Key words- epic, other, consequences, cannon fodder, civilized, desexualize, assertive, seduction, philandering.
The popular epic like the Mahabharata gives an insight into the values and ethos of the society. The portrayal of Rakashasi princess Hidimba and Naga princess Ulupi in the epic gives an indication that how the ‘other’ women are perceived by the authors/interpolators of the Mahabharata. While all the attempts are made to desexualize ‘our’ women like Draupadi and Kunti, the ‘other’ women are being portrayed as seductress of the Aryan men.
Hidimba, infatuated by Bhima betrays her brother and becomes a cause of his (Hidimb) death. Ulupi, tormented by desire for Arjuna, do not hesitate to tell lies. No wonder that the authors of the Mahabharata make them to face the consequences of their deeds and leave both the Aryan heroes scot free. Hidimba and Ulupi both are left alone to bring up their respective child born out of their union with the Mahabharata heroes, but again the benefit goes to the male Aryan heroes. They do not take any responsibility for the child but claims right to his service and have no hesitation in using them as cannon fodder in the war.
The epical attitude is not a thing of the past, but similar attitude continues to shape our behavior even today, one has to just remind ourselves about the treatment given to the girls from the North East by the ‘civilized’ citizens of the national capital because they are perceived as ‘other’ women.
The proposed paper is an attempt of understanding the perception of the authors/interpolators of the Mahabharata towards ‘other’ women. Probably they are perceived as a soft and suitable target to satisfy the baser instinct of the men and more ‘honorable’ role is reserved for ‘our’ women.
Epics plays an important role in shaping attitude and value of the people. The Mahabharata, earlier known as Jaya with eight thousand verses, was enlarged to be Bharata with twenty four thousand verses and finally emerged as The Mahabharata with nearly one lakh verses. Though the historicity of the events narrated in the Mahabharata is questionable, as a popular literature it is a reservoir of the values and ethos of the Indian society, its inspirations and conflicts.
One of the interesting areas of study in indology Aryan and Non-Aryan interaction. In the Mahabharata we come across many references to the people, who could be termed as Non-Aryans in the racial and cultural-linguistic sense1.
One of the natural way of acculturation is marriage or co-habitation between the males and females of different cultural traditions. There are many incidents of this kind of alliances in the Mahabharata. However, the man and women relation across the culture is always a tricky issue.
Confusion about handling sexuality of women- Sexual relation is a very important component of man-women relations. As men had been traditionally dominating, in sexual relations also, the rules of the games are in favor of men. Man wants to possess the body of women and makes varies attempts to confine her to monogamy. Any assertion of sexual desire by women is also considered as a challenge to man’s libido. It is taken as an indicator that man is not in a position to keep women sexually subdued. Similarly if a woman have more than one sexual partner, it will be uncertain whose child a women is carrying in her womb. This will also hurt the ego of men! As a result, patriarchal society put various restrictions on women and makes various attempts to desexualize them with the intention of minimizing the possibility of sexual transgressions on the parts of the women. But this also limits the sexual freedom of heterosexual men, as they cannot put their wild promiscuous fantasy into practice in the absence of women. Probably we all have a polygamist tendencies, but our social conditioning tries to control these primitive instincts.
However, patriarchy gives some space to men, where they can satisfy their promiscuous tendencies. This unsatisfied fantasy of men for multiple sexual partners gets reflected in the popular literature like the Mahabharata. However women are mostly borrowed from the other community. Because our own women are not allowed to have their own sexual desires! After all how can they? Any assertion of sexuality from our women is considered a proof of sexual incompitability of men! As the authors/interpolators of the Mahabharata were men, the portrayal of image of women in the epics are projection of men’s mind.
Desexualizing our own women and portraying other women as practicing unrestrained sexual relation had benefitted men as they can have best of both the words. They have a cowed down, docile women often referred as ‘as poor as cow’, (gayki tarha garib) in their house, who will remain faithful, take care of house and children and inculcate good values in them. Man on the other hand can go out, have a tempestuous sexual encounter with ‘other’ women, who is not able to control her infatuation. It is fine so long he does not bring her home! And who is to be blame for this, of course the ‘other’ women. Our ‘the Aryan’ heroes are otherwise faithful, it is the ‘other’ women who seduces them! The attitude of shifting the blame on the ‘other’ women is reflected in the Mahabharata, through the writing of Vyasa and interpolators of the Mahabharata.
