Are you one of those who gave up reading Mahabharata due to its complex amount of characters and settings? Don’t worry because I am one of them too.
But, the author of Mahabharata: The Eternal Epic in Short Stories, Vignes Chandran, has made it easier for all of us to grasp the whole epic story.
On 25th July 2020, he released this book and since then has received tremendous amount of love and support from people who have read his work.
We at Varnam had an opportunity to speak to Vignes Chandran to learn about him and the book in depth.
Varnam: What inspired you to write “Mahabharata – The Eternal Epic in Short Stories”?
Vignes: The inspiration was pretty straightforward – a realisation that the great story is slowly but surely being swallowed by time and getting forgotten.
And I fully understand why this is happening – as attention spans are getting shorter, very very few have the patience or the time to digest hundreds of pages of text anymore.
And the sheer number of characters within the Mahabharata does not help – usually puts off readers within the first 2-3 chapters.
Hence I felt the time was right to produce a compact, simplified version of the great epic for the benefit of those interested. And if people like the book, they will share it with their friends and family, and as the word spreads – the story will then become known again for the benefit of everyone.
And I had always wanted to produce my own version of the Mahabharata, considering it is my all-time favourite story, and here it is.
Varnam: Is “Mahabharata – The Eternal Epic in Short Stories” your first book?
Vignes: Yes, it is my first published book, though it will not be my last.
Varnam: What were the challenges you faced while writing this book?
Vignes: To be honest the only challenge I had was the time constraint to fully focus on writing and producing this book. The lockdown (the initial movement control order) helped immensely as I had to be indoors and was not able to move around, hence the book was produced. Everything else was easily navigated, I always consider myself merely the tool.
Varnam: How long did it take to write “The Eternal Epic in Short Stories, Mahabharata”?
Vignes: To fully understand the story by navigating through different previous versions multiple times, and also spend time visiting the actual locations of the story mainly in the Indian sub-region, around two decades.
I am not a fan of writing a story based purely on the writings of others, I needed to actually visit the key locations of the story such as Kurukshetra and Varanasi before putting pen to paper my experiences, otherwise I am merely writing someone else’s story. To actually write, edit and produce the book – three months.
Varnam: What is your favourite character from the Mahabharata epic? Why?
Vignes: Shri Krishna. The one that orchestrated the whole thing from start to end without deviating from dharma or duty, while remaining impartial to both sides and eventually achieving the objectives of his avatar before leaving the realm.
Varnam: Are there any secrets or fun stories from the book that you would like to share with your readers?
Vignes: The book includes my own personal experiences of walking the trail of the Mahabharata, visiting sites such as Bhishma’s final resting place, the very spot where the Bhagavad Gita was delivered, Krishna’s final parting spot and other interesting spots – all preserved 5,000 years after the actual war ended.
Readers will enjoy (amongst others) stories of how the Pandavas were born, Hanuman’s unique appearance, the story of how Krishna became Arjuna’s charioteer as well as Yudhisthira’s final journey with a mysterious dog being his companion.
Varnam: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Vignes: An understanding that we have an extremely rich history that should be preserved, not just for this generation but also for generations to come. Readers who also have a want-to-know and curious mindset – I am sure most of us would have come across images of Krishna & Arjuna on the chariot but never did understand why divinity himself (Krishna) was driving a chariot.
Also, a sense of discovery and adventure – to want to personally visit the sites and experience the story in their own personal ways.
Varnam: Are you planning to write more/working on anything currently?
Vignes: Yes – I have a plan to complete 5 different books, and I am now on my second book. The challenge of time is real, especially now that I have completed my sabbatical and am back to full-time work. Hoping to release book 2 in 2022 – fingers-crossed.
Varnam: What book genres are you into? Any favourite authors?
Vignes: A wide range of genres, but I am inclined towards history, spirituality, sports & adventure, mythology & science fiction. A huge fan of autobiographies & real-life experiences of spiritual teachers such as Swami Ramakrishna, Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, Ramana Maharishi, Shirdhi Baba & Siddhartha Gautama to name a few.
A number of favourite authors – Rajagopalachari, Krishna Dharma, Jeffrey Archer, Chitra Banerjee, Amish, John Grisham, Enid Blyton, JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, Chetan Bhagat, Anand Neelakanthan, Mitch Albom, Jules Verne, Dan Brown & Mark Twain to name a few.
Varnam: Has writing been something you were really passionate about?
Vignes: Generally yes. I enjoy writing though time does not allow too much of writing at this moment, as there is a need to balance a number of other activities with it.
Varnam: Was there someone/something which inspired you to get into writing?
Vignes: Nothing in particular, but I always believed that the reach of books/ articles are much further – and I always saw this as a way to share my experiences for those that are eager to learn.
Varnam: What else intrigues your soul, apart from writing?
- Learning and exploring- especially by exploring ancient civilisations, understanding different cultures and simply learning more about yourself through reflection.
- Travel – a big part of my life, I have aspirations of visiting every nation on Earth and have so far visited 80 different countries and countless cities. Each place is different, and there is no better way to expand your perspectives than through travel and learning.
- Adventure – the mountains have always been my natural space and I spend time up in the mountains as much as I can. Over the last few years I also picked up deep sea diving, another different world that allows you to learn and appreciate life in a completely different setting.
- Constantly challenging the norm – always be prepared to ask why and challenge the norm. Often you would realise that there are better ways to do everything.
Varnam: Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
Vignes: At least half of the readers have contacted me after completing the book, and shared how happy they were with the stories and the book. Some completed the book in 3-4 hours, and love the stories so much that they keep re-reading the book which gives me immense joy to hear.
I have been lucky enough that almost all of the readers have given extremely positive feedback, and love the simple stories and how they now understand the Mahabharata in entirety without having to go through hundreds of pages of the heavier versions.
A number of them were brought back to childhood when they had their grandparents and parents share these stories with them, which gives me great pleasure to hear. A lot of them appreciated the glossary that was included – this helped them immensely as most struggle with the large number of characters within the Mahabharata.
A lot have returned to order more copies for their family and friends after reading the book themselves, this is a testament enough that they love the book and would like to share it with their loved ones.
Some have requested for images in my next book – feedback which I accept and thus Book 2 will include images from my journey to places related to the story.
Mahabharata is a great epic that most of us have not really plunged into, and I really recommend that people who have not read this book get a copy soon. You can’t afford to miss a fantastic book like this.
Kudos to Vignes Chandran, who made the Mahabharata easy to read, and we can’t wait for the release of your book 2 in 2022.