Every year there’s also some absurd news story about some people whipping themselves into a frenzy at the word “love” which isn’t followed by the word “for my country” or prefixed by the word “mother”. It is at them, and at you, Rather Cynical Reader, that this piece is aimed. Gather around, and let me tell you a few legends that illustrate exactly how messed up this whole “romance” business has been from the very beginning.
The Story of Savitri and Satyavan OR The Fault In Our Stars, mythological edition
There are no original plots, and teenagers falling in love with terminally ill teenagers is a thing that dates back before black nail polish. Savitri was so amazingly pure and lovely, that no one wanted to marry her, so her father tells her to run off and find her own husband. (Who, by the way, only had the one child and that too after a lot of sacrifices and so on.) (He wanted a son, obviously, but because Savitri was a blessing given to him by the sun god, he had to pretend to be happy.)
Very progressive, but when Savitri does find her fellow (dude called Satyavan), who lives in the forest with his parents. I would think the forest is big enough for two cottages so you don’t have to live with your parents after you get married, but whatever, Satyavan wanted to save on food bills, so no judgement. Only Satyavan is totally going to die in a year. Yay, timing!
Why it’s sinister: Savitri has to then demonstrate to the god of death that she’s an amazing wife, and Satyavan gets to live. Thanks for letting us know that all we have to do to stop our loved ones dying is be the purest (code for “doesn’t like sex”) wives we can be! If he died, how much do you want to bet that it would have been her fault?
The Story of Shakuntala and Dushyant OR Marry Her? I Hardly Know Her!
Shakuntala, daughter of single dad, also powerful rishi, falls in love with and marries Dushyant, a king who likes to ride through her forest (nudge nudge wink wink if you know what I mean). She’s the dreamy sort, likes to doodle Mrs Dushyant Royal Queen Lady up and down her notebooks, and is doing this when Durvasa, another powerful rishi comes up to her hermitage. He curses her by saying the person she’s thinking about will forget her, and is only mollified by the fact that she’s actually married not just some slut.
Dushyant is all wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am and is living it up back in his palace when a pregnant Shakuntala appears. He’s all like, “Wow, I’ve never met you before” and so she has to return to the forest with the baby. Many years later, a ring Dushyant gave Shakuntala re-appears and seeing it, he’s reminded – oh, hello! – of his forest wife. Everyone’s reunited.
Why it’s sinister: I think after you raise a baby alone, after your husband has basically ditched you in front of an entire city, you’re not exactly going to welcome him with open arms, but what do I know, I’ve never lived in a forest.
The Story of Ahalya and Gautam OR Love In The Time Of Godly Body Doubles
Ahalya was super-hot, and her dad, the god Brahma, decided to have a contest to see who would marry her, which is always a great way to pick your future life partner. Indra really wanted to win, but the old sage Gautam won by using some lawyerly logic. Indra disguises himself as Gautam and rapes Ahalya. Other sources say that she saw through his disguises but had sex with him anyway. Who can blame her, being married to a pedantic old dude? Gautam is super pissed and curses both of them, and Ahalya is turned into stone, only set free after the Lord Ram touches her with his foot. She and Gautam live happily ever after.
Why it’s sinister: On two levels: one, if she was raped, it’s one of the earliest bit of victim-blaming in Hindu myths. Two, if she was seduced, it was probably because her husband was old and boring. Poor Ahalya. She didn’t have a chance.
The Story of Dhola and Maru OR The First Wives Club
Dhola and Maru were married as children, as brilliant Rajasthani custom dictates, and were then sent off to their own individual homes till they were old enough. To consummate it. (No one ever says that, but it’s implied.) Only, no one reminds Dhola that he’s meant to be married, so he happily weds Malwani, while Maru matures and pines for him, and sends him messages, which Malwani destroys.
Finally, a group of travelling singers reminds Dhola of his previous commitments and he dashes off across the desert to claim his teenage bride. Malwani accepts them – like she has a choice – and there’s a happy little ménage a trois.
Why it’s sinister: Um. Child marriage. Child marriage being explained as love. The whole first wife-second wife thing. Also, Malwani was not just being a dog in the manger. When Maru arrived, Malwani would lose her first and only wife position and move way down the list to second wife. No one wants to be the second wife. It wasn’t love that made her destroy those messages: it was politics.
The Story of Amrapali and Ajatasatru OR Was This The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships?
Amrapali was a foundling, named for the mango tree underneath which she was discovered. She was so beautiful that several men went a bit nuts when they saw her: giving up kingdoms, and killing people and starting wars and so on and so forth. Ajatasatru was actually the son of one of Amrapali’s other lovers, Bimbisara, and half-brother to her kid, but driven a bit mad by her loveliness, he burnt down her home town, which made her pretty much give up men forever and become a Buddhist monk.
Why it’s sinister: Sure, everyone wants to be the prettiest girl at the dance, but come on. More victim blaming: “oh yeah, he totally destroyed a whole city because she was so beautiful.” Keep it in your pants, Ajatasatru.
The Story of Draupadi and The Pandavas OR Will You Be My Plus Five?
Finally, Draupadi. You’re probably already familiar with this one but let’s recap: “won” by Arjun at a swayamvara, taken home to his mum and brothers. “Look what I’ve brought home, mum,” he says, and she says, “Share it with your brothers like a good boy” and instead of laughing, ha-ha-ha-silly-old-mum-she-thought-I-meant-a-thing-instead-of-a-person, they take her seriously and Draupadi marries everyone in the weirdest wedding ever, I’m sure.
Plus side: she gets to be a virgin for each brother, and live with each one for a year. Minus side: the only one she actually loves is Arjun, so, um, it’s not really fair that she has to do it, but no one asks her. Everyone gets one son via Draupadi, everyone marries other wives to keep them busy while she’s going from brother to brother and happy endings. For the men. Not the women. The women don’t get happy endings in these things.
Why it’s sinister: Let’s forget the women as object thing for a second and move straight on to the idea of having sex with men you don’t actually want to have sex with. And also, you’re a virgin each time you’re back to the men you’re not attracted to. Yikes. Also ouch.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of three books with her fourth, Before And Then After, a collection of short stories, out in April 2015.
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