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For several years, writer Devdutt Pattanaik has been "systematically" breaking down the mystique surrounding Indian mythologies. For Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling Of The Mahabharata (Penguin, Rs 499) , he did it almost literally, using excel sheets to keep track of each chapter's length. The result: the book is under 350 pages, even though it contains over 100 chapters and close to 250 line illustrations. Pattanaik retells the epic from the start, narrating the stories of the many ancestors of the Kauravas and the Pandavas — joining the family tree and the dots— with accompanying illustrations as well as grey boxes with pithy pointers. All this is part of his effort to make mythologies less pedantic and more enjoyable for all. The boxes are, of course, inserted at the end of each chapter with an aim "to start a dialogue". "Unless you do that, you don't reflect," says the doctor-turned-mythologist, adding that Jaya is what the Mahabharata was originally known as. Pattanaik has earlier popularised the reading of mythology with books like Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology and The Pregnant King.
His works showcase an unconventional approach and, contrary to perception, he often busts a few myths in the process. "Both Gandhari and Kunti are viewed by Vyasa as ambitious women," he says. He also shares trivia related to many rituals and festivals in India which have their roots in the Mahabharata. For instance, according to Jain chronicles, HastinaPur was an ancient city and three of the 24 Tirthankaras were born there. It is details like these that take the book beyond the costume drama that the nation had stopped to watch on Sunday mornings years ago.