Panchkanya: Women of Substance

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Posted: 2011-03-08T21:32:29Z
Hey Mytho Mastians Big smile...I was gonna start this thread a while ago but as we're celebrating Women's Day what better day than today right?! This article is very interesting and opens up a wide area of discussion. If nothing else, then I'm sure you'll like find it an informative read.

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Panchkanya: Women of Substance
by Pradip Bhattacharya


A traditional Sanskrit exhortation runs thus:

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha
panchakanya svaranityam mahapataka nashaka


"Remembering ever the virgins five '
Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari
Destroys the greatest sins."



Two things strike us in this verse: the epithet kanya (virgin, maiden), not nari (woman); and the unusual combination of names that redeem the sinner from transgressions, howsoever grievous.

There is another traditional verse celebrating five satis/chaste wives: Sati, Sita, Savitri, Damayanti and Arundhati. 

Are then Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari not chaste wives because each has "known" a man, or more than one, other than her husband? If so, why should invoking them be extolled as redeeming? Moreover, why is the intriguing term kanya applied to them?  

Of this group, three ' Ahalya, Tara, Mandodari ' belong to Ramayana, the epic composed by Valmiki, the first seer-poet. Draupadi and Kunti are celebrated in Mahabharata, Harivamsa and the Markandeya, Devi Bhagavata and Bhagavata Puranas.

The first point to keep in mind is that Valmiki and Vyasa's great compositions are designated as kavya, truth perceived by a kavi, seer-poet. Hence, in evaluating the characters they have created, it is necessary to probe consciously beneath the surface reality to reach the eternal verities on which these are founded. Further, when an exhortation such as this has been handed down over a millennium, it cannot be dismissed as a meaningless conundrum. In the context of the powerful wave of feminism sweeping in from the West, we particularly need to comprehend what is sought to be conveyed through this intriguing verse.

Ahalya:

The name Ahalya itself has a double meaning: one who is flawless; also, one who has not been ploughed, i.e. a virgin. According to the myth of her origin [Ramayana: Uttarakanda, 30], having created this flawless beauty from what was unique and loveliest in all creatures, Brahma handed her over to the sage Gautama for safe custody. After a long time, presumably when she had reached maturity, Gautama handed her back to the Creator, who was so pleased with the sage's self-restraint that he gifted Ahalya to him as his spouse. Indra, lord of the gods, enamored of her beauty, had presumed that this loveliest of women was meant for him and resented that a forest-dwelling ascetic should become her spouse. In the Adikanda.48 Vishvamitra states that, assuming Gautama's form in his absence, Indra approached her saying, "Those craving coitus cannot wait till the fertile period. I crave union, slim-waisted one!" (48.18). Ahalya, despite knowing the disguised sage to be Indra, out of curiosity, kutuhalat ' the same impulse that impels Kunti to summon Surya ' consented to grant him sexual favors. Thereafter, she told Indra, "I am gratified. Now leave this place quickly, best of gods! Protect yourself and me from Gautama in every way" (48.21). As he was departing, Gautama returned. By the curse that followed, Indra's testicles fell off. Ahalya was condemned to perform penance in that terrible forest, hidden from all, fasting, subsisting on air, sleeping in ashes, tormented by guilt. Gautama ordained that by offering hospitality to Rama she would be purified of delusion and greed. Then, restored to her pristine form, she would rejoin Gautama (48.29-32).

The Adikanda account is typically frank regarding Ahalya's conscious choice to satisfy her curiosity. The sole beautiful woman in creation, she is the eternal feminine responding characteristically to the ardent, urgent, direct sexual advances of the ruler of heaven who presents such a dazzling contrast to her ascetic, aged, forest-dwelling husband. Mortal woman welcomes the intimate touch of heaven's immortal, driven by an irrepressible curiosity for varied and unusual experiences and a willingness to take risks for this that marks the feminine.

It is a fine instance of the interlinking of the anima and the animus. Ahalya is attracted to Indra precisely because she projects her animus on to him. For Indra, Ahalya is the anima personified because she is creation's loveliest mortal woman. This is a mutually reinforcing irresistible mutual attraction. Although prior to this encounter Ahalya has already had a son, Shatananda, by Gautama yet her womanhood remained unfulfilled. The kanya is not just mother but also beloved and this aspect had not been actualized in her relationship with Gautama. As the first kanya not born of woman, she has the courage to respond to the call of her inner urge, but is unable to challenge the sentence pronounced by patriarchal society.

