Woman Stories / Arathi Devandran

The story of Amba in Mahabharata is well-known.

Amba, the eldest daughter of the Kasiraja (King of Kashi), embittered by the Kuru prince Bhishma’s interference in her Swayamvara that robbed her of her one true love (Salva), retreated into the forest and swore to all that she would destroy him by austerities or battle.

It took Amba a lifetime, and then some, to be reborn as Shikhandini: a girl who was brought up as a boy, whose true identity as a woman was not enough and, as fate would have it, she had to exchange her gender with a yaksha named Sthunakarna to finally become the male Shikhandi, the one who was prophesised to slay Bhishma*.

The story of Amba is well-known because it took a woman, so terribly wronged, and yet never enough, to suffer through the passages of time, countless austerities and a boon from Lord Shiva himself, to be born again a man to fight in the Kurukshetra war and fulfil her destiny.

The story of Amba is well-known because it is the story of every woman wronged – forced to compromise on everything that is rightfully hers because of the indestructible egos of self-righteous men.

***

Woven in every story about a woman is the story of a powerful man.

***

The rape of Persephone is a well-known tale.

Beautiful Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was permitted to be abducted – permitted because Zeus knew that his wife would never allow their precious daughter to leave with the God of the Underworld, Hades.

The wrath of Demeter (Harvest Goddess), who upon discovery of her daughter’s disappearance, knew no bounds. She forbade the earth to produce, and so, Zeus, driven to action by the cries of hungry mortals, forced Hades to return Persephone.

Hades eventually complied with Zeus’ request, but not before he tricked Persephone to eat pomegranate seeds, food of the underworld, and was forevermore obliged to spend a third of each year (the winter months) with Hades, and the remaining months with the gods above.

The rape of Persephone is well-known because she, goddess of the fertility of vegetation, associated with spring, only comes into being by the games played by two powerful gods who paid no heed to Persephone’s needs.

The rape of Persephone is well-known because it is the story of every woman struggling to share her experiences in a patriarchal system so used to side-lining women.

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“Nothing special has happened today; no one can say she was more provoked than usual. It is only that every day one grows a little, every day something is different, so that in the heaping up of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible. This is how a girl becomes a grown woman. Step by step until it is done.” – The Power, by Naomi Alderman.

 

 

 *Other versions of this epic narrate that Amba was simply reborn as male Shikhandi, sometimes whole, and sometimes a eunuch.

Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry www.miffalicious.com

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