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Mythology has always been an integral part of the Hindu Culture and therefore, an integral part of India. Often, in our country, mythology gets the elevated status of history, or religion, rather than folklore. Hindu mythology, with its rich mystical stories, tells the tale of many enigmatic characters, including many strong women. Today, in the 21st century, when 20 million girls are still uneducated in India, fighting for equal rights, and struggling with safety, we present this article as a reminder of the inherent strength and brilliance of the women from Hindu mythology.
Devi Durga: Infinite Strength
Goddess Durga is worshiped by Hindus around the world as the incarnation of Parvati or Adishakti (The Supreme Power). Durga is worshipped as the destroyer of evil. She has many avatars, and tales related to each, that are popular across India.
According to one of them, she was manifested from the anger and power of the Tridevas – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva (and a few other smaller Gods), when they could not defeat Mahishasura, the Buffalo Demon.
Each of the Lords blessed Durga with their personal divine weapons. Lord Vishnu gave Durga the Sudarshan Chakra, Lord Shiva his Trident or Trishula, Lord Indra gave his Bajra and so on.
When Mahishasura came to know about her, he was smitten with the stories of her divine beauty and sent his minions to ask her hand in marriage. The Goddess posed a stiff challenge to her suitor – to win her hand in a duel, against herself. Mahishasura, understandably, found it very amusing that a woman had the audacity to take on his powers. He sent army after army, and Durga single-handedly defeated each one of them. , An epic battle ensued when Mahishasura finally came to meet her in person, in which he was defeated and killed by the Goddess.
Durga is believed to be the eternal source of Strength and is worshiped as the Protector of all Beings.
Maa Kali: Absolute Wrath
Kali is the darker alter-ego of Durga. She is dark and daring, dressed only in tiger skin and human skulls. Her name comes from the sanskrit word Kala, which means both time and dark, an apt name for the dark Goddess who is the Creator and Destroyer of Time.
The myth goes that, Goddess Parvati took the form of Kali to battle with a demon named Raktabeej. Raktabeej had a unique ability of creating his clones from each drop of his blood that hit the earth. Kali, eventually, figured it out and devoured every drop of blood from Raktabeej as she beheaded him before they could reach the earth.
Kali is the personification of Parvati’s wrath and therefore just the opposite of the otherwise calm goddess.
Shiva figured the only way to control Kali’s wrath at the end of the battle. He lay on her path and when Kali stepped on Shiva, she was deeply embarrassed to have stepped on her consort and the Great Lord Himself. This is why her idol is seen biting her tongue in embarrassment.
Kali is the embodiment of an enraged woman’s destructive power. She is feared and revered in equal measure among Hindus.
Draupadi: Grace Personified
Draupadi, best known as the rebel wife of the Pandavas in Mahabharata, the accidental daughter of King Drupad, was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time.
Panchal king Drupad vehemently desired a son, who could help him avenge his ‘old friend turned enemy‘, Guru Dronacharya. Prince Dhristadumnya was born from the fire of the yagya organized by the king. However, all the energy of the yagya seethed over and gifted Drupad a daughter as well. Once she became marriageable, Drupad arranged a Swayamvar for her, an event in which Draupadi had the liberty to choose her life partner. The contest was rigged to ensure that only the greatest archer of the world may win the contest. The Pandava prince, Arjun, won the contest and Draupadi’s hand in marriage.
Later, a horrendous misunderstanding between mother Kunti and the 5 Pandavas, forced Draupadi to marry all the five brothers. The polyandry was both humiliating and disturbing for Draupadi, who had loved Arjun dearly. But, she lived the unusual arrangement with significant grace.
The extent of Draupadi’s humiliation was not contained herein. The eldest Pandava bets his wife as a pawn in a game of Pasha against the Kaurava prince, Duryodhana.
Draupadi was dragged cruelly by Dushshana to the King’s court. Despite Draupadi’s heart-wrenching appeal to all her senior in-laws present in court, Duryodhana ordered her to be publicly disrobed. None of her husbands or in-laws could defend Draupadi’s honor in that disgraceful hour.
Draupadi sought resort in her friend and guide, Lord Krishna, who despite his absence in the court, kept robing her continually as Dusshana attempted to disgrace Draupadi. Not for a moment did Draupadi lose her pride, despite the utter atrocity of the situation. She swore revenge and stood tall beside her 5 husbands, as they won the battle of Kurukshetra against the Kauravas. The rest is history.
Arundhati: Unswaying Devotion
Arundhati was the wife of Maharishi Vashishtha, who is one among the famous Saptarshis depicted in the Saptarshi Mandal constellation (also known as Ursa major).
Arundhati was famous for her devotion for her husband Vashishtha. It is said that Agni Deva (The Fire God) lusted for the wives of the 7 Maharshis and knowing this, his wife Svaha took the form of each woman and made love to him. Such was the power of Arundhati’s devotion to her husband, that, Svaha’s magic fell short and she could not even take Arundhati’s disguise while making love to Agni.
She is the only one of the 7 Maharishi wives who finds a place of honor in the Saptarishi Constellation, depicted as a star next to her husband ( they are known as the stars Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major constellation).
In the Hindu marriage ceremony, the bride and the groom are shown the Arundhati star which reflects the unbreakable bond of the married couple.
Also read:5 pieces of trivia about Durga Puja even Bengalis might not have known
Savitri: Death-defying Love
The story of Savitri is considered one of the legendary love stories in Indian mythology.
Savitri was the daughter of the powerful king Asvapati of Madra kingdom. She was famous for being very beautiful and pure. However, she declined all marriage proposals and requested her father to allow her to search for her husband herself. The king could not decline the earnest request of his only child and Savitri went searching for her suitable match.
While searching in different kingdoms, Savitri came in contact with a small family living in the forest. Upon inquiry, she came to know that it was the family of King Dyumatsena, who had lost his kingdom and sight and was living with his wife and the young prince in the forest. Savitri felt strangely drawn towards the kindness and generosity of the young prince, Satyavan, and knew that her search has ended.
King Asvapati was heavily disheartened upon hearing that Savitri had chosen a penniless prince. However, Savitri was still determined to marry only Satyavan and at long last the King consented.
After marriage, Savitri left his father’s kingdom and came to live with her in-laws in the forest hut. They lived a happy married life for a year. One day, Satyavan and Savitri were collecting wood in the forest, when suddenly Satyavan felt very tired and fell asleep on Savitri’s lap. Suddenly Yama came to collect Satyavan’s soul.
Savitri was not ready to leave her husband and started following Yama. Yama tried to persuade her to stop the chase but was unable to dissuade the strong-willed Savitri. Impressed by her determination, Yama offered her a boon. Savitri could ask anything from Him, except Satyavan’s life.
Savitri asked for a hundred sons and Yama granted her the same without realising her true intention.
Yama was thus trapped to concede Satyavan’s life. Seeing her love and devotion towards her husband, Yama gave her two more boons – her father-in-law got both his eyesight and the kingdom back. Savitri returned with her husband and lived happily with her family thereafter.
Also read:The Making of a Goddess: Kumartuli Tales
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