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.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sexual Misdemeanors by the High and Mighty

Seeing the recent spates of sexual misdemeanors, someone wondered aloud, “Is sex really that strong a lure? And if it is, why not go and ‘buy’ it, instead of behaving like an animal, or just risking some innocent’s life and reputation?”

A very valid question and I wonder, what makes men behave the way they do, especially those that are in a slightly elevated strata of the society. The news is when the predator is a respected, senior and well-to-do person of the society, who is more of an icon, but turns out to be no different from a lout.

Sex has been behind many an episode of misdemeanor and sex outside a legal relationship has always dominated the headlines. Going back to where I seek my answers, forceful sex has dominated many mythologies. Be it by Zeus in Greek mythology, who spared none, be it women or men, or the forced sex by Shiva on Mohini, the gods would always have their way.

But let me take a case here, which is not forced in the physical sense of the word, but forced, in the sense of-not-leaving-any-choice, but to comply. This is also a case of sex outside the ‘socially acceptable framework’ of society. Or was it forced? Decide after you read the story….

According to the epic Mahabharata, Satyavati was the adopted daughter of a fisherman. The story of her birth is as interesting as it can be and you can read about it in an earlier article “The Unwanted Girl Child” http://www.utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/search/label/Satyavati . For the present, it should suffice to say that she was found inside a fish and was adopted by the fisherman who found her. Since she was found inside a fish, a terrible odour emanated from her, due to which she was also known as Matsyagandha, ‘smell of a fish’.

It was due to this problem of hers, that she didn’t have many friends and spent most of the time alone ferrying people from across the Kalindi river. Once her passenger happened to be sage Parashar, a powerful and well-known ascetic. He was smitten by her looks, despite the odour and insisted on making love to her then and there.

Satyavati, a virgin till then, was taken aback, but was unable to decline. She reasoned with the sage, that the terrible smell emanating from her was something that even she detested and under such circumstances, she would not be able to comply with his request. The sage then through his powers, removed her fishy odour and made her smell of musk, and named her Yojanagandha, one whose fragrance can be smelt from yojanas (1 yojana was about 9 miles). Satyavati was still reluctant and said that if they did make love, she would lose her virginity, and he being an ascetic, would not marry her either, then how would she face the world? To this sage Parashar promised her, she would regain her virginity after the act and none would know. Satyavati tried again, saying that she was in the fertile period and if he made love to her, then she would conceive. In such a situation how she would face the world with a child. Sage Parashar, who was determined to have his way, promised that as soon as they were done, she would give birth to a child who would grow up immediately and go his own way, with none knowing about it! Satyavati made one last effort and said that all that was fine, but it was broad daylight and there was a possibility of someone seeing them, which would be bad for her reputation, besides the risk of the boat capsizing. Sage Parashar was beginning to lose his cool and suggested that she take the boat to the centre of the river, close to an island. Through his powers, he created a dense mist and made the boat and them invisible in the dense mist.

All this left no choice form Satyavati, but to give in.

Soon after, they make love, Satyavati gives birth to a child who grows up immediately to be a man, and comes to be known as Krishna (dark) Dwaipanya, one who is born in an island, who goes on to be better known as sage Ved Vyasa. Vyasa goes away with sage Parashar and Satyavati goes back home and when asked about her changed odour, she says that it was the blessings of the sage.

This is an interesting myth, which has two facets to it.

First, is the helplessness of a woman, who makes all efforts to ward off the advances of a man, who as in this case was probably fit to be her father. A powerful man, insists on making love to a virgin, but is clear that he would not marry, and goes out of his way to use his powers to fulfill his desires, is not something that is different from many of the recent instances that we have seen. The girl, who is helpless, makes all efforts to escape, but is unable, as she is in a precarious situation, of being alone, in the middle of a river, which seems quite allegorical in itself. She has no witness to stand by her, as the powerful sage had created an envelope of mist, for none to see, which is the case in many instances, even in modern times – no witness against the high and mighty.

The second aspect is the clever usage of the advances made by a powerful person, as done by Satyavati. She ensures that her odour is removed, her virginity restored and her reputation intact. Some versions even say that she negotiated eternal youth and beauty with the sage. Many might see this as opportunism, or simply put smart usage of the situation by the victim.  Mythical times were different from present times, so I am not sure, how this could be utilized today, if at all.

How should the world see this? Was this forced? Was it rape or was it consensual-sex? If one asks sage Parashar, it was consensual, since he did not force himself on her and she had agreed to her advances. If one asked Satyavati, she would say, it was forced as she had no choice and she had no option. The world then never raised a finger on sage Parashar for his act and nor has the world ever bothered to debate this from his angle. Sage Parashar never had to bring this to the public notice, but Satyavati had to bring Sage Vyasya in the picture when her son died without an heir. She had to relate the incident to Bhishma, who supposedly kept quiet about it, but one can imagine Satyavati’s embarrassment in talking about her pre-marital sex and the resultant child.

