When I read the Mahabharata, this question came to me – what if the women had met together to have a discussion before war? With this, I came up with Mahabharatee – The five women who defined womanhood.
India is amazing country where great knowledge is articulated in a form of the simple stories. This is how our ancient literature has been kept alive for several thousand years with Shruti and Smruti – what is heard is remembered, and is being told and retold again and again. One of the most important among these is the Mahabharata – which has the miraculous structure of stories within a story.
As a child I’ve heard all these stories from my grandparents. As an adolescent girl I started thinking about those stories and then I started asking questions to my grandparents like – why did Draupadi leave her hair untied, why did Krishna not arrive in advance to stop the game of dice…so on and so forth. So for my next birthday my grandfather gifted me with a bunch of books on the Mahabharata.
With great enthusiasm, I started reading them. I realized that each book has a different story to tell, certainly different from what I have heard as bed time stories from my grandparents. When I discussed this with my grandfather, he said that these stories are made to be interpreted – these stories are like riddles – you have to find answers on your own.
Then I started reading a work of Maharshi Vyas. And as I delved deeper I realized that what my grandfather has said is true – this great sage throws a puzzle at us. He unfolds his philosophical thoughts on the background of the most dreadful event like war. The great knowledge of the Vedas is shared on the battlefield in the form of Geeta – a perfect dialogue. It was not told in a peaceful ambiance of any Ashrama to any sage.
Same is the case with the story of Mahabharata – it is told for the first time by Vaishampayan, a disciple of Maharshi Vyas to Janamejaya – son of Parikshit, descendant of the Pandavas. Janamejaya has arranged for a snake sacrifice where snakes are called upon with a power of mantra to be burnt alive in fire altar, as revenge for his father’s death caused by Takshak, the king of snakes. While the air is filled with the black smoke and cries of burning snakes everyone listened to the story told by Vaishampayan. It is a story of Janamejaya’s own ancestors in which a family dispute over share of kingdom ends up into a fierce war. After listening to the story Janamejaya orders that the horrible snake sacrifice is stopped.
So is it a story of the war or a story of peace and wisdom? And if the war is fought by men where are women?
Although the Mahabharata is written from a male perspective, it has references to many women. Those are the pioneers of woman empowerment; the topic we still debate on in this century.
In Mahabharata out of the total eighteen chapters, five chapters from Bheeshma Parva to Sauptika Parva have an elaborative description of war fought by men. But what follows next is Stree Parva – “Book of Women.”
The chapters started rearranging themselves for me. A thought came to my mind – What if the women had met together to have a discussion before war?
The first one, who would want this discussion to happen, would be the mother of Vyasa – Mahamata Satyavati. Can she retire peacefully to the woods while her dynasty is divided on the battlefield? Will she accuse her great granddaughter in law Draupadi for being cause of this war? Will Draupadi burning in the fire of revenge for the last thirteen years have agreed to make a peaceful settlement? Will she relent?
These questions came like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to me, and when I started placing them, I found a new chapter of the Mahabharata – A story of five women who held court before the war.
And I decided to pen down – A story that uses war as a perfect backdrop to discuss questions that are very relevant for our times. Feminist Geeta, a perfect dialogue where we see the travails and tribulations of our very own existence, mirrored in female characters – Mahabharatee – Five women who held court before the war.
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Shruti Hajirnis Gupte is a chartered accountant by profession & is pursuing a career in the
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