How Mythical Female Villains Challenge Traditional Gender Norms

The mythical female villains deviate from the conventional portrayal of the virtuous and obedient female archetype. Here are the five women whose nuanced perspectives surrounding gender, morality, and power have influenced Indian society.

Nikita Gupta
Sep 16, 2023 13:58 IST
female mythical villains.jpeg

Grey female characters of the Ramayana. File Image.

Much attention has been devoted to the virtuous and divine figures of Indian mythology that populate the ancient narratives. But there exists an equally intriguing and often overlooked cast of characters, the mythical female villains.

These enigmatic women, who deviate from the conventional portrayal of the virtuous and obedient female archetype, offer valuable insights into historical beliefs about how women should behave within Indian society.

In examining the roles and actions of these female antagonists, we can uncover deep-seated societal norms, expectations, and the complex interplay between mythology and the cultural attitudes towards women in India. Here are the five women whose nuanced perspectives surrounding gender, morality, and power have influenced Indian society.

1. Kaikeyi


The favourite of King Dasharatha's three wives and the mother of Bharata, Queen Kaikeyi is remembered for her demands from her husband to fulfil two long-forgotten boons. These boons ultimately lead to the exile of Lord Rama and cast her as the villain for eternity.

Although, I believe Kaikeyi's actions break several gender norms. In a society where women are expected to be submissive and obedient, she displayed a remarkable degree of assertiveness and ambition. The queen sought political power and was not shy of using manipulation and strategy to achieve her goals.

2. Holika


Remembered for her role in scheming the murder of her nephew, Prahlada, a devotee of Lord Vishnu and a symbol of righteousness, Holika challenges conventional expectations and cultural norms set for a lady.

Breaking traditional stereotypes and representing the diversity of women's roles and actions, the sister of Hiranyakashipu was not afraid to use her position and authority, putting personal gain and power ahead of family ties.

3. Kavyamata


The mother of asura-guru, Rishi Shukracharya and wife of Maharishi Bhrigu, Kavyamata protected asuras and defeated the devas, paralysing their king, Lord Indra. She was learned and well-equipped in the knowledge of the Sanjivani Vidya.

She asserts her agency and influence in a male-dominated narrative by actively participating in the world of politics, warfare, and power struggles breaking against the stereotype of women as peacemakers or passive observers.

4. Tadaka


Remembered as a rakshasi who terrorised the sages and ascetics who lived in the forest regions, was slayed in a grotesque battle by Lord Rama, and his brother Lakshmana who were accompanied by the revered sage Vishwamitra.

While depicted as a demoness in the tales of Ramayana, Tadaka defies the stereotype of women being physically weak, gentle and with near to zero anger issues. She is extremely overpowering and fierce and is not scared to engage in acts of violence and aggression. Tadaka rejects conventional female roles that dictate women's roles as homemakers and caregivers.

5. Surpanakha


Sister of the demon king of Lanka, Ravana, went down in history as the reason for the battle of Ramayana. Enamoured by Lord Rama's charm and beauty, Surpanakha made advances towards him only to be rejected. Taken in anger, Rama's brother, Lakshmana, disfigures her by cutting off her nose and ears.

Unlike feeble women, Surpanakha is bold, assertive and independent. She is driven by her own desires and ambitions.  She is not subordinate to any male character and acts autonomously, rejecting subservient positions.

Characters like Kaikeyi, Kavyamata, Tadaka, Surpanakha, and Holika demonstrate a range of behaviours that go against the grain of societal norms. These complex characters challenge traditional gender norms and expectations in several ways, breaking free from the conventional portrayal of women as passive, virtuous, and subservient figures.


In contemporary times, we can look back at these characters not only as antagonists but as symbols of the evolving understanding of gender roles and women's agency. They remind us that historical beliefs about how women should behave were diverse and complex, and they inspire us to continue questioning and redefining these roles in our own society today.

Views expressed by the author are their own

Suggested Reading: Rediscovering 10 Intense Love Stories From Indian Mythology

#Femal Villains #Women in Indian Mythology