Random Thoughts

Hindu Myths Analyzed

Continued from "My Analysis of Hindu Myths"   

At the time that Hindu myths were conceived, there were no printing presses and limited or no writing. Thus there was little hope of the author gaining fame or fortune. It is possible that the author could acquire a local reputation and possibly some sexual conquests, but in the primitive societies with concentration of power, the only reward was what flattery of the power elite could bring. Hence Vyasa wrote the Mahabharata. By the way he was the love child of Parashar, a rishi and Matsyagandha, a fisher-girl and by Hindu laws that made him a Brahmin like his father, just as despite myriad efforts and infinite penance Vishwamitra (competing with Vasishtha –a brahma-rishi), a kshatriya by birth remained addressed as a raja-rishi. Similarly, Valmiki wrote the Ramayana and Firdowsi the Shahnameh

John Pilger in his article “Flying the flag, faking the news” quotes Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Freud and author of the book “Propaganda”, which he called “Public Relations” and I call brainwashing. “Intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses was an important element in a (democratic) society” and that the manipulators “constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country”. That is why the US under Truman used communism as a red pennant to fool the US public to build up the military industrial complex and Bush Sr. Continued massive defense spending even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union till he found Saddam as his bete noire. Bush Jr. Used Islamist terrorism to take away the rights of US citizens, trash the Constitution and enrich military contractors like Haliburton and Blackwater. The Republican first hijacked the Congress using the fear of Democratic support for civil rights, welfare, abortion and gay rights and after losing the house and senate after the economic meltdown are getting ready to fool the idiotic American public again by morphing into their new avatar of the Tea Party. (Read “What’s the matter with Kansas”).

Some of those criticizing me without understanding, cannot define Hinduism, pick on some omitted words that add no substance or meaning. I am open to criticism, arguments and facts but they must not be confuse name calling with reasoned debate. They probably could start a new pro Hindu Society, like some black people starting African Americans for Slavery or native Americans starting American Indians for Pilgrims. 

The main purposes of the Hindu myths apart from informing and entertaining were to influence human behavior to generate an ordered society by sanctioned ethical behavior and consolidate the power of the elite. Ever since the evolution of Homo Sapiens and the enormous paternal investment needed to rear a human child (ranging from protecting and maintaining a pregnant female in her third trimester, looking after a helpless infant and child), males live in morbid fear of being cuckolded and all civilizations have tried to control female sexuality. The means used range from purdah, abaya, harems, chastity belts, female circumcision, husband worship. Even after the death of the husband, the woman is still not free. Below are a few examples of how the myths and stories, condemn, praise and modify female behavior.

There was a Brahmin who was religious and knowledgeable. He was doing his puja (worship) under the shade of a tree when a sparrow on an overhead branch defecated and it fell into his hands held together containing the holy water that the worshiper was on the verge of offering to the deities. He became angry and looked at the sparrow which was immediately burnt and vaporized by the gaze of his anger.

He then finished his worship and went to town to beg for his dinner. He asked for alms at the house of a householder and was answered by the lady of the house who asked him to wait for a while. A lot of time passed as he waited for the lady and his anger increased so much that he glowed red. He was again ready to curse and immolate the woman for what he perceived as discourteous behavior.

At that time the lady stepped out of the door with the food and saw his angry face and burst into laughter. She quipped, “I am not a sparrow and I was attending to my husband’s dinner. That dharma of mine trumps all other dharmas and duties and I am thus immune to your curses and power. The moral of the myth is that a woman’s first duty is to her husband’s care and comfort. 

