Like other emotions, detailed so magnificently in our epics and Puranas, love is a celebrated, even a revered emotion. The proliferation of romantic themes —not necessarily as tragic as was in Greek mythology— is astounding in its sheer depth and diversity. Love was honoured and revealed as a powerful emotion and the God and Goddess of Love, the beautiful couple Kama and Rati have the strangest love story of their own who are not spared the pangs of grief and separation: the twin intrinsic pathos of romance.
The very etymology of the word Kama, defines the heterogeneity of love in our mythology. Kama means ‘desire’ and ‘longing’, of the sensual and sexual kind, reiterating the importance and respect given to the enjoyment, expression and pursuit of physical, voluptuary love. He is described as a handsome young man wielding a bow made of sugarcane and a string of honeybees – signifying the sweet purity of love. His arrows are decorated with fragrant flowers, bringing on the heady scent of romance.
The trial and tribulation in their romance come in the form of an assignment Kama receives: to make Lord Shiva fall in love with Parvati as their child is destined to kill the dreaded demon Tarkasura. Indra assigns Kamadev to break Shiva’s meditation and in his attempt to do so, a furious Shiva, opens his ‘third eye’ to incinerate Kama. But he stops a distraught Rati, ready to kill herself in grief, and promises her that Kama shall return to her as Pradyuman, the son of Krishna.
Radha broke every conventional rule when she fell in love with Krishna – she was older, a married woman and yet her convictions of her endless love turned from the ordinary to the extraordinary
Krishna, himself becomes a symbol of romance and the love of Radha and Krishna is considered one of the highest kind, both divine and yet rebellious. Radha broke every conventional rule when she fell in love with Krishna – she was older, a married woman and yet her convictions of her endless love turned from the ordinary to the extraordinary, transcending societal mores to a heavenly acceptance so much so that Radha Krishna are together known as the feminine and the masculine aspects of God. Radha is no longer the mortal maiden but the Supreme goddess who with the gopis- the various divine personalities participating in the rasa dance – celebrate the spiritual love between them.
Traversing from the spiritual to the passionate, is the torrid, tempestuous romance of the apsara Menaka and Vishwamitra, the powerful sage who was a threat to Indra, the king of Gods. She descended from heaven on Indra’s orders to disturb and break the sage’s penance. But devious seduction turns to love and Menaka, falls in love with the man she is sent to destroy. Till one day, when she confesses and tells him all, to be cursed never to meet him again, forcing her to leave him forever but not without weaving a beautiful tale of sacrifice, violation, trust and trials of immortal love!
The love story of their daughter Shakuntala and Dushyant gets immortalized by poet Kalidas though varying from the original story in the Mahabharat. Kaildas’ beautiful poem is about their true love at first sight, their fateful separation and their tearful reunion, while in the original text, it’s a feistier Shakuntala who returns to King Dushyant only when her twelve-year-old son demands to know who his father is. Less idealised and more real, their tale is a lesson in love, trust, duty and marriage nevertheless.
At a broader, higher level, their relationship is eternal, personifying the Man and the Woman, the male and the female, the Shiv and Shakti.
The love story of Shiva and Parvati is unique, its roots in another romance, albeit doomed – that of Shiv and Sati/Uma, the grand-daughter of Brahma. Sati chooses Shiva as her husband, against her father Daksha’s wishes and leaves the palace for Kailash. Daksha once organised a grand yajna to which all but Sati and Shiva were invited. Shiva tried to dissuade her, but she insists on attending the function and meet her parents. Upon listening to her father’s open insults of her husband in the public hall, Sati, consumed by fury and humiliation, jumps into the yagna fire but not before cursing her father that he would die at the hands of Shiva and that she be reborn the daughter of a father whom she would be able to respect. When Sati dies, she is reborn as Parvati.
Shiva, devastated over the violent death of Sati, renounces the world in his grief and becomes a roaming recluse. Parvati comes back for Shiva and with penance and meditation woos and wins him back. At a broader, higher level, their relationship is eternal, personifying the Man and the Woman, the male and the female, the Shiv and Shakti. Shiva is the omniscient yogi, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover and an affectionate husband to his wife Parvati. Like Sati, Parvati too is a symbol of feminine power, the goddesses of marital felicity and motherhood respectively. Both Sati and Parvati, successively try to prise Shiva away from ascetic isolation into creative involvement with the world; to make him the householder.
Like Sati, Parvati too is a symbol of feminine power, the goddesses of marital felicity and motherhood respectively.
Death again plays its deadly role in another romance. Defeating death in the face of love is the story of Satyavan and Savitri. The princess of Madra, Savitri, chooses Satyavan, the exiled prince of the blind Salwa king as her husband even though she is warned that Satyavan is ill-fated to die within a year. As predicted, on the destined day, Satyavan falls down dead while chopping wood. Three days before the foreseen death of her husband, Savitri takes a vow of fasting and vigil and when Yama, the God of Death arrives to take Satyavan’s soul away, follows and unwaveringly confronts him. Impressed by her perseverance and her wise arguments, Yama grants her a boon. She wishes cleverly: that her father-in-law be able to watch his hundred grandchildren play in the palace garden. Outwitted, Yama finally grants life to Satyavan and blesses them with eternal happiness.
Another love story with a lesson to learn is that of the righteous Nala and Damayanti whose sole weakness was gambling and how it disrupts and almost devastates their loving married life. Their love story is recounted in the Mahabharata as a case in point when Yudishthir is about to gamble Draupadi in a game of dice.
In the other epic, Ramayana tells us the story of Ram and Sita, their quiet, patient, loyal love for each other which remains revered and exemplary to this day, representing a role model. But blindsided by this ideal couple, are Urmila and Lakshman whose overlooked love story is not of love but a story of sacrifice and separation; where the burden of duty and allegiance is not to oneself or the other but to their respective siblings.
Urmila and Lakshman whose overlooked love story is not of love but a story of sacrifice and separation; where the burden of duty and allegiance is not to oneself or the other but to their respective siblings.
A similar sub-text is to be found in Ravan’s Lanka in the love story of his son Meghnad and Sulochana, the daughter of Sheshnag, the king of the serpents. She wants to marry Meghnad, the mightiest warrior against her father’s wishes who wants her to wed Indra instead. Meghnad defeats Indra in the ensuing battle and by doing so, receives the title of Indrajit. Her love and courage are tested when Indrajit, goes to war with Ram and Lakshman, knowing that their love and life is doomed, but remains supportive till his death, after which, as the story goes, she prefers to self-immolate herself than live a life without him.
Such tales of love – and love lost – are numerous and scattered through wherein each case Love is displayed in all its splendour and shades: Love is important and nourishing, sometimes even hurtful, deadly, and destructive. However, love was vital to the scheme of existence, and the smallest love story in the epics and the Puranas – be it of Bhim and Hidimba, Arjun and Subhadra, Arjun and Draupadi, Pandu and Kunti, or even the adulterous love of Tara and Chandra – is a homage to it, revering this undiscerning, unfathomable emotion. Love wins. Often loses. But survives to tell a beautiful, unusual love story.
Kavita Kane writes a monthly column named Goddess of All Things for SheThePeople. Views are author’s own.