Women of Mahabharata

Mahabharata has been an epic which is often referred to as the story of men as all the male characters have been always kept in the forefront but as much as it is the story of the male characters, the female characters too play an important role in this epic.

The story starts with Ganga the river goddess, Shantanu the king of Hastinapur falls in love with her but she puts forward a condition for their marriage she asks him to never question anything she does and when Shantanu accepts the condition they get married.

Ganga and Shantanu have eight children, she kills the first seven by drowning them in the river and Shantanu does not question her but when she is doing the same with the eighth child Shantanu stops her and questions her as to why was she doing such a cruel thing with their children that is when Ganga reveals it to Shantanu that these 8 children were “ASHTAVASUS” and tells him their story.

The legend was that once the eight vasus, “ASHTAVASUS” visited sage Vashishtha’s hermitage with their wives one of the wives took fancy of sage Vashistha’s wish-bearing cow “Kamdhenu” and asks her husband ‘Prabhasa’ to steal it thus Prabhasa along with his other brothers, the vasus stole Kamdhenu when Vashistha found out he was furious and he cursed all the vasus to be born as humans.

The seven vasus pleaded sage Vashistha and asked him for forgivness and heading to their pleas the sage mitigated the curse and said that the seven of them would be liberated from their human birth as soon as they were born but Prabhasa being the protagonist of this theft would be cursed to endure a longer life in the world of humans.

But Vashistha softened the curse saying he would become one of the most influential men of his time, the most feared warrior, and an illustrious and eminent personality of that particular era.

It was this Prabhasa who was born as Bheeshma, the eighth child who Shantanu had saved from drowning, Ganga took him away with her and promised Shantanu that she will bring him back when she has trained him to become a mighty warrior and prince who is worthy of becoming the king of Hastinapur.

Shantanu then falls in love with Satyavati who again puts forward a condition to marry him she says that she will marry him when he promises her that he will make her children the heir to his throne.

The first generation of Hastinapur has women putting forward their conditions and choosing their husband which in turn shows us liberation, it shows how liberated Ganga and Satyavati are that they marry on their conditions.

Satyavati then gives birth to two sons Chitrangad and Veechetraveerya while Chitrangad dies fighting Gandharvas ,Veechetraveerya is weak who is not only incapable of ruling the kingdom but also unable to participate in a swayamvaar in order to get married. Satyavati asks her stepson Bheeshma to go and participate in the swayamvaar of kashi princesses and bring them so that they can marry Veechetraveerya to them.

Bheeshma abducts all three Kashi princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika but Amba reveals that she loves king Shalya of Madra kingdom and cannot marry the kuru prince and they ask her to leave but when she goes to Madra, king Shalya too rejects her because he believes it was due to her that Bheeshma insulted him and she was abducted by the kuru scion and now she belonged to Bheeshma.

When Amba returns to Hastinapur and asks Bheeshma to marry her, he refuses as he had taken the oath of celibacy and he was not willing to break it. On the other hand Amba’s sisters Ambika and Ambalika get married to Veechetraveerya but he dies soon leaving them widowed with no child, Satyavati is then worried about the future of their clan and asks Bheeshma to impregnate his younger brothers widows so that their lineage could continue but Bheeshma again refuses and that is when Satyavati has to call for her son ved vyaas who was her son from sage parashara , a child before her marriage to Shantanu and she asks vyaas to impregnate her widowed daughter-in-laws.

The second generation of Hastinapur shows a degradation of women by a notch, they have no will of their own and are being abducted and forced to marry men they do not want to, similarly the respect for women have also depleted when we see Bheeshma heartlessly refusing Amba, not even considering the terrible situation she is in and what effect this decision of Bheeshma will have on her life.

The niyog results in Ambika giving birth to a blind Dhrithrashtra and Ambalika giving birth to a weak Pandu, also Ambikas maid gives birth to Vidur a healthy child but being a “Daasiputra” son of a maid he has no right to the throne of Hastinapur.

When it is the turn of Dhrithrashtra and Pandu to get married again a new chain of events begin.

Gandhaari who is the princess of Gandhaar is brought to Hastinapur to get married to Dhrithrashtra the blind prince, when she discovers that her to be husband is blind Gandhaari blindfolds herself. the real reason why she did so has not been specified while some people believe that Gandhaari did so in order to fulfil her “patni-dharma” the wifely duties as she believed that if her husband is blind she should have no right to be better than him and to see the world he cannot see whereas some say that she did so in order to show her inacceptance and wrath over the fact that she had been forced to marry a blind man.on the other hand we have Kunti who choses Pandu as her husband in her swayamvaar but when Pandu goes for a war and returns with his second wife Madri who has been gifted to him in marriage as he had helped the kingdom of madra in war, there is a sense of insecurity in Kunti because she feels maybe her husband married Madri as she was beautiful and he had the right to chose her unlike Kunti who had chosen him.

The third generation of Hastinapur has women being subjected to marriage in a forceful way and the insecurity that is present in their hearts. Gandhaari feels cheated over the fact that her family was destroyed and she was brought all the way from Gandhaar {present day Kandhaar in Afghanistan}.