Any offense or transgression committed against a husband even unknowingly and without intention is beyond redemption and forgiveness. Ahalya, the wife of Gautama was extremely beautiful and much desired by Indra, the chief of the gods. Indra with his Protean powers like Zeus (the rape of Europa, Io, Callisto and the boy Ganymede– an equal opportunity seducer) changed his appearance to that of Gautama and slept with Ahalya. That is why Ahalya is considered as pure and one of the five virgins (Tara, Kunti, Mandodari, Draupadi, Ahalya). Go figure that and Mary, the Virgin mother of Jesus, too! By the way Ahalya literally means one without a hal or plough (hence untilled). Her so called innocence did not help Ahalya and Gautama turned her into a stone. She was redeemed by the touch of Rama’s foot, eons later. Sita, which literally means a furrow (in the earth) had no such luck and had to seek her final rest in her mother’s furrow or return to her womb. For imagined and unforgiven transgressions in spite of exoneration by fire.

Sati was the daughter of Daksha, who hated his son-in-law Shiva’s taste in dress and make-up and did not invite them to his annual barbecue (yagna). Sati, a woman without guile, took no offense and went to the festival by herself because it was her father’s house, despite her husband’s warning and wish. Daksha refused to make any offering to Shiva in the sacrificial fire despite Sati’s request and demand. Unable to tolerate such an insult and injustice to her husband, she jumped into the fire as a sacrifice to her husband Mahadeva. Hence the custom of the self immolation of widows in India, which was forcibly stopped by the East India Company Viceroy William Bentinck. 

Men are not discouraged from fulfilling their sexual escapades by Gandharva Vivaha (marriage for sex). There is a currently prevalent legal agreement called sigeh in Iran (sigeh - a Shiite tradition of temporary marriage permitted in Iran that allows a couple to specify the terms of their relationship; can last from a few minutes to 99 years; "sigeh legally wraps premarital sex in an Islamic cloak" ). If the female makes such a suggestion she could be stoned to death as in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria etc. or have her nose and ears cut offlike the Afghan girl or Ravana’s sister, Surpankha, in the Ramayana. With the permission of the husbands, an elaborate ritualistic charade allowed Draupadi to have a precise timetable and roster for her husbands. A transgression by Arjuna (who had the habit of leaving his arms (Gandiva) in her bedroom) to retrieve his bow led to a punishment of one year’s banishment. This is like lions, tigers and deer marking territories by urine or periorbital secretions and not to be confused with defecating nonsense at websites under the guise of interactive comments. 

Those women who stray from the prescribed path because of immaturity of youth, intoxication of power or other causes, pay a price that brings us to the Devayani story. The gods and demons are constantly battling one another and the gods win and kill the demons but the guru of the demons, Shukracharya has the Sanjivani Vidya. He can resurrect the dead like Jesus or Krishna. The Devas go to their guru Brihaspati (from Sanskrit guru-grave-gravid-gravity-gravitas) and ask for help. He then asks his bright and handsome son Kacha to go to Shukracharya and learn Sanjivani. It is like the KGB sending Anna Chapman to America to join the CIA. The US found out and sent her right back. But Shukracharya and Brihaspati were both Brahmins and their allegiance to their Brahmin origins trumped their allegiance to Danavas and Devas. It is like the matrimonial ads in The Times of India by Pakistanis advertising for Indian Muslim spouses or Yorkshire born Pakistani Muslims bombing the London subways to avenge the Israeli occupation of Palestine or the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, because their primary allegiance is to Islam and not their nation state.  

