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A dazzling and eloquent reworking of the Mahabharata, one of South Asia's best-loved epics, through nineteen peripheral voices. With daring poetic forms, Karthika Naïr breathes new life into this ancient epic. Karthika Naïr refracts the epic Mahabharata through the voices of nameless soldiers, outcast warriors and handmaidens as well as abducted princesses, tribal queens, a A dazzling and eloquent reworking of the Mahabharata, one of South Asia's best-loved epics, through nineteen peripheral voices. With daring poetic forms, Karthika Naïr breathes new life into this ancient epic. Karthika Naïr refracts the epic Mahabharata through the voices of nameless soldiers, outcast warriors and handmaidens as well as abducted princesses, tribal queens, and a gender-shifting god. As peripheral figures and silent catalysts take center stage, we get a glimpse of lives and stories buried beneath the dramas of god and nation, heroics and victory - of the lives obscured by myth and history, all too often interchangeable. Until the Lions is a kaleidoscopic, poetic tour de force. It reveals the most intimate threads of desire, greed, and sacrifice in this foundational epic.


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A dazzling and eloquent reworking of the Mahabharata, one of South Asia's best-loved epics, through nineteen peripheral voices. With daring poetic forms, Karthika Naïr breathes new life into this ancient epic. Karthika Naïr refracts the epic Mahabharata through the voices of nameless soldiers, outcast warriors and handmaidens as well as abducted princesses, tribal queens, a A dazzling and eloquent reworking of the Mahabharata, one of South Asia's best-loved epics, through nineteen peripheral voices. With daring poetic forms, Karthika Naïr breathes new life into this ancient epic. Karthika Naïr refracts the epic Mahabharata through the voices of nameless soldiers, outcast warriors and handmaidens as well as abducted princesses, tribal queens, and a gender-shifting god. As peripheral figures and silent catalysts take center stage, we get a glimpse of lives and stories buried beneath the dramas of god and nation, heroics and victory - of the lives obscured by myth and history, all too often interchangeable. Until the Lions is a kaleidoscopic, poetic tour de force. It reveals the most intimate threads of desire, greed, and sacrifice in this foundational epic.

