Two Much: Twins in Mythology – Kavita Kane’s Column For The Geminis
Double births often evoke startling reactions and have fascinated people since ancient times to be at the core of many tales and myths. There doesn’t seem to be a culture which has not got a good tale involving twins.
The fact that they were extraordinary, and often unexplainable, myths and legends grew around them, mostly positive as seen in Indian mythology. Lakshman-Shatrughan, Luv and Kush in the Ramayan and Nakul and Sahadev in the Mahabharata are the most widely known ones.
Every set of twins in the epics are unique, not trapped in archetypes. There are twin sisters as well. Brihadrath, the founder king of Magadh married a pair of twin princesses of Kashi.
It does not often register that Draupadi the heroine of the Mahabharata had a twin – Dhrishtadyumna, both born out of the fire of hostility between their father King Drupad of Panchal and friend-tuned-foe Dronacharya, the guru of the Kuru princes. If the son was born to kill Dronacharya, the daughter Draupadi came out of the yagna, as a woman destined to bring the destruction of the Kauravas. They are one of the rare pairs who have grey reference, born out of hate, to seek out vengeance for their father.
Unlike other cultures where twins are seen linked with magical and wondrous beliefs or sometimes even have negative references, twins in our mythology, are examples of deep bonded relationships, epitomes of sibling love. Again the bromance of Lakshman-Shatrughan and Nakul-Sahadev come to mind but what is interesting in both, is that they are more loyal to their other siblings besides their counterparts. Their twinship represents completeness and perfection.
The symbol of wholeness is exemplified by a set of male-female twins, blessed with divine completeness. Mahabharata has two sets of unusual brother-sister twins. Kripa and Kripi both scholars, the brother a guru in the Kuru court and one of the eight chiranjeevis and the sister who married Dronacharya. Both were adopted by King Shantanu as babies abandoned in the woods. But they have a story of unusual birth through a rishi Shardwan and the apsara Janapadi.
Like the Greek, Hindu mythology of course has its own set of famous twins. The inseparable Ashwini twins are the most known, a handsome pair of demigods who begat Nakul and Sahadev through the Kuru queen Madri, the wife of King pandu.
Another similar birth of another set of sister-brother twins is that of Satyavati and her twin brother Matsya, children of King Uparichar Vasu of Chedi and the apsara Adrika. The son is accepted by the king to become the heir and the king of Matsya kingdom but the daughter is instead brought up by a fisherman. She marries the Kuru king Shantanu of Hastinapur to later become the royal matriarch of the Kauravas and Pandavas. Theirs is a classic case of separatism : separate paths, separate identities, separate futures. They were twins, destined never to meet, living in a dualistic universe.
Every set of twins in the epics are unique, not trapped in archetypes. There are twin sisters as well. Brihadrath, the founder king of Magadh married a pair of twin princesses of Kashi. Soon both wives became pregnant and gave birth to two halves of a human body – this unusual child was the ferocious Jarasandh, the most powerful king and Krishna’s most formidable enemy. Riddhi (prosperity) and Siddhi (spiritual power) are twin sisters, married to Lord Ganesh, the god of knowledge, wisdom and prosperity and the mothers of Ganesh’s sons – Kshema (born to Siddhi) and Labha (born to Riddhi).
Twins often appear as partners who share a bond deeper than ordinary friendship or even brotherly affection, where the individualistic ‘me’ gets submerged in a unified ‘we’. Like the Greek, Hindu mythology of course has its own set of famous twins. The inseparable Ashwini twins are the most known, a handsome pair of demigods who begat Nakul and Sahadev through the Kuru queen Madri, the wife of King pandu.
Represented as horsemen and healers, they symbolise the shining glory of the sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, ushering treasures and averting misfortune and sickness, as the doctors of Ayurveda. According to legend, Sanjna, the wife of Surya, the Sun god was unable to bear his heat and fled to Uttara Kuru, taking the form of a mare. Surya when he came to know of her fear, found her and joined her in the form of a horse. They had two children named Nasatya and Dasra, popularly termed the identical Ashwini twins.
The Sun god is father to another set of twins – Yama (the lord of death) and Yami ( the river Yamuna or Kalindi). Extremely close, there is another story where Yama becomes the first man to die. Yami cannot stop weeping (thus the river). To console her, Gods create night. From then on, night follows day and the cycle of time began. Their story is of the power of timelessness and Time as the great healer of grief. If Yama is the Lord of death, Yami is the Lady of life.
The demigods Jai and Vijay are an odd pair of twins, who lead a life of a series of curses through different reincarnations. They are the gatekeepers of Vaikuth, the abode of Vishnu but cursed, to be reborn as a pair of loyal brothers in each of the yugas. In the first life they are Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha killed by Vishnu taking the form of Varaha ( a boar) and Narasimha,a man-lion. In their second reincarnation, they were born as Ravan and Kumbhakarn, to die by the hands of Ram and Lakshman respectively. And in their last life of their curse, they are Shishupal and Dantavakra, killed again by Vishnu who descended as Krishna in the Dwapar Yuga.
Conclusively, the issue of twins was not necessarily confusion, but divine in most case, reiterating the relationship of deep bonding. But in most cases, either one of the twin does not have a significant role (like in the case of Shatrughan, Kripi, Matsya) or the twins have an equal role to play (like Luv and Kush, the twin sons of Ram in Ramayan), but the conflict is never there, unlike the contradiction to some reference of twins as symbols of conflict and rivalry – a favourite script of Bollywood movies!