The Uttarakanda version is exculpatory, as is only to be expected in a later addition to the epic. Agastya states that, infuriated at Brahma gifting Ahalya to Gautama, Indra raped her and was cursed with imprisonment by Ravana's son Meghanad, having to bear half the guilt of every act of rape and lose all peace of mind. As for Ahalya, so far she had been the only beautiful female, but henceforth she would lose her uniqueness and other lovely women would be born. Hence, men fall in love with different women, projecting the anima on to them. When Ahalya protested that she could not recognize the disguised Indra and was not guilty of willful wickedness, Gautama prescribed that he would take her back but only after Rama had purified her. We witness here a male backlash that condemns the woman as soiled even though she may not be at fault.

The Kathasaritsagara version provides a clue to the psychological condition of Ahalya. On Gautama's return, Indra fled in the form of a cat. By the curse, Indra's whole body was covered with marks of the vulva that he had coveted. In response to the sage's enquiry about who had been in the cottage, Ahalya dissimulated by saying that it was a majjara (Prakrit for 'cat' or 'my lover'). Thereupon, she was punished by being turned to stone.

The social ostracism and the consequential psychological trauma are reflected in the symbol of petrifaction. It is not a physical transformation as in a fairy tale. This is a psychological trauma in which the oppressive guilt virtually throttles the vital spirit. Ahalya becomes a living automaton, denying her emotions, feelings and self-respect and shunned by all.

Even as mother she finds no fulfillment, for Shatananda abandons her in the forest despite referring to her as renowned ("mama mata yashasvini", Adikanda 51.4-5). Rama regards her as blameless, inviolate, as her name connotes. When he and Lakshmana touch her feet in salutation, this recognition restores her self-respect and her status in society, so that she truly lives again.

Vishvamitra repeatedly refers to her as mahabhaga, most virtuous and noble.

Valmiki's description of Ahalya as Rama sees her needs to be noted (my translation):

The Creator, it seems,
with utmost care
had perfected this form
divine, enchanting.
Like a tongue of flame
smoke-shrouded,
Like the full moon's glory
ice-reflected,
Like blinding sunlight
mirrored in water. (Adikanda 14-15)

It is the nobility of her character, her extraordinary beauty and the fact of being chronologically the first kanya that places Ahalya at the head of the five virgin maidens. In the eyes of Vishvamitra, the mighty rebel rishi, who proved that a kshatriya can transform himself into the greatest of seers and presented the world the Gayatri mantra, Ahalya was not a fallen woman. She had been true to her independent nature, fulfilling her womanhood in a manner that she found appropriate, although unable to assert herself finally. Is Ahalya a failed kanya?

In this unique type of sexual encounter with non-husbands, that is neither rape nor adultery, lies the key to the mystery of the five 'virgin' maidens.

Tara:

Tara, wife of Bali, the next kanya we meet in Ramayana is a woman of unusual intelligence, foresight and self-confidence. When Sugriva comes to challenge Bali for the second time, she warns him against responding, pointing out that appearances are deceptive, for normally no contestant returns to the field so soon after being soundly thrashed. Moreover, she has heard that Rama has befriended him. By brushing aside her wise warning, Bali walks into Rama's arrow. To ensure that her son Angada is not deprived of his father's throne, Tara becomes her brother-in-law Sugriva's consort. When Lakshmana storms into the inner apartments of Kishkindha, it is Tara whom the terrified Sugriva sends to tackle this rage-incarnate. Approaching Lakshmana with intoxicated eyes half-closed and unsteady gait, lovely, slim and unashamed Tara effectively disarms him. She gently reprimands him for being unaware of lust's overwhelming power which overthrows the most ascetic of sages, whereas Sugriva is a mere vanara. When he abuses Sugriva, Tara fearlessly intervenes, pointing out that the rebuke is unjustified and details all the efforts already made to gather an army. Once again, as when tendering advice to Bali, Tara shows her superb ability to marshal information. Thus, she acts as Sugriva's shield while ensuring that her son Angada is made the crown-prince.

