A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Libidous Liaison

A number of recent cases of rape and scandalous relationships by high profile men has come to light and are being put under the scanner. Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his alleged rape of a Hotel maid, Silvio Berlusconi and his notorious Bunga Bunga parties (which were nothing short of sexual orgies), Muammar Gaddafi, and his female Amazonian Bodyguards, supposedly 40 of them and all virgins. The list is endless.
So what is so special about these? What makes these cases noteworthy is that the culprits were all powerful and influential men and many old and doddering. Dominique is (now was) the chief of IMF, Berlusconi is the Italian Prime Minister & Gaddafi is the leader of Libya (who is fighting to retain his leadership).
History has enough references of men with such high libidos and many of them were well known to have harems. Numerous wives, amorous relationships and behind the veil sexual escapades, has been a part of the popular lore. The same has been heard about the rich Zamindars later.
Such things have been said about many mythological characters too. Puranic Indra was known for his weakness for beautiful women. His Indrasabha was known to be a great place where fun and frolic with wine and apsaras being a given. Apsaras like Menaka, Urvashi and Rambha were there to entertain the gods and seduce mere mortals as and when needed. Indra was also attracted to mortals and didn’t have any qualms in violating their chastity for his own lustful needs. So was the Greek god Zeus who was known for his numerous liaisons with both the goddesses as well as mortals. Zeus’s lustful advances didn’t spare men too! Some of his acts like the abduction and rape of Europa and his affairs with Alcmene, Callisto, Danae, Leda and Io were just a few of his adulterous and extra-marital relationships. Not for nothing was Zeus referred to as Zeus the Adulterer! Mythology is replete with such adulterous, amorous and scandalous bits where a woman’s chastity has been violated quite nonchalantly and without remorse.
Just what makes these men in power do the undoable? At the risk of losing it all that has made them so powerful, why do they get into such scandals? Is it marital discord? Or is it the right to enjoy and live it up? Or is it the age-old culprit, testosterone to be blamed? Sexologists feel that it is unfair to blame testosterone as it is a healthy hormone which is responsible for many a good thing in human development, besides virility. Reckless and bestial behavior has nothing to do with testosterone levels in the culprit. Further, a high level of testosterone does not lead to such lusty behavior.
Psychologist feel Power is the main reason to take things for granted. Rather it seems that a combination of power, arrogance, lust and a canine-like libido is what makes for a heady concoction which leads to such acts by men, many of who are technically senior citizens! A feeling of being above-board adds to this behaviour and a personal high with such (sexual) gratification leads to a sense of mental orgasm which is so intoxicating that the powerful individual does not realize that the so-called high is taking him down.
But just as Lord Indra was not spared for his amorous acts and Zeus was constantly under the secret supervision of his wife Hera, such people should not be allowed to scot free. If the institutions they represent care for their reputation and if the women-folk are to be respected, then crime must be punished and higher the position of the individual, greater should the punishment be. The spouses of such people should not stand by them, but rebel and stand by the victim instead. Else simply leave.
Spouses, you have nothing to lose in abandoning your lecherous husbands – rather you stand to gain huge alimonies……ask Mrs. Tiger Woods!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Unsung Women of Ramayana

Though Ramayan is the story of Ram, the epic is also well knows for some of its female characterisations like that of Sita, Kaushalya and even Kaikeyi. But there have been some lesser known ladies who have not found much mention, even when characters like Manthara and Shabari find some mention and attention.