Have times changed much? Just as sage Parashar went his way after the act, the high and mighty of the present day society too go scot free. The only change if at all is that they do get maligned for a while, if the woman musters guts and courage, but then its business as usual. Court visits, mud-singling on the women’s character, unwanted media-glare, and when all fails; there still is the option of out-of-court settlement.

What do you say?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Do you know why snakes have forked tongues?

Sage Kashyap had two wives, Kadru and Vinata. Kadru was the mother of the nag’s or snakes and Vinata was the mother of Aruna (who became Sun’s charioteer) and Garuda, one with a body of a man and face and wings of an eagle, who was also the vahana of Lord Vishnu.

Once the two sisters had wagered on whether Indra’s horse was all white or not. While Vinata said that it was completely white, Kadru maintained that it had a black tail. The loser of the wager would be the servant of the winner. The next day in the sunlight, they checked and noticed that the horse indeed had a black tail. However what was not known to Vinata was that Kadru had asked some of her children to wrap themselves around the tail of the horse to make it look black. As per the condition, Vinata became Kadru’s servant and she had to undergo trials and a hard life.

When Garuda grew up, he too had to do menials for the children of Kadru. Once Garuda decided to end this subservience and asked the children of Vinata the price for releasing his mother of servitude. The children asked for nectar from the heavens, which was nothing but impossible.

After many twists and turns, Garuda managed to steal the pot of nectar from Lord Indra’s custody. However, Indra managed to convince Garuda that the nectar was not meant for the nag’s, as that would immortalise them, which would be against the laws of nature. Garuda reasoned that he had undertaken the adventure and risked his life to release his mother of a life of servitude and he would not care beyond that.

Later, Garuda relented and suggested to Indra and that he would hand the pot to them and seek his mother’s release and after which he could steal the pot from them. As agreed, Garuda handed over the pot of the nectar and got his mother released. Just when they were about to consume the nectar, Garuda suggested that it might be a good idea to have a bath before consuming the food of the gods. The nags left the pot on the kusha grass and went for a bath in the river. Once Indra saw the pot on the grass, he picked it up and started to leave. The nags noticed Indra fleeing with the pot and they chased him. While fleeing, a few drops of the nectar fell from the pot on the kusha grass which is known for being sharp. The snakes didn’t want to miss out on whatever they got and so tried to lick the nectar from the grass, but got their tongues slit due to the sharp blades of the kusha grass.

Since then, the snakes are supposed to have forked tongues and since they had harassed Garuda’s mother all her life, the snakes became the natural enemies of the eagle too!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Launch of "Talking Myths Project"

I am delighted to announce the launch of Talking Myths Project

an initiative which aims to showcase and conserve the rich legacy of myths, legends, folk tales and beliefs and traditions of the people of the subcontinent.

Log on to www.talkingmyths.com
                                        & send me your feedback on the initiative.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Daasi-putra of Mahabharat – Yuyutsu

Last time we read about Vidur, who was mainly referred to as daasi-putra in the epic Mahabharat. However, besides Vidur, there was a lesser known character, who too was also a daasi-putra and that was Yuyutsu.

When Gandhaari could not deliver in spite of her pregnancy, Dhritarashtra was worried about his heir. In one of those moments of insecurity, he is supposed to have bedded Gandhari’s chief maid, Sukhada. The child of Dhritarashtra and Sukhada was Yuyutsu, who was born after Duryodhan, but before the other Kauravas. Since he was the child of Sukhada, a maid-servant, he too was a daasi-putra.

Yuyutsu grew up in the royal palace and spent a lot of time with the Kaurava’s, but was morally upright with a strong sense of right and wrong. He is supposed to have objected to the disrobing of Draupadi as immoral, besides Vikarna, the third Kaurava prince.

It is said, during the preparations of the war, he used to pass relevant information of the planning of the Kaurava’s to Yudhishtir. Prior to the war, with the two armies on either side, Yudhishtir announced to both the armies, that if there was anybody on either side, who felt that he belonged to the wrong side, then it was time to change sides then, and no offence would be taken by any side. It was at this stage that Yuyutsu changed sides, much to the anger of Duryodhan, who was stopped from taking any action by Bheeshma.

Later when the Pandavs depart for the Himalayas, Yuyutsu was appointed as the guardian to King Parikshit, the then King of Hastinapur. It was Yuyutsu who finally performed the last rites of Dhritarashtra, as all the hundred sons were killed in the war, proving that a daasi-putra might not have rights to the throne, but could be the only means to ones salvation. While this might seem a very depraved view of the then society or royalty, such opportunism was an accepted norm.

The noted Bengali writer, Mahashweta Devi, in one of her stories, “Sauvali” has discussed this episode. According to this version, Sauvali was a maid of Gandhari, who was sent to him for his physical gratification, during the pregnancy of Gandhaari. She brings out the irony of Yuyutsu not being a prince, but being the ‘liberator of Dhritarahstra’s soul’. She focuses on the illicit relationship of the royals with maids, as it was not possible to have females from outside the palace for sexual escapades and matters remained within the walls of the palace.

