What is a summary of R.K. Narayan's Mahabharata?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to note that Narayan wrote a modern prose version of the actual Mahabharata here.  It is not the actual cultural and religious text in Hindu history.  The main story, however, is the same.  Although this novel has many subplots, there is a main thread that runs through the book:  the generational struggle in India for the Throne of Hastinapura, which is the area directly under Kuru clan rule. 

In Narayan's version (and in the original), there are two families that continually struggle for the Throne of Hastinapura: the Pandava family and the Kaurava family.  One of the issues is that the latter is actually considered the dominant family branch while the former is considered submissive; however, the oldest member of the Kaurava branch is younger than the oldest member of the Pandava branch.  Therefore those two people (Duryodhana of the Kaurava family and Yudhisthira of the Kaurava family) both claim birthright to the Throne of Hastinapura. 

The climax of the modern version of the Mahabharata is the battle of Kurukshetra.  Who wins?  The Pandava family.  Therefore the Kaurava family becomes the dominant branch due to the result of this great battle.  During the battle itself, this eNotes educator is always reminded of the issues of the American Civl War (and especially in this modern prose version by Narayan).  Here we can find brother against brother, loyalty against morality, and family against friends. 

In conclusion (and the conclusion to the book), it is important to note a significant death at the end: the death of Krishna.  Again, it is in modern prose form and not the actual, anonymously written Mahabharata.  This is the end of his family rule and the Pandava brothers' entrance to heaven.  This begins the Kali Yuga Age of man.  (This is supposed to be the very last age of humanity where morality and nobility are history.)

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

R.K. Narayan's version of the Mahabharata is an abridged translation of the ancient Sanskrit epic. Even in its abbreviated version, this is a long and complex epic. It demonstrates its evolution from oral tradition in the way it stitches together many related works, including long ethical and theological digressions, stories-within-stories, and other tangents. It is a typically heroic epic in the way gods take a prominent and active role, often interbreeding with humans. 

The epic concerns the descendants of Shantanu, the king of Hastinapur. He himself was of quasi-divine blood and was married to the goddess of the Ganges river. His second marriage is to Satyavati, who is partially descended from a fish. He has a celibate son by his first marriage and two sons by Satyavati. Satyavati also had a son Visha before she was married. The two sons of Shantanu and Satyavati—Chitrangada and Vichitravirya—die before bearing heirs. Vyasa is volunteered to impregnate their wives. Two heirs are born: Pandu and Dhritarashtra. Because the eldest, Dhritarashtra, is blind, Pandu is given the throne. Both Pandu and Dhritarashtra father many children, and the main part of the epic focuses on how these men and their descendants engage in a rivalry for the throne.

The Pandavas (descendants of Pandu) and Kauravas (descendants of Dhritarashtra) engage in many forms of rivalry, culminating in a series of great battles on the fields of Kurukshetra in which all the Kauravas and most of the Pandavas die.