Panchakanyas

CULTURAL QA 1

Q1 Can you tell about Panchakanyas?

A1 Panchakanya sthothram is as follows in the south:-

ahalyā draupadī sītā tārā mandodarī tathā ।
pañcakanyāḥ smarennityaṃ mahāpātakanāśinīḥ ॥

Translation:-(Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari -One should forever remember the five virgins who are the destroyers of great sins).

Among the feminine icons of Indian tradition, five epic characters stand out prominently. These are Sita, the heroine of the Ramayana and the wife of King Rama of Ayodhya; Draupadi, the heroine of the Mahabharata and the wife of the five Pandava princes; Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, King of Lanka; Ahalya, the wife of the Sage Gautama and Tara, the wife of Bali, the tyrant monkey king.

As inheritors of the Panchkanya concept for centuries, Indian women are unique, to say the least. Like their icons, they have dual personalities. They are bound by the strictest norms of society on the one hand; yet on the other hand, they are left free to use the chinks in the armour of social and traditional laws made by a staunchly male-oriented order. Within the scope of social boundaries, they can still express their personalities and design their own life-graphs. The female icons set up by Indian tradition for women to follow therefore are admirable and confusing at the same time.

Each of these women is described as extraordinarily beautiful and virtuous.. As a matter of fact, tradition says that their character was so strong, that no calamity could diminish their spiritual power or their worshipful places in the hearts of generations of people the world over. In fact, the five women have such a powerful hold over the hearts of millions of Indians that they are called the Panchkanyas (five women) whose very names ensure salvation and freedom from all evil. It is not uncommon for devout Hindus to recite their names each morning in a Shloka(as above) to remind them of the power they symbolised because of their purity of character and spiritual strength.

1. Ahalya is the “epitome of the chaste wife, unjustly accused of adultery”, while her “proverbial loyalty to her husband” makes her venerable.Ahalya is often regarded as the leader of the panchkanyas due to the “nobility of her character, her extraordinary beauty and the fact of her being chronologically the first kanya”.

In the Devi-Bhagavata Purana Ahalya is included in a list of secondary goddesses, who are “auspicious, glorious and much praiseworthy”.Ahalya is the beautiful wife of a Sage Gautama, whom Indra, the chief of the gods, coveted. He cheated her by assuming the persona of her husband and seduced her. Angry beyond reason, Gautama cursed her and turned her into a rock. Upon hearing the truth, he pronounced the Rama, during his banishment in the forest, would touch her with his sacred feet and would bring her back to life. Ahalya, admired by women for her forbearance and ethereal nature is likened to the freshness and active nature of the wind. Though Ahiaya’s seduction was a fraud, she suffered for by being turned into a stone. This story too, applies to modern Indian women. Whoever, falters or is offended in the family – husband or children – she is held accountable and bears the brunt of the misdeeds.

2. Draupadi was the beauty born of fire. Fiery, gorgeous and strong-willed, Draupadi was born out of her father’s prayer for revenge against his enemies. She personified this quality throughout her life. Her burning passion for revenge against the Kauravas, who disrobed her in a full assembly in the presence of her five husbands, caused the epic war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in Kurukshetra. Draupadi’s oath that she would tie her long tresses only with bloodstained hands is symbolic of her personality. Her anguish at being disrobed and humiliated in the Kaurava court led to her curse that any country where women are reduced to such ignominy, would never prosper.

3. Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, was turbulent on the surface yet deep and silent in her spiritual quest. The beautiful Mandodari tolerated the misdeeds of Ravana till his death. Ravana, it is said, abused numerous women. Mandodari was a woman of character, virtue and relentless faith and tried her best to make Ravana mend his ways, though she was unsuccessful till the end. Mandodari’s fate is shared by millions of women. A staunchly male-oriented society overlooks the affairs and illicit liaisons of a husband and expects the wife to love and honour him despite his misdemeanors.

4. Tara, wife of the monkey king Vaali, was also a woman of great virtue. Vali was a tyrant who usurped his brother Sugriva’s kingdom and abducted his wife Ruma. He died a valiant death at the hands of Rama and left Tara to live piously. Tara is associated with space and has the quality of intelligence, compassion and large-heartedness.

There are two other Taras in mythology: Taramati, the wife of king Harishchandra and Tara or Rohini, the consort of the Moon god and mother of the planet Mercury or Budha. The theme of Panchkanyas may include any of these three women, all equally lustrous and virtuous.

All the three Taras show that women were considered the ‘property’ of men in India. They were kidnapped, punished, abandoned, left to live miserable lives as widows and even sold as slaves by powerful men. Women suffer the same humiliations even now largely.

My note- Tara and Rohini are the same? .I have read Rohini as one of the twenty seven daughters given in marriage to moon God by Daksha Prajapathi.