Mandodari:

It is with Mandodari, the last kanya portrayed by Valmiki, that we face a problem. There is hardly anything special that Valmiki has written about her except that she warns her husband to return Sita and has enough influence to prevent his raping her. Further, like Tara, she accepts her husband's enemy and brother as spouse, either at Rama's behest or because it was the custom among the non-Aryans for the new ruler to wed the enthroned queen. The Adbhut Ramayana provides some more insight. Here we find Mandodari violating Ravana's injunction not to drink from a pot in which he has stored blood gathered from ascetics. By doing what she felt moved to do, Mandodari shows she is not her husband's shadow. The consequence is that she becomes pregnant, and, like Kunti in the future, discards the new-born female infant in a far-off place. That place happens to be the field which Janaka ploughs to discover the orphan Sita. In this light it is not surprising that Hanumana mistakes Mandodari for Sita in Ravana's palace!

Tara and Mandodari are parallels. Both offer sound advice to their husbands who recklessly reject it and suffer the ultimate consequence. Then both deliberately accept as their spouse the younger brother-in-law responsible for the deaths of their husbands. Thereby, they are able to keep the kingdom strong and prosperous as allies of Ayodhya, and continue to have a say in governance. Tara and Mandodari can never be described as shadows of such strong personalities as Bali and Ravana.

Kunti:

In Mahabharata, Draupadi and Kunti are not only closely related to each other as daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, but are also parallels. Shura of the Vrishnis gifts his daughter Pritha, when just a child, to his childless friend Kuntibhoja. We find this rankling deep within her, voiced pointedly after the Kurukshetra war while confessing about Karna's birth. She finds no mother as she grows up in Kuntibhoja's apartments and is handed over, in teenage, to the vagaries of the eccentric, irascible sage Durvasa. Her foster father warns that should she displease the sage, it will dishonor his clan as well as her own. Well endowed, as her name Pritha connotes, she was strikingly lovely, for Kuntibhoja exhorts her not to neglect any service out of pride in her beauty. Later, four gods and one mortal respond with alacrity to her invitation. The abdication of responsibility by Shura and Kuntibhoja results in the birth of Karna, of which they remain blissfully unaware.

Kunti, like Ahalya, is curious. She wishes to test whether Durvasa's boon really works. Perceiving a radiant being in the rising sun (referred to in Chhandogya Upanishad too), she invites him, using the mantra. Surya, like Indra, will not return unsatisfied. He cajoles and browbeats the nubile maiden, assuring her of unimpaired virginity and threatens to consume the kingdom if denied. Mingled desire and fear overpower Kunti's reluctance and she stipulates that the son thus born must be like his father.

Kshirodeprasad Bidyabinode struck home in his Bengali play Nara Narayana (1926) with his succinct yet ever so profound description of this encounter put on Karna's lips:

"a maiden's misstep ' a god's prurient curiosity,
aa virgin's curiosity and his shameless lust." ' IV. 3 (my translation)

Kunti wins two boons from the encounter: her own virgo intacta and special powers for her son. In this she is remarkably akin to her grandmother-in-law, Satyavati, to Madhavi, daughter of Yayati, the Lunar dynast, and to the Yadava Bhanumati who, too, has Durvasa's boon that, if raped, she will regain her virgin status.

Kunti, Satyavati's granddaughter-in-law, a remarkable study in womanhood[[1]]. She chooses the handsome Pandu in svayamvara only to find Bhishma snatching away her happiness by marrying him off immediately to the captivating Madri. She insists on accompanying her impotent husband into exile and faces a horripilating situation: her beloved husband insists that she get son after son by others. It is in this husband-wife encounter (Adi Parva 120-124) that Kunti's individuality shines forth. At first she firmly refuses saying, "Not even in thought will I be embraced by another (121.5)." Although this is somewhat ironic as already she has embraced Surya and regained virgin status after delivering Karna, it is evidence of her resolve to maintain an unsullied reputation. Hence she does not emulate her grandmother-in-law by acknowledging her pre-marital son. Nothing must interfere with the chances of a restoration to the throne.