Kunti on the other hand is insecure over the fact that maybe her husband doesn’t love her as he marries another woman, all this showing that again women are being considered secondary and their is no respect for their choice and emotions.

Then their is the birth of Kauravas and Pandavas while there is not much mentioned about the wives of the Kauravas but records have been found in folk stories that duryodhans wife was Bhanumati who was the princess of Pragyjyotisha kingdom and daughter of king Bhagadatta. Duryodhan had visited her swayamvaar and being smitten by her he could not tolerate it when she passed him while she was being introduced to all the kings and princes who had come to take part in her swayamvaar, infuriated Duryodhan abducted Bhanumati and took her to Hastinapur and when she questioned him why he took her away in this manner Duryodhan replied saying it has always been done in his family his grandfather the patriach of kuru clan Bheeshma had abducted the Kashi princesses for his grandfather Veechetraveerya, also he had brought his mother Gandhaari in a simmilar manner to be married to his father Dhrithrashtra and thus he sees no sin in doing so.

On the other hand when the paandavs and Kunti escape from the vaarnavrat fire they sought refuge in the caves of rakshaas ‘Hidimb’ who is killed by Bheema and then he marries Hidimbas sister Hidimba, technically Hidimba is the first daughter-in-law of the fourth generation of the kuru clan but Kunti never considers her so even though she gets Bheema married to Hidimba because Hidimba was a rakshasi and the marriage was in a way a strong alliance which could prove itself worthy when the need arises and it results in a birth of a son called Ghatotkatch.

When Arjuna wins Draupadis swayamvaar disguised as a brahmin and the five pandavas bring her to their cottage to seek blessings of Kunti, she unknowingly tells them to share her.

When they arrive at the cottage Arjuna says “look maa what we have brought” and to this Kunti replies “whatever this thing is share it amongst all five of you”.

In the fourth generation of the kuru clan womens status have degraded further and now they are being compared to things and this is evident in the way these 3 women Draupadi, Hidimba and Bhanumati are being treated it is as if they have no importance whatsoever and their is no liberation for them for instance Bhanumati is abducted, Hidimba even though she is the first daughter-in-law of the family is wholly neglected and Draupadi she is shared by the five pandava brothers , staked at the game of dice like a thing and subjected to humiliation.

But even after this all these women have a lot of importance and are a part of the change of events that take place in the epic.

as we can see;

Gandhaari- no clear specifications are there in the epic as to why she blindfolded herself but she still was strong enough to influence the decisions of her husband and sons, also during the war she does not bless her son Syyodhan or Duryodhan as we know with “vijaya bhava” the blessing of being victorious as she knows what he has done is wrong, when she feels her sons life is in danger she uses her boon that had been given to her by lord shiva for being a devoted wife , she opens her blindfold for the first time to look at her son so that his entire body can become as strong as metal and finally when she discovers that her all her 100 sons are dead she curses Vasudeva Krishna as she believes it was because of his strategies and cunning that her entire clan has perished and she curses him that 36 years later even the Yadu clan will perish .

Kunti- she was given a boon by sage Durvaasa, it was a mantra which when she would chant she could summon any god to impregnate her and give her a child. when she discovers about her husband Pandus curse she uses this boon to summon lord Dharmaraaj , Lord Vaayu and Lord Indra to give her three sons Yudhisthira, Bheema and Arjuna respectively. even though she was insecure about her husbands love for Madri when he approaches her to share that boon with Madri so that she too could have sons Kunti obliges and shares the boon with Madri who then summons the Ashvini kumaars and gets twin sons Nakula and Sahdeva. when Pandu and Madri die Kunti is left alone to look after all five children and even though she knows that Nakula and Sahdeva are not her own but Madris sons she still raises them as her own and loves them far more than her own sons.

Hidimba-Bheema marries her after killing her brother Hidimba and she bears him a son Ghatotkatch even though she is never accepted by Kunti and is completely neglected by them nor is she given any rights as Bheemas wife even after pandavas establish Indraprastha, she is still contended and during the Kurukshetra war when she is approached for help she sends the entire rakshas army and her only son Ghatotkatch to fight in the war and does not complain even after he dies in the war. also Hidimba promises Kunti during her marriage to Bheema that she and her child will never interfere in their lives nor will they claim their right , this shows supreme sacrifice that Hidimba makes and makes people look upto her character as a worthy and notable woman of the epic.

Bhanumati- she is not much spoken about in the epic, very little is there about her but she was completely loyal to her husband duryodhan who in turn was immensely loyal to her too. Her father Bhagadatta was the king of pragyjyotisha kingdom with the biggest elephant army and some people say that is the reason why Duryodhan married her but his love and loyalty proved all that wrong.

Draupadi- daughter of king Drupad of the mighty Panchaal kingdom though she is married to the five pandava brothers she still makes sure that her conditions are accepted she takes a promise from them on their wedding that their kingdom will always have only one queen and she will be that she would not accept any other wives of their being brought to the kingdom and even after they stake her at the game of dice it is her who is standing with them in every hardship of life that they face , she even accompanies them during their final journey to heaven the “mahaprasthan” thus proving that she was the women who followed all her wifely duties even though she was betrayed.