53 review for Until the Lions : Echoes from the Mahabharata

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anjana Avinash

    “This is Kurukshetra, Son. This is where our kings seek to die-“ Thus begins Karthika Nair’s book ‘Until The Lions’. This is the first time I’ve come across a version of the Mahabharata in verse. The irony is that this epic was originally written in verse and apparently the longest version has over 200,000 lines. So it’s quite baffling how very few authors have ventured into this space. I admit that initially I was a bit hesitant to start, since I felt that the beauty and scale of events of this ma “This is Kurukshetra, Son. This is where our kings seek to die-“ Thus begins Karthika Nair’s book ‘Until The Lions’. This is the first time I’ve come across a version of the Mahabharata in verse. The irony is that this epic was originally written in verse and apparently the longest version has over 200,000 lines. So it’s quite baffling how very few authors have ventured into this space. I admit that initially I was a bit hesitant to start, since I felt that the beauty and scale of events of this massive work would be greatly diminished by confining it to the form of verse. However, once I started reading, it was an amazing experience. This form certainly takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's fascinating. Rather than detracting from the beauty of the epic, the framework of poetry gives the tale an intensity and crispness that is not found in the usual retellings of the Mahabharata. There aren't any detailed descriptions to distract the reader. Karthika Nair’s words are incisive and strikes blood wherever it touches. In this book, Karthika takes the reader through the important events of the Mahabharata as seen through the eyes of marginalized characters, mainly women. Satyavati’s voice is the thread that binds the whole story together. A few of the others are Amba whose hatred for Bhishma went so deep that she came back as Shikhandi in her next birth to kill him; Draupadi’s mother who is forced to see her children being shaped as instruments of hatred by their father; Sauvali, a dasi/maid who is the victim of King Dhritarashtra’s desperate desire for progeny; Hidimbi and Ulupi who loved two Pandava brothers and Dusshala the lone sister to a hundred Kauravas. They have been treated as mere footnotes in popular retellings of the epic. The only character not seen in the original is the dog Shunaka. The book is almost like a collection of monologues that carry the narrative forward. Varied poetic forms like the Provençal sestina or canzone, the Malay pantoum, the Pashtun landay, the Spanish glosa and the Japanese haibun have been used to highlight the individual voices of the characters. This gives a distinct style to the different characters and a nowhere is this more effective than in the case of Dusshala, the only sister of a hundred Kauravas. The poetic form used here by the author, which is the Pashtun Landay is brilliantly apt. The Landay is a folk couplet created and sung by the Pashtun women in Afghanistan where the recurring themes are war, separation, grief or love. In this context, the landay brings forth the inherent grief felt by Dusshala when her brothers are clubbed as a single evil entity, doomed to be forever in the shadow of their eldest siblings Duryodhana and Dushasana, whereas she knows how kind and gentle most of them were. She laments about her hundred siblings who have been killed in battle. This is one of the very few versions of the Mahabharata that carries all the names of the hundred Kaurava siblings. Dusshala not only mourns them by invoking their names but she also briefly describes their character. This is a line which has remained with me even after I’ve left the book far behind. “No pall, no pyre, no funeral song. They deserve more : once dead, even sinners should belong." The Mahabharata, when seen through the eyes of characters who are not the main protagonists, is very different. The decisions taken acquire a different hue of selfishness, ambition, and blind love not only on the side of the Kauravas but also on the side of Pandavas. The effects of the decisions taken by men and women to further their individual or dynastic interests, is far reaching and in some cases leads to destruction and bloodshed. Blind ambition leads only to annihilation of everybody around. The issues that all these characters are grappling with are more or less mirrored in today's society too. Power tussles, trauma of rape, blind parental love and the greed for the throne on the parts of the rulers are some of the common themes. The common man in those times and even today are the ones who pay the price for the machinations of the rulers. Most of the characters whom the author has chosen are victims of the decisions taken by the main protagonists of the epic. Shikhandi and Queen Gandhari are cases in point. Both suffered enormous loss due to Bhishma's uncompromising devotion to the Kuru dynasty. The women hovering in the margins of the events have their own stories to tell which might give a whole new version to popular incidents. The title, ‘Until The Lions’, is a part of the African proverb which goes ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ Here Karthika Nair has come forward to sift through the cacophony and turn the spotlight on those characters whose voices have to be heard in order to get a complete picture of the events of the Mahabharata.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Smita

    What a mind-blowingly brilliant book! I don't want to say much about it. I have read a lot of books on the Mahabharata, but this book has just blown me. It is exceptional. What a mind-blowingly brilliant book! I don't want to say much about it. I have read a lot of books on the Mahabharata, but this book has just blown me. It is exceptional.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    3.5+ stars, close but not quite enough to get 4 Karthika Naïr's Until the Lions will almost certainly have the greatest impact on readers familiar with The Mahabharata but even for those - like myself - who aren't so much, this collection of poems written from the points of view of the mothers, wives, concubines and daughters of the principal characters is well worth your time. It reminds me of similar works written in relation to The Iliad and The Odyssey. [My acquaintance with the poem essentiall 3.5+ stars, close but not quite enough to get 4 Karthika Naïr's Until the Lions will almost certainly have the greatest impact on readers familiar with The Mahabharata but even for those - like myself - who aren't so much, this collection of poems written from the points of view of the mothers, wives, concubines and daughters of the principal characters is well worth your time. It reminds me of similar works written in relation to The Iliad and The Odyssey. [My acquaintance with the poem essentially comes to Peter Brook's adaptation for TV, which I watched on the local PBS station back in 1990, and a rather disappointing synopsis several years ago.]

