Kavita Kane on Weinsteins in Indian Mythology
If the recent #MeToo went viral to highlight how pervasive is sexual harassment in society, Indian mythology tells us stories of several women, who faced abuse and harassment, but for which the aggressors did not go unpunished.
With the number of men tumbling out of their beds as sexual predators and being rapidly exiled, it needs to be noted that the weirs broke only after some gutsy women were willing to speak out and the abusers got known publicly. Without these women’s voices, the Weinstein, Cosby, Spacey and closer home, Tarun Tejpal and their kind would have had the opportunity to find more victims. Funneling down the ages, we get to come across several such characters in our mythology who are not just exposed but are punished for their deeds. Each of them, have a pattern, be it Indra, the King of Gods or Ravan, the emperor of the golden Lanka.
Ravan is mistakenly glorified as a hero and not seen as the sexual predator that he was, under the sheen of scholarliness and sophistication.
He was handsome, wealthy, powerful, erudite, brave and even charming – all what a woman may want in a man. Sita did not; but his buoyed ego could not digest her ‘no’.
Some consider him a gentleman that he courted Sita and did not force himself upon her! But again, there’s a chink in that shining armour, a reason for his apparent gallantry.
The very character of Mandodari, Ravan’s wife is a physical restraint and reminder to stop her erring husband from violating Sita. The wife irrevocably becomes Sita’s protector. She challenges her husband to ‘woo’ Sita, than win her by brutality. Ravan is forced to obey – not because he is wary of his wife’s warning but of a curse that haunts him.
Fear not chivalry halts Ravan.
He has been cursed by Nalkuber, the son of Kuber, the god of wealth, the erstwhile king of Lanka and the older step-brother of Ravan. When Ravan plunders the city of Alaka, Kuber’s celestial abode, he rapes an apsara – Rambha – out of spite and vengeance because she happens to be Kuber’s daughter-in-law. The enraged, helpless husband curses Ravan that he will die the moment he next forces himself on a woman against her will. The curse, comes a little too late, for it saves Sita, but not the unfortunate Vedavati.
A much younger Ravan, once, during his celestial tours on his pushpak viman, cites the lovely Vedavati, in meditation. Instantly smitten by her beauty, he propositions her but to his surprise and anger, is rejected, with Vedavati revealing her devotion to Vishnu. Furious at being spurned over Vishnu, he grabs her hair, pulling at her. She slips away and jumps into a blazing fire, not before warning him that she will be reborn to destroy him. Vedavati. Rambha. Sita. Three women, three victims.
Indra, interestingly, is as flamboyant, infamous for his weakness for women.
He is handsome and powerful, he is the King of Gods. He wishes to have Ahalya the most beautiful woman created by Lord Brahma but she is won over and married to Rishi Gautam, whom Lord Brahma favours. Furious at being rejected, he chases her nevertheless and after being turned down, he stoops to a new low- he seduces Ahalya through subterfuge, disguising himself as her husband Gautam.
And then you recognize the pattern. Both these men wield control and power, both are grandiose: initially charming, attentive, manipulative, both are forgiven their past transgressions very easily and are allowed to flourish in covert behavior. But their mask had to be uncovered someday, by someone. Sita and Ahalya are the victims, but their voices are heard – strangely, in variance.
Sita gets her war of honour where Ram kills Ravan. Indra is cursed by an enraged Gautam to be castrated and dethroned. But Ahalya fast turns from a devoted wife to a victim to a promiscuous woman: The angry and betrayed Gautam curses his unfaithful wife too: the wife, who though, having recognized the treachery of Indra, went ahead and succumbed to her curiosity and desires, a painful corollary to the story.
It is not just in the assembly hall of the Kurus, that Draupadi is made to suffer the vastraharan and molestation.
When in exile with the Pandavas, Jayadrath (Duryodhan’s brother-in-law) meets and propositions Draupadi and when she refuses, abducts her. Bhima and Arjun rescue her after defeating and capturing him. About to be killed by them, Draupadi intervenes and saves his life for she does not wish the wife Dushala to become a widow. Instead, she tells The Pandavas to treat him like a slave, after which Bhima shaves off Jayadrath’s head bald with just five tufts of hair and sets him free, disgraced and humiliated.
In another instance, Draupadi again is a target of lust, this time by Kichak, the brother of Queen Sudheshna of Matsya, in whose palace and kingdom the disguised Pandavas have taken refuge. A livid Draupadi seeks her revenge through Bhima who kills Kichak with his bare hands, the very night and at the very place he had planned to seduce Draupadi.
Interestingly, earlier, an outraged Urvashi, the apsara curses Arjun for rejecting her advances with an ironic punishment – of being a eunuch! That he uses that curse later to his advantage is another story; and that such an intricate narrative can have variant connotations.
Satyavati, the grand matriarch of the Mahabharata, and the female protagonist of my forthcoming book, is cannier when she realizes Rishi Parasher whom she is ferrying across, has designs on her. She is an object of his lust but she turns the situation to some advantage for herself but not without realizing that power is intoxicating, after having made love to a powerful man. And also, dangerous, capable and culpable of an eventual fall.
And which all these men, through their own deeds, saw, suffered and perished…
Picture By: Hindu Perspective
Kavita Kane writes a monthly column named Goddess of All Things for SheThePeople. Views are author’s own.