That is why she does not tell Pandu about Karna even when he enumerates various categories of sons including one born to the wife before marriage. Children born with the sanction of her husband would be a completely different proposition from one born to her in adolescence as an unmarried princess. She urges Pandu to be heroic and emulate Vyushitashva who died prematurely because of overindulgence in coitus like Pandu's father, but whose wife Bhadra obtained seven sons by embracing his corpse. Pandu refuses to invite death-in-intercourse with Kunti (though that is precisely what he does with Madri) and urges that she will only be doing what is sanctioned by the northern Kurus (122.7), that the new custom of being faithful to one's husband is very recent and cites the precedents of Sharadandayani, Madayanti, Ambika and Ambalika (rather strangely he omits the far more apt instance of his own ancestress Madhavi). Finally, he quotes Shvetaketu's scriptural directive for implicitly obeying the husband's commands:

"the woman who,
commanded by her husband
to procreate children, refuses,
is guilty of the sin of infanticide." (122.19)

This makes no impact on Kunti. She cannot be browbeaten and her character is far stronger than her husband's. She gives in only when Pandu abjectly begs her:

"Sweet lady,
I fold my palms
joining the tips
of my lotus-leaf fingers
and I implore you
listen to me!" (122.29)

Look at the sheer grace and power of her reply:

"Best of Bharatas! Great adharma
it is for a husband to ask
repeatedly a favour: shouldn't a wife
anticipate his wishes?" (122.32)

With delightful one-upwomanship, she reveals that where he had wanted her to approach some eminent Brahmana, she has the power to summon any god to her bed. Like her grandmother-in-law revealing her final weapon, Vyasa, to Bhishma only in the last extremity, Kunti shares the secret of her mantra only after Pandu has been brought to his knees.

 Draupadi:

What of Draupadi? Like Ahalya and Sita, Draupadi is ayonija, not born of woman. Where Ahalya is the Tilottama prototype and Sita is ploughed up from a furrow, Draupadi is invoked by a sacrificial rite to wreak vengeance. Actually, she arrives as a bonus because Drupada was performing the yajna for obtaining a son who would take revenge on Drona and had not asked for a daughter at all. Like Athena, she springs full-grown, in the bloom of youth, from the yajna vedi, not requiring the matrix of a human womb, ignoring the absence of Drupada's queen who is unable to respond to the priest's summons because her toilet is incomplete. She is the only kanya whose appearance is described in detail and is therefore worth noting:

"eye-ravishing Panchali,
black-and-smiling-eyed'
Shining coppery carved nails,
Soft eye-lashes,
Swelling breasts
Shapely thighs'
neither short
nor tall, neither dark nor pale,
with wavy dark-blue hair,
eyes like autumn-lotus leaves,
fragrant like the lotus'
extraordinarily accomplished,
soft-spoken and gentle'
She is the last to sleep,
the first to wake
even earlier than the early-rising
cowherds and shepherds.
Her sweat-bathed face is lovely,
like the lotus, like
the jasmine; slim-waisted like
the middle of the sacred
vedi, long-haired, pink-lipped,
and smooth-skinned." (Adi Parva 169.44-46, Sabha 65.33-37)

Dark like Gandhakali, hence named Krishna, and gifted with blue-lotus fragrance wafting for a full krosha like Yojanagandha, she "knows", like her mother-in-law Kunti and great grandmother-in-law Gandhakali, more than one man. Like Kunti she is also described as an amorous lover: draupadi bhratripati ca pancanam kamini tatha (Brahmavaivarta Purana, 4.115.73). Yet, hers is an immeasurably greater predicament. Where theirs were momentary encounters, Draupadi has to live out her entire life parcelled out among five men within the sacrament of marriage[[1]]. Like Satyavati and Kunti, she remains a virgin, regaining that status after each marriage:

'Devarshi Narada, narrating this wondrous, supernatural and excellent event said,

"Lovely-waisted and high-minded indeed,
she became virgin anew after each marriage"' (Adi Parva, 197.14)

According to the Villipputtur's Tamil version of the epic, Draupadi bathes in fire after each marriage, emerging chaste like the pole star[[1]]. The South Indian cult of Draupadi sculpts her holding a closed lotus bud symbolising virginity, as opposed to the open lotus of fertility Subhadra holds. Ahalya-like, she transforms herself into stone when touched by the demon Kempirnacuran by invoking her chastity in an act of truth[[1]]. Like Kunti, she resembles Madhavi, ancestress of the Kurus, in retaining her virginity despite being many-husbanded. Kunti herself describes Draupadi to Krishna as sarvadharmopacayinam (fosterer of all virtues, Udyoga Parva 137.16), using the identical term by which Yayati describes his daughter Madhavi while gifting her to Galava[[1]] (ibid. 115.11). The conjunction of both occurrences of this epithet in the same parva is surely deliberate on part of the seer-poet for drawing our attention to these correspondences.