  4. 4 out of 5

    Manish

    I finally got to read Karthika Nair's work after hearing so many nice things about it. The Mahabharata unfolds through the eyes of some of the lesser known female protagonists like Satyavati, Uttara, Uloopi, Poorna etc. The hate, rage and the role of destiny that marks the epic comes across so vividly in this retelling. I finally got to read Karthika Nair's work after hearing so many nice things about it. The Mahabharata unfolds through the eyes of some of the lesser known female protagonists like Satyavati, Uttara, Uloopi, Poorna etc. The hate, rage and the role of destiny that marks the epic comes across so vividly in this retelling.

  5. 5 out of 5

    AngshumanM93

    I almost never read poetry but when i came across Bibek Deb Roy's review of this book in Open magazine , I made up my mind to read this one . It is not every day that a man who has upheld the wisdom of the traditional lore so brilliantly for a generation so completely unmoored from its past ends up appreciating a subaltern work . However I personally feel that to call this book subaltern would be to do it gross injustice . The word 'subaltern' is too political and cannot be used to do justice to I almost never read poetry but when i came across Bibek Deb Roy's review of this book in Open magazine , I made up my mind to read this one . It is not every day that a man who has upheld the wisdom of the traditional lore so brilliantly for a generation so completely unmoored from its past ends up appreciating a subaltern work . However I personally feel that to call this book subaltern would be to do it gross injustice . The word 'subaltern' is too political and cannot be used to do justice to this piece of work for it subverts the very idea of telling an retelling stories . The Mahabharata is not just India's epic , it is also the mirror in which India sees herself. To imagine this nation without this epic , would be to imagine Haridwar without the Ganga or Madurai without Meenakshi mandir . There is a saying in Bengal -- 'What does not happen in the Mahabharat , will not happen in the land of Bharat ' .The Mahabharata is where we have stored the history of our heroic age long after history had itself forgotten it , it is our basis of sociology and anthropology but over and above all it holds within itself the eternal debate of identity , dharma and duty . Thus the Mahabharata can become whatever we need it to become , it can suit the requirements of any day and age , it is the only beacon we need to steer ourselves when lost in a haze of identities and conflicts in this modern age . It is perhaps poetic that the central event of the epic : the Kurukshetra War is identified with the coming of the Kali Yuga ; the final age in the great time cycle of man which we are said to live in . It is precisely this nature of Mahabharata that helps the poetess Karthika Nair to lend her pen to all those characters in the epic who have never been given much say . The Mahabharata with all its supernatural elements remains a story of human beings . Even the Gods serve the purpose of humans . Sri Krishna in spite of being the Godhead and the very protector of Dharma is not spared its judgement . The beauty of the Mahabharata lies in the fact that the epic can be moulded from any point of view and so can bring out the virtues of those thought incapable of having it . Thus we hear of Dushhala's lament for her hundred brothers even those who would die for their Pandava cousins but the Dharmayudha compelled them to fight for their older brothers . We can Gandhari's rage which if fashioned into a weapon would have perhaps shaken the foundations of creation itself had it not been eclipsed by Amba's oath of vengeance . We hear Satyavati's monologue on how her ambition to right one wrong started the cascade of events that led to the great war and find ourselves wondering about the nature of destiny and free will , about the point at which possibilities crystallise out of the realm of causalities and become inevitabilities. We find ourselves asking was the war inevitable , was the slaughter predestined ? As we read more and more of this poem we wonder if Gandhari's accusation to Sri Krishna in the original epic was right -- that he could have stopped the carnage any moment had he simply wished it . As we read these poems more and more we wonder if Krishna was as helpless as the rest , we wonder if there comes a point at which we become the slaves to the ideas we once mastered . The Mahabharata as I mentioned can become whatever we need it to become . It can thus become a critique of all the evils that Indian society is cursed with and it can also at the same time become the very source of them . Thus the epic becomes living proof of the fact that nothing is inherently virtuous or vicious . Given the situation of this country now , the poetess has used this nature for the best of purposes and thus sanctified the epic's place place in the soul of this country . In Dushhala's lament for her brothers we hear of some of her brothers subverting the orthodoxy of their grandsire , the glory of Arjuna is eclipsed by his butchery of every living creature in the Khandava forest . Thanks to her genius we listen to the voices of the nameless foot soldiers of war . To say any more would be to give away the poems . This book is an experience and it would not be wrong to say that the experience of the Mahabharata would be incomplete without this. This is without a doubt some of the best poetry and storytelling that I have come across in recent time and deserves to be on the shelf of every book lover.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hrishikesh

