Tag Archives: Mahabharata

Sanskrit Transliteration: Sabio’s system


Indian Sacred Texts are written in Sanskrit which uses the devanagari script.  General public translations of these books use transliterations which obscure correct or even tolerably-correct pronunciation of the original Sanskrit.  They obscure even the way modern Hindi speakers would pronounce these words when talking about their scriptures.

However, there are two main scholarly transliteration systems which preserve the correct pronunciations: the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (iast) and the Harvard Kyoto (kyoto).  Kyoto uses capital letter and adds a few odd letters (z and G) to its transliteration system, and so is ugly and hard to read.

I prefer the IAST.  And though some may consider the diacritics of IAST as cumbersome, they may be largely ignored and still be close-enough to the original.  But even with that, I see two problems with IAST:

(1) IAST uses the letter “c” to represent the “ch” sound and the letter “ch” to represent its aspirated version.  To avoid this, the transliteration system I will use (SES) in my glossary and occasionally in my texts will use a “ch” and a “chh” for these sounds (see the chart).

(2) Sanskrit has three “sibilants” — s’s.  Two of these are very close to each other and sound like “sh” though IAST only uses s’s with diacritics to differentiate between them. So I added h’s to those two s’s to make them easier to read while keeping the diacritics.

Sanskrit DiacriticsCommon books (as in “Jaya”) avoid the capitals in Kyoto and keep the “ch” and the “sh” (as my system also does) but they do not use diacritics thus losing many sounds.

So, SES (my transliteration system: Sabio’s Easy Sanskrit) is easier to read and still preserves subtle sounds if the reader wishes to know them.  But I suggest that due to difficulty of pronunciations, the reader ignore all diacritics except the long marks over the vowels which are probably the most important pronunciation issues.

Remember, an “h” in IAST and SES just means to aspirate — to add breath to the sound. And retroflex (symbolized by a dot below a letter) means the tongue is in the back of the throat when pronounced.




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Jaya: who is Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt-PatnaikThis is part of my series of posts to aid in the reading of Devdutt Pattanaik’s book:  Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. See my Mahabharata index for more.
I will use this page to keep links to information on Devdutt Pattanaik. But first, some quick information I have learned:

Devdutt was born in 1970 in Oriya India and brought up in Mumbai. He was a physician who did pharma and healthcare industry work for 14 years with an avocation on researching and writing on mythology which has now become his full-time profession. He is a fun illustrator and speaker also.

Sr-Krishna-and-Arjuna-blowing-their-conchshellsMeaning of the author’s name

Since Indian names are, well, foreign to Westerners, I thought I’d have some fun and research the meaning of Devdutt Pattanaik’s name.

Devdutt (also, Devadatta) means “God given” and is the name of the conch (shankha) of Arjuna.  In Hinduism, the conch shell is used as a war trumpet in the past and is a symbol for the god Vishnu. Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu and is here shown as Arjuna’s chariot driver and both of them blowing the war conch. Krishna’s conch is called “Panchjanya“.


“Jaya” illustration by Pattanaik: Krishna’s gopis, sad to lose their love, try to block his departure.

Pattanaik (also Patnaik) is an Indian Kayastha caste surname. Kayasthas are considered to be members of the literate scribe caste, and have traditionally acted as keepers of records and public accounts, writers, and administrators of the state. Interestingly, Pattanaik is a writer!



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Jaya: why read this book

Jaya_book_coverThis is part of my series of posts to aid in the reading of Devdutt Pattanaik’s book:  Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. See my Mahabharata index for more.

Readers can either buy the book now and read it slowly with each post, wait until the series is over and then buy the book or just read the posts without reading the book.

Why read the Mahabharata:

(1) Understand Hinduism: The Mahabharata is one of the classic Hindu you need to read to understand Hinduism. It is not the dry philosophy of the Upanishads or the hard to read Vedas, and it is more complex that the simple good-vs-bad Ramayana (the other Hindu epic, see my posts here.)  And just reading books about Hinduism won’t help you feel the complexity of the faith as reading the Mahabharata will.

(2) Understand Religion: One of my agendas is to help Christians perhaps see their own religion by comparing and contrasting to Hinduism. Perhaps some Hindus will also enjoy learning about Christianity this way. And then for both the secular and religious readers, I hope to point out some of the deep structures in religion.  And all of this done in a very lay fashion — because I can do no differently! 🙂

Why read Pattanaik’s Version:

The actual Mahabharata text is about 5,000 pages long so most translations are short retellings.  I list many of the translations and retellings available here. Pattanaik’s retelling is easy reading with lots of fun illustrations and thus an easy way to learn the story. Simply put — I like this version.