Let us discuss two of them here, Urmila, Lakshaman’s wife and Trijata. Did you say, Trijata who? Well then, let’s keep Trijata for later.
Lakshaman and Urmila from the
teleserial by Ramanand Sagar
Urmila is considered to be the most tragic characters in the epic. What might not be known to many is that Urmila was the daughter of King Janak and was thus the sister of Sita. Why this has not been mentioned often is not known. Urmila is tragic as she is supposed to have spent vanvaas (stay in the forests) without going to the van (forest)! When Ram, Sita and Lakshaman were leaving for the forest, she too wanted to accompany her husband like Sita. But Lakshaman is supposed to have said that he is going to serve his brother and sister-in-law and likewise she should stay back to serve his parents. Urmila stayed back to serve her father-in-law (who died soon) and three mother-in-laws. While all the brothers (Ram, Bharat and Shatrughan) had their wives with them, she was the only one who did not have her husband by her side for fourteen long years. Some versions mention that she did not step out of her room for fourteen years and some say, that she slept for fourteen long years. This seclusion is viewed by many as leading a life of extreme deprivation of worldly life in the absence of her husband.  A number of scholars have attributed small episodes to her, but they all depict her as a person whose existence was to follow instructions and not opine.  She probably lived like a nun, a life of servitude in solitude at the peak of her youth.
The famous Hindi poet, Maithili Sharan Gupta was so disappointed with Valmiki’s treatment of Urmila, that he wrote his own epic by the name of Saket, based it on Ramayana, whose heroine was not Sita, but Urmila! The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore too is supposed to have lamented this treatment (or mistreatment) of Urmila by Valmiki. According to Tagore, Valmiki had shown Lakshaman as the ideal brother, but completely forgot Urmila who was left all alone in Ayodhya for fourteen long years. Truly an unsung heroine of the epic.
Sita and Trijata from the teleserial by
Ramanand Sagar
Trijata was one of the demoness who were guarding Sita after Ravan kidnapped her to Lanka. However, that is not Trijata’s only introduction. She was also Vibhishan’s daughter and thus Ravan’s niece and was blessed with the power of foresight. She was the only one who was sympathetic to Sita during her plight and while the others were coaxing Sita to give in to Ravan, she was the only one who kept consoling Sita about Ram’s definite visit to Lanka to save her. Her faith in Ram’s victory in the battle was reinforced after she had a dream where she sees Ravan on a donkey, his head shaved off and his face blackened heading southwards (the direction was associated with doom and/or death).  She was a good hearted demoness and would scold the others whenever the others harassed Sita. She is supposed to have warned even Ravan against the war as she could foresee that he would lose, but Ravan obviously did not listen to her. It is said, that she soon became a confidante and a shoulder to cry upon for Sita. During the battle between Ram and Ravan, with her powers, she used to relate the events of the battle to Sita (something similar to what Sanjay was supposed to have done for Dhritarashtra during the war of Kurukshetra in Mahabharata).
Popular depiction of Trijata is an ugly ogress; however, Vibhishan is not shown as a demon. This is probably because not many are even aware of this relationship. Also, as mentioned earlier the depiction of rakshasa and rakshashi was always dark, red-eyes, disheveled hair, horns, et al. The same depiction has stayed on with Trijata too, though Vibhishana is never shown as one. Again this can be attributed    to popular perceptions.
Finally, why were characters like Urmila and even Mandodari (Ravan’s wife) not given their due attention? Many a times it has been seen that at the beginning of the plot, a number of characters are drawn which gives it a feel of an epic. Like in all epics, besides the main plot, there are sub-plots and many side-plots. This is like the tributaries of a main river, all converging into the main river. Though the author sets these characters with a set of ideas, in due course, ends up focusing only on the main characters or future characters and leaves a few by the side. This leads to some well-begun but half-baked characterisations in due course of time. Urmila was definitely one of them.
Another reason could be that these epics belonged to an oral tradition, where the stories were related orally over generations. As it happens many a times, the narrator ends up focusing on some and at times neglecting some characters, till they end up being part of the cast with no major contribution in the epic. The narrators perceptions take precedence.
However, Urmila’s contribution in terms of her ‘sacrifice’ (a virtue in Indian culture) is of epic-proportion and thus warranted a discussion. As far as Trijata is concerned, she is mentioned for her strong characterization (remember she warned Ravan about the impending disaster) and her staunch belief that Ram would come to save his wife and her interpretation of her dreams. She was also a strong support-system to Sita during her most trying times in the epic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Birth of Lord Buddha

