Monday, March 2, 2009

Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray

I finished reading ‘Yajnaseni’ by Pratibha Ray, sometime back. I even scribbled some thoughts immediately after finishing the book. ‘Yajnaseni’ is an attempt by acclaimed writer Pratibha Ray, to understand the psyche of Draupadi who has ever been gibed as a woman with many husbands or who has been always referred to in a derogatory sense.

Simply put, ‘Yajnaseni’ is ‘Mahabharata re-told in the words of Draupadi’. Most of us know the basic story of Mahabharata, so there is no revelation as such; but there are enough re-interpretations of the events, which will hold your interest till the end. 

The story begins from the end - it starts from the last journey of Pandavas and Draupadi in the Himalayas. While walking on the rough terrain, she falls down and she is shocked at the callousness of her husbands, none of whom turns back to help her. She is aghast at the treatment meted out to her. Yudhishthir accuses her of loving Arjun more than her other husbands.

‘Yajnaseni’ has been presented as a letter by Draupadi to her sakha, Krishnaa, who was always her closest. She narrates the entire story chronologically; the difficult situations she faced; the turmoils, the insults hurled at her every now and then. She asks Krishna, where was she wrong.

It is interesting to read about her spiritual relationship with Krishna and a strange interplay of attraction and insult between Karna and Draupadi; besides of course her love for Arjuna. When her father tells her that it is only Krishna who could be a suitable match for the perfect woman Krishnaa, she starts dreaming about him; but when Krishna tells her that Arjuna is actually the perfect man for her, she becomes totally devoted to Arjuna. The book tells us, how she had already dedicated herself to Arjuna, much before he won her in the Swayamvar (which anyways could not have been won by anyone else, except Karna). When Arjuna was taking her to his mother, those moments she considers as the most beautiful time of her life, because after that her life changed forever as the wife of five husbands.

Draupadi comes across as an extremely learned and almost super-human in her qualities. Draupadi has always been insinuated as the woman because of whom the battle of Kurukshetra took place, but actually it was she who had to bear the consequences of the actions of her husbands on several occasions.  The game of dice is one such example, where even after getting insulted in front of elders and her husbands; she wins them back by her wisdom.

It is absolutely must-read for any enthusiast of – if I might say - the greatest epic of all times, Mahabharata. I have already done quite some research and found that actually there is lots of good literature on the subject, floating around. I’m listing all the books I know of, below:

1. Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari – I’m reading it right now (it is the basis of most of the other books) > Buy from Crossword @ Rs 100
2. Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray (original in Oriya) – already read > Buy from Rediff Books @ Rs 292 
3. Yuganta by Irawati Karve – already read > Buy from Rediff Books @ Rs 124
4. And Now Let Me Sleep by P.K. Balakrishnan – have ordered for it > Buy from A1Books India @ Rs 100
5. After Kurukshetra by Mahasweta Devi – have ordered for it > Buy from Indiaplaza @ Rs 100
6. Mrityunjaya, the death conqueror: The story of Karna by Sivaji Savanta (original in Marathi) – not able to get English version, will have to go for Hindi > Buy from A1Books India @ Rs 400
7. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – bought recently > Buy from Indiaplaza @ Rs 411
8. The cult of Draupadi Vol I by Alf Hiltebeitel > Buy from A1 Books India @ Rs 180
9. The cult of Draupadi Vol II by Alf Hiltebeitel 
10. The Second Turn by M.T.Vasudevan Nair (original in Malyalam) – not able to find
12. The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor – got it > Buy from Indiaplaza @ Rs 245
15. The book of Yudhishthir

It is sad that most of the above have gone ‘out-of-print’. But, of course, no matter what I’m definitely going to hunt those down. It will be interesting to read so many versions of Mahabharata. 


  1. I liked your writing style. You might be interested in Sarala Mahabharat

  2. Hi :-)

    Liked the review...

    A fren of mine has read Yajnaseni may be will borrow the book from her...