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Oral Tradition & Locked Myths

As I have read various retellings of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, I have seen two important traits they share:

  1.  The Extras & Oral Tradition:  The epics are huge, and it is not the main story that fascinates me but all the side stories and morals. Super condensed version tend to exclude these. The extras get attached over the thousands of years the stories evolved in oral tradition.
  2. The Retellings & Fixed Agendas:  Even to this day, people continue writing “re-tellings” of the two epics. And reading these retellings. one can clearly see how myths are flexible enough to absorb political, sexual, tribal and religious agendas. This is different from te the Christian scriptures which became a fixed canon (anthology) by law in the 300s AD,   At first I thought that this was perhaps an evil side-effect of the printed word — once written, people were loath to change it.  But in India, retellings is not as taboo as they are in the West.  The best “retellings” that can be snuck in for the Christian tradition is putting spin within a translation.

Below are selections from two of my recent readings to further illustrate these points.

(1) From the Introduction to John Smith’s translation (and abridgment) of the Mahabharata. (see the bibliography for source)

“However, to think of the Mahabharata as merely one more heroic epic would be a serious over-simplification, for it became much more than that. The story that lies at its core came to be overlaid by numerous additions in the form of narrative digressions, substories and protracted sermon. In the process the character of the work underwent a significant change: the bardic Ksatriya epic whose early existence we can deduce (but about whose circumstances of performance we can only guess) ended up by becoming a gigantic compendium of chiefly brahmanical lore and a key text in the early development of the Hindu religion.”

(2) From India’s Business Standard, an excellent article on a rewrite of the Ramayana.

“The Ramayana began its life as a collection of disjointed stories strung together in a song. It took several decades and innumerable bards and writers to thread the tales into the linear narrative as we know it today. Every time it was sung, it acquired a fresh sound and rhythm. And once it was put down on paper, it gathered volume and mass. According to Camille Bulcke, a Belgian Jesuit missionary who studied the Ramayana and wrote Ram Katha: Utpatti aur Vitaran (The origin and spread of the Ramayana) there were around 300 tellings. It was not the fashion to refer to these as retellings at the time because the epics, myths and legends were part of an oral culture that allowed them to be interpreted and reinterpreted several times over. Scholars and historians lay much store by these tellings as they believed that the subtle differences between the versions held a mirror to the social and moral mores of the times.”

Question for readers:  The oral tradition of the Bible was not locked up for hundreds of years, can you give us an example of the two principles I mention above that are obvious also in the Christian tradition — before the lockdown.  Or perhaps elaborate on ways Christians get around the lockdown. (It is my hope in sharing the Hindu examples, our own culture’s patterns become more obvious).




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Mahabharata Sources: books, films…

If you’ve read or seen anything about the Mahabharata that your really enjoyed, let me know and I may add it to the list below. See my other posts on the Mahabharata here.

Translations & Retellings of The Mahabharata

  • Amar Chitra Katha, Mahabharata, 1985-89. 42 comic series. 1,300 pgs (wiki)
  • Bhoothalingam, Mathuram.  Sons of Pandu. Dolton Publications, 1966. (Amazon, 122 pg).
  • Buck, William. Mahabharata. University of California Press, 2000. (Amazon, 440 pg). I thoroughly enjoyed this version.  It is the first version I read.
  • van Buitenen, J.A.B.  The Mahabharata.  University of Chicago Press.  Translation of the Poona edition
    • Vol. 1: Book 1 The Book of the Beginning.  (Amazon, 545 pg)
    • Vol. 2: Book 2: The Book of Assembly;  Book 3: The Book of the Forest (Amazon, 871 pg)
    • Vol. 3: Book 4: The Took of the Virata; Book 5: The Book of Effort  (Amazon, 572 pg)
  • Dharma, Krishna. Mahabharata. OM Book Service, 2009. (Amazon). reveiw: ISKCON Krishna bias.
  • Ganguly, Kisari Mohan. Mahabharata of Krishna – Dwaipayana Vyasa (4 volume set). Munshrim Manoharlal Pub. 1 edition, 2004. (Amazon, 2000 pg)
  • Lal, P.  The Mahabharata of Vyasa.  Vikas Publishing House, 1986. review: “best”. (Amazon, 400 pgs)
  • Menon, Ramesh. The Mahabharata.  iUniverse, 2006. (Amazon, 1539 pg)
  • Narasimhan, Chakravarthi V (trans). Mahabharata. Columbia University Press, 1997.  (Amazon, 254 pg)
  • Pattanaik, Devdutt. Jaya: an illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata. Penguin Books India.  (Amazon, pg 436)
  • Rajagopalachari, C. Mahabharata. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India. (Amazon, 483 pg)
  • Smith, John (trans). The Mahabharata.  Penguin Classics, 2009. (Amazon, 912 pg)
  • Subramaniam, Kamala (trans). Mahabharata. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India, 2007. (Amazon, 870 pg)