A true "virgin", Panchali has a mind of her very own. Both Krishna and Panchali appear for the first time together in the svayamvara sabha and make decisive interventions. It is Panchali's categorical refusal'wholly unexpected'to accept Karna as a suitor that alters the entire complexion of that assembly and, indeed, the course of the epic itself. The affront to Karna sows the seeds of the assault on her in the dice-game. It is her sakha-to-be, Krishna, who steps in to put an end to the skirmish between the furious kings and the disguised Pandavas.

She alone enjoys the unique relationship of sakhi with her sakha Krishna. Only she, among all the powerful characters in the epic, has the capacity to upbraid Krishna.

In the dice-game Yajnaseni shocks everyone by challenging the Kuru elders' very concept of dharma in a crisis where the modern woman would collapse in hysterics. Instead of meekly obeying her husband's summons, she sends back a query which none can answer: How could Yudhishthira, having lost himself, stake her at all? She has a brilliant mind, is utterly "one-in-herself" and does not hesitate in berating the Kuru elders for countenancing wickedness. As Karna directs her to be dragged away to the servants' quarters, she cries out to her silent husbands.

Yajnaseni succeeds in winning back freedom for her enslaved husbands. Karna pays her a remarkable tribute, saying that none of the world's renowned beautiful women have accomplished such a feat: like a boat she has rescued her husbands who were drowning in a sea of sorrows (Sabha 72.1-3).

With striking dignity she refuses to take the third boon Dhritarashtra offers, because with her husbands free and in possession of their weapons, she does not need a boon from anyone. No twenty first century feminist can surpass her in being in charge of herself. Can we even imagine any woman having to suffering attempted disrobing with her husbands sitting mute; then facing abduction in the forest and having to countenance her husband forgiving the abductor; be molested again in court and be admonished by her husband for making a scene; then be carried off to be burnt alive; thereafter, when war is imminent, witness her husbands asking Krishna to sue for peace; and finally find all her kith and kin and her sons slain-- and still remain sane? 

The course of the epic is determined by the dark five and Kunti, of whom three are kanyas: Gandhakali, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, Vasudeva Krishna, Yajnaseni, Arjuna, Kunti. The first three are further linked by the black waters of the Yamuna, while Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi are prototypes of one another. Draupadi is the only instance we come across in epic mythology of a sati becoming a kanya. 

Ultimately, the fact that Draupadi stands quite apart from her five husbands is brought tellingly home when not one of them' not even Sahadeva of whom she took care with maternal solicitude, nor her favourite Arjuna' tarries by her side when she falls and lies dying on the Himalayan slopes, nathavati anathavat [[1]] (husbanded, yet unprotected). That is when we realise that this remarkable "virgin" never asked anything for herself. Born unwanted, thrust abruptly into a polyandrous marriage, she seems to have had a profound awareness of being an instrument in bringing about the extinction of an effete epoch so that a new age could take birth. And being so aware, Yajnaseni offered up her entire being as a flaming sacrifice in that holocaust of which Krishna was the presiding deity.

This feature of transcending the lower self, of becoming an instrument of a higher design is what seems to constitute a common trait in these ever-to-be-remembered maidens. Remembering them daily, learning from them how to sublimate our petty ego to reach the higher self, we transcend sin.

A common feature these maidens share is "motherlessness." The births of Ahalya, Satyavati and Draupadi are unnatural, none having a mother. We know nothing of Tara's mother. Mandodari's mother is Hema, who remains just a name. The motherless Gandhakali and Pritha, as adolescents, are left by their foster-fathers to the mercies of two eccentric sages and become unwed mothers with no option but to discard their first born. Pritha's mother is never mentioned even when she is given away by her father. As Kunti, she finds no foster-mother either and her only succour is an old midwife. If Draupadi had hoped to find her missing mother in her mother-in-law, she is tragically deceived as Kunti thrusts her into a polyandrous marriage that exposes her to salacious gossip reaching a horrendous climax in Karna calling her a public woman whose being clothed or naked is immaterial. As if that were not enough, Kunti urges her to take special care of her fifth husband, Sahadeva, as a mother! No other woman has had to face this peculiar predicament of dealing with five husbands now as spouse, then as elder or younger brother-in-law (to be treated like a father or as a son respectively) in an unending cycle.

