(A)dharma?

Swapna Narayanan

सखी, वे मुझसे कहकर जाते,
कह, तो क्या मुझको वे अपनी पथ-बाधा ही पाते ?

स्वयं सुसज्जित करके क्षण में,
प्रियतम को, प्राणों के पण में,
हमीं भेज देती हैं रण में –
क्षात्र-धर्म के नाते ।

सखी, वे मुझसे कहकर जाते ।

… go the lines of a famous hindi poem.

This beautiful poem depicting the mental agony of Yashodhara, Prince Siddhartha’s wife, is a classic embodiment of the thoughts that go through the mind of young Yashodhara. When her husband leaves home to become an ascetic, she does not question the move, but rather is agonized that she was not even consulted by her husband. Her argument was that as a Kshatriya woman, she has been trained from childhood to heroically send her beloved husband for victory quests. Given an opportunity, she would have done the same and bid him a regal goodbye and prayed for his victory on his quest for truth in this case.

Though the poem is an old one, it found its way back to the limelight with the mushrooming of various books depicting fresher perspectives and unheard voices. Whether it is Bhagwad Gita simplified for both elders and young adults or it is the perspective of an unheard Uruvi or Urmila, mythology is being sliced and diced and presented in newer perspectives.

For the lot who owe their knowledge of mythology to Amar Chitra Katha and some established mythology authors like Rajaji or K M Munshi, it is definitely a new perspective. What is exciting is that it not only reveals the newer voices, it is also attracting the interest of the younger lot. It is heartening to see the young adults, and 30-year-olds alike, take interest in our epics through this medium.

In addition, it is also bringing out the absolute feminine power that is embedded in each of our mythological stories. Be it famous mothers like Kunti, Gandhari or Jija Bai, or the wives – Draupadi, Sita, Mandodari or Damayanti, these women are integral to the stories. And we are keen to hear their voices.

Why?

Because all through our lives, we have heard their voices from the rhetoric perspectives of the men in their lives. Or their duty-bound glorifying sacrifices.

And we never got to hear about their heartfelt opinions, emotions, hopes, aspirations or dreams.

I suspect, this is the line of thought that probably our ancestors wanted us to listen to. Only one side of the story. The suitable and convenient side of the story that easily fit into the societal norms of the times.

But, like a coin, there is always another side.

And that is the side we are seeing now. For folks who wondered, what would be the innermost feelings of these women? How would Draupadi feel when asked to marry five men? What would be Sita’s mental state when her husband asks her to take a fire test, in spite of getting a first-hand account from Hanuman? Or what did Yashodhara feel when Siddhartha decided to walk out one day to become Gautam Buddha?

Fem_Spirit_Black-silohuettes

Why are Kunti’s varied strategies to protect her sons acceptable while that of a Kaikeyi’s branded as scheming? Why is Sita’s abduction by Ravana not tolerable, whereas Rukmini’s abduction by Krishna is just fine? Why is Draupadi’s laughter termed as a dooming sign for the Pandavas? Why did Uruvi, the God Daughter of Kunti and favorite of Grandsire Bhishma, still marry Karna knowing he is a close friend of Duryodhana? Why did Urmila decide to stay back and not go to the exile with her husband Lakshmana? Why did Gandhari choose to go blindfold as her husband and ended up ignoring all the atrocities of her son?

What drove these highly skilled and intellectual women? How did each of them possess this amazing strength and conviction to move on in spite of facing trials, tears and tragedies all through their lives? Pick any of these exceptionally beautiful women, you will always find that beneath the finery, jewelry and exquisitely beautiful faces, lies this withy heart that goes through an emotional roller coaster ride but still stands strong, trying its best to change its destiny and eventually accepts whatever comes along.

Ah, the feminine spirit!

But one also questions, where is the dharma in all this? After all, every mythological story in our culture encourages dharma or righteousness. Does dharma really ask women to be on the sidelines and subsequently get either questioned or silenced?

Let us park mythology aside. It is a myth after all.

Cut to today, how evolved and involved are women today?

I grew up thinking women have progressed. Being one of the three girls brought up in a strong value based household, I was shown the world as an equal place. It is your intellect and talent that matter, not your gender was the mantra given to us.

Seeing more and more women professionals all around, nobody questions the evolution. Right?

But wait, we are not yet there. Women are still waiting to get their fair share as per the dharma.

A few years back I read a famous leader of the IT industry who had released an interesting book based on solid research and facts. It walked you through the cultural, social fabric that determines the challenges faced by women at workplace. And how, even today, a woman needs to stand up and ask for her rights.

As recent as a month back, I was surprised to see some senior and established women artists comment on the fact that their male counterparts are paid more and always get the best suites to stay during their outdoor shoots.

I am sure most of us have faced similar situations in our personal and professional lives.

Societal norms have definitely evolved but a woman still stands alone, in spite of being amidst so many people. And she is busy balancing her multi-dimensional role, but still needs to fit into the terms of the society.

She is happy and probably cares the least about what others feel.

But what about being righteous to her?

Why should today’s women still be the underlying fabric of the woven story? Why in today’s times also a lady needs to ‘lean in’ and grab?

Is this dharma?

 

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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