YouTube Sources

Fiction based on the Mahabharata

  • Lidchi-Grassi, Maggi. The Great Golden Sacrifice of the Mahabharata.  Random House, 2011. (Amazon, 960 pg)

Film and Anime Based on the Mahabharata

  • Chopra, B.R.  DVD set  (Amazon, 16 DVDs), I’ve read that it is excellent.
  • Brooks, Peter.  The Mahabharata (1990).  Amazon, 2 hr 50min.

Mahabharata-related Websites

  • Manzo, Lawrence: Mahabharata Podcast : His sources: Buitenen’s translation of the critical edition and Ganguli (more popular)

Mahabharata Scholarly Sources:

  • coming — any thoughts?

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The Kuru Dynasty in the Mahabharata

My 12 year-old daughter and I are reading the Mahabharata together. I made this diagram to help us remember the characters. Click on the image to enlarge.  Please let me know if I have made any mistakes and I will correct them.

See my other posts on the Mahabharata here.


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Women & Iron Age Religions

Iron_Age_TextsIn the early 1800s, Christian Thomsen devised a three-age system to describe ancient societies’ stages of progress — the last of these ages was the iron age. Put simply, the times of these eras differed from civilization to civilization depending on the development of use of metals.  The approximate dates range as follows:

  • Stone Age:  9300 – 3300 BCE
  • Bronze Age:  3300 – 1200 BCE
  • Iron Age:  1200 – 200 BCE

The system is too simple but commonly used. I first read about the classification method after hearing Atheists criticize Christianity for being based on an “Iron Age religion”. When I read a bit, I found that many religions had Iron Age origins. The diagram above shows Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Chinese scriptures from the Iron Age.

The Iron Age treatment of women, across cultures, was abominable. See this Religious Tolerance site for some idea of how the Jewish Bible discusses women.  Christian apologists often defend or rationalize the Bible saying that it is misunderstood and that the Bible shows excellent treatment of women. Likewise, Muslim apologists justy their treatment of women.

Well today, I read this fun article where an Indian defends the treatment of women in the Hindu Stone Age scripture called the Mahabharata.  Wow, they even defend the Mahabharata.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the Mahabharata is a fantastic epic and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to explore a radically different Iron Age spirituality.  But like other Iron Age religions, the Mahabharata illustrates clearly the male domination at those times. But I confess that as for the women issues, the culture classification issues and more, I am not qualified to discuss them. But one thing seems certain to me, there are always folks ready to protect the integrity of their sanctified ancient cultures. Whether there is truth there or not, I suspect the reflex to protect comes from the exact same place.



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This is an index of posts on Pattanaik’s book called “Jaya: an illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata”.  The Mahabharata is one of Hinduism’s great epics.

Introduction Posts:

Chapter Posts:

  • 1. Chandra’s Son:  Merit , Ancestors, Swarga, Sun/Moon, Boons & Curses

Sanskrit Issues

Mahabharata Supplemental Background

Related Posts:


Purposes of this Series:

  • Mythology:  To understand a culture’s literature, plays and even TV, it is important to understand their myths.  Classic Western myths are most often Greek or Biblical.  Classic Indian myths are from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana or the Puranas.  Understanding myths in general, help us to understand the avenues taken by the human mind.
  • Hinduism: To help others learn about Hinduism.
  • Comparative Religion: To include comparative religious information. Learning about more than one religion and comparing them is a very good way to start and understand the religious nature of humans.  See my Comparative Studies post.

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