Hidimba, the Rakshasi princess- Hidimba makes her entry in the ‘Adiparva’, the first book of the Mahabharata. She belongs to the tribe who were termed as ‘Rakashasas’. The tribe was probably cannibal and was despised by the Aryans. She was sent by her brother Hidimb to kill the Pandavas and their mother Kunti who were moving from place to place in the forest. His intention was to eat the flesh of the Pandavas and their mother. Hidimba came to the place where four of the Pandavas i.e. Yudhisthir, Arjuna, Nakula , Sahadeva and their mother Kunti were sleeping and they were being watched over by mighty Bhima, the second Pandava prince.
Instead of killing them and enjoying their flesh as Rakashasas are supposed to, she is infatuated by the strong and handsome Bhima. Here she is being portrayed as someone being disloyal to her own brother.
The poet describe her feeling in monologue,
“This person (i.e. Bhima) is worthy of being my husband, I shall not obey the cruel mandate of my brother. A women’s love for her husband is stronger than her affection for her brother. If I slay him, my brother’s gratification as well as mine will only be momentary. But if I slay him not, I can enjoy with him forever and ever” (Adi Parva, Section CLIV)2
Seduction of Bhima- Hidimba assumes an appearance of a beautiful young girl, as Rakashasas are supposed to know the art of assuming different forms. The poet describe her beauty as,
“Her head decked with garland of flowers and her face like the full moon and her eyebrows and nose and eyes and ringlets all of the handsomest description, and her nails and complexion of the most delicate hue, and herself wearing every kind of ornament and attired in fine transparent robes”( Adi Parva, Section CLV)
She cautions Bhima of impending danger from her brother and proposes him,
“I would have none else for my husband save thee!--- My heart as well as my body hath been pierced by Kama (Cupid). O, as I am desirous of obtaining thee, make me thine’ ( Adi Parva ,Section CLIV)
She also gives an assurance that she will protect him from the flesh eating Rakashasas and tries to seduce him by offering other allurement.
“O sinless one, be thou my husband. We shall then live on the breasts of mountains inaccessible to ordinary mortals. I can range the air and I do so at pleasure. Though mayest enjoy great felicity with me in those regions” ( Adi Parva Section CLIV)
In contrast to Hidimba, who is willing to betray her own brother for the sake of her carnal desire, Bhima is being portrayed as someone who is loyal and dedicated to his brothers and mother as he replies,
“O Rakshasa women, who can like a muni3 having all his passion under control, abandon his sleeping mother and elder and younger brothers? What man like me would go to gratify his lust, leaving his sleeping mother and brother as food for a Rakashasa?”( Adi Parva Section CLIV)
To please Bhima, Hidimba is even willing to rescue all of them as she says,
“I shall certainly rescue you all from my cannibal brother” ( Adi Parva Section CLIV)
Bhima, though dutiful towards his brothers and mother seems to have been charmed by the approach of the young women in the lonely forest as is natural for a young man. He seems to have noticed her feminine beauty as is obvious in his address to her. In the dialogue that follows, he addresses her as being amiable, of delicate shape, of fair hip, of handsome eyes and of slender waist. He also boasts about his physical power, as young man generally tries to impress a young girl that he fancy,
“O though of fair hips, fear not anything………..O beautiful one, thou shalt today behold my prowess like unto that of Indra. O though of fair hips, hate me not thinking that I am a man” ( Adi Parva, Section CLV)
While addressing her in the same dialogue, Bhima uses the adjective “fair Hip” twice. This is indicative of the infatuation on Bhima’s side as well. Reference to hips is obviously having sexual connotation.
