Govinda by Krishna Udayasankar – Book Review
Another re-telling of Mahabharata… Every re-teller of the story picks up certain angles of the story. And tends to see the story from the view of the characters that most appeal them. This time it is a story of Govinda and Panchali. Author has also taken the story to a level where it does not remain a conflict between cousins Kauravas and Pandavas for the kingdom of Hastinapur, mediated by Krishna. She tells it as a story of age old conflict between the Firewrights and Firstborns. The two clans who had their own specialties and who were always in the race to rule the Aryavrata. Or the span of the Indian subcontinent in those times. Firewrights were scientists & scholars and descended from Agni Angiras. Firstborns represent the lunar dynasty with descendants like Bharata – ancestor of Kauravas.
The key characters of this re-telling are Krishna whom the author chooses to call Govinda Shauri – I am yet to figure out the meaning of Shauri, and Panchali – who is also referred by the same name throughout the book. It begins with a scene before Panchali’s Swayamvar where she confesses her love for Govinda. But is quietly led to Swayamvar to be won by Arjuna – always called Parth in this book. It ends with a dialogue between the two where Govinda reveals his true identity to her. And they both come out as pawns of the bigger forces. Now what is different in this story from the popular version of the epic:
- Panchali does not get married to all the five brothers. Though all of them desire her. She is won by Arjuna but gets married to Yuddhishtra – who is called Dharma in this book.
- Rukmini does not get married to Krishna, but his son Pradymna, though the scene of her abduction remains the same. Pradymna is the adopted son of Krishna.
- Duryodhana who is called Syoddhan throughout is not malicious at all. But ends up playing at the hands of his evil brother Dushasana.
- All marriages are political across eras.
From the point of story angle, the author has picked up the politics as the prime. And may be the only angle in the story. So there is no space for emotions or relationships. Every action and every person are driven by politics. And more often than not as puppets in the hands of invisible ancestors. Govinda is shown as someone trying to become Emperor of Aryavrata by proxy. As he plans and plots to make Dharma the Emperor. And manages to do that successfully. Though in the end, the author plays out a super layer that shows him also as a pawn in the hands of firewrights who have a bigger plan than installing Dharma as emperor. Leaving a curiosity for the sequel of the book.
Dharma comes across as a perfect puppet who is always driven by everyone around him. All other characters are absolutely in the background except the Panchala prince’s Shikhandin and Dhristdyuman, along with Vyasa who really comes across as the power monger willing to make sure his descendants rule the Aryavrata.
Science is another angle that the author seems to be intrigued about. So she talks about technology like drilling using pumps run by flowing water, war weapons that carry a hint of chemical and nuclear weapons. At many places, she makes it a war between the scientists holding the knowledge of science and those who apply this knowledge to use. Though sporadic, you definitely see an effort to look at the technology of that era. Everything that seems illogical, irrational or not possible in the popular version of the book including polyandry has been discreetly removed.
This is a story, as it would happen in this era as per the socially accepted norms of the day. And technology limitations of the day. It takes some time for the reader to get into the zone of the author, as you know the story and are still trying to figure out what the author is leading you to. But towards the end, it is an enjoyable read.
The bibliography at the end of the book is brilliant. And something that has added many books to my to-be-read list.