Simultaneously, we notice that Ahalya, Satyavati and Draupadi are not known for maternal qualities. Ahalya's son abandons her and lives comfortably in Janaka's court, expressing relief that she is finally acceptable in society following Rama's visit. Valmiki has not a word to say about the mother-son relationship between Ahalya and Shatananda. Vyasa is abandoned by both parents and attributes his survival to chance. Draupadi's five sons are mere names and are not even nurtured by her. She sends them to Panchala and follows her husbands into exile to ensure that the wounds of injustice and insult inflicted upon them remain ever fresh. Indeed, scholars, beginning with Bankimchandra over a hundred years ago, have questioned the very fact of her maternity since, unlike the other Pandava progeny (Ghatotkacha, Abhimanyu, Babhruvahana) the five sons are nothing more than names and might have been interpolated. The Draupadi Cult specifically states that her sons were not products of coitus but were born from drops of blood that fell when, in her terrifying Kali form, her nails pierced Bhima's hand.


None of these maidens breaks down in the face of personal tragedy. Each continues to live out her life with head held high. This is another characteristic that sets the kanya apart from other women.

The kanya, despite having husband and children, remains alone to the last. This is the loneliness at the top that great leaders bear as their cross. The absence of a mother's nurturing, love, modeling and handing down of tradition leaves the kanya free to experiment, unbound by shackles of taught norms, to mold herself according to her inner light, to express and fulfill her femininity, achieving self-actualization on her own terms. One is tempted to use a modern clich to describe her: a woman of substance.


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I would really like for us to discuss these women and the points raised within this article. What are you thoughts on Ahalya, Tara, Mandodari, Kunti and Draupadi? How do you see them and the lives they lived? And do share what you thought of the article. 

Enjoy! Big smile

Edited by Vedo - 2011-03-08T21:35:43Z
7 Likes this
Posted: 2011-03-08T21:33:57Z
Panchkanya Dances:

The portrayal of the Panchkanyas in the paper read by Dr. Ratna Roy in the morning session and her dance performance in the evening were both very helpful to understand the concept of Panchkanyas as understood by the Mahari Dance performers.  

As she had explained in her paper, 'The Portrayal of Pancha kanyas in Guru Pankaj Charan Das' Odissi Dance Drama", that Mahari dance form is a unique blend of art and literature, we found it to be exactly so when all the Pancha Kanyas were depicted through Odissi Dance Drama in the evening. She has very rightly mentioned in her paper that the PanchaKanya dances - play with the connotation of the words - Sati,' 'Mahasati,' and 'Sattvika' as applied to women who were considered fallen by mainstream society.' It is really noteworthy that all the five maidens celebrated in the Panchakanya shloka led like Maharis whose lives are auspicious although they are supposedly impure. It is the similarity between these five maidens and the Maharis that is significant as it emphasizes the 'notion of being fallen' and 'virtuous' simultaneously.


---------

The use of Oriya in the song accompanying the dance is a significant deviation from the accepted practice of using Sanskrit and thereby rejecting Sanskritic Tradition and embracing the Tantric philosophy of Mahari dance at the temple of Jagadamba.

Had Dr. Ratna Roy not read the paper before her performance, all these seemingly small but significant details would have gone unnoticed by viewers, like yours sincerely, not much conversant with this dance form!

Ratna Roy emphasized on meditating in the five Kanyas as they symbolize the five elements. The five elements are equated with the five Kanyas: Ahalya born of water, Draupadi born of fire, Kunti born of earth, Tara Born of wind and Mandodari born of ether.

Ahalya, a devoted wife who would wash her husband's feet everyday and drink the water, is cursed by her husband only because she was deceived by Indra who was infatuated with her beauty. In an informal talk before the performance, Ratna Roy talked about her feeling of repugnance, every time she had to enact the role of Ahalya drinking water in which she had washed her husband's feet and the subsequent treatment meted out to this Kanya by her husband, shook the very core of her being, as a woman.

This represents the practice of the patriarchal society where a woman is invariably condemned for no fault of hers, whereas, one really responsible for the heinous crime is not questioned at all. So very relevant to the reality of the Maharis' lives!