5. Seeta is the harmonious abode of beauty, tenderness of heart, compassion, fidelity, wisdom, courage and endurence.Rama was every thing to her and in his company, she would find svarga.
She was a brave, good and true Rajput woman who could assert in the most forceful way when needed as evidenced by her taunt to Rama when he refused to take her to the forest with him. ” My father thought he got hold of the best man for me and he was a fool. What he had got was a cowardly woman dressed like a man!”

Rama took these words coolly. He said, ” When I described the horrors of the forest, I was not afraid of them. I knew I am confident of protecting you with the required strength, skill and vigilance. I did not know your courage. I will take you there. You be my partner in all that I have to do in the forest.” He continued, ” My family and yours are honoured by you.”

When Seeta thought that Rama was transgressing the rules of propriety in promising protection to the Rishis in the forest, she emphatically protests and says, ” You are transgressing Dharma”. She lists three transgressions of Dharma to which a man is liable- lying, violating the wife of another and lastly adopting force without proper provocation- the last one being the most serious. She questions Rama, ” What business is it of yours”? Rama however does not take her advice with serious consequences.

Seeta was a lady accustomed to speak freely as evidenced by her utterances to Lakshmana when Maricha cried in the voice of Rama. Rama holds Lakshmana responsible for the consequence as he thinks that When Seeta talked absurdity in anger he should not have become angry too. Rama says, ” No blame rests upon Seeta as she was mad and you should not get angry with mad people”.

Seeta’s presence of mind is demonstrated when she saw five monkeys in Pampa and dropped her ornaments tied to her upper garment of silk so that when Rama and Lakshmana came there (by chance) they would get a clue.

Even in distress she could demonstrate her strong mind and she knew what to do as shown in the Ashoka grove – when Ravana gave instructions to his rakshasis. She sustains the torments of Ravana and his rakshasis for almost a year(ten months) continuously till Hanuman came there to bring word about Rama.

Seeta had enormous strength as she herself says addressing Ravana, ” I have so much power in me that if I only care and direct it against you, you would be a mass of ash. But I refrain from doing so as I want to preserve my tapas and I coThat was not nsider that it is Rama’s burden to save me”.

When Rama accuses Seeta of infidelity and tells her that he cannot take her back and that she is free to choose a protector anywhere, she speaks in complete self possession. ” How harsh and cruel are the things you have told me! …. suspect me not…… Do you refer to Ravana touching my body?

That was not of my seeking, nor even of my tolerating. That which I can control, my heart has always been with you. As for my limbs, what could I do when they were overpowered?…………You have let your illtemper run away with your judgement. ……..Lakshmana, build me a pyre……fire is the only remedy for this woe”.

Struck again in the most tender spot when Rama abandoned her to the forest and Lakshmana told her the truth about her banishment, she collected her thoughts as a brave woman, without forgetting her dignity, and tells him………” take a careful note of my body. It bears obvious signs of pregnancy”..She courageously brings up her two sons Lava and Kusha with the help of the Rishi.

When Valmiki brings her to the court of Rama along with the two sons, Rama asks for a oath of purity before he takes her back. She declares, ” ……This earth is not for me, nor this husband, nor these subjects whom no proof can ever convince”. She then prays to her mother earth to allow her to go back to her place of origin. The earth opens up with a throne and her mother accompanies her into herself. Her pitiless husband had to remain dazed.

In spite of this, the Panchkanya theme has inspired Indian women for ages. Most Indian women believe that they tolerate and accept the worst kind of injustice like Sita and remain steadfast in their duty and devotion to their husbands and families. Yet, surprisingly, like Draupadi, they also hide storms of anguish, anger and revenge in their hearts. They believe that the curse of a virtuous, strong woman can ruin the most powerful of men. Like Mandodari, they live a life of duality, with the turbulence of varied experiences on the surface and a deep, silent core in their souls, where wisdom originates. Like Mandodari, they have an inherent gift of distinguishing between right and wrong. In a crisis, they know how to insist on doing what they consider right. Like Ahalya, they have a dormant power buried deep down in their psyches. They have the strength to move like the wind and the compassion to forgive wrongs done to them. Like Tara, they seek a special lustre of their own. They seek a sacred place – which is their right.

Q2 What is the variation in the Panchakanya names in the North India?

A2 The Panchakanya as defined in the Northern India includesAhalya, Draupadi, KUNTI, Tara and Mandodari, who had conjugal relations with more than one person, due the the quirks of fate, including existing custom.

For example Arjuna won Draupadi, but the ancient law books did not allow one to marry till the elders brothers married. So Draupadi’s first husband was Yudhisthira, the second was Bhima, the third was Arjuna, who won her, then Nakul and Sahadev were successively the husband of Draupadi, yet she was pure in mind, she was faithful to her husbands and she had one son each form each of the persons she married.

Ahalya was trickily taken to and extra-marital relations by Indra.

Mandodari had to marry Bibhishana, when he became the king of Lanka, as per the rules of Shri Lankan society in those times.

Kunti though married to Pandu, she gave birth to the children of Dharmaraja, Vayudeva and Indra.

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