On Buddha Purnima, let us understand the myth of the Birth of Lord Buddha.
King Suddhodana was the ruler of a Himalayan kingdom. One day his wife, Queen Maya, had a strange dream. As per her dream, some angels carried her high into the snow-capped mountains and draped her in flowers. Then a magnificent white elephant carrying a white lotus approached her and walked around her thrice. The elephant then struck her on her right side with its trunk and entered into her from her right side.
The Queen woke up very perplexed and when she related the dream to her husband, the King summoned Brahmins to interpret the dream. The Brahmins then told the King that the Queen would give birth to a son, who would grow up to be a great ‘conqueror’.
When the time for delivery came closer, she took leave of her husband to travel to her own town. On her way to her town, she came across the Lumbini grove which was in full bloom. The Queen decided to take some rest in the grove and with the help of her attendants went in the centre of the grove. When she reached the spot, she developed labour. She held the branches of a Sal tree and delivered the child in a standing position. Later the Queen returned to her kingdom, but died within seven days and Gautama was raised by her mother’s sister, who in due course of time got married to the King.
This is an interesting myth associated with a historical person. There is historical evidence of the birth of Gautama, but has mythical connotations to his birth. The white elephant is a symbol of fertility and the white lotus is a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhist art and mythology. In mythology, the birth of a hero always has magical circumstances or unnatural events preceding or succeeding the birth, needless to say at times the birth itself.
Scholars have found parallels of the birth with the birth of Vedic Indra, who too was considered to be a mortal hero, who got deified later. Indra too was born from the side of his mother and there were earthquakes during his birth. The association of a white elephant is also found in myths of Indra, as his vahana was the mighty Airavata, a powerful elephant. Many scholars feel that the birth of Gautama could have been drawn from the Vedic references of the birth of Indra, except that there have been no major battles associated with Buddha, as is found in the case of Indra. However, Buddha ‘fought’ a lot of personal battles like vices and temptation to achieve Nirvana. If we are to compare this aspect too, then Indra fought his battles outside himself, whereas Buddha fought his battles inside to achieve Enlightenment.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

David and Goliath - A Modern Interpretation

Today I am reminded of a Biblical story, the story of David and the Goliath. Let me summarize the story –

As per the story, the armies of Philistine and Israel had met for war. From the Philistine side a giant who was close to nine feet and massive, wearing a warrior’s armour, had terrified the Israelites, who were no match in size and the havoc that Goliath had unleashed on them. The Philistine army was simply basking in the glory of Goliath’s terror, while the Israel army was being annihilated.

One day, a teenager, reached the battlefield to get news of his brothers who were representing Israel army and was surprised to see the state of affairs. He met the King of Israel and convinced him to allow him to go to war. Much against the Kings wishes, he allowed the small and tiny David to go to the battle ground. David went to the battle ground in his ordinary shepherd skin and his slingshot, as the armours available were not of his size! On seeing him, Goliath was enraged and charged at him. Seeing a suitable hole in Goliath’s armour, David shot a stone from his slingshot at his head. The stone with its full impact hit Goliath in the centre of his forehead and Goliath fell on his face. Seeing the mighty giant sprawled on the ground, the army of Philistine ran helter-skelter and the battle was won by Israel.

I couldn’t but think of this story on this day when another David has vanquished a mighty Goliath! The victory of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal polls, who is a David in every respect, is similar to that of the victory of David over Goliath. Just as David was no match for Goliath, Mamata too was a miniscule personality in front of the established Communist regime. Just as David did not wear any armour to battle, Mamata still does not wear the Politician’s attire – she is still seen donning a simple cotton saree and rubber slippers! The communists were no different from Goliath, in that they were overbearing, overconfident and striking terror in the hearts of one and all. The thirty-four years of misrule, mismanagement and lack of development, had made them a giant who could not turn around to see the changing direction of the wind, till it was too late. The mighty ruling party was surrounded by numerous cadres, like the army around Goliath, who were simply having a field time running small terror-outfits of their own all over the state, more so in the rural areas of Bengal.

The only difference, if any, is that it took David only one stone to flatten Goliath, but it too Mamata many years of dogged perseverance to remove the last remnants of a defunct ideology.

As a champion of Capitalism and Liberalism, I can’t help but celebrate the fall of the Red Goliath! I sincerely hope that the Karat’s and the Yechury’s of the world will do some introspection or better still, announce political retirement!

This is not an eulogy on Mamata Banerjee. It is praise to the act of pursuing a single objective doggedly over the last one and a half decades or so, with results for all of us to see. Will this poriborton change the face and reputation of West Bengal? Let’s wait and watch.

