Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: The Mahabharata by William Buck

This is an easy to read translation (if any are truly easy) of the great epic tale from India about the terrible feud and resulting battle between the Pandavas and Kurus (really two branches of one family). In some ways it is not always absorbing because there are so many details a modern author might skip without realizing their future importance in another book such as the Ramayana, which Buck also translated and which I own, though I have not read it yet. However, in sum, Buck has made of the Mahabharata one massive, continuous tale, exciting(in a boo-hiss-yay! kind of way) to those who love complex tales of deceit and treachery, of battle and bloodshed, of lovely women tossed on the gambling table to the same of the one Pandava who should have known better. Buck's rendition moves events around and drops unnecessary texts, and even dares to remove the most sacred text of ancient India, the Bhagavad Gita from where it usually occurs in the Mahabharata, just at the beginning of the epic battle. If he were alive today he would argue rightly that someone probably just dropped it into the Mahabharata in the first place to make sure it would never get lost; that really it existed perfectly on its own once and now again. Buck simply sums up the 18 chapters in one sentence, and I do miss the Gita’s summary of Yogic monistic belief that only God exists and all Gods are one God, and all that seems alive are just shadows of God on the stage that God is creating for a play that his shadows to act or “play in” at every moment. However, leaving it out allows the story to carry the reader beautifully to the lovely ending on Mount Kailas, "By Narayana's widespreading tree whose leaves are songs, on the grass plateau high on the sacred and eternal breast of Kailasa, the Players met under the coloured shadows and asked, "What shall we play next?” 

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