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

As the book's full title suggests, R. K. Nayaran's The Mahabharata is, essentially, the shortened modern prose version of the great ancient Indian epic Mahabharata.

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The Mahabharata is a book written by Indian author R. K. Narayan, originally published in 1978. The book is a modern translation and abridgement of the Mahabharata— one of the most important ancient Indian epics in Sanscrit mythology and, according to many, the longest poem ever written. Narayan incorporates the...

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The Mahabharata is a book written by Indian author R. K. Narayan, originally published in 1978. The book is a modern translation and abridgement of the Mahabharata—one of the most important ancient Indian epics in Sanscrit mythology and, according to many, the longest poem ever written. Narayan incorporates the original epic's themes into the narrative: the importance of dharma and karma, the value of wisdom, duty and responsibility, the eternal battle of good vs. evil, loyalty, truth and deception, the relationship between gods and humans, and the consequences of hatred and war.

The book tells the story of the descendants of Pandu—the five Pandavas brothers (Yudhistira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva) and their cousins, the Kauravas—the descendants of Dhritarashtra, who fight for the throne of Hastinapura; their family feud culminates with the Kurukshetra War, which lasts for 18 days and becomes so problematic and violent that Krishna decides to take matters into his own hands, as he always comes to restore dharma.

The Pandavas brothers are often diplomatic and try to avoid conflicts, however, when they see that war is imminent, they believe that they should be merciless and attack everyone, as this might be the only way to defeat Duryodhana—the eldest of the Kauravas. The Pandavas are, essentially, the main protagonists of the story and they represent "good," while the Kauravas are the main antagonists of the story and they represent "evil"; however, Narayan makes sure to tell the readers that no one is entirely good nor entirely evil.

As fate would have it, the Pandavas are the ones who win the war, however, the road towards victory is not an easy one and it is filled with many challenges and obstacles; to overcome them, one must strive to be virtuous, wise and righteous, and to work according to the forces and laws of the universe.

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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.

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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.)

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