The dialogue between the two becomes almost similar to romantic drama, as Hidimba says,
“O tiger among men, o though of the beauty of the celestial, I do not certainly hold thee in contempt” ( Adi Parva ,Section CLV)
Killing of Rakashasa Hidimb- When the Rakashasa Hidimb saw that his sister is soliciting man, he became indigent and accuses her of sacrificing the good name and honour of all the Rakshasas. He rushes to kill Hidimba but is stopped by Bhima who now assumes the role of the protector of the damsel in distress. He even justifies her carnal desire. Addressing Hidimb, Bhima says,
“This girl is scarcely responsible for her act in desiring intercourse with me. She hath, in this been moved by the deity of desire that pervadeth every living form. ……thy sister came here at thy command. Beholding my person, she desireth me. In that the timid girl doth no injury to thee. It is the deity of desire that hath offended. It behoveth thee not to injure thee for this offence. O wicked wretch, though shalt not slay a women when I am here” ( Adi Parva, Section CLV)
What follows is a dialogue between two, at the end of which a dual is fought and finally the Rakashasa Hidimb was killed by Bhima.
There is no intervention from Hidimba to stop the fighting between her brother and Bhima, neither she makes any attempt to save her brother when he was killed by Bhima.
After this, Hidimba follows the Pandavas and their mother Kunti. Bhima here now shows anger and is ready to kill Hidimba. This was in contrast to the tenderness that he had shown for her few hours back. Either he was very excited or out of control after his fight with the demon or it was a show off to prove his loyalty to his mother and brothers. However he was stopped by Yudhishithir in his attempt.
Assertion of carnal desire by Hidimba- Here the portrayal of Hidimba, is in contrast to the Aryan damsels, who are supposed to be shy and not to assert their sexuality. Hidimba is portrayed as asserting her sexuality not only to Bhima but also later to Kunti (Bhma’s mother) as well. She addresses Kunti,
“Though knowest the pangs that women are made to feel at the hands of deity of love…., these pangs, of which Bhimsena hath been the cause, are torturing me…….unite me with this thy son” ( Adi Parva, Section CLVII)
She also gives assurance of the safety and security of not only Bhima but also promises to help the whole family in distress. She entertain Kunti by all her means and says,
“O, be gracious unto me and make Bhima accept me” ( Adi Parva, Section CLVII)
Kunti was aware of her precarious position. She was fugitive along with her children escaping from the assassination bid and was badly in need of shelter and comfort. She approved of the alliance of Bhima and Hidimba.
After getting approval from Yudhishtithira, Bhima and Hidimba leaves for the deep forest with the condition that she will bring back Bhima everyday at nightfall. There is no mention of any marriage ceremony. So probably it was a mutually agreed cohabitation. Here the usual precedent of elder brother marrying before the younger one is also done away with. Bhima makes it a precondition that he will only stay with her till the time a son is born to her. After this the poet describe the romance between Bhima and Hidimba in a very beautiful words,
“On mountain peaks of picturesque scenery and region sacred to the Gods, abounding with dappled herd and echoing with the melodies of feathered tribes, herself assuming the handsomest form decked with every ornament and pouring forth at times mellifluous strains. Hidimva sported with the Pandava and studied to make him happy.”(Adi Parva, Section CLVII)
A son was born to them whose head was bald like a Ghata (water-pot) and he was named Ghatotkacha (the pot-headed). Away from the restrictive gaze of the Aryan society and living in seclusion as the people have taken the Pandavas and their mother as dead, they had no inhibition in mixing freely with the Rakashasi Hidimba and her son. As the poet writes,
“Ghatotkacha who was exceedingly devoted to the Pandavas, became a great favorite with them, indeed almost one of them” (Adi Parva Section-CLVII).
After this Hidimba leaves the Pandavas abruptly, without any regret for separation. Here the treatment given to her by the poet is rather inhuman. She was dismissed without any regret,
“Then Hidimva, knowing that the period of her stay (with her husband) had come to an end, saluted the Pandavas and making a new appointment with them went away whithersoever she liked.” (Adi Parva Section-CLVII).
She is portrayed as without any attachment. She do not express her desire of spending her life with the husband as expected of a faithful women. She makes an exit without any remorse. There is only one aspect of her personality that is made known to the readers of the Mahabharata i.e. sexual assertion. As epics plays an important role in shaping the attitude, one can imagine the effect this kind of portrayal will have on the young impressionable minds. No wonder that the ‘other’ women are considered as sex objects.
Ghatotkacha also departs after making a promise that he would come when wanted on business.
