How Kāmadeva became bodiless and ethics of killing a woman

by Jahnabi Barooah

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m reading the Bālakāṇḍa, the first volume of the seven-volumed Rāmāyaṇa this winter break. I’ve read 32 cantos so far; there are 76 in total. Below are two narratives that I thought were interesting enough to highlight on this blog:

1. The disembodiment of Kāmadeva:

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Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa (left), and Kāmadev with his bow (right). Credit: ignca.nic.in

Do you know the story (or stories) behind how Kāmadeva (the god of love, or sensual pleasure) became bodiless? The story I grew up with goes the following way: Śiva is engrossed in deep meditation. Kāmadeva interrupts him. Śiva opens his eyes in anger and immediately, Kāmadeva is reduced to ashes.

Thus, I was intrigued to find a slightly different version of the story recorded in the Rāmāyaṇa. Here it is as Viśvāmitra, a wise sage, narrates to Rāma:

“He was the embodied Kandārpa [meaning: inflamer even of a god], called Kāma by the wise. That fool assailed the lord of gods, Sthāṇu, prior to his marriage, who was engaged in austerities here, intent upon his vow. The great god, leaving with the host of Maruts, responded by roaring, ‘Hum!’ And, delight of the Raghus, Kāma was burned up by his terrible eye, so that all the limbs withered from the fool’s body. When the great god burned him, he destroyed his entire body. In this way Kāma was rendered bodiless by the lord of gods in his wrath. From that time onward, Rāghava, he has been known as Anaṅga, the disembodied . . . .” (Bālakāṇḍa 22:10-15; 153)

2. The ethics of killing a woman:

One of the first tasks that Viśvāmitra charges Rāma with is to kill Tāṭakā, a formidable demoness. This is how he convinces him of the righteousness of killing a woman:

Rāma kills Tāṭakā, as Lakṣmaṇa and Viśvāmitra (?) watch. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rāma kills Tāṭakā, as Lakṣmaṇa and Viśvāmitra (?) watch. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Therefore, Rāghava, for the sake of cows and brāhmans, you must kill this utterly dreadful and wicked yaksha woman whose valor is employed for evil purposes. No man but you in all the three worlds can kill this accursed creature, delight of the Raghus. Nor, best of men, should you be softhearted about killing a woman. A king’s son must act for the welfare of the four great social orders. This is the immemorial rule for all men charged with the burden of kingship. Kakutstha, you must kill this unrighteous creature, for there is no righteousness in her. For it is said, protector of men, that long ago Śhakra killed Mantharā, the daughter of Virocana, who wished to destroy the earth. And long ago, Rāma, the wife of Bhṛgu, Kāvya’s mother, firm in her vows, who wished to rid the world of Indra, was killed by Viṣṇu. These and many other great and excellent men killed women who set set in the ways of unrighteousness.” (Bālakāṇḍa 24:13-19; 160-162)

Here I pause to wonder: why are demonesses always depicted as hideous (physically, I mean) in our mythologies? Why don’t we see conventionally beautiful woman who are wicked? Take the case of Tāṭakā. Initially, she was beautiful, strong and righteous. In fact, she was given as a boon by the god Brahma. It was only after she was cursed by the sage Agastya that she came an evil, ugly, man-eating demoness.

* Please note that the quotations are from Vālmiki. Rāmāyaṇa. Bālakāṇḍa. Trans. Robert P. Goldman. New York: New York University Press, 2005. Print. Clay Sanskrit Library.

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