The Brave Heart of the Ancient Women!


In the last week’s column, you saw how the incidence of lewd behavior and disrobing of Draupadi by Dushyasana and Duryodhana transformed an insultful situation into hatred culminating in the great battle of Mahabharata. If the words and actions of an individual are filled with good intentions, the results will certainly be good. In this regard, it is worthwhile to recall Sarvagna’s three line stanza (tripadi) –

Speech elicits laughter, Speech creates friction

Speech begets all fortunes to this world

Speech is the crowning jewel, says Sarvagna I

Basavanna’s statement, “To say Sir (ayya) is heaven, to say –hey you (elavo’) - means hell” or in other words, “To be humble in your speech is heaven, to be arrogant in your speech is hell”, also exemplifies the varied power of the speech. Just as it is stated that the pen is mightier than the sword, it could also be said that the speech is sharper than the sword. The spoken words could be deadlier than a snake’s venom. A snake’s venom kills a person in minutes. But the venom from the spoken words is not the same. It does not kill the person instantly. It keeps on killing bit by bit, not just one person, but many! It is the evil nature of some people to be sarcastic in every word coming out of their mouths and to cause mental anguish in others. Such mean minded people derive sadistic pleasure in hurting other people with their barbed words.

To cite an instance, two relatives who had been fighting over some issue were consoled and brought to compromise with each other, by some village elders. As a sign of goodwill, a party was arranged in one of their houses where both the parties happily sat together for dinner. Everyone’s plates were served with delicious dishes. Traditionally a camphor is lit and salutations are offered by saying, ‘sharanu, sharanaarthi’ (I am at your service, please protect us!) after the food is served on the plates. But in this case, there was a remnant of that old bad feeling in the hostess who was serving at the table. After the formal lighting of the camphor she sarcastically let out the words, “my dear brother-in-law, at least now, did your moustache hit the dirt? Sharanu, Sharanaarthi!” Those sarcastic words enraged the people from the other party. Insult hit them hard and got them hysterical. The camphor lighted to illumine as a goodwill sign transformed itself into a raging fire and got both parties into a physical fight!

In some embarrassing and insulting situations, the embarrassed person has very smartly turned the table on the insulting person. (A few such incidents that I experienced as a student at Kashi Hindu University have been written in these columns long time ago). Take for instance, the episode pertaining to Anusuyadevi, the great pious spouse of the sage Atri. The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara were on the lookout for a time when sage Atri was away and make an entrance acting as monks into the monastery. When Anusuyadevi was told their wish for her to be naked when she served food to them, she was taken aback for a moment, but recovered to show great reflexes and intelligence in that situation.  She sprinkles the water collected from her husband’s feet cleaning (padodaka) on them and transforms all three of them into babies. She then feeds them milk from her breasts. This portrays how a man can walk the righteous path if they choose to, without getting perturbed in any critical situation. Some might ridicule such stories as baseless mumblings. But it is important to remember that all the characters, whether they are Gods, Angels or Sages, who are depicted in our scriptures, are a mere reflection of human virtues and vices. It is proper to review these stories from a psychological point of view rather than from a philosophical point of view. Only then we will be able to logically relate our minds of today to the minds of the past.

In everyday life we use words like, guilty consciousness, shame, embarrassment, and insult, without making any distinction among them. According to psychologists, these terms are not the same but are actually related to different states of the mind. Guilty consciousness arises when an individual behaves in a way that is different from the ideals he has set for himself. Knowing fully well that he should not have done that, he keeps doing it time and again due to mental frigidity. As he keeps doing that, his guilty consciousness keeps fighting him. At some stage, more than likely his inner consciousness takes control of the situation and transforms him into a new person. Such situations form the life’s turning points.

While the guilty consciousness might turn a man around, feelings of shame rarely do that. They manifest negative feelings like, “I am not a good person, I am bad, there is no one more unfit than me in this universe, no one can correct me”, and make you look down on yourself. By undergoing this self degradation path, the person is disgusted with himself, develops an inferiority complex and becomes a stranger to himself. This type of disgust, elaborating only the negative thoughts, could often endanger him towards ending his own life.

