Thursday, November 11, 2010

Women and Indian Mythology

(Yes, I’m going to state the obvious in this one. A lot.)

I’m in India these days on a Diwali vacation. I had the chance to see my nani, which was lovely.

Every elder had a greatest fear for the young ones in their family. My mummy’s greatest fear is that I’d fall prey to some sort of addiction, alcohol or something else. My nani’s greatest fear is that I’d fall prey to a woman.

Every time I see her, I get strong admonition against women who are out there to ‘trap’ me. Don’t make such a ‘mistake’, nani says sternly every time we say good bye.

So why is it that nani thinks that all women are somehow wile and that having a romantic relationship is something of a crime, almost bordering on sin.
The sociological causes of such thinking are well known. But particularly I’d like to draw attention to our myths which perpetuate such thinking.

A common theme in Indian mythology is that of a sage or a rishi who is doing his tapasya and then a woman is sent to break his concentration, thus preventing him from gaining great power. A second common theme is when a demoness somehow manages to wed a sage in order to bear children who are demons but have all the power of the sage too. (Ravan from the Ramayan is a classic example.)

No wonder nani thinks that women attract men for personal benefit or to cause their downfall.


  1. Hmm... you forgot Soorpanakha :P

    Another common theme which reinforces their mindset is the one where the 'really good' female characters have been the ones who have been difficult to get and not ones who would themselves try and seduce a guy. e.g. Sita, Draupadi etc.

    Also, barring Radha, all other female characters in Indian mythology have been shown to display love towards their male partners post marriage only.

    So its either the mythology or may be Nani jee does know a thing or two about female psychology that I and you don't :P

  2. i doubt your nani's fears are rooted in mythology. they r likely to be more rooted in the fear of modernization, westernisation...

    that said... there is a lot lot more in Indian Mythology then menka & demoness on Triyacharita or Stri charitra. I recently saw film called "Mirch" (directed by Vinay Shukla) at mumbai film fest. plan to blog about it soon. but, anycase, i hope the film will commercially release soon. check it out when it does.

  3. Apart from what Shashank and Grishma have said above, I think her fear is rooted in much more mundane practicalities of orthodox Indian life. Women being confined to home by the patriarchy means that essentially the household is the woman's domain. Consequently there is a turf war between the newly entrant wife and the established elder ladies of the house. The fear is that a woman might entrap you with her charms which would mean a complete turnaround of the power dynamics in the house.
    Connecting this to the Indian mythos of course you could come up with women being viewed essentially as sensous and worldly beings with the virtous ones being pure like Sita.

    P.S. looks like your Nani is a wise woman indeed. ;)

  4. @all: I said "The sociological causes of such thinking are well known." I was hinting towards what you're saying now. I was focusing purely on how this is reflected in mythology.

  5. most mainstream religions are misogynistic to some extent, in keeping with the patriarchal world order (Eve tempting Adam with the apple etc.). So I think the sociology feeds into the mythology to a great extent. There could be an added dimension to it also....if you were a girl, I'm sure your family would be even more protective and caution you against falling for "stray boys" also because women are considered to be more vulnerable and having more at stake which is probably understandable from biology.