    A fascinating and impressive project. For long, this epic - and the millions of commentaries and interpretations written on it - have been a favourite. Kavitha Nair tries out a new experiment by composing poetry solely from the perspective of minor female characters. The end result is astounding. I have three observations to make - One, there are so many characters about whom I knew nothing. Satyavati, Dusshala, Ulupi, Bhanumati...half my time was spent in parallely reading up about most of the ch A fascinating and impressive project. For long, this epic - and the millions of commentaries and interpretations written on it - have been a favourite. Kavitha Nair tries out a new experiment by composing poetry solely from the perspective of minor female characters. The end result is astounding. I have three observations to make - One, there are so many characters about whom I knew nothing. Satyavati, Dusshala, Ulupi, Bhanumati...half my time was spent in parallely reading up about most of the characters in this book. Two, the author has, at times, interpreted the characters in unique and non-obvious ways. For instance, Hidimbi is presented as being glad of her brother's death at the hands of Bhima. Or Gandhari blindfolds herself as a reaction to her land being laid to waste, rather than out of compassion for her spouse. Such perspectives are thought-provoking. Three, I have always looked upon the Mahabharata as a Dharmic text - Dharmic not in the sense of "Religious", but in the sense of "Duty". Often, in the process of looking at the characters and their conduct through the prism of righteousness and duty, it is quite easy to overlook their human fallacies. And human fallacies they have, even the characters who are demi- or entirely - divine. In this process of "glossing over", one essential theme of this epic was often lost - hate. It came as a shock to me to notice that once the personae dramatis are stripped of their inevitably duty-and-dictat-minding-selves, just how much hatred is built into this story. One explanation , perhaps, as to why the theme of hate is so stark in this book is that it is a female-centric one. From Shantanu to Janamejaya, the Mahabharat is a male-centric text. Keeping aside instances such as Kunti summoning Surya to beget Karna, the women in this text are passive rather than active. Accordingly, when the menfolk are tied up with their honour, and duty, and glory, and revenge, and jealousy, and dharma, and their Rajdharmas, and their Ashwamedhas and Rajasuyas, the only sentiment remaining with the women, as a reaction to the generations of subjugation and ill-treatment, is, perhaps, hatred. To be sure there were parts of this collection that I did not enjoy - "Constancy", for one; "Padavit", for another. The styles of these parts did not seem to reach out. But overall, a satisfying and insightful read. Recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dibyajyoti Sarma

