I read Yuganta when I was barely in my teens. To a large extent this book has influenced my perceptions about Mahabharata.
Iravati Karve’s Yuganta – End of an Epoch is not a rehash of the epic. It is an in-depth character analysis of prominent characters and controversial subjects in the great epic of Mahabharata.
Stripping the trappings of myth, legend and imagination, the author presents us the bare truth, as she perceives it. Take Bhishma for instance. One of the strongest characters who virtually safeguards the Kuru empire, doing his duty regardless of the result. A man of unbendable will, virtue and irreproachable character. But to what avail? He gave up the right to his father’s kingdom and watched his step brothers ascend the throne. He is the grandsire of Kuru empire yet his life was an empty paradise. He couldn’t control Duryodhana and his brothers, he was virtually ineffective in the sabha room when Draupadi is disrobed and in the end he couldn’t stop the war. What did he achieve in the end?
Kunti is yet another fascinating character in this epic. Iravati’s surmise about Karna being the son of Sage Durvasa, (whom she serves for almost a year) makes for a more believable arguement. Kunti is as strong as she is pitiful. Almost all the men in her life contribute to her suffering. The author beautifully describes the many facets of her character that makes us admire her all the more.
My favourite chapter in this book is that of Vidura and Yudhistra and the possibility of their being father and son. Iravati puts forth a very strong arguement for this assumption. Vidura had always been a close friend, confidante, guide and mentor for the Pandavas and he shares a very close bond with Yudhistra. Iravati analyzes this bond very minutely and successfully plants the suspicion in our minds that they could have been father and son.
Draupadi is probably the most analyzed character from this epic. A woman married to five men. A queen, an empress, a lover and a mother. Iravati compares her journey in the epic with another epic heroine, Sita bringing out stark differences in their characters and situation. In this chapter, the author also provides a closure for Draupadi’s chapter that is very vivid and poignant.
Krishna is the most enigmatic character in this whole epic. Who is this cowherd who wants to establish a kingdom of dharma yet does not covet the crown for himself? Was he a God? Or was he the most astute politician of that era? Iravati tries to draw out the real Krishna from amongst the myth and legends that surround him. Yet I feel that she barely scratches the surface. Krishna could be an ordinary mortal yet history testifies to the fact that he was an extraordinary man.
In Yuganta, there are no Gods or sons of Gods. Everybody is humanized or viewed as one. As a notable anthropologist she stresses on the fact that most epics are victims of interpolations, false interpretations and additions that were made by the story tellers of later period.
The most popular addition that was made to Ramayana was the episode where Rama abandons Sita. Theories about the love between Draupadi and Karna is yet another interpolation that came in the later ages.
I would highly recommend this book for those who have a serious interest in critical analysis of this epic.