But till then - Mamta-pishi tomay janai shobuj shelaam! (A green salute to Mamata-aunty!)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day. But why only today, isn’t everyday some mother’s day, if not every mother’s day? Everyday someone (or ‘somemany’) becomes a mother and the ones already mothers, continue to be one. So why celebrate only today? Well without going too much into it, this is the day the Greeting Cards and Gift shop companies, besides the childcare product manufacturers and many others formed a cartel to fleece all children! Now, now let’s not be such a cynic! What are a few thousand rupees for the woman who gave you more than her life, besides the blood sweat and copious tears for you? Apologies to the entire mother-dom!!
World over people celebrate this one day and make it a point to call their mothers or send them flowers and chocolates, if not some token gift. We do have Father’s day too, but the heavy emotion is missing in that. Have you wondered why? Do fathers contribute any less in the child’s well-being? Before some women hurls a stiletto at me let me clarify that this is not a mothers vs. father’s debate! It was one innocent question which came to my child-like mind. Mommy!!
Nargis in Mother India
Our culture is extremely sympathetic towards mothers and is considered to be an act of sacrilege if one faults a mother. That is exactly how we still remember the depiction of yesteryear actress Nargis in Mother India, one who toils, strives and sacrifices, all for the sake of her children. We remember the stoic Nirupa Roy and the homelySulochana of the celluloid world. That image might have undergone a sea change now, but the imagery is nothing short of legendary.
The situation was no different in our Mythology too. Mothers in our mythology too were the sacrificing sufferers who lived first for their husbands and then for their children and nothing beyond. Except for an occasional brush with fame, their roles were always tragic. Kunti from the epic Mahabaharata is one such mother who epitomizes this image. First she was given a boon of having children whenever she wanted, which itself was out of place. Why would someone give such a boon to an unmarried underage girl? Even if we allow it to pass for poetic justice, she gets married to a person who could not procreate. She ‘gives birth’ to three sons and is soon a widow, with five sons! She goes through the ordeal that her sons go through along with a secret of begetting a son out of a wedlock, which hits her when she least wants it. A mute spectator and a sufferer in all the wrongs heaped by section of the society against who she could not say a word, but suffer in silence. Her moment of glory was never to come. A life of nothing but tragedy.
Similar characters abound in the same epic. Be it Satyavati, Gandhari or Uttara, Abhimanyu’s wife whose only role was to deliver her dead husbands son, the only heir after the war of Kurukshetra. Elsewhere, also we find mothers who have only to shed copious tears for their sons or husbands.
Ramayana too has similar characters. Sita is a symbol of a woman wronged by one and all. Sita is a shadow of her husband who won her as a trophy in a contest, victim of palace intrigue, gets kidnapped for the actions of her husband and brother-in-law and then becomes the cause of a war. Later her chastity is questioned by first her husband and then the subjects of Ayodhya and again banished to give birth and take care of her children all alone. When the children are old enough, the father takes them away and her contribution over. At the end, Sita is left with no choice, but self-burial!
Why has there been so much of stereotyping of mothers in our culture? The celluloid image of mothers has been inherited from our mythology and perpetuated by poems and songs over the years, in all the regions and languages of our country. Does this reflect the inherent second citizenship of the women folk in our milieu? Is referring to all goddesses as Mother just an act of lip-service or an act of minority-appeasement, (to use a contemporary jargon)? The trials and tribulations of mother is raised to an altar of ‘motherhood’ and then sung praises of this singular honour bestowed by nature on women. The women of today need not be the Mother Earth of yesterday. She does not have to go thru the rigours of the earth to beget new life. Let motherhood truly be a cherished moment for each woman in our country in the truest sense of the word, and not just as a single act of fulfillment in her life
On this Mother’s day, besides doing our little bit (calls, visits, gifts, whatever) let us resolve and spread the word, to allow all would-be mothers to retain their would-be child, whatever it be. Let the mother decide! This might be the best gift to all the Mothers of our country, and probably the only solution to female-infanticide!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Twins – A case of peaceful co-existence.

The last few articles have been focusing on twins in mythology. It must be mentioned at the onset, that the theory of twins in mythology is a subject by itself. But we will avoid the intricacies of the theory and discuss the concept from a mythical perspective.

Twin birth was an intriguing subject for the mythologists of yore. Explanations for the normal itself were a task, and over that something out of the line taxed ones capabilities to the hilt. However daunting the task be, they did try to explain the phenomenon.