Though Kunti and the Pandavas were helped by Hidimba, they probably realized that if they stay there for a longer period, they are doomed to the life of seclusion and will be deprived of their rightful share in the kingdom. They decided to leave Hidimba and went ahead. Probably Kunti and other Pandavas were feeling apprehensive that if Bhima grows too fond of Hidimba, he may choose to stay permanently there. There was also a possibility of a loss of face if the Aryan world came to know that the Aryan prince Bhima had married a Non-Aryan Rakashasi girl and she is a first daughter-in-law of the Pandu’s family or even in the whole younger generation of the Kuru princes, as Duryodhana was yet to be married at that time. So there was a possibility of Kunti and the Pandavas being accused of spoiling the name and reputation of the whole Kuru linage. So probably Kunti pulled Bhima out of the domestic bliss and went ahead along with her sons to another place.
Portrayal of Hidimba in the Mahabharata- In the union between Bhima and Hidimba, Hidimba takes initiative and Bhima reluctantly aggress after his elder brother orders him to do so. The portrayal of an Aryan prince and a Rakashi princess also highlights the contrast in which the Aryans and the Rakashasas are perceived. Bhima is shown as devoted to his family and for them he is even willing to kill a woman who had given her heart to him. In contrast Hidimba not only conspired against her own brother but also marries a person who kills him. She is being portrayed as someone who is lusty and devoid of affection for her brother. It has a negative and a positive aspect both. Negative is obvious that by conspiring against her own brother she had brought his ruin. She could not control her infatuation for Bhima! But this fact itself brings out her individual identity. She asserts herself and does not blindly supports whatever her brother does. She is open and comfortable about her carnal desires and asserts it. As she decides that instead of killing and eating such a strong and handsome man like Bhima, why not to have him as her husband?
Why Hidimba was forgotten?-After the Pandavas departure from the forest Hidimba is forgotten forever. One thing about which the Mahabharata is silent is that why the Pandavas did not go to Hidimba during their period of exile after losing the game of dice? Was Hidimba very violent that she could not tolerate Drupadi and the Pandavas decided not to take the risk or could it be fiery Draupadi who was not willing to accommodate with one more wife? It was Hidimba who was the first daughter-in-law in the generation of Yudishthir, and Kunti was probably afraid that she may claim her position of chief queen which will make the position of Kunti and her sons embarrassing. To avoid all this she preferred to dump Hidimba.
It is also possible that the Pandava princes had avoided contact with her because now the situation was different. On earlier occasion they were a fugitive princess hiding secretly with the world taking them as dead, but now Yudhishtira had been a ‘Samrat’ who had performed ‘Rajsuya Yagya’. He was also accompanied by a Brahmin priest Dhaumya. During his period of exile many sages visited him. In this situation they probably thought it beneath dignity to seek shelter with the Rakashasa tribe of Hidimba.
Use of Ghatotkacha- Though Hidimba was forgotten, her son Ghatotkacha is remembered and used by the Pandavas whenever they need him. He was used as a cannon fodder in the great war. He was sent against Karna, the mortal enemy of Arjuna and was killed. After Ghatotkacha’s death Krishna dances with joy as he knew that now Arjuna is safe. Bhima also do not seems to be anyway affected by the death of his son. There is no oath of taking revenge like Arjuna has done for Abhimanyu.
In Stri-Parva also women were described as crying for their dead husbands and sons, but here also we do not come across any women crying for Ghatotkacha. Neither Bhima nor Draupadi, who was carried on his shoulder during exile, shed any tears for him. People who are regarded as being others receive a discriminatory treatment. Their values, emotions and life is treated as inferior that those who are considered as our own. Absence of lamentations and absence of any Rakashasa women crying for their dead husbands and sons indicates the attitude of indifference towards them by the authors of the Mahabharata.
However Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava appears to more human and accommodating. He also performs the last funeral rites of Ghatotkacha. Some consolation to the inferior Rakashasa from ‘the great, moral and pure’ Aryan.
Ulupi’s desire- Adi Parva describe the episode of the Naga princess Ulupi. Here Ulupi makes entry like a bang! The poet describes,
“…..the mighty armed hero (Arjuna) was dragged into the bottom of the water by Ulupi, the daughter of the king of the Nagas, urged by the god of desire” (Adi Parva, Section CCXVI)
There is no mention of any familiarity between Arjuna and Ulupi, but she is being portrayed as someone who is so much under the sway of sexual desire, that she pulls a man, whom she is probably meeting first time. How unrealistic portrayal! No sane women will pull an unknown man and ask him to satisfy her carnal desire. This kind of women probably exist only in the fantasy of men.
In the conversation that is followed she openly confesses about her carnal desire for Arjuna. She says,
“…….beholding thee descended into the stream to perform thy ablutions, I was deprived of reason by the God of desire. O sinless one, I am still unmarried. Afflicted as I am by the god of desire on account of thee, o though of Kuru’s race, gratify me today by giving thyself up to me” (Adi Parva, Section CCXVI)
Faithful Arjuna?- At this time Arjuna was leading a life of Brhamacharin for a period of twelve years as a penance. He was in a dilemma weather to accept the solicitation of Ulupi and break his vow of remaining Brahmacharin, or remain faithful to his vow and reject the solicitation. But the utterance of Arjuna indicates that he was not willing to let the chance go if he can find out any way out that will reduce his feeling of guilt. He says,
“………O amiable one, I am undergoing the vow of Brahmacharin for twelve years………., I am still willing to do thy pleasure..…… Tell me therefore, o Naga maid, how I may act so that, while doing thy pleasure, I may not be guilty of any untruth or breach of duty” (Adi Parva, Section CCXVI)
So here we see the attempt on the part of Arjuna /authors/interpolators of the Mahabharata shifting the blame of transgression on the shoulders of Ulupi. Arjuna needs assurance from Ulupi that what he is doing is not wrong and Ulupi obliges. She says,
“The exile …………is only for the sake of Draupadi. Thy virtue cannot sustain any diminution (by acceding to my solicitation)” (Adi Parva, Section CCXVI)
Going further, Vyasa/interpolators of the Mahabharata had made Uliupi to plead for the union with Arjuna.
“……..it is a duty to relieve the distressed. Thy virtue suffereth no diminution by relieving me. Or, if O Arjuna, thy virtue doth suffer a small diminution, thou wilt acquire great merit by saving my life. Know me thy worshipper, O Partha! Therefore yield thyself up to me! If thou do not act in this way; know that I will destroy myself…………..I woo thee, being filled with desire. Therefore, do what is agreeable to me. It behoveth thee to gratify my wish by yielding thy self up to me” (Adi Parva, Section CCXVI)
Further the authors of the Mahabharata says,
“Thus addressed by the daughter of the king of the Nagas, the son of Kunti did everything she desired, making virtue his motive” (Adi Parva, Section CCXVI)
So the union of Arjuna was a virtuous act for Arjuna as he relieved Ulupi of her distress, so if anybody is to be blamed, it is Ulupi!
Justification of philandery- At the time of union between Arjuna and Ulupi, Arjuna needed an assurance from Ulupi that he is not doing anything wrong. But after this Arjuna forms union with two more women, i.e. Chitrangada of Manipur and Subhadra, the Yadava princess. Here there is no mention of any assurance given by the any of the two women mentioned above. In both the cases the initiative is taken from the side of Arjuna. His infatuation for Subhadra was so strong that he even risked enmity of the Yadavas, the powerful clan of the period. Now where the hesitation about breaking of vow of Brahmacharya had gone! Once Ulupi had convinced him that the vow of Brahmacharya was only limited for Draupadi, it had opened the way of philandering for Arjuna. He can go on! And how easily he was convinced that the vow of Brahmacharya was limited to Draupadi only! Arjuna seems to be following what Mahabharata says,
“It is not sinful to lie, in respect of women sought to be enjoyed” (Adi parva Section LXXXII)
Discrimination against Ulupi- Ulupi was not brought to the Pandavas capital, Indraprasatha immediately after the marriage, but Subhadra, Krishna’s sister whom Arjuna married after his romantic encounter with Ulupi was brought to the Panadava capital immediately. Arjuna will not dare to abandon Subhadra as he had done to Ulupi. Subhadra had a backing of her powerful brothers, Krishna and Balarama and she was from the respectable royal family!
