Notes from a War Zone

A bureaucrat-turned-author attempts to capture the spirit of Kurukshetra, the battleground of the Mahabharata, in a coffee-table book.

Though best-known as an epic battleground, Kurukshetra has also been a thriving cultural centre of Buddhism, Sufism and Hinduism. And, as civil servant Vijai Vardhan points out in his new coffee-table book, Kurukshetra, Timeless Sanctity (Wisdom Tree, Rs 495 for paperback and Rs 995 for hard cover), this town in Haryana also boasts a history that's older than the Indus Valley civilisation.

Vardhan, who has attempted to capture the grandeur of Kurukshetra in 115 pages, says, "Kurukshetra is a theme and a metaphor of Indian spirituality and mysticism, where myriad faiths are closely intertwined."

The author first visited Kurukshetra in 1987 as a probationer of the Indian Administrative Services. He recounts the story of the city, chronologically, through the lives of prophets and saints, warriors and kings, servants and freedom fighters. "I feel that I was destined to write this," says Vardhan, who spent six years reading the scriptures — including the Mahabharata and its various versions several times — as well as travelogues, interacting with scholars and making countless visits to the town. Before this, Vardhan has published two books on poetry. While he weaves together anecdotes, stories and elements he discovered during his research, photographer Atul Sharma has tried to recreate the spirit of Kurukshetra through a series of colourful images.

The 15 chapters of this book contain historical narratives, poetry and spiritual notes to guide the reader into Kurukshetra's long and often complex history. The protagonist of the story is Lord Krishna, who delivered his sermon, the Bhagavad Gita, in Kurukshetra. Vardhan has also made space for topics such as Buddha's trail and the Uprising of 1857 at Thanesar in the book.

Modern Kurukshetra emerges as a place of pilgrimage with museums showcasing rare paintings, sculptures, scriptures and idols. The city has existed as much due to faith and fervour as due to detachment, and the author believes a history of Kurukshetra has to mingle truth with legend. "For most Indians, Kurukshetra is a city of timeless sanctity,'' says Vardhan.

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