Nearly all the mythologies of the world have instances of twins. The Greeks had Artemis and Appolo, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome,Castor and Pollux who went on to represent the Gemini twins, to name a few. The Bible hasEsau and Jacob, Cain and Abel. The Sumerians had Utu and Innana, while the Egyptians had the twin brothers Danus and Aegyptus. The Hindu myths have a host of twins, in the form of the Ashwins the twin gods of healing; Yama and Yami, Lakshaman and Shatrughan, and Luv Kush from Ramayan are just a few of them.

The concept of twin births was complicated and not understood well. This brought up the confusion of either double paternity or divine paternity. Divine paternity led to an element of mystery and magic, but at the same time it also gave a sort of sanction or rather a divine sanction.

In the earlier series, we have seen instances of conflict and rivalry; let us now examine a few cases of harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Castor and Pollux
A good example of the above is seen in the Greek myth of the twin birth of Castor and Pollux who go on to become the Gemini twins. Castor and Pollux were the result of two impregnations, one by Zeus who fell in love with the mortal and the married Leda. Leda on the same night got impregnated by her husband and thus the offspring were twins, one being divine and the other being a mortal. This reiterated the belief of the times of dual paternity and thus the offspring bearing the traits of the father. However, this myth is not quite of conflict as they two brothers were quite devoted to each other, to the extent that when the mortal brother was wounded the divine one asked for immortality for the other. The request was granted in a manner that when one brother was in Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods, the other brother would in Hades, the underworld, and thereafter they would exchange their positions.

Some Greek mythologists have explained the myth of Narcissus in the theory of twinship (refer to the article The Romance of Echo and Narcissus dated December 15, 2010, in this Blog). According to this interpretation, Narcissus had a twin sister who he lost and he would keep looking for her everywhere. After she died Narcissus would keep consoling himself by looking at his own reflection in the water, to keep her memory alive; it was not his love for himself as is better known! The myth of the more famous twins of Greek Mythology, Apollo and Artemis is also that of love and harmony and not that of hatred and jealousy

Horse-faced Ashwins
A similar situation is found in the Hindu myths too. Amongst the most famous of the twins are the Ashwins – the twin gods of healing. Ashwins were Vedic gods, portrayed as divine horsemen and there are more than 400 references of the god in Reg Veda. They were supposed to be the children of Sun god and an there is an interesting myth of their birth. It is said that the Sanjana the wife of Sun god could not bear the luminosity of her husband and to avoid the heat and the glare, she took the form of a mare and ran away to a shaded area. Sun god decided to change himself to a horse and followed her to the shaded area. The offspring of this mare and horse were the divine horsemen, the Aswins. This is also seen as an act of accommodation and benevolence on the part of the Sun god towards his wife. The Ashwins are thus also depicted as horse-faced gods. The Ashwins are thus seen as benevolent gods who are known for their medical feats and the ability to cure and give life to anyone who needs it, much to the chagrin of the other gods of the pantheon. (Here we can compare the acts of the Ashwins with the Greek Prometheus who goes against the gods to give the art of fire to mankind). The Ashwins are also considered to be the fathers of the twins Nakul and Sahadev in the epic Mahabharata, where Nakul was the most handsome of all and Sahadev was the most knowledgeable of all. Again we see that the offspring have the traits of the father as we have seen in the earlier myth of Castor and Pollux.
Besides the Ashwins the other twins in the Hindu myths, i.e. Lakshaman and Shatrughan, and Luv Kush from Ramayan amongst the few of them are too not at loggerheads. There is no rivalry in such myths but seem to share a harmonious relationship.

Thus we can conclude that the issue of twins was not just of confusion, but also divine in some case. The divinity in some of them avoided the evil aspect as we have seen in some of the cases above and this is critical. This could be both cultural as well as a sense of accepting the unacceptable, inherent in the cultural milieu. What cannot be understood, need not necessarily have an evil connotation. So an amicable and an acceptable solution was arrived at, as we see in the above myths. In some of the Hindu myths, either one of the twin brother does not have a significant role (like in the case of Shatrughan) or the twins have an equal role to play (like that of Luv and Kush in Ramayan), but the conflict is not there.

Though this is a contradiction to some of the myths of conflict and rivalry as we have seen before, the issue of divine intervention runs as a common aspect in all of the myths.