I want to read Mahabharata and Ramayana but I also want to know the underlying messages or learning that they seek to illustrate so Is there any book which illuminates the learnings and ideas of Mahabharata and Ramayana which they seek to pass on through their stories and characters. Please suggest. I am tired of finding anything conclusive. Happy New Year!
For Mahābhārata, you can read Yuganta: The End of an Epoch by Irawati Karve. From the foreword to the book:
Irawati Karve studies the humanity of the Mahabharata's great figures and no one of them emerges for her as wholly good or wholly bad, few as even prevailingly good or prevailingly bad. Duryodhana, the arch villain of the work, had been humiliated by the Pandava heroes and had cause for resentment. Arjuna, the great and noble warrior was vacillating in purpose and also merciless, as in the slaughter of the Nagas (primitive non-Aryan folk?) when he and Krishna and the god Agni burnt the Khandava forest — there was no Ahimsa for those three! Bhishma, the wisest and most respected character in the epic, a peacemaker who tried to heal the factional strife in his family which is the theme of the work, nevertheless, when under the influence of his own sense of mission, wrought great injustices and had a large share in producing the fatal series of events that finally made the strife incurable and obliterated both the warring branches. Gandhari, generally admired for wifely devotion, who as a girl was deceitfully betrothed to a blind prince, and in consequence, to share her husband's misfortune, wore a bandage over her eyes by day and night until shortly before her death, is shown at the end of life to have inflicted the voluntary blindness upon herself not so much from an exaggerated sense of marital duty as to give her husband and his family a guilty feeling in retaliation for the deception practised upon her. Draupadi, heroine of the whole epic story, though the model of a good wife, was also an arrogant, opionated, selfish, untrustworthy young woman, and an inveterate troublemaker throughout her life. The catalogue is endless. Even Krishna, reciter of the Bhagavadgita and god incarnate, was a Machiavellian schemer, aiding his friends, the Pandavas, with shrewd counsel, though sometimes of dubious morality. All the great personages in the Mahabharata are cut down in her analysis to human size. Like the noble figures in the Greek epics and tragedies and in Shakespeare’s chronicle plays they exhibited a wide range of human feelings and passions — love, devotion, bravery, chivalry, and also hatred, envy, rage, violence, deceit, cowardice, unchivalry, injustice, censurable conduct even by the prevailing standards. This fact is what makes them interesting to Dr. Karve and makes her essays interesting to us. Seen through her eyes the Mahabharata is more than a work which Hindus look upon as divinely inspired and venerate. It becomes a record of complex humanity and a mirror to all the faces which we ourselves wear.
Also, check out these books from Gita Press: