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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Kavita Kané On Reclaiming Progressive Sexuality From Indian Mythology

  • IWB Post
  •  October 4, 2019

The understanding of mythological discourse in our country has largely been built around the male characters, with women being ignored as mere catalysts for the culmination of the greater stories. We thus ask a rhetorical question here, have we interpreted our mythology correctly and, more importantly, impartially? Or have we looked at it like we interpret everything else – from the prejudice-tinted glasses of patriarchy?

Despite their powerful individual stories, the women characters from our mythology have been largely ignored. Sadly, it is this prejudiced interpretation of mythology that has in a way shaped our concepts about the women of our society.

Women’s agency and their stake in sexual pleasure is the last thing that we want to discuss or even pay any heed to as a country because our interpretation of mythology has always cornered it as unimportant. It’s invisible, insignificant, and also inconvenient.

The idea of a woman wanting, having, or enjoying unapologetic sex strikes so many as downright revolting, an abomination of the highest degree. We think it’s high time this skewed and deeply flawed narrative is changed for good.

It was as a part of our pursuit of the same goals that we recently reached out to Kavita Kané, the bestselling author who has written on women’s agency in Indian mythology. For instance, her latest book Sita’s Sister throws light on Urmila, the neglected wife of Lakshman, her strength, and her courage.

In an expansive Twitter dialogue with IWB, Kavita talked about sexually liberated women of Indian mythology and how we need to take inspiration from them in order to achieve sexual liberation. Here are excerpts from the chat:

On the sexually-liberated women characters from mythology

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog There are so many…Devyani, Satyavati, Shakuntala, Kunti, Tara, both the goddess and Bali’s wife, Rati, the apsaras, even Ahalya.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Rati of course as the wife of Kama is the goddess of love and lust who knows and revels on the power of sexuality but their story goes beyond that and more

 

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog That would be all worth a book each! But what’s important is that we see them as such. Devyani fought fiercely to have her men be it Kacha or Yayati. Satyavati never allows herself to be a victim , she wants to win all the way.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The most important aspect is that they all fought back. None kept quiet in silent sufferance. Be it Rambha or Vedika against Ravana. Or Sita.

 

On the mythological characters that we need to revisit in the times of #MeToo

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog In Draupadi’s vastraharan, it is not the Kauravas and Karna who are the culprits but also the Pandavas esp Yudhishthira who gambled his wife like a pawn in a game. She stands against all of them and demands her justice.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Ravana was a habitual sexual predator be it Vedavati or Rambha and eventually pays with his ruin and death. Indra the transgressor is punished by Gautam. But so does Ahalya, if we see her as a transgressor of infidelity and not a victim.

 

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog More of it explained here – https://t.co/whj8S3QecG

On the mythological women characters in her novel who smashed the patriarchy to liberate their sexual desires

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Uruvi in #KarnasWife, chooses to be an outcast’s wife, his lover and friend thus breaking social norms. The story of Urmila and Lakshman in #SitasSister is not of love and duty but love and separation and the suppression of personal happiness, dreams and desires.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Menaka is the very symbol of the power of women’s sexuality and in #MenakasChoice she transcends her arsenal to be what she desires to be. Surpanakha is bold & upfront about her sexuality which is the real conflict of her relationships and the events around her in #LankasPrincess

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Satyavati again in #TheFisherQueensDynasty uses her sexuality to fight her demons and win her wars.

On the misconceptions about women’s sexual desires from the days of Mahabharata and Ramayana

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Mythology itself became a victim of patriarchy, defining a woman as oversimplified embodiments, bracketing her either as a devi or the devil. They are white or black.The greys are missing making us myopic to bias. Ahalya quickly transgresses from a devoted wife to an adulteress.

 

On the most misunderstood mythological women characters

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Ahalya. Also Sita. If seen through less B/W lenses, we could glimpse the steel in Sita, the vulnerability of loneliness in Surpanakha, or respect Ahalya more for her unusual decision.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog She was neither a victim or a vamp, she was a survivor who changed the course of her life and that of her brother and Lanka and even the epic because of her very existence.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog But mythology is much more complex when it comes to gender roles and has to been read and re-read without prejudice or discrimination.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Mythology is supposed to make the people think, not judge. Through its legacy of stories and tales, it tells us of human follies and fallacies. But by trapping the characters into misogynic denotations, the narrative takes on a different hue, coloured by a largely parochial bias.

On the importance and acceptance of women’s consent since time immemorial

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The Ramayana revolves entirely on the concept of consent. Ravana kidnapped a woman against her wishes. He might have been a king, a scholar, handsome, rich and powerful but he could not bear a NO from Sita. Mandodari and Rambha are reminders for him of his biggest inadequacy.

 

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog In the Mahabharata, Karna cannot bear it when Draupadi refuses him. Of course consent was important. It was the raison d’etre for a swayamwar. Rukmini refuses to marry Shishupal and persuades Krishna to elope with her. So does Subhadra when she chooses Arjuna over Duryodhan.

On the similarities in view of repercussions/consequences between women speaking up during Mahabharata & Ramayana times and today in the time of #MeToo

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog I think it’s a little unfair and unrealistic comparing women of two different eras and ethos. But as I said earlier, their brave spirit was in the fact that each of them fought back. They did not keep silent.

Indian Women Blog on Twitter

@kavitakane In the times of Ram and Ravana, women’s sexuality was a weapon for treachery and treason (Menaka/Vishwamitra). How does this role-restriction for women feed the culture of victim blaming/shaming?

On the idea of role restriction for women feeding the culture of victim shaming

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog It all lies in the eyes of the beholder. Sex and sexuality should not be portrayed to stereotype a sexually free woman, it should be illustrated instead as means of expression of her thoughts and motive, her emotion and experience , her right and choice of will.

On the evolution of sexual desires within a marriage from the times of Mahabharata & Ramayana to the current times

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog There are various examples. Satyavati uses it for power. Also Kaikeyi and Tara affirm their sexual roles on more political lines. Their confidence came from within, without societal scripts demanded from them.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Then there is Shakuntala who goes for a gandharva secret marraige after falling in love with a stranger, a king and does not hesitate to go all the way to have it, married in secrecy.

On re-reading the mythology so as to interpret it sans misogyny 

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog But mythology is much more complex when it comes to gender roles and has to been read and re-read without prejudice or discrimination.

Kavita Kané on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Mythology is supposed to make the people think, not judge. Through its legacy of stories and tales, it tells us of human follies and fallacies. But by trapping the characters into misogynic denotations, the narrative takes on a different hue, coloured by a largely parochial bias.

 

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