Compared to all other feelings, embarrassment is not that significant as it does not last long and does not cause any acute effect on the individual. One can bear it from within such accidental mishaps. But he cannot tolerate insults inflicted upon him intentionally. He cannot bear to hear accusing words from the people he does not like. Repeated episodes of such insults will break his patience and he will react. The words, “How long can I tolerate” get transformed into action. In our present day society we often find this among young women who suffer mental and physical abuse in their husband’s houses. This reactive pattern is nothing new. We can see this kind of situation in Shakuntalopakyana of the original Vyasa’s Mahabharata.  A drama, ‘Abhignana Shakuntala’ by Mahakavi Kalidasa based on the original Mahabharata got the commendation, “kavyeshu natakam ramyam tatrapi cha shakuntala’ (Drama is the best in poetry, and Shakuntala is best among those dramas). But in order make a super hero out of Dushyantha, Kalidasa’s imagination has gone haywire. There are people who lend support to him saying that it is actually not his fault entirely as he based his drama on ‘Padmapurana.’ The Dushyantha-Shakuntala pair of Vyasa Mahabharata are projected vastly different in both Padmapurana and Kalidasa’s drama.

In the Shakuntala drama, when the great sage Kanva’s fully pregnant pet daughter arrives at Dushyantha’s palace, Dushyantha fails to recognize her. Kalidasa’s imagination attributes that lapse of memory to sage Durvasa’s curse. Durvasa had gotten angry when Shakuntala, pre-occupied with Dushyantha’s thoughts, had not offered rituals proper for a distinguished guest. When Shakuntala attempts to refresh the memory of her wedding to Dushyantha by showing him the wedding ring, to her dismay she realizes that the ring was missing from her finger. The ring that was given by Dushyantha during the celestial marriage (gandharva vivaha) at Kanva’s monastery had inadvertently slipped out of her finger while bathing in the river. Kalidasa has portrayed Dushyantha as blemishless in this case and justifies his action by stating that he could have done nothing as it was all fate. But the Vyasa Mahabharata had not portrayed him as innocent. In fact, he had recognized her alright, but was reluctant to admit it in front of people fearing that he would lose their respect if he accepted her. Shakuntala tries very hard to convince him about the romantic times they had together and his promise to crown their son as the prince. But Dushyantha was steadfast in his conviction and refuses to accept her argument. He calls her an evil witch from the forest and accuses her of scheming to snatch his kingdom away from him. Shakuntala knows that he is putting up an act that he does not know her. She is enraged and asks him to touch his heart and say that he does not remember her.

‘yadi me yaachamaanaayaa vachanam na karishtasihi

Dushyantha shathadhaa moordhaa thathasthetadhya pathishtathi

Draupadi curses Dushyantha with these words: “Even after revealing the truth in such good words, if you do not accept me as your wife, let your head be split into tiny pieces.”

‘andaani bibhrathi swani ba bhindhanthi pipeelikaaha

Na barethaaha katham nu thvam dharmagnaha san swamaathmajam’

‘Even ordinary ants do not break the eggs they lay. But a so called gentleman like you are saying that you cannot protect your family’s infant child. Shame on you!’ says Shakuntala. What a brave heart this Shakuntala from the Vyasa Mahabharat portrays!

People have not spared bad mouthing even that great saint, Akkamahadevi, who stood far above the worldly feelings of embarrassment. While at the palace when King Kaushika, blinded by lust, makes advances on her she retorts, ‘My concern is for myself, your concern is for lust, Let go of my piece of cloth you idiot. My worry is whether my Lord Chennemallikarjuna accepts me or not.’ This bold emphatic response has no parallel in the annals of religion anywhere. As she leaves the palace and gets on the street, the insults and innuendos that people hurled at her is hard to imagine. The bold way she handled these incidents and the following words that she threw at them hardly needs a commentary.

Brothers, you came to feast upon the bare breasts,

And the adolescent luster!

Brothers, a woman I am not

Brothers, a prostitute I am not

Brothers, why then you look and look

Who do you think I am that you can approach me?

The face of any man other than

Chennamallikarjuna does not appeal to me, my brothers!

O brothers! Why talk to this woman,

With loose hair, withered face, crumbling body

Why torture, O fathers!

I, with no will power, detached from this world

Turned into a devotee

Casting off caste and in fusion with my Lord Chennamallikarjuna!


Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru

Dr Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji