Indian Mythology – The Real Evil Behind Women’s Downplayed Status

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By Shobhit Agarwal:

There are innumerable causes given to reason the current plight of women in the Indian society. You discuss this topic with 10 different people and they will come up with 10 different theories. However, whatever be the true cause, the one thing which all of us can form a common consensus on is the fact that society’s interpretation of women as just a ‘home-maker’ is deeply flawed.

Somehow, it is consciously or unconsciously bred in our mind that at the end of the day, all those degrees and PhDs notwithstanding, the ultimate goal of an Indian woman’s life is to attain mastery in household chores and execute them to the best off her abilities. To put it in the kindest of words, such a mindset is nothing but naïve, screams ignorance and is obsolete and out-of-sync with today’s times.

So what exactly is the root cause of such an ecosystem, where women are perceived the way they are? The answer to this question lies in the manuscripts of mythological sagas that were written thousands of years ago. For all those who didn’t get it, I am talking about the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The immediate question that comes to mind is what has the Ramayana and the Mahabharata got to do with the way women are treated today? I say everything. And I am not making baseless claims and will justify my reasoning.

Ask yourselves – What are the female characters that come to your minds when you think of the Ramayana and Mahabharata? Sita, Draupadi, Gandhari, Surpanakha, Kaikeyi. Chances are that these are the immediate names that will crop up in the minds of majority. Now, let us get into the character sketch of each one of them.

Sita is portrayed as the devoted wife, who gives up all the worldly comforts to support her husband Ram. After coming back from exile, she willingly gives the test of Agnipariksha when her loyalty towards her Swami is questioned, in order to demonstrate her purity.

Draupadi is the queen of the Pandavas, who is lost by the eldest Pandav, Yudishthir (who ironically is the ‘wisest’ man in the kingdom) in a game of gambling and has to bear the ignominy of a Cheerharan, in front of a whole assembly of men, which she accepts as her fate.

Gandhari is the dedicated wife of Dhritarashtrya, who in spite of having perfect eyesight, decides to go blindfold throughout her life only because her husband is blind.

Surpanakha is the damsel who gets her nose and ears chopped off by Laxman, as a result of which, her brother Ravan kidnaps Sita and thus ensues the whole battle of Lanka.

Finally Kaikeyi is the step-mother, who forces her husband to send his eldest son, the heir apparent to the throne to 14 years of exile to allow her own son become the king. And she does all of it after being brainwashed by her maid, Manthara.

We see that in all these portrayal, women are shown as the dedicated, devoted wife or as the weak, helpless female in distress or as the wicked, spoiled sister or as the evil step-mother. The men in these sagas are equally tainted yet somehow; they have managed to rise to the ranks of Gods and Lords over the centuries.

Now here comes the alarming part – these sagas, with such untoward and limited portrayal of women, have been the education source for scores and scores of generations. Such has been their impact that they have become synonymous with our country’s folklore and heritage. When the DNA itself contains such unflattering and bounded perception of women, it is obvious that the body will be marred by viruses that only work towards exaggerating the same.

It is high time we move on from these obsolete sagas and develop a more modern and relatable perception of women. It is time to move on from Sita and Draupadi to Kiran Bedi and Saina Nehwal. ‘The development and advancement of any country can be gauged by the status enjoyed by the women in the society.’ If our country has to become a superpower in the truest sense, than the way society views its women has to change. The sooner the society realises that its development is going to be possible only when its women have as equal a role in its functioning as its men, only then will there be any progress. And Indian women, on their part, have to shed the tag of being ‘abla naari’ and ‘home-makers’ to rise and become ‘world-changers’.

[box bg="#fdf78c" color="#000"]About the author: Shobhit Agarwal is the author of the book – ‘Ordered Cheese Delivered Chalk – My Kota Safari‘. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]

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4 comments

  1. I agree with your article and some of the comments above and conclude that these characters are not analysed enough: not by you, but by society in general. It is so much more comfortable for someone to take something at face value, and for abusive men in particular, to twist the story to their convenience. When this happens over a long time, wrong practices continue over generations until they are simply accepted without question…and the gender roles are formed. I also think that it is necessary to emulate modern women now, so I like your concluding paragraph :)

  2. nikita

    i think shobhit u need to re-read these scriptures if u have read them already and read between the lines and read well between the lines because you have not understood the real meanings and concepts of these books.

    1)Kaikeyi went to the battlefield with her husband saved his life and helped him in winning the battle and got 2 vardaans which she later used against ram.

    dashrath: ram’s father was cursed to die in agony of his beloved son leaving him.

    ram was born to kill ravana.

    lord vishnu was cursed by narad that one day he will loose his wife and would go great lengths and stress to find her but will only be able to find her with the help of some one who is monkey faced human.

    ravana was cursed by nandi that a monkey will destroy his kingdom.

    the ramayana is a story with divine machinery incorporated….. every character has a past and that is the reason why this story is the way it is…… u really need to read the entire ramayana not some fancy english version but the original book in sanskrit with translations in hindi…… read ramcharitmanas also to get a better understanding of the characters so that u can write a better character sketch in future…….