A number of parallels can be drawn between Vibhishan of the epic Ramayan and Yuyutsu. Both defected into the enemy camp, however, for the cause of what they perceived as right. While Vibhishan helped Ram with critical information of killing Ravan and directions of Lanka, Yuyutsu is accused of leaking information of Kaurava plans, prior to the defection. After the war, Vibhishan was made the King of Lanka, and Yuyutsu was made the guardian of Parikshit, the only surviving child of the Pandavs.

If anybody is aware of any daasi-putras, do send in details of such characters.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Daasi-putra of Mahabharat – Vidur

Vidur was one of the key characters of the epic Mahabharat (Mb) and many a times referred to as a daasi-putra, or the son of a slave or a servant. After the death of Vichitravirya, his two widows, Ambika and Ambalika were childless. Mother-in-law Satyavati, called her other son, Sage Vyasa to impregnate the widows under the accepted practice of niyoga. When Ambika saw Vyasa, she shut her eyes in disgust and thus the child born to her was blind, Dhritarashtra. When Ambalika saw Vyasa, she paled in fear, and thus was born Pandu who was impotent. When Satyavati came to know about the nature of births, she requested Vyasa to meet Ambika once again. But Ambika who had not recovered from her earlier shock, sent her maid servant, who was neither shocked nor fearful of Vyasa, and gave birth to a healthy child, named Vidur, and thus the reference daasi-putra.

The royal family treated Vidur like an equal, but since he was not born of a princess, he could not be crowned the King of Hastinapur, even though he was the only one eligible for the same. However, he was given the prominent position of the chief minister of the King. Needless, to say that he was an extremely intelligent and well-versed in matters related to administration and politics and remained true and loyal to his position and the Kuru family, who treated him with respect, especially the likes of Bhishma and Satyavati. His policies on stately matter are well known as Vidur-niti or the policies of Vidur. However, there is an interesting story regarding the birth of Vidur and his identity.

According to the Sambhava Parva of Adi Parva in the epic of Mahabharat, once Sage Mandavya was sitting in deep penance, when some robbers hid themselves in his cottage, with some loot. When the King’s soldiers caught them, they arrested the sage too on the grounds of connivance, as they surmised that the sage had given the robbers shelter. During the trial, he too was punished by impaling (death by spearing). When the sage reached the heavens, he questioned Lord of Death, Yama, the cause for such suffering, when he had always followed a righteous path. To this, Yama replied that as a child he would kill little insects with blades of grass and thus the punishment.

The sage was upset with the sense of justice as he felt that crimes committed during ones childhood could not be seen as grave, as they were done out of ignorance and immaturity and that he did not agree with such justice. He faulted Yama on his justice and cursed Yama, for injustice to a Brahmin that he would be born on earth as a lower caste and suffer. He further decreed that any crime committed before the age of fourteen should not be seen as a serious offence and thus not punishable. It is this mandavian dictum which is supposed to be the base of the Juvenile Justice Act, under the Indian Penal Code, which over time has undergone changes from fourteen to eighteen.

According to the curse of Sage Mandavya, Yama was born as Vidur in Mb.

As we know, that Yama is also referred to as Dharma and Kunti’s eldest son was born by the blessings of Lord Dharma or Yama. During many interactions, Vidur was found sympathetic towards the Pandavs and more so towards Yudhishtir as he was very level headed and dharma-oriented, which Yudhishtir demonstrates in many occasions, especially during the Yaksha-parva. Many scholars have also found Vidur favouring Yudhishtir, albeit within the ambit of his legal position.

With this background, the noted author Iravati Karve makes an interesting observation, in her book ‘Yuganta’ or ‘End of the Epoch’. According to the rules of niyoga, which is in full display in the epic, if a man is unable to beget children, then for the safe passage of salvation for ones ancestors, his wife can take the help of any man, with the prior knowledge of the husband and bear the family a child. For niyoga, the person can be the man’s brother too. Could it be possible that Yudhishtir was born out of the practice of niyoga between Vidur and Kunti? Given the similarities between Vidur and Yudhishtir and the fact that the first god was Lord Yama, while Vidur was Yama on earth at that time, these questions are not quite out of place.

Many might say that if this be so, then why would the text hide this angle, when niyoga had been practiced in other cases and not kept a secret in the epic? The answer could be, that since Vidur was a daasi-putra and not of higher born, Yudhishtir’s candidature for the throne of Hastinapur could be in jeopardy, just as Vidur was not considered apt for the throne. In such a scenario, it made sense to refer to the boon of Kunti and credit Lord Dharma, instead of Vidur!

Could this affinity be the cause of Vidur’s opting out of the war of Kurukshetra, while Bhishma, Drona, etc. fight against the Pandavas, even when they were their sympathisers?

As they say, not all questions have answers or ask no question and you’ll be told no lies!!

Next we will discuss another lesser known daasi-putra from Mahabharat. Keep reading…..