    Of your list I have read Palace of Illusions, it is a fabulous book...Have even written about it in my blog :)

  3. @ Smita - First of all, thanks for following my blog :-) ..and wait till you read Yajnaseni, Palace of Illusions will sound juvenile to you. Yajnaseni is more mature and rooted to the original story that we have grown up with. I'm reading Palace of Illusions right now, in fact, almost finished..will surely check your review.

  4. A very well-written book is "Mahabharata" by Kamala Subramaniam. Then there is KM Ganguli's "The Mahabharata". This is in the free domain as well.

  5. Hey Sayontan, I have got KS' version. I have also downloaded KM's version, as usual yet to read both. I have also got Mrityunjaya, Second Turn and I'm awaiting the delivery of 'The Book of Yudhishthir'. I could not get 'Parva', it is out-of-stock everywhere. Rest all I have.

  6. hey hiee P&P. That's awesome. really awesome.
    Even I am 1 of the fascinatees.. of Mahabharata.
    Actually I am musician. Follow the tradition of practicing for 10-12 hours a day.
    Mahabharata has been xtremely useful for me. I have got many mysteries solved through that.
    I believe that it is one of the greatest lessons for the mankind. Well since you have read much more than me about it, u know it better.
    My biggest curiosity about it is EKLAVYA. Because I learn from a great perfectionist & eklavya is the best example of perfection.
    I have read Yagnaseni & Mrutyunjay & few more books (dnt remember the names.) Also have tried to find on internet. But not with much success...:-)
    There is no focus on him in any book. Unfortunate!!!!
    Don't u think so..?
    You have read so many books. So Can u guide me if there is anything more about him in any book?
    Well... Tumko paya hai to jaise.... .. waT ta , kuni jeevabhavaCha bheTall..:-)
    when somebody talk about mahabharata, i feel we belong to same family....
    Mahabharat Family ::-))
    If u r on orkut, u can join me -
    we will talk alot on this.

  7. Hey bhushan....I tried finding something on EKLAVYA but haven't been successful as yet. Let's see still tryinh. Will surely tell you if I find something

  8. PP:

    tHANKS FOR YOUR RECCOS.Just finished Mityunjay in English.Got it with great difficulty from Writers Worksop Calcutta. Getting the rest on yr list but cant find Second Turn, Parva, and Book of Yudhisthir anywhere, the English versons. Any ideas where these could be got from?
    Also anymore Reccos on other Mahabharatha books apart from those on yr list?
    Also looking for an English version of Sarla Mahabharath!

    Thanks a ton for your lst.


  9. Hey NV,

    I think I found all 3 at
    Their shipping charges are higher but you get hold of some rare books. So, check out. Who is the author for Sarala Mahabharata?

    Besides, one of my kind visitors on this blog told me about another book called ‘Bhimsen’ by Prem Panicker. So my search is on for that.

    I will keep you posted on other books. There is unimaginable number of books on this subject. I guess, it is a fascinating subject for several people.

  10. Hello P&P and others,
    I like your review of Yajnaseni and i was struck by your enumeration of alternative takes on the Epic Mahabharta.
    though, i had known couple of you mentioned though i haven't read them. Currently, I'm reading The Palace of Illusions- it's okay (i have read two chapters) by far.

    With regards to Ekalavya, as bhusan asked too, there are two plays by T.P. Kailasam :
    1. The purpose (primarily on Ekalavya)
    2. The fulfillment( a part of which had story of Ekalavya).
    These were written by a friend of T.P. Kailasam, as he didn't like to write those. They should be available in India, i just read about them in a book INDIAN ENGLISH DRAMA BY Nand Kumar (this is available on google books).
    Also, I'm writing a novella on Ekalavya (60 pages has been revised by now) from his perspective. I was struck by the simple question: "Why Ekalavya gave his thumb to his mentor? Means why he became like this." so, i worked backwards from the time of his Guru-dakshina asking different questions what was psychological, sociological, and philosophical basis formation of Ekalavya.

