Friday, March 27, 2015

Leftover Panchali!

I am no follower of any melodramatic, meaningless soap operas where the frail heroine is always the target of an ostentatious villain who has incomprehensible reasons to hate the female protogonist. If anything I enjoy a good laugh from Thateem Muteem, Bing Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men ( Charlie Sheen was way better Ashton Kutcher, Sigh!). They satisfy my nocturnal craving for humour and make my sleepless nights a little less tedious. But the days when my TV keeps running while I cook, clean ( let's say I do all that) or just browse through my phone, I passively watch some episodes of Malayalam tele-serials. One particular scene and a conversation between two characters from the serial  "Ente Pennu" caught my particular interest. Again, NO, I do not watch that series or any soap operas. Goes something like the following,

So I guess the hero, a married man, cohabitated with several women, one of whom marries his best friend to get revenge on him for abandoning her. Don't ask me, I have no clue how that works. Anyway, following this, a remorseful hero cries, stating... " Avan engane avalde koode jeevikyum, endhokke aayalum AVAL ENDE ECHIL ALLAE"??? (and I burst out laughing). The translation is, "how could he live with her. She is like my discarded left over food" ( the word Echil stands more abhorrent and repulsive!!!) So he thinks the girl is despicable and not marriageable because she has slept with him. I take his aversion to polyandry. But I don't see why there are no tears for his own wife who inadvertently lives with a polygamist. I am not sure what this represents -- A patriarchal India or a society which imbibes anything that is fed in the name of tradition.

Anyway this highly entertaining and offensive dialogue from the series (I hardly care about) invigorated me to do some background research. That's how I came up with the title of this post. We base our "right to morally judge" every ant to elephant around us, on our tradition. What better than digging into our own antiquity  and who better than the dusky, astoundingly beautiful princess Draupadi from Mahabharatha to illustrate our history of polyandry. She had 5 husbands and bore a child from each one of them. Needless to say, none of them was a miracle child like many characters from the epic, like Draupadi herself who was born out of fire. There are several tales of ancient women being in multiple sexual relationships mostly to procreate and sustain the bloodline.  I realize that epics like Mahabharatha and Ramayana are believed to be fictional, written to promote "Dharma".  Many believe Puranas are just a pathway to spirituality and every character represents our senses, vices or qualities. For me they do teach us a lot about Dharma which can have several interpretations. But I like to believe that these characters really existed and they were just human beings with hormones and emotions just like any of us.  Even in case these epics aren't real, they still represent the rational of an era which typify our culture. So atleast we can confirm that it wasn't ever a patriarchal society that preceded us.

Draupadi (Panchali) is only one of the many historical women who practiced polyandry. Panchali was doled out among the 5 Pandavas by Kunti who herself bore Karna from Surya , Yudishtira from Yama, Bhima from Vayu and Arjuna from Indra. Draupadi wasn't a compliant, fragile woman who took orders without resentment. During her swayomvara she voiced her reluctance in marrying Karna proving that her diffidence wasn't what kept her from denying to be the wife of five highly competent men. She either wanted it or did not find it unreasonable.I  know there are stories about her regaining her virginity every morning. Come on, its not her earring or a sock that she misplaces one day and finds later. Its her Virginity, more like Time (but not nearly as important) and once its gone, its gone.. like forever!!!. But our protectors and preachers of "Dharma" did not tag Panchali or these other women promiscuous. They fought the war for Panchali's dignity and she is worshipped even today.

Polyandry is believed to have existed in several Indian communities until recently, like among the Todas tribes of Nilgiris, Nairs of Travancore and Ezhavas of Malabar. Polyandrous relationships have traditionally disappeared from India, but it is still practiced by some Indo-Aryan ethnic groups in Northern India. There are stories of decked up women from august, reputed ancestry waiting along the paths of royal commute, to seduce the king and be one of his several wives. I wonder how the moral police would respond to that.

While I am not suggesting that women should sleep around with several men, I believe that virginity is worshipped beyond common sense in our society. A rape victim for no mistake or hers is denigrated for she lost her "Virginity" or for having sexual intercourse with a man she wasn't married to. I happened to come across a news report about a girl in rural India who was married to her rapist because he was the one who plundered her purity.Yeah, exactly the kind of man you want to spend the rest of your life with. Phew!!! Do I need to say more?   A girl who made a poor choice in life, or a widow or a divorcee are all belittled in the name of tradition and culture . Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, men aren't equally chastised for the same. Ten thousand years from now, we could be the epic. Let's live good stories for them. Our stories will be their Dharma and we will all be aptly rewarded for our Karma. What gives us the right to judge each other anyway. Like Jesus said, "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone". 

Again, my point isn't that women or men should have multiple relationships. In my opinion, a sexual relationship with our partner is sacred  and divine, made meaningful only when shared  for love and love is eternal. But no one has the right to flag another woman as his "Echil" or used. It does not make us traditional, but only hypocrites, because many Indian traditional women have a history of polyandry to brag about. we can't even blame the western culture or social media for it. I can assure you that Kunti and Panchali had highly limited facebook access. So our hero from Ente Pennu (or anyone who think like him), let me ask you, according to you, which Pandava is Panchali a left over of ?



Well written. Lucid. Worth pondering over.

non compos mentis said...

Thanks for reading and commenting!