Humans are hardwired for stories. Ancient epics, first oral and later written, have long shaped individuals, cultures, and civilizations. Truly great stories preserve the values, beliefs, and identities of societies, transmit wisdom and moral lessons, and inspire our art and music.
Growing up in the West, I was shaped by stories and characters from the Judeo-Christian scriptures, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I’ve also appreciated multi-part cinematic sagas like Star Wars. Many of these contemporary offerings are faint echoes of older and richer narratives, like the Mahabharata. I had heard of the ancient Indian epic but had yet to crack the cover of this expansive volume. I felt I needed a guide to navigate the narrative.
To give a little context, one of my first introductions to bhakti yoga was Hridayananda Das Goswami’s “A Comprehensive Guide to Bhagavad-gita.” It played a vital and preparatory role for me to more deeply appreciate and study Srila Prabhupada’s “Bhagavad-gita As It Is.” So when I heard that HD Goswami (Dr. Howard Resnick) was also working on a fresh retelling of the Mahabharata, I knew I had a trustworthy guide through this Sanskrit saga.
HD Goswami, a disciple of ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada, holds a Harvard Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies and is one of the most senior and respected spiritual leaders in the Society. In volume one of the series entitled, “Great Bharata: The Invasion Begins,” the author starts by giving the reader an academic and literary introduction that is both thorough and thoughtful. For him and millions around the world, the Mahabharata is more than a myth; it is real human history. The author places himself firmly in the camp of “devotional scholarship,” which “sees the text as sacred, historical, and revelatory” while noting common ground with secular scholars on several fronts.
Although HD Goswami dedicated years of textual, geographical, historical, and linguistic research in preparation for writing the book, it is clear this isn’t merely an intellectual offering but a work of both head and heart. His passion for this transcendental narrative and its characters shines through in the author’s narration of the audiobook, which approaches the story through the lens of one of its great heroines, Satya-vati. The epic’s themes of loyalty and betrayal, courage and cowardice, intrigue and mystery, romance and redemption, all set within an earthly and cosmic context, eclipses any storytelling attempts by Hollywood or Bollywood. Most importantly, it is within this grand story that the great questions of life are addressed, so it is also a richly theological and philosophical adventure.
Retelling ancient stories in new ways, from unique angles, is what cultures have always done. In this case, “Great Bharata” offers a significant opportunity to introduce a monumental spiritual classic to a whole new audience while helping longtime lovers to re-appreciate the beloved saga.
The audiobook version of “Great Bharata” was launched across several social media platforms on a live January 14th webinar hosted by Sarvatma Das, which included a short interview with the author. The 10.5-hour audiobook is now available on the Google Play platform, with the print and ebook editions scheduled to be released in the spring of 2024. HD Goswami is currently working on Volume 2 in the multi-volume series.
In advance of this book, HD Goswami also published “Quest for Justice: Select Tales with Modern Illuminations from the Mahabharata,” a 280-page adaption of a series of his lectures on the saga. You can learn more about this book and his other publications on his website.
Opinions expressed by the reviewer are solely his own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ISKCON or ISKCON News.
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Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer
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