to save his own skin. Such shocking revelations make the book all the more engrossing.

Some of the facts from the original Mahabharata makes us think that it was more history than fantasy where even good men made mistakes and some of them had to pay terribly for them. In a way, we can relate more and it kindles a new interest in us to read the Mahabharata. There is love, sacrifice, political vendetta, revenge, greed, agony and what not. Mahabharata is the embodiment of human emotions – bundled up in a single epic.  Towards the end of the book, there is a philosophical debate and the author’s anguish towards the decadence of a great culture to the lowly sunk idol-worship. It makes us wonder if there were no extraordinary humans after Krishna, Buddha that we had to dig from their graves and idolize them to live a meaningful or restrained life. It is clear that the culture during the Yuga ( Dwarpa ) when Mahabharata took place had utmost acceptance towards short-comings  and human tendency to err. And just like the author, I took have asked myself the question – ‘where did we slip’ ?  

All  I have written is a review about the greatest review of Mahabharata.

Highly recommending this book to those who love mythology and are not too sensitive when it comes to their religious beliefs.

2 thoughts on “Book review – ‘Yuganta’ by Irawati Karve

    1. Thank you Janani. Our history was interpolated so much so that we had made Gods out of them. This book is very informative. The author even goes on to call Ramayana a mere poetry.
      You should try reading it.

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