Samhita Arni's Daring Debut

The Mahabharata Revisited in the Twenty-First Century




Mahabharata, Samhita Arni, Rewriting, Feminist reading


Indian writer Samhita Arni started writing and illustrating her first book when she was just eight years old.  The really outstanding feat of this child sensation is that Arni chose to rewrite the Mahabharata, one of the two Sanskrit epics of ancient India, a narrative poem composed around 400 years BCE and still a highly significant cultural icon in contemporary India.  Indian children are brought up on stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana from a very early age so the characters and their values become role models for boys and girls alike.  The Mahabharata – A Child’s View (published in 1996 when Arni was eleven) takes on a critical stance against one of the epic’s major themes: war and she seeks to give a voice to many of the underestimated characters, especially women and members of the lower classes.  

Arni’s naivety in embarking on such a momentous task as a contemporary rewriting of a classical work needs to be remarked on.  The Mahabharata is possibly the world’s longest known epic poem, one of its many versions consisting of well over 200,000 lines.  She has deliberately omitted certain episodes and daringly added new ones without deviating from the overall plot.  Her fearless feminist stance, striking for a girl of eleven, proves that valid contemporary readings of the classics indicate their timeless quality and the essential orality of these texts, without which they can too easily be fossilized and rendered irrelevant for modern times.   I conclude by suggesting that Arni’s debut novel is a challenging dialogue between ancient ideals  and twenty-first century social and political issues.

Author Biography

Felicity Hand, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Senior Lecturer

Departament de Filologia Anglesa

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