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Top 5 books on modern retellings of Hindu Mythology - Mahabharata


Key takeaways:

Top 5 Indian mythology books for your reading list:

  1. The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor
  2. The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurucharan Das
  3. Yuganta: The End of an Epoch by Irawati Karve
  4. Parva by S.L. Bhyrappa, K. Raghavendra Rao (Translator)
  5. Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy, A.K. Ramanujan (Translator)


Mythology is a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, typically involving supernatural beings or events.

Mythological stories are timeless — that means their teachings and context remains relevant irrespective of how far we travel in time across the past, present, and future. Hence, the retellings of the same stories crop up to adapt to the changing times

There has been a surge of retellings of Greek, Hindu, Chinese, etc mythologies across literature, filmmaking, theatre, etc, that have managed to entertain and shape our moral values. Feminist retellings, pure plays, political satires, management lessons, etc — you must have come across these stories in some of the other aspects of your life.

Here’s a list of some books you can pick up that explore the modern retelling of Hindu Mythology. Do share more recommendations, reviews, and thoughts with our community at!

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor book cover

Great discovered, Ganapathi, are often the result of making the wrong mistake at the right time.

Shashi Tharoor has written a very interesting book where he has fictionalized the Indian freedom struggle story in a span of 100 years. Characters like Gandhi and Mountbatten are kept as originally present, while it also utilizes incidents, characters, and learnings from the Indian mythology epic — Mahabharata.

"It was interesting how he managed to weave and mold Indian myths and legends into contemporary politics. It was a very clever way of recasting an epic."

 — David Head of Penguin in 1989

The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurucharan Das

The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurucharan Das book cover

The concept of dharma evolved over time, its meaning shifting from a ‘ritual ethics of deeds’ to a more personal virtue based on one’s conscience

The author, in order to answer the burning question ‘Why be good?’ turn to the 2000-year-old epic Mahabharata. He discovers how our present reality experiences and the epic tale are closer in terms of uncertainty and moral haziness. It dwells on the act of ‘dharma’.

"The book is a wonderful combination of the scholarly and the personal, the academic and the meditative. The basic plan works beautifully, building a rich mix of his very, very careful and detailed reading of the text, his other wide reading, and his life in business; an extraordinary blend. I found the use of evolutionary biology and the Prisoner’s Dilemma to explain the pragmatism of the Mahabharata absolutely brilliant."

 — Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago

Yuganta: The End of an Epoch by Irawati Karve

Yuganta: The End of an Epoch by Irawati Karve book cover

That values are always relative to time and place is the stand taken by Indian philosophy. And even their acceptance might be more theoretical than practical. For example, genocide is now recognized as an international crime and yet it is still committed and connived at. The great saint Tukaram admonished that ‘Slaves be treated as kindly as one’s own children’. A modern man instead of admiring the compassion behind this statement would be indignantly pointing out how Tukaram condoned a society which allowed a man to possess slaves!

This book takes an anthropological, secular, and historical perspective to the heroic mythical figures of the epic Mahabharata. The author presents a refreshingly new interpretation of essays, scientific in spirit, yet appreciative of the literary tradition of the Mahabharata.

"This book offers a critical analysis of characters with certain logical explanations of the chain of events. The author makes you think and ask questions about characters that were revered, considered highly for their involvement in the epic, and upheld as heroes.”

— Review on Goodreads

Parva by S.L. Bhyrappa, K. Raghavendra Rao (Translator)

Parva by S.L. Bhyrappa, K. Raghavendra Rao (Translator) book cover

In a flash, I had a change of heart. Even one precious life was worth saving. Japan was defeated; but the wounded were still alive.

This book is an interpretation of Mahabharata from the 20th-century point of view. The mythological elements are replaced with characters from the historical time of the 12th century B.C. in India. The author spent five years researching the social, economic, and cultural details of the period and the novel uses monologue as a literary technique.

"What I loved about the way SLB presented this story was how he tore away the curtains of all the drama of magic, Gods, super human strength and all that makes it a wonderful tale.”

 — Goodreads review

Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy, A.K. Ramanujan (Translator)

Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy, A.K. Ramanujan (Translator) book cover

In a moment, at the very center of the swept and cleaned veranda, she had drawn two intersecting triangles, one upward-pointing, and the other downward-pointing. In one, god’s grace descended from heaven to earth; in the other, the soul ascended, aspiring toward god. Because of Sitamma’s faultless eye, both met in perfect harmony.

This book is a contemporary retake of the ancient Hindu myths. With death as a central theme, the novel is about a decaying Brahmin colony in the south Indian village of Karnataka. The story was made into an award-winning film in the 1970s as well.

"NYRB Classics’ reissue of this book comes at an opportune moment, as societies around the world face the dangers of religious extremism and its focus on ritual and regulation rather than humanity. The book tries to teach Indian society a lesson in this story about the trouble with prioritizing tradition over compassion. "

— Melissa Beck, Asymptote Journal

Hope you enjoy this list! If you have more recommendations or have read any of these books, do share your takeaways and review them with the community at —!