    I don’t know how to react to this book by Karthika Naïr. A friend gave it to me recently, saying, as a poet, and a Mahabharata aficionado, I must read it. I did. I love the name. I understand the conceit – a feminist retelling of the greatest tale ever told (The title borrows from the famous African proverb –‘Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.’). I have no problems with it. Apart from the usual suspects, Naïr has amassed some le I don’t know how to react to this book by Karthika Naïr. A friend gave it to me recently, saying, as a poet, and a Mahabharata aficionado, I must read it. I did. I love the name. I understand the conceit – a feminist retelling of the greatest tale ever told (The title borrows from the famous African proverb –‘Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.’). I have no problems with it. Apart from the usual suspects, Naïr has amassed some less know characters, which is always nice. There are 19 voices, telling the tale from their point of view, complaining, accusing, judging, and making sense of the reality… There are some voices I really admired, like Ulupi mourning the beheading of Aravan. This may be because I have been thinking about the same story. Or, Jaratkaru, Astika’s mother, who would later be deified as Manasa in Eastern India; again, a character I have been thinking about a lot. But as I read and reread some portions, I don’t know what to say. Some of the lines are pure brilliance. They leap out of the pages and hit you, in a good way, in a way good poetry can, and then there are lines and lines of banal meandering, just plain narrative in free verse, without a shred of poetry. How could this happen? Simply, this is the circle I encountered. There are some brilliant lines, with some brilliant insight, brilliant images, a perfect rendering of the emotion, and you think, you have arrived at the right spot. And then, the narrative slips. It goes to plain storytelling. At one level, I understand. As far I can guess, the book was primarily written for a western audience, who would need to be clued in into the narrative, which is already disjoined. So, the storytelling fills the gap. But poetry it is not. So, what do you do? I remember Bhartrihari, who wrote, be like a swan, which swims in the water, but drinks only the milk of it, not the dirt. So, this is what I did. I took a marker pen and underlined the lines I liked. It’s almost half of the book. The next time, I will read these underlined sentences and ignore the rest. Oh, I like the cover, featuring, what I assume, a digging site at Sarnath during the Raj. (And, I am remembering Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva, also published by HarperCollins. This is the best Mahabharata retelling in the recent years, by any standard.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    Well I was able to endure this, purely because of the author's techniques and use of form – blocks of obstinate and repetitive yet poetic text, followed by haiku, guide us into this telling, and that's just the start of it. Later on we meet a hundred warrior siblings all given their own Clerihew – except they're not strictly those, but actually an Afghani poetry form, which here start out yoked, too. But as to what it's actually telling us, I never really got a grip, for despite the author's not Well I was able to endure this, purely because of the author's techniques and use of form – blocks of obstinate and repetitive yet poetic text, followed by haiku, guide us into this telling, and that's just the start of it. Later on we meet a hundred warrior siblings all given their own Clerihew – except they're not strictly those, but actually an Afghani poetry form, which here start out yoked, too. But as to what it's actually telling us, I never really got a grip, for despite the author's note and the dramatis personae list and the family tree, it remained a bit too incomprehensible. The family tree is useless when the narrator has children that aren't even mentioned on the diagram, and when the cast list tells us "oh, there are three of the buggers with that name, make your own guess as to who's who" you have to despair. This then is only for those who definitely know the Mahabharata, and in part that's just so the reader actually can tell what this talented writer has done to it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karandeep

    It took some time to finish but I loved this book through and through. This is one of the most unique styles of presenting the Mahabharata and the POVs too are the most different. This book is like a melody, but sometimes the words make you look at the dictionary but other than that, if you know the story you'll thoroughly enjoy the book. Infact you'll love the way it's been written and how well it has been complied from various perspectives. It should be a second or a third read, not the first. A It took some time to finish but I loved this book through and through. This is one of the most unique styles of presenting the Mahabharata and the POVs too are the most different. This book is like a melody, but sometimes the words make you look at the dictionary but other than that, if you know the story you'll thoroughly enjoy the book. Infact you'll love the way it's been written and how well it has been complied from various perspectives. It should be a second or a third read, not the first. A must read for a Mahabharat fan. The bibliography too is a treasure trove for Mahabharata lovers, you can actually pick decent books titles and read them later.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sneha

    One of the few books I've given a five star rating to, Into The Lions deserves this, and then some. Simultaneously tackling issues of casteism and sexism, Karthika Nair's writing steers clear of pointing accusatory fingers at 'the system'. She stays true to what she set out to do-to give a voice to the hunted and the prey. I've read quite a few retellings of the Mahabharata but this was one that took my breath way, as it depicted the epic exactly as how it was - a war. One of the few books I've given a five star rating to, Into The Lions deserves this, and then some. Simultaneously tackling issues of casteism and sexism, Karthika Nair's writing steers clear of pointing accusatory fingers at 'the system'. She stays true to what she set out to do-to give a voice to the hunted and the prey. I've read quite a few retellings of the Mahabharata but this was one that took my breath way, as it depicted the epic exactly as how it was - a war.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Somya

