An earthquake shook sacred Gangadvara. As in a dream, Daksha saw a mysterious and malignant cluster of stars at noon. The sun was blotched with black patches; a dark ring glowed balefully around the star. The quarters were squalid and gloomy, strange comets fell out of the dim heavens. Vultures circled low over the yagna, darkening the sacrificial platform; jackals howled at the perimeters of the conclave of rishis and devas. Like a pale scorpion, the evil nakshatra Netraka fell from the sky, into which it should never have risen at this time.There are many great passages in this book and plenty that’s of interest, including heaps of sex and violence, and a nicely understated sense of humour. This kind of straightforward treatment (done well) is more effective in my view than those over-clever books by Roberto Calasso.
Mounted on Garuda, the Sudarshana humming at his finger, Vishnu faced Virabhadra. Heartened, the devas turned and came back to fight. Bhanukampa sounded Virabhadra’s conch, which glowed like moonlight. The devas quailed at the blast; they prepared to flee again. At once, in reply, Vishnu blew a deafening note on the Panchajanya, rallying them. He froze the gana army for a moment on its murderous, rapacious spree: Virabhadra’s forces stopped their ears with bloody palms.
Very high up on my to-read list now is Menon’s two-volume translation of the Mahabharata. Tehelka ran some of the chapters as a series a couple of years ago; I read some of them then and was impressed by the freshness of the writing. (Having read at least eight English versions of the Greatest Story Ever Told, I didn’t think too much more could be done with it in a [relatively] short translation, but Menon’s writing made me feel like a first-time reader again, drawing me back into an epic I thought I knew so well.)
While on this tack: among the Mahabharata translations I’ve fully read, my favourite by far is the one by Kamala Subramaniam. I love the way she draws out the conversations between the characters, stressing their inner conflicts, holding their struggles up to the light; and her likening of Duryodhana to Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, marked by a single fatal flaw. Also appreciated some of her personal touches, such as the decision to refer to Karna throughout as “Radheya” – which becomes a simple but powerful reminder of what he considers himself to be: the son of the poor woman who raised him.
(Incidentally, Subramaniam’s version of the Srimad Bhagavatam is also one of the best single-volume translations of that work currently available.)