The Serpent’s Revenge (Sudha Murty) – Mesmerizing Mahabharata Gems

I think this book was intentionally thrust into my get me to take a break from the world of Greek mythology (which has almost completely taken over my life… I live in the world of Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus). Though it’s true that I haven’t read any Indian Mythology since I was six and had exhausted all the Amar Chitra Kathas and Tarangini Series

This book turned out to be a marvelous refresher from the twisted tales of Greek mythology. Sudha Murty’s book The Serpent’s Revenge – Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata is a must-have, enjoyable and thought provoking read for parents and children alike.

This book has well-known stories like Shakuntala to stories that I hadn’t heard of, like the story of the half-golden mongoose who taught Yudhishthira what is a true sacrifice or Vikarna, Duryodhana’s good brother.

One thing I enjoyed reading in the book, is that at the end of the chapters, she tells us about the location of the places in the story or what the names of certain objects and actions are…just a little insight that adds a special something.

Another interesting thing about this book is that it is in chronological order. It starts with the story of Shakuntala, events that lead up to the Mahabharata war, then goes to the stories of people in the war and ends with the stories of the descendants of the Pandavas. 

My favourite story is the story of Barbarika, Bhima’s grandchild, and his three great arrows which could strike down its target, be it even five miles from the shooter. This is because it talks about how vows made out of haste can cause mass destruction, and how life and death is predestined.

Sudha Murty’s  story telling style is simple yet extremely engrossing. (Reminded me of my old favourite Grandmother’s Bag of Stories.. here again I could just not stop at one.)  Do read the Introduction as well.. she has explained many little questionable bits like some figurative exaggerations, boons and curses and punishment by God in her inimitable straight and gentle way.

Speaking of style, the awesome illustrations by Priyankar Gupta set a perfect mood for a book of Indian mythology. He has a perfect blend of sketch, shadow and originality that I don’t see in many illustrated books. The art of Duryodhana at the bottom of the Brahmosarovara lake, using the Jal Mantra to save his life, is my favourite.

In my opinion, this book is directed towards younger and middle-school aged readers of this generation, who -like me- generally re-read the same kind of contemporary books (many like me again and again too!)

Most adults already know most or all of the stories written here, but will still find it a great reading experience with their kids, reading these at bedtime. Both my brother and me loved these stories read out to us on our long car drives on the vacation and at bedtime by Amma. She says it reminds her of her grandfather narrating these to her.

The best thing about this book? It got me and my family reading and discussing the stories and questioning and exploring the behaviour of the people. Questions that  we argued about  included..

  • Is it really okay to burn down a forest and not care about its inhabitants? Effects of  mistakes that follow you for generations..
  • Would you give up a place in heaven for a dog?
  • Why would greatest warriors like Drona and Karna not hesitate to plot and brutally murder Abhimanyu, knowing he was barely a boy?
  • Why didn’t Duryodhana seize up the opportunity and pick Nakul or Sahdev to fight and win the war when Yudhishthira said he could choose anyone to fight? ( Another version of the story in the book)
  • Parikshita ‘s impulsive stupidity in a fit of rage or just destiny?

I can say with confidence that just about everyone will enjoy reading this book, whether they know all the stories or not. Do take time out to enjoy these unusual tales from the Mahabharata.

And yes, the Good news.. Sudha Murthy has promised this is the first of a Mythology Series!