Continued to The Geniuses Behind The Myths


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

Top | Random Thoughts

Views: 3473      Comments: 2

Comment Pradip, thanks for the comments. There are versions where Ahalya did so unknowingly but the very meaning of the name Ahalya meaning one who has not been ploughed suggests that she succumbed to her unfulfilled desire. No wonder Moses saw god as a burning bush that was not consumed. He like Bush jr. probably had dyslexia and he used the word consumed instead of consummated. You are correct that Vasishtha eventually addressed Vishwamitra as brahmarishi but the story emphasizes even more, the desire for an exalted brahmin status and is psychologically similar to physics envy of social scientists and economists and Freudian (fraudulent) penile envy attributed to women.
Sati was just sacrificing herself to preserve the status of her husband and thus not responsible for the custom of Sati but there was always the worry of the deprived libido of a widow of a warrior leading to miscegenation and societal deterioration as in the classic verse of the Gita by Arjuna where he voices the war widows sexual desires resulting in the "crime of varnasankara". Krishna's signing Bhima to break the rules of mace battle in the presence of its expert Balarama, his brother, lends some ammunition to Wendy Doniger's criticism of Krishna. In that sense Arjuna's hesitation at the beginning is the first case of a documented conscientious objector.
Draupadi's polyandry was official and above board with a schedule of a month with one husband and then waiting for her to menstruate before the tenancy of the next husband for another month. My ridicule was at naming her and Ahalya as honorable Panchkanyas and hence my potshot at Virgin Mary.
Anyway the theme of my articles is that the Hindu myths were meant to educate the masses, guide their behavior towards a more ethical channel and consolidate the primacy of the power elite Brahmins, using the evolution based weakness of the human mind for narratives and stories. The alternative of preaching and even practice, by monuments at the four corners of his empire by Ashoka and even the renunciation of the throne by his son, the crown prince for a Buddhist priesthood, was not effective.
Earlier I faced the rabid criticism of my effort in the interactive comments by less informed zealots of the Hindutva brigade. Later in this series I am going to compare the Kacha-Devayani-Sharmishtha-Yayaati (son of Nahusha)-Puru myth to Iphigenia-Agamemnon-Cassandra--Clytemnestra-Orestes and the cannibalism of the House of Atreus and reprieve from the Furies in a "narova kunjerova" fashion. One has to stretch and distort far and wide to come to a moral in the three great Greek tragedies with the single exception of Antigone in Oedipus. There is none in Medea or the House of Atreus.--gaurang bhatt

gaurang bhatt
08-Sep-2010 09:34 AM

Comment Ahalya knowingly lay down with Indra (the text says this clearly) because she was full of eagerness to know what it was like with the king of gods, having only had her old ascetic spouse so far. She tells Indra that she is satisfied and begs him to protect himself and her--which he fails to do. The turning into stone does not occur in Valmiki, but is added in the Puranas and the Kathasaritsagara.
Sati does not immolate herself with her dead husband--so she is not the paradigm of widow-suicide. The first person we know to do this is Madri who insists on being burnt on Pandu's funeral pyre, and later Gandhari dies in a forest fire with Dhritarashtra and Kunti. Bentinck would not have taken the step to ban this had he not been pushed by Rammohun Roy and Vidyasagar.
Vishvamitra was ultimately hailed as "Brahmarshi" by Vashishtha himself--that is how his relentless campaign finally ended.
Kacha's case is not unique. Drona tutors Dhrishtadyumna despite knowing that he has been produced from a black-magic ("abhichara") rite to kill him.
Draupadi's case is hardly a "sexual escapade". It is a properly performed marriage by Dhaumya, the family priest of the Pandavas. It is Dushyanta's case which is more of an escapade (a gandharva marriage--like a one-night stand--with no priest, no guardians present), as he disowns Shakuntala until an announcement from the heavens forces his hand. Surya rapes adolescent Kunti (the description is quite clear about this). Ambika and Ambalika, though repelled by Vyasa's body odour and looks, are forced to have intercourse with him by their mother-in-law, just as Pandu pressurises Kunti into sexual relations with 3 separate "gods" to get sons. She refuses the fourth time as such a woman is called a "ganika" and "bandhaki" (prostitute), and actually already has had a 4th son (Karna).
Arti Dhand's "Woman as fire, woman as sage" (SUNY press) is an excellent study of female behaviour in the context of Mahabharata myths, as is "Stri" (Harvard) by Kevin McGrath. Most comprehensive is Wendy Doniger's quartet, "The Implied Spider", "Splitting the Difference", "The Bedtrick" and "The woman who pretended to be herself" (Chicago).

Pradip Bhattacharya
08-Sep-2010 02:24 AM

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