The scriptures of Sanatana Dharma refer to innumerable illustrious women. Out of these, the protagonists of Ramayana and Mahabharata – Radha, Rukmini, Sita, and Draupadi – stand out in my mind. Though they faced many challenges, their positive qualities helped them sail through this world and go beyond it. They were all referred to as Sri Devi, a name frequented by the scriptures for Ādi-Parā-Śakti or Ādayā Śakti, the formless primordial force.
Radha: Unconditional Love
She was a charmer who lived and breathed divine sentiments. While many see her as Goddess Mahalakshmi’s incarnation, the Tantrik texts have a different take on Radha-Krishna. At one point in time, Shiva and Shakti desired to experience love from the other’s perspective. To fulfill this desire, Shakti (or Kāli) took the form of Lord Krishna, and Shiva appeared as Radha, who’s affectionately called the Rani or queen.
Incarnation or not, Radha had one significant similarity with Shiva, she too was a Vairāgī, the detached one. Radha remained and functioned in this world, but never got attached to it. Love that’s not contaminated by attachments and expectations is said to be pure or unconditional. While contaminated love binds us, Radha’s unconditional love for Lord Krishna liberated her. Her purpose was to help Krishna be at the receiving end of unconditional love, and she fulfilled that to immaculate perfection!
The first wife of Lord Krishna, who is said to be an incarnation of Goddess Mahalakshmi, was an embodiment of faith. When her brother Rukmi tried to get her married against her will, she notified Krishna and patiently waited for him to rescue her. She didn’t even have the slightest of doubts if her beloved would show up or not! Rukmini’s faith made her Krishna’s favorite, which caused jealousy in his other wives, particularly Satyabhama, an incarnation of Goddess Bhu-Devi or Mother Earth.
As per a Puranic tale, Sage Narad once played a trick on Satyabhama to demonstrate faith’s power. The Sage received Lord Krishna in charity from her in exchange for a promise. She could win the Lord back in Tulābhāra Sevā, giving away wealth equivalent to a person’s weight. Satyabhama fell for this trick in the desire to show-off her control over Krishna. Unfortunately, her wealth in entirety and the jewels she borrowed from Krishna’s other wives couldn’t equal the Lord’s weight! Finally, the situation got resolved when Rukmini, with a firm belief in Krishna, replaced all the wealth with just a leaf of Tulsi, a medicinal basil plant.
Sita: Forbearance & Devotion
As the devoted wife of King Raam, she supported her principled husband in all his endeavors. When Raam sent her away to the forest, she did not try to return to Ayodhya or present her case. She just accepted her husband’s decision and quietly resided at a hermitage. Aptly called the Daughter of Earth, Sita’s forbearance was no less than that of Mother Earth.
Towards the end of Ramayana, King Raam faced a predicament. His kids, Luv and Kush, had captured the horse from his Ashvamedha Yagna. If he didn’t accept the boys, he would have to kill them as per the rules of the Yagna. Welcoming the boys and Sita would make his subjects morose because people doubted her character (due to her misadventure with Ravana). Accepting just his boys without Sita, separating the mother from her tweens would be unjust (Adharma).
To resolve that intolerable situation, King Raam requested Sita to give a test of her chastity to the entire kingdom. Sita responded by disappearing into the earth. By this single act, she proved her purity, thereby adhering to her Dharma of unwavering devotion towards Raam. Sita also saved herself from further humiliation and ensured that the ignorant people wouldn’t lose their future kings. Finally, she shocked everyone to bring awareness about the social evils faced by women. If Lord Vishnu incarnated as Raam to be Purushottam, the ideal man, his consort Sita demonstrated a woman’s power as Stri-Uttam, the extraordinary woman.
Draupadi: Surrender & Compassion
As weird or repulsive an act may be, it becomes compassionate if done with utmost purity of intent and concern for everyone involved, not excluding ourselves. Unlike unconditional love, compassion is not blind, and so becomes very difficult for others to understand. Draupadi was an epitome of compassion and hence was an enigma! Her marriage to all the five Pandava brothers was her most prominent act of compassion. For this, though, she was looked down upon then and sometimes made fun of even now.
Scriptures proclaim, and my personal experience says that the thoughts of those who abide by truth materialize in one form or the other. When Kunti asked the brothers to share Draupadi, Yudhisthira (a truth practitioner) probably visualized Draupadi as his wife for a second. Perhaps, not wanting this to materialize in some negative way, he advocated for all the brothers to marry her. Out of compassion for Kunti, the Pandavas, the society in general, and even for herself (to secure her future), she married the five brothers. Her compassionate act turned out to be a turning point in history, which eventually caused massive social reform.
One folklore sums her up beautifully. Before her impending marriage, she questioned Krishna about the need for a Svayamvar, a ceremony to select a husband. Since she was deeply in love with the Lord, she didn’t have to find a husband. The narrative goes that Krishna saw himself, the energy of Kāli, in Draupadi. So, he preferred that she be his spiritual friend and support his social welfare aspirations. She was surrendered to Krishna and hence accepted his wish. Deeply moved by her surrender and selfless sacrifices, Krishna ran to her at every whim and will of hers. She proved the scriptural viewpoint, “While everyone else runs in search of the Divine, the Divine runs in search of the compassionate ones!”
Both admirers and researchers believe that the stories of Sanatana Dharma are exaggerated versions of real incidents. If we buy into that perspective, Radha, Rukmini, Sita, and Draupadi were all wonderful women who lived socially and spiritually responsible lives and attained Moksha or liberation. If we view the Puranic tales and folklores as works of fiction, then Radha, Rukmini, Sita, and Draupadi represent essential qualities. Either way, if we remember these eminent women and imbibe even one of their characteristics in our life, we (man or woman immaterial) too shall realize the Mother Sri Devi in us!
|| Om Śrī Mātrai Namaḥ ||