Long-time New Vrindaban Resident achieves Finalist for an Indie Book Award

Sankirtana Das is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a 38 year resident of New Vrindaban. He is a sacred storyteller, workshop leader and author of Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest. He was interviewed by Lilasuka Devi Dasi, Communications Director at New Vrindaban on May 11, 2014

mahabharata by sankirtan

Q. Congratulations. So how does it feel that your book was just selected as Finalist for the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards?

A. Well, I have a good, warm feeling about it. On the other hand, I also feel that I didn’t write the book, that somehow, Krishna just let it all fall into place. I’m amazed that all the major elements and personalities of Mahabharata are all there in just 280 pages.

Q. That’s certainly a major feat. Mahabharata is 100,000 slokas. How did you manage to fit it into 280 pages?

A. It took ten years of strategizing on how to piece it all together to make it work. The writing was at times both a joyous and a nerve wracking experience. It’s like a huge puzzle, and every piece had to fit into place. Sometimes I had serious doubts about pulling it off and if it would actually work. I wanted the book to be for college courses, so the text couldn’t be too long. The book is fast-paced. The art of storytelling is to focus on the action and the characters with only minimal description. The idea is to just give enough description to activate the imagination of the reader or listener that they themselves can fill in the scenes. Now that it’s out, the response from scholars and readers has been tremendous.

Q. How did you go about writing the book?

A. I knew bits and pieces of Mahabharata from Prabhupada’s first and tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam and from performing scenes from it over the years. But I didn’t know the details of how the whole story unfolded.  I wrote the book, primarily, to get a better understanding of it for myself. So I looked at those chapters from Bhagavatam and also referred to the first complete English translation of Mahabharata written by Mohan Ganguli in 1896.

Q. There have been a number of Mahabharatas in the last few decades. What is the need for another Mahabharata?

A. Several devotees have asked me that. When Lokamangala prabhu and I toured with our two-man drama of Mahabharata, people would sometimes say we should do a movie. That never happened. So my other intention with this book was: what would the Mahabharata look like if I had the chance to make it into a movie. In my rendition of Mahabharata I bring to bear my background in theater, cinema and literature. I wanted to get to the essence of the Mahabharata and offer a very dramatic and cinematic reading experience. A book that is character driven.

Q. I think you’ve accomplished that. Who was your target audience?

A. Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest is meant to help devotees introduce Mahabharata to the public in general, and especially to their college audiences and contacts. I structured Mahabharata to be used in college courses that could easily be studied and enjoyed. Right now many courses are using William Buck’s version.

Q. And what’s the difference between the two?

A. There are many discrepancies in his book. For instance, Yudhuisthira’s Rajasuya sacrifice is totally omitted. It’s a major scene, and so there’s really no motivation for Duryodhan to sink into his profound depression and envy. Buck often departs from the meaning and intention of the original text.

Q. So, what’s the message of your book? You spoke about getting “to the essence.” What do you consider the essence?

A. The essence is Krishna’s intimate relationship with the Pandavas. Also, I wanted to give people a proper understanding of dharma, and to show succinctly that this ancient text is still relevant today. In making Krishna Consciousness available to the public, devotees need to demonstrate its relevancy to today’s issues and concerns. And Srila Prabhupada explains that our philosophy is very relevant on many levels. Mahabharata does all this while telling a fantastic story. It’s for story lovers. So I think my book can be a vital tool.

Q. What advice do you have for writers?

A. Be very organized. It will save you a lot of headaches. I’m speaking from personal experience.

B. When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

A. When I was a kid – twelve or thirteen – I was struck by the impact books and movies made on me. I wanted to give that experience to others.

Q. And finally, what projects are you working on?

A. One thing – just promoting Mahabharata takes up a lot of time. And although I have two uncompleted book projects, I want to work on a third which I feel is more important. Also, I plan to do several storytelling CD’s. I’m just about ready with – Brahma’s Song. It’s subtitle is: A Concert of Storytelling, Music and Chants.

Q. And if readers want more info about the book they can go to www.Mahabharata-Project.com Thanks for a great interview.

A. And thank you.

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