Sharanya presents a succinct retelling of the tragic, heroic life of one of the central characters of the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata.
This slim debut, written in verse and adorned with illustrations, begins in India circa 3000 B.C. A contentious old sage gives 13-year-old Princess Kanti a magical mantra to call down any god from the heavens, but unbeknownst to her, the mantra’s true purpose is to impregnate her with a god’s progeny. Thus Kanti naively summons Surya Narayan, the god of the sun, who explains that he is to be her child’s father, and immediately, baby Radheya—clad in gold earrings and a gold breastplate—springs from Kanti’s ear. Kanti, afraid of what people may think of her, places her son in a box of carved sandalwood and sets him sailing in the River Ganga, where Atirath, the charioteer, and his kindly wife, Radha, discover him. This colorful story focuses on Radheya’s heroic nature—he becomes known as the “Greatest of Givers”—and the irony that he’s a member of the nobility while his adoptive parents are of a lower class. In one of the book’s final scenes, Radheya must battle his own brothers, but throughout this book, regardless of temptation or sorrow, Radheya remains steadfastly loyal to his loved ones. Sharanya’s poetic style makes for easy reading, as in a poignant scene in which Radheya is briefly reunited with his birth mother: “Yes, Queen Kanti, I have heard you are my mother! / Oh, my mother, darling mother, now come near! / Why did you make me sorrow in your absence / when I wanted just to glimpse you all these years?” Sanskrit and Hindi words appear in the text, and some word endings have been changed to suit the poetry. The book’s brevity may be off-putting to readers looking for more character development, plot details or battle scenes, but overall, it’s an effective introduction to the dynamic legend of Radheya.
An often engaging ballad that may compel readers to further explore The Mahabharata.