Arjuna also did not feel any necessity to bring his son Iravat, begotten on the Naga princess to Indraprastha. Only he was called to fight in the Great war to be used as a cannon fodder like Ghatotkacha. Having physical relation with a woman and abandoning her alone to shoulder the responsibility of the consequences without feeling guilty about it indicates the contempt that the dominating group carried for the women from ‘other’ community.
From the description given in the Bhishma Parva, we get some glimpses of the childhood of Iravat. The poet writes,
“Abandoned by his wicked uncle from hatred of Partha, he grew up in the region of the Nagas, protected by his mother.” (Bhishma Parva, Section XCI )
So this child of Arjuna and Ulupi faced discrimination in the Naga kingdom and it was Ulupi alone who shouldered the responsibility.
Other women and our women- Portrayal of ‘Other’ women like Hidimba and Ulupi as a seductress also highlighted the so called ‘virtues’ of the Aryan women. In contrast to sexually assertive Hidimba and Ulupi, the Aryan women like Draupadi is being portrayed as docile and passive in their interaction with men. During the period of the Pandava’s exile, when she was approached by Kotika, the messenger of Sindhu King Jayadratha, Draupadi says,
“Being alone in this forest here, I should not speak unto thee, remembering the usages of my sex” (Vana Parva Section CCLXIV)
What a contrast! Draupadi will not even speak to other men, but Ulupi can pull Arjuna. The patriarchal influence is obvious in Draupadi’s attitude. In comparison the Non-Aryan women like Ulupi and Hidimba appears to be much freer and earthly when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. The women in the patriarchal society led almost a mechanical existence. They are to be won at the Swyamvara, put as bait at dice, possessed and protected. All attempts are made to suppress their sexuality but the ‘other’ women are allowed to have assertive carnal desire as they serve the purpose of satisfying the baser instinct of the men.
After the Great Mahabharata war, Ulupi and Chitrangada were brought to Hastinapur, the Pandava’s capital (Ashwamedh Parva, Section LXXXVIII), but here also nobody seems to remember Hidimba. This symbolizes the traditional discriminatory attitude towards the women with dusky complexion. Good looking and fair Naga and Manipuri princess can be accepted, but not Hidimba with dusky complexion.
Conclusion- The pre-Aryan society and culture in Indian history had remained so far very less explored area. When the Aryan civilization was expanding throughout the length and breadth of the country, There were many people who continued to thrive outside the periphery of the so called ‘Aryan civilization.’ However their history by and large still remains mystery. This paper is not conclusive but only an indicator of the possibilities that life of these people and their interaction with the Aryans can be a very interesting area of study. One of the interesting chapters of this progress is to study how the women belonging to the Non-Aryan tribes were treated. There are many like Hidimba and Ulupi whose presence is acknowledged. Yet, there are many who were thrown into oblivion. Deciphering their lives will be an interesting challenge to the researchers interested in Indology.
The epical attitude is not a thing of the past, but similar attitude continues to shape our behavior even today, one has to just remind ourselves about the treatment given to the girls from the North East by the ‘civilized’ citizens of the national capital. As they look different, dress up in a different manner, they are perceived as others and treated as easily available.
The attitude of treating other women as a sex object also finds its place in the Hindi cinema as well. Usually, women wearing saris i.e. our own Indian dress are portrayed as homely, motherly figures. On the other hand women who seduce the otherwise faithful heroes are portrayed as wearing western outfit.
1. The term ‘Aryan’ meaning noble, represented a particular racial group who invaded India and are considered as the authors of the Vedic civilization. However in the process they assimilated many pre-Aryan socio-cultural practices and later on the term ‘Aryan’ denotes a linguistic-cultural group, having different racial groups or of mixed blood.
2. All the quotations are taken from ‘The Mahabharata’ Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi,2008.
3. Muni-Sage who is having control over himself. The word is originated from Sanskrit word Maun means silence. The Hindu and Jain sages had a practice of observing silence for particular days. This was their attempt of obtaining self-control. Here Bhima calling himself Muni is indicating that he is having firm control over himself.
1. ‘Srimanmaharashi Vedvayasapranit Mahabharata’ (Hindi) (In six parts), Gitapress, Gorakhpur.
2. ‘The Mahabharata’ Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi,2008.