The fascinating stories of the Indian epic Mahabharata - including the rivalry between cousins Pandavas and Kauravas, Lord Krishna and his mischievous exploits as a lad, and the Kurukshetra battle - have been re-told for children in a new book with lots of colourful illustrations.
For most children in the country, the Mahabharata is a grand fairy tale dominated by Lord Krishna, the most popular character.
"The character I love the most in Mahabharata is Lord Krishna because he is like a naughty kid, who does all kinds of mischievous things. I wish I had an animation DVD of the epic," Varun Sanyal, 10 a student of Class 5 in Gurgaon, told IANS.
Varun was at the Reliance Timeout shop with his father, economist Sanjeev Sanyal and younger brother to take part in a painting competition themed on the epic and listen to author Namita Gokhale read out from her book The Puffin Mahabharata, a illustrated edition of the epic for children.
The book was unveiled at the Reliance Timeout bookstore on Saturday.
Earth and Jeeval, students of Class 3 and Class I at the Amity International School in Gurgaon, love listening to their mother read from the "Mahabharata".
"We love the stories about Lord Krishna. Since we cannot read, Mama reads out to us. The tales are grand," the siblings chorused.
The Puffin Mahabharata published by Penguin-Books India, has simplified the epic into 176 small anecdotes with colourful illustrations by artist and animation filmmaker Suddhasattwa Basu.
The book is based on the lores narrated by Suta, a traveller and story-teller, who had heard the tales of valour and sacrifice as a young boy from a sage Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa, the seer who originally wrote the epic with the help of the lord Ganesha.
"It is the story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the hundred and five brothers and cousins who grew up playing the same games and learning from the same teachers. Yet they were so different in the way they understood the rules and the philosophy of battles," said writer Namita Gokhale, explaining the essence of the book to at least 50 children aged between 5-12 years at the sprawling store.
The book begins with an introductory tale on the genesis of Suta's Mahabharata and goes on to narrate the lores of princess Ganga and king Santanu of Hastinapura, the tale of Satyawati, Amba, the birth of Kauravas and Pandavas, Karna, the arrival of Lord Krishna and the battle of Kurukshetra in small 500-word anecdotes.
"Retelling the story with illustrations was an important experience for me as an author. I started writing the book six years ago when Penguin commissioned me. It was done in a rush like the way Ganesha and Vyasa scripted it together round-the-clock. I had a library full of different versions of Mahabharata, which I would read throughout the day and jot down the stories. It took me six months to write the book and another year to make the corrections," Gokhale told IANS.
Gokhale had in mind a target audience of young adults - "from 12 upwards who would understand the nuances."
According to her, almost all children in India are familiar with Mahabharata.
"Everybody has heard of the story from their grandparents and television has played an important role in bringing the epic to Indian homes," said the writer, who is currently working on an anthology of essays, In Search of Sita. Gokhale's forte is historical novels.