    2) draupadi was born as a full grown woman out of fire…… she had so much strength and courage in her that she took that insult of chirharan questioned everyperson present in that assembly even her husbands and would have even cursed them for eternity had not gandhari stopped her……… she during her time of exile always asked krishan and her husbands what are they doing to get her justice………

    draupadi got a boon in her past life and she asked that she wanted certain qualities in her husband…..shiv told her that a woman is born with plethora of qualities in her that is why as a child she is divine and as a woman she is complex and can multitask easily but men are not born nor raised in that way so they have 1 or 2 qualities in them which out stand……so if want want so many qualities in your husband you will have to marry more than once, that’s how 5 marriages happened.

    during the war her father her brother everyone participated for her they stood by her and wanted revenge for her insult.

    she sacrificed all her children in that war but did not budge from her pledge to seek revenge.

    she bathed her hair in duryodhan’s blood out in the battle field for everyone to see.

    these women were capable of taking revenge on their own but didnt do so because of the divine intervention sita cant just kill ravana and tell everyone that she is the all powerful lakshmi since it was a man’s job to do so ram’s job.

    these books do and do not depict the society at large of that era because the position of women certainly went down from the pre vedic era but they still enjoyed very comfortable and prestigious positions.

    there are certain instances like kunti forsaking her first born because she is not married although he is born as a boon and the agni pariksha and dhobi commenting on sita’s character as the general downfall of women in our society they were the signals provided by the divine ma��chinery in these scriptures which are again of two different eras that the position of women is going to get further deteriorated if steps are not taken……

    these books show us the kind of society there was then. a subject as low as a dhobhi had the power to tell the king that although u dnt care if ur wife has spent month’s in another man’s house u kept her i didnt say a word but i for sure wont allow mine to enter my house even after one night out of the house.

    the reason he foresaked sita was he knew that people like that dhobhi who have no sense of right or wrong who live with mob mentality will subject her to such insults everyday, she will become a dummy queen with no respect……. sita for sure wouldnt have survived it herself and moreover they wloud have lost their respect for ram and his family and would have created a chaos in the kingdom so he left her for her own good and for the larger good but if she suffered he too suffered with her and in the end sita refused to go with him. she told him that i would rather die that come back to u or ur people.

    and she did leave the world and so did he right after her.

    there is a proverb : ” Till the time lion shares his part of the story history will always celebrate the hunter”.

    PLEASE PLEASE before you write another article saying my religion misguides and my scriptures are the reason for the downfall of women in this country. READ THEM FIRST AND UNDERSTAND THEM AND THE TIME PERIOD AND THE SOCIETY AT THAT TIME.

    Thank you !!

  3. I disagree to an extent . Firstly to clear things up i am an Agnostic person so my reply to you is purely logical and not sentimental.

    Secondly , The Dharmic scriptures give the greatest respect to women out of all other ways of life .

    For example . You speak of draupadi , in which culture you would find polygyny accepted ? But in India the polygyny of draupadi was accepted by the public.

    Then, You speak of Sita , The damsel in distress . Think from the viewpoint of Rama , In those days anywhere not just India a women held captive by any other man was ostracized ,…Though i don’t agree with lord rama’s action taken but he banished sita due to public pressure .

    And all his life he dedicated to a single wife . He never married anyone else other than sita.

    Then surphanaka , She tried to seduce Rama , and attack sita which obviously didn’t go down well with lakshman so he mutiliated surphanaka .

    And your forgetting this culture also gave the women right to choose their husbands i.e – Swayamvara . In ancient times no where could this system be seen .

    And i agree women in our scriptures have a little less limelight compared to men but the scriptures are not responsible for it . These laws were and are made by Biggoted males who like to keep control over women . Or else our scriptures neither issue that women be under a ghunghat or that they should not be entitled to education .

  4. Anuva Kulkarni

    Actually, Draupadi never took all those insults lying down. Although her husbands acted like cowards, Draupadi swore she would have her revenge. She was the one who really really wanted the war that would destroy the people responsible for the outrageous way she was treated in a courtroom full of kings and elders. So I’d say she was a true heroine, though she never actually rode out on a horse to fight. She was a proud queen who didn’t accept secondary treatment meekly.

    I think Sita was bound by her duties as a queen and her image before her kingdom. Of course, she was treated abominably at the end. But on the whole, these queens do not come across as damsels in distress (with the exception of Sita)- Gandhari, Draupadi, Subhadra – they stood by their husbands lovingly. However angry Draupadi was at seeing the cowardice and foolishness of Yudhishthira, she didn’t leave him. She made them go to war, win the kingdom and win back her lost honor.

    The one thing I don’t get is polygamy in ancient India. Otherwise, women were hardly treated ill. Even courtesans from Indra’s court had their respect. Please read the Mahabharat for a thorough understanding of Draupadi’s character. I think you will find yourself in agreement with my views about her.

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