Draupadi pleads to all her husbands - all five of them - to save her from disgrace in the assembly. We all are conversant with this famous scene of the Mahabharata. In this dance, their heartlessness is stressed deviating from the epic story where they are bound by dharma, having been pledged and lost by the eldest brother. Draupadi lets herself go and stretches both her arms. The scene is depicted as the complete surrender of Draupadi at the feet of Krishna. Nevertheless, we find a pleasant change that unlike Ahalya, Draupadi questions and voices her fears but ultimately becomes vulnerable and pleads with Krishna.

Kunti, the next Kanya, is shown in the act of love making with Surya, the Sun God. The music and the movement to depict the birthing of Karna by maiden Kunti gives a realistic touch to the story. Her giving birth to three more sons, shown through dance, depicts her independence and ultimately her whole life serves as an example of the strength of a single mother raising five sons, is what makes her a real Kanya.


It is Tara that held us captivated by her strength and potency of character depicted through her questioning and blaming an Aryan king Rama, the morality of killing Bali. Accusing Rama of deceit, Tara has the courage to ask him what difference does it make whether he kills a 'venire' or a 'nari', which when listened to seems like 'vanara-vanari' but was explained by Ratna Roy to be a monkey or a woman. Tara stresses that for a man killing a monkey or a woman is just one and the same thing. Women are thus equated with monkeys, a lesser human beings and was it not just what their social position referred to?

Mandodari, the last Kanya was depicted with relation to Ravana, her husband, in a soft shade. The love scene between Ravana and Mandodari, helped us to add a softer and mellower dimension to Ravana, whom as an abductor, we looked down upon.


Mandodari's unflinching love for her husband is brilliantly captured in this love scene. And even before we are to come out of this effect, we have Ravana prepared to go to war, that he knows to be his last, and Mandodari preparing to send her husband to this final war with the same gusto that she made love to him with. A real Kanya!

The depiction of Panchakanyas concept in this dance form brought all those feelings to be experienced visually that we had till now been with mentally. Draupadi's anguish and her prayer to Krishna during the sabha parva, Mandodari's love scene with Ravana and her sending him to the war were remarkable for their depiction. Tara's accusation and finally accepting Sugriva as her husband, Kunti's strength and Ahalya's penance are what moved all the audience as all these stressed upon those parts that only a sensitive composer and presenter can think of portraying.

An out of the world experience really!


Edited by Vedo - 2011-03-08T21:45:00Z
5 Likes this
Posted: 2011-03-09T00:39:25Z
Awesome thread dear Vedo! Love that article! A bunch of thanks for sharing this with us Hug
1 Likes this
Posted: 2011-03-09T09:29:17Z
Wowww diiii, thank u so much for this information, I just luv the Panch Kanyas for their idealism and the knowledge we gain from them !!Day Dreaming After Sitaji, my favorite is Mandodari, I always felt sooo bad for her because she was such a devoted wife but lost everything in the end.Cry
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Posted: 2011-03-10T04:27:19Z
thanks for sharing it here vedo .. dint know about all of them in detail !
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Posted: 2011-03-10T14:39:07Z
I look upon this as being a disputable topic because according to the Bhagavat Geeta, everyone living in the material world is fallible. And so we do not need to focus on the mistakes that they had made as they are actually worthy of worship. We chant their names so that we may improve ourselves. Every morning, after I take a bath, the Panchakanya mantra is one of the ones that I have to say during prayer, and I look upon these great women from our mythology as true women of substance, as Vedo so perfectly put it.
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Posted: 2011-03-11T15:48:58Z
Thanks a ton for sharing this Vedo, really thought-provoking article indeed Clap Though there is a a bit of unsettling information in it that's expressed rather boldly (e.g. the part about Kunti's request to Pandu before they make use of Durvasa's mantra... whoa Shocked - also some of the Ahilya section, kinda unclear whether the author's conclusions were based on versions of the story that claim Ahilya was a victim versus those that say she knew what was going on), I gave it a little time to get filtered in my head... and it worked LOL Essentially it tells us that these great women all demonstrated the presence of the divine in them by exercising agency rather than letting things happen to them/around them - in one way or the other, they showed their independence and their power to change the course of history without a maternal example to follow. The part about Draupadi I really enjoyed, sometimes I'm guilty of looking at her from a one-dimensional perspective (her thirst for revenge)... but the article brought to light many more aspects of her personality that make her worthy of admiration... so, thank you article Clap And thank you Vedo Hug
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