It is not hard to find fine examples of motherhood in our mythology, where a mother will do anything for her children. She is strong and loving, she is caring and clever. Yashoda, Kunti, Kaushalya are the epitomes of motherhood, but then there are other as well. Satyavati is the political-minded mother, Kaikeyi the ambitious mother, Ganga the mother who destroys to prevent destruction, Parvati, who created a son – Ganesh/Vinayak – with her own hand infusing life into moulded clay. And above all of them, there is the Mother Goddess, the personification of Nature, protecting Earth, her subjects, children, mortals and nature, who will not allow anyone to perish but those who harm them, destroying ego and ignorance.
And then, amidst them, there is the lone ‘single mother’. The woman who brings up her child on her own, on her terms. Sita, of course, is the first such single mother who comes to mind, bringing up the twins Luv and Kush in the forests, far away from their father, royalty, Ayodhya and an unjust, patriarchal society.
Like Sita, there is another strong and powerful mother, who brings up her son in the forest and who eventually challenge the father. Shakuntala, the abandoned daughter of rishi Vishwamitra and the apsara Menaka, makes sure that her son Bharat never suffers from the pangs of abandonment and loss. After realising her lover-husband King Dushyant will not be coming back to the forest to make her his queen, Shakuntala, unlike the later but popular Kalidasa version, remains in the forest to bring up her son, away from hypocritical societal scripts. She is the lady of the forest, both fierce and fond, nurturing her son as a warrior prince , yet, like her, a child of nature and the jungle, the laws of which are fair yet cruel to both man and animal. It is in such a world that both Sita and Shakuntala aspire their children to grow, groom and bloom.
If Luv and Kush confront their father Ram, battling the royal army, a twelve year old Bharat demands to know who his father is. That is when Shakuntala decides to introduce her son to his father and takes him to the royal court of King Dushyant. Till then, he grows up as the son of Shakuntala in the ashram of rishi Kanva, without knowing who his father is.
Another such remarkable mother is Jabaal, the mother of the famous philosopher-rishi Satyakama Jaabaali. She is his mother, giving him not just birth and life but honour and worth in life. Through her name, she lends him his identity. When a young Jaabaali goes to rishi Gautam for education and is asked about his father, he answers the same reply given to him by his mother – ‘ I do not know who your father is. I gave birth to you, I am your mother. You are Jaabaali, the son of Jabaal.’ Rishi Gautam is impressed with the candour and conviction the young boy, a legacy inherited from his mother.
Her explanation is the defining statement of motherhood, not the silent power of suffering and sacrifice but the archetype of strength and surety. These women while fulfilling motherhood, fight bias and stigma, and defy a largely male dominant society of the day, exercising their rights as mothers in nurturing, caring, loving and protecting their children – without the man, the father of their children. It does not stop, but spurs them, se mothers that most if not all, were against them; they asserted their love and rights and their strong motherly instincts, by grooming their children to be kings and sages – better, powerful citizens of the world, by overcoming all the obstacles put on their path.
Shakuntala is scornful of the royal legacy of Dushyant, challenging him that she has brought her son up as a prince, fit enough to be a king on his own merit; Sita spurns a second agnipariksha and Ram and Ayodhya and prefers to return to her mother, Bhoomi, the Mother Earth but not before handing over her sons to their father – the parting gift to her husband. Jabaal is not concerned about the identity of the father of her son, she is more concerned about his education and his future.
These women are not archetypical characters but fierce, strong and positive influences, reiterating the strong bond between a mother and her child, making it almost sacred when it calls the mother to not just her child’s rescue but his very dignity and identity.