    If any of you seriously interested in reading and critiquing some part of my story, you are most welcome. (email me at

    Thanks again, P&P for your thought provoking post.

    anand prakash

  11. Hi Anand, I was pleasantly surprised to find your mail. I am always ready to find out more about Mahabharata, and I am certainly interested in your novella. It sounds extremely thought-provoking. Bring it on!

  12. Hello P&P,
    Thanks for reply. i have posted first three chapter on my blog (i can send it you if i have your email). Hope, you find it interesting.


  13. Parva a novel in Kannada BY S L Byrappa is very beautiful...the story's hero is Bhimsen...i love the character of Bhim anyway the best...strong yet sensitive

  14. Hi evbdy,
    I have got two very rare books related to this world. I agree with PP that Palace o I is a sort of juvenile version.
    I have read Yagnaseni & its hindi version Draupadi also.
    I found it even more elaborating.

    The 2 books I was talking about is Eklavya- by sharad Dalvi. extremely beautiful characterization by the author. read at least 5 times. Again very rarely available & I got the last copy that too lying since 2 years with the shop.
    Another is kapatneeti by Daji Panshikar ( author of Mahabharat - ek sudacha pravas). The book is large elaboration of Kanakniti in 'Mrutyunjay'. Not very impressive.

  15. @Anonymous- Incidentally, I have hunted down abd sourced 'Parva' more than a year back. I am yet to read it though. Last year while I was expecting I was home, so I thought I would finish this very fat book, but my mom thought it was not a good idea to read the saga about enmity and war in that condition :-)
    I also have 'Second Turn'which is also from Bhim's perspective and I must say quite a revelation for me, about Bhim's character.
    @Bhooshan - The two books that you are talking about, are those in English? If so, I would definitely hunt those down too. Has anybody read 'Duryodhan' by Kaka Vidhate. I am just waiting for an English or Hindi version!
    Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. Mahabharata is such a fascinating subject, one can never know enough of it. It is complex and multi-layered. The more you read it, the more you discover!

  16. @Reemaji,
    You r perfectly right.... its very deep, more you read more you discover...

    And, the books r in Marathi.

    There is 1 more book 'Kapatneeti'.
    its about politics in Mahabharata.

    And I firmly believe, those who are interested in correct n factual Mahabharata, should also read jain version of Mahabharata. called as jain Mahabharat.

    Many puzzles get solved as it is a 'Karma' based Tatvik version....

  17. @Anonymous- thanks for dropping by and telling me about 2 new books to look forward to. I am never going to get over Mahabharata, it is extremely fascinating!

  18. S.L Bhyrappa's 'Parva' is an excellent read which removes all the fantasy based aspects (astras, kunti giving childbirth due to mantra etc) and shows a more human but still terrifying aspect of the epic. A must read.

    There is also S.Ramakrishnan's 'ubapandavam', M.T Vasudevan nair's 'Irandam Idam', shivaji samant's 'mrityunjay', but Parva has always been my favorite.

    Mahabharatha is like an ocean and one can keep churning out various interpretations of it. IMHO, vernacular writing seems to have done it best.

  19. @Ajay R- You are so right :-) Mahabharata is like an ocean. And thanks for motivating me to restart Parva. I had started it last year, but I was expecting and my mum thought it wasn't a very good idea to read about war, fighting within the family etc etc.

  20. Reemaji,
    I would like to recommend a fantastic book - "The Difficulty of being Good" by Gurcharan Das. In this book the author has skillfully thrown light on the ethical aspects of Mahabharata.. Hope you will find this book interesting.

  21. @Anonymous: thank you for your recommendation and dropping by. I have that book with me. I am yet to read it though :-)

  22. A very well-written book is "Mahabharata" by Kamala Subramaniam. Then there is KM Ganguli's "The Mahabharata". This is in the free domain as well.

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