The Five Brothers (Krishnavatara, #3)

By K.M. Munshi

Rating: 3 stars

The third volume of the Krishnanavatara deals mostly with the five Pandava brothers, with Krishna relegated to political mover and shaker, rather than taking part in the adventures himself. Duryodhana, the son of the blind king Dhritarashtra* hates his cousins, the five brothers, and plots to have them killed. Through “shenanigans”, they are believed dead, but go into hiding, only to be miraculously “brought back to life” by Krishna when it’s politically convenient.

In the course of the book, we encounter cannibalistic rakshasas, ridiculously overblown senses of entitlement, and a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a trans man. Through it all Krishna goes from crisis to crisis, exerting his (supernatural?) charisma, making people trust him and making unwise promises. But he somehow pulls it all together and comes out smelling of roses.

It does feel like most of the problems in the book (not counting cannibalistic rakshasas, who can be dealt with in the old-fashioned way of killing the existing chief and becoming their king) were mostly down to vastly inflated egos. Both Duryodhana and the brahmin master of warfare Dronacharya are idiots who who can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

I did know about the polyandry of Draupadi marrying all five of the Pandava brothers, but I hadn’t known how that came about. She was “won” by Arjuna, but through a ridiculous misunderstanding, his mother tells him to share “his alms” with his brothers. And the boys always do what their mother tells them… Even though she admits that she made a mistake. It’s just silly.

We also finally get some “real” magic in this book, with both a Brahmin who heals the lame, and a Yaksha who magically turns Shikhandin from a girl into a boy. I’m still surprised how sympathetically that was handled, by the way (although I suspect it wouldn’t have been so understanding if the case had been that of a trans woman).

I will continue to read these, as I get a chance, but I can’t help feeling that so much could have been defused by people talking about their feelings, and going to therapy.

* it’s commented several times in the book that Dhritarashtra couldn’t be a king, because he’s blind (um, sure), and so his son couldn’t either (eh?), and yet Dhritarashtra is very definitely a king, and Duryodhana becomes crown prince, so I don’t know what that’s about

Book details

ISBN: 8172763786
Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
Year of publication: 2006

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