The Mahabharata is the longest epic in the world literature and is one of the greatest works of Indian literature, which incorporated philosophical, religious, and social basic ideas of the traditional Indian society. This work is very interesting from different point of view and it is so huge and informative that it seems that the entire life will be not enough to fully research this epic, not surprisingly that “what is found here, may be found elsewhere. What is not found here will not be found elsewhere” (Mahabharata).
Nonetheless, despite the variety of subjects and themes for analysis, this paper will be basically focused on the women depicted in the Mahabharata. Notably their actions will be analyse3d in the context of their influence on the family unity for to a certain extent they seem to be undermining traditional Indian moral and social norms and family unity. On the other hand, the actions of women are not ‘revolutionary’ for Indian society and may be treated as a transition from old moral and ethical norms to new ones and at the same time they may symbolize the vices of women that in actuality should be avoided that makes the Mahabharata a very important didactic work.
The impact of actions of women in the Mahabharata on family unity and social norms
On reading the epic, a reader cannot fail to feel the power of the female characters depicted and at the same time for a reader having profound knowledge of Indian culture some actions of some women may seem to be shocking and unacceptable in the traditional Indian society. Moreover, to a certain extent some actions of women in the Mahabharata are quite strange and shocking even for a reader who lacks knowledge about Indian society and Indian cultural and social norms because such actions violates universal moral and ethical basics.
In order to better realize it, it is necessary to recall the story of the ancestors of the Pandavas and Kauravas, notably that of Santanu, the king of Hastinapura, and the beautiful Ganga, the river goddess in disguise, whom he marry on the condition that he never questioned her actions. However, her actions are strange enough and Santanu seems to be a really strong and patient person and loving husband for he did not ask his wife about the explanation of her actions for such a long time. The problem was that Ganaga, bearing seven sons, threw each of them into the river. Quite naturally Santanu could not fail to eventually question his wife the reasons of her actions and Ganga had to reveal her divine origin and told that her children had once been celestial beings, and were cursed to become human. This is why she ‘punished’ them by drowning into the river. On explaining everything to her husband, Ganga left him with their last son Devarata.
Obviously this episode is very dramatic and probably one of the most shocking for traditional Indian society, as well as for many other world cultures. At the same time, it should be pointed out that traditionally Indian society respected a lot numerous gods and goddesses and their actions were rarely severely criticized. Nonetheless what Ganga did could not and still can hardly be done by any human being in Indian society without serious consequences. What is meant here is the bunch of actions that are absolutely unacceptable for Indian society. First of all, Ganga killed her own children that was a very serious crime from both moral and legal point of view. Naturally a mother killing her own children cannot contribute to the family unity and traditionally is rejected if not punished by the society in India as well as in other societies throughout the world.
Furthermore, she left her husband and her last son that is also reprimanded in Indian society. In fact, she ruined her family completely, by firstly killing her children and eventually leaving her husband and her last child. The only thing that can somehow justify her actions is the deal made before the marriage when Snatany agreed not to question her. Nonetheless this argument is too weak to make Ganga’s actions less terrible.
Another female character of the Mahabharata, Amba, seems to be also quite tragic. She is a sister of Bhishma who has chosen a suitor despite the fact that her brother fights off all of them. Bhishma allows her to leave but Amba is eventually abandoned by her husband and returns to Bhishma and asks to marry her. In a way this story is similar to the story of Ganga, though this time the woman is abandoned by her husband, but she is abandoned by Bhishma as well because he refuses to marry her. Probably in such a way the social protest against destruction of family is expressed. In fact, the story of Amba didactically indicates that women have to obey to men, otherwise they will be punished and their life will be ruined. At the same time, it would be a mistake to think that all female characters either ruin or cause the ruin of their families in a way in the Mahabharata. Unlike Ganga and Amba, Gandhari may serve as an example of a woman who is ready to sacrifice herself for the family unity’s sake. In order to be closer to her husband and like her husband, Dhritarashtra who is blind, Gandhari covers her eyes with a blindfold which she will never remove. In such a way she rejoins him in his world of darkness. Such actions of Gandhari seems to be quite strange for their marriage is arranged that implies that probably they did not know and really love one another at the beginning but for the family unity she is ready to make such a sacrifice.
Furthermore, another female character that worth attention in the context of the family unity and social norms is Draupadi, who picks her husband from a number of suitors but in actuality she becomes only a ‘prize’ that is occasionally shared by five brothers for when Arjuna announces about his ‘prize’ his mother, not knowing what the prize is, tells him to share with his brothers. Obviously such a situation may seem to be the consequences of strange circumstances but in actuality it is Draupadi who is really responsible for such a situation, for in the former life, she has prayed to the god Shiva for a husband five times, and thus is ‘rewarded’ for her devotion in this life. Obviously, her life with five brother is absolutely unacceptable to moral principles of Indian society and does not contribute to the family unity since it provokes quarrels and conflicts between brothers. On the other hand, Draupadi is also often humiliated. For instance she has been humiliated during the dice game and she swears that she will be avenged. Frightened by her curses, Dhritarashtra apologizes to her and gives her husbands’ back everything they lost, but Draupadi asks nothing for herself, saying, “Greed devours all beings and is dharma’s ruin. I refuse greed” (Mahabharta). In such a way, Draupadi seems to be the person who is stronger than the brothers and who can keep moral and social norms that makes this character quite controversial since, on the one hand, by her prays for a husband, she provokes conflicts in the family and social prejudice, on the one hand, she remembers about social and moral norms when her husbands, or at least some of them have forgotten about it. Mahabharata essays
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