Nita Berry
SUBHADRA by By Dipavali Sen. Cover Design by Geetika BlueRose Publishers (self-published), 2022, 220 pp., INR 229.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Here is a book by Dipavali Sen that takes us on a long and wonderful journey, back to the times of the Mahabharata, as seen through the eyes of Subhadra who plays many pivotal roles—as the daughter of Vasudev and Rohini, sister of Krishna and Balarama, the wife of Arjuna, the mother of Abhimanyu…and right down to her deification as an idol at the Jagannath Temple in Puri.
All this takes place within the framework of a modern setting in Gurgaon. And so, Subhadra is an unusual book in that it is a combination of the past and the present, myth and reality, as it presents the life of the deity from ancient times to the present day in the modern urban context.
The entire story of the Mahabharata unfolds before us through the eyes of Subhadra or as narrated to her by Arjuna, her husband—the thrilling Subhadra-haran by Arjun, when the mighty archer is incredulous at her handling of the chariot and its horses, the swayamvara of Draupadi, Arjuna’s exile, Subhadra at Indraprastha, and her pregnancy when Arjuna would talk to her about warcraft and battle formations like the infamous chakravyuha, when she falls asleep, Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya-yagnya which was followed by the disastrous game of dice at Hastinapur, that led to all the troubles, and then a day-by-day account of the battle at Kurukshetra with its horrific killings of near and dear ones, including the treacherous and heartrending slaying of young Abhimanyu, the son of Subhadra and Arjuna. Enthralling and evergreen legends and little-known episodes of the Mahabharata have made the major and minor characters of the epic come alive. The compilation of all these momentous events must have involved extensive and detailed research by the author.
Dipavali takes us to the end of Subhadra’s life with the mesmerizing process of her turning into an inanimate piece of wood in Dwaraka, wedged between her two lifeless brothers. This is the beginning of her deification as an idol without limbs, unable to carry out any action, before the trio is transported to the Jagannath Temple in Puri.
Coming to the present which is juxtaposed with the past in an interesting way, Priyanka is fascinated to watch the Rathyatra telecast from the Jagannath Temple at Puri and feels an inexplicable empathy for the deity Subhadra. There seems to be a connection between them through the eras. There’s more to the story as Subhadra, stifled over the centuries in her mummified form in Puri, now longs to be set free. Can the modern context find explanations and solutions? And can Priyanka and her friend help Subhadra?
Written in Sen’s engrossing and expressive style, and embellished with a great many details that give it a feeling of authenticity, the book makes an interesting read. In the process, one picks up much history of the time and legends of the epic, effortlessly.
The cover illustration of the three deities at the Jagannath Temple in Puri is bright and striking. Self-published by BlueRose Publishers, the paper quality and font of the book are good, and it is reasonably priced. However, some punctuation and editing errors should have been taken care of by the publishers, as also occasional printing errors, like words running into each other on some pages. These can detract from the reading pleasure at times.
Thanks to Dipavali for the heart-warming dedication to the members of the AWIC and their precious contributions to children’s literature! There is indeed an unspoken bond between all those who share a passion for writing and creating for the young.