    The story of Women of Mahabharata - those who pass as shadows.... Karthika Nair tells the story from their view-point. Queen Mother Satyawati, with all her flaws and her pragmatism, is the protagonist. Amba, Hidmbi, Dusshala, Poorna, Sauvali, Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi's Mother, Uttaraa, Vrishali, Bhanumati, Ulupi.... all find their voice in this verse form of the Epic. It is beautifully written but it is the also the most violent narration of Mahabharata I have read so far. The story of Women of Mahabharata - those who pass as shadows.... Karthika Nair tells the story from their view-point. Queen Mother Satyawati, with all her flaws and her pragmatism, is the protagonist. Amba, Hidmbi, Dusshala, Poorna, Sauvali, Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi's Mother, Uttaraa, Vrishali, Bhanumati, Ulupi.... all find their voice in this verse form of the Epic. It is beautifully written but it is the also the most violent narration of Mahabharata I have read so far.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tisha

    What Alice Oswald did brilliantly with the Iliad story, from the vantage point of its smaller characters. MEMORIAL - written like a poetic Mirasi, that one. Karthika Nair does to the Mahabharata. Brilliant, playful, sharp and poetic explorations from the women characters' POV. At once, contemporary, imaginative and purani. What Alice Oswald did brilliantly with the Iliad story, from the vantage point of its smaller characters. MEMORIAL - written like a poetic Mirasi, that one. Karthika Nair does to the Mahabharata. Brilliant, playful, sharp and poetic explorations from the women characters' POV. At once, contemporary, imaginative and purani.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pooja Pillai

    An exceptional book, hugely ambitious in its scope. Essentially a fragmented rebelling if the Mahabharata, using voices we've never or barely heard before, such as Hidimbi, Satyavati, or Sauvali, the maid raped by Dhritarashtra. An exceptional book, hugely ambitious in its scope. Essentially a fragmented rebelling if the Mahabharata, using voices we've never or barely heard before, such as Hidimbi, Satyavati, or Sauvali, the maid raped by Dhritarashtra.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Soumithri

    Rarely have I read a book of verse so gripping, so breathless that I periodically had to stop in order to compose myself. Nair writes from the perspectives of a number of women in the Mahabharata - her renditions of Ulupi, Mohini, and Amba are especially dangerous. Wow.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hema Penmetsa

    I finished reading this book a few days ago and am still reeling from the stunning verse, the depth that the author was able to gift to each character's truth and pain in so few words, and the courage to look at the age-old epic from such a fresh perspective. Kudos to Karthika Nair! This will be one book that I'll keep reading and re-reading. I finished reading this book a few days ago and am still reeling from the stunning verse, the depth that the author was able to gift to each character's truth and pain in so few words, and the courage to look at the age-old epic from such a fresh perspective. Kudos to Karthika Nair! This will be one book that I'll keep reading and re-reading.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joyce Job

  17. 4 out of 5

    Geetha

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sharad Jhunjhunwala

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vinay

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Every654

  22. 4 out of 5

    Prabhat Agarwala

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nanta

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rishad Talati

  25. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Gost

  26. 4 out of 5

    浮士德

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mahevash

  28. 5 out of 5

    Leela Srinivasan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Harivansh Kuntal

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anupama Mann

  31. 5 out of 5

    Harini

  32. 5 out of 5

    Solomon Manoj

  33. 4 out of 5

    Ruchi

  34. 4 out of 5

    Sentsim

  35. 5 out of 5

    Radhika

  36. 4 out of 5

    Chitreddy Sairam

  37. 4 out of 5

    Amit Jain

  38. 4 out of 5

    Yasir Husain

  39. 5 out of 5

    Siddharth

  40. 5 out of 5

    Shobha

  41. 4 out of 5

    Shekhar Ruparelia

  42. 5 out of 5

    Sawan

  43. 5 out of 5

    Aneesha

  44. 5 out of 5

    Jay Nair

  45. 4 out of 5

    Shriya

  46. 4 out of 5

    Rohit

  47. 5 out of 5

    Dinesh Mundra

  48. 4 out of 5

    Tushar Agrawal

  49. 5 out of 5

    Bhaskar kumar

  50. 4 out of 5

    Sameer

  51. 4 out of 5

    Kshiti Nijhawan

  52. 5 out of 5

    Satchidanand Haridas

  53. 5 out of 5

    Sankarshan

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