Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

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Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Wed Feb 26, 2014 10:35 am

Ref. 1 below refers to a story of a woman named Madhavi (APPENDIX), which uses several well-known ancient names (Narada, Vishvamitra and Yayati et al.) probably to give an air of authenticity and historical (pre-Vedic) significance. Some people think that this story is real and reflects the poor condition of women long ago, but that is quite debatable.

In reality, the story of Madhavi might not be ancient. It probably was put together rather recently, perhaps in the last 1000 years or so (after the arrival and influence of virginity-conscious foreigners in India). There is extreme / explicit pre-occupation about Madhavi’s virginity in the story and that is quite uncharacteristic with the ancient Hindu stories where virginity was alluded to only indirectly / implicitly. That raises doubts about Madhavi being a real or ancient character (especially pre-Vedic) in spite of the story having many famous ancient names / characters.

Furthermore, instead of depicting the poor treatment and exploitation of women long ago, this story seems to indicate great importance for teacher (guru) and teaching profession, including enormous rewards to the teacher (e.g. hundreds of finest horses and a virgin princess for a wife and bearer of children) from dutiful and obedient pupil.

Galava, a disciple of Vishvamitra according to the story, was ready to leave gurukul (hermitage based school) after completing his studies. But he wanted to give guru-dakshina (a type of fee or gratuity for teaching) to his teacher (Vishvamitra) before leaving. Since he was not sure about the gift (dakshina) to the teacher, he asked Vishvamitra about his preference for guru-dakshina. Vishvamitra told Galava that he would like to have eight hundred finest steeds in guru-dakshina.

That sounds like a totally absurd and unrealistic demand (eight hundred finest steeds) by Vishvamitra. According to the story, not even the kings at that time owned more than two hundred “finest” steeds and some kings had no steeds at all. Moreover, what good the owning of eight hundred horses at that time would do to a teacher / guru of a humble gurukul? He would have extremely hard time, almost an impossible task at hand, to take care of (feed and house) 800 horses. If anyone these days is not sure of the enormity of such a task (to take care of 800 horses), he should visit a farm with only ten animals (horses) to learn about the great effort, space, fodder and water etc. needed for just 10 animals (steeds) It would simply blow one’s mind.

Then multiply that enormous effort and resources (space, fodder and water) for ten animals with 80 and that will give an idea about the astronomical effort (manpower) and resources (space and fodder etc.) required for 800 animals (especially finest steeds). Thus Vishvamitra initially asking for 800 steeds from Galava (and in the end getting 600 steeds according to the story) would be putting himself and his gurukul in an impossible situation. It is just beyond comprehension. There is no way that an intelligent and realistic person like Vishvamitra would make such a ridiculous demand (for 800 finest steeds) no matter what the story says. It seems to be a pure fiction and indicates that the story’s writer had no clue about raising / owning animals (especially horses).

Anyway, back to the fantastic tale. Since Galava was not able to meet Vishvamitra’s demand for eight hundred finest steeds on his own, he visited a friend, Suparna, for help. Suparna took Galava to several places/kingdoms for getting the required horses for guru-dakshina. Unfortunately, even the kings of many kingdoms at that time had no steeds and therefore were unable to help Galava. Suparna and Galva finally went to Prathistana and sought help from king Yayati. King Yayati also had no steeds to give to Galava. But he tried to help Galava in another way. According to the story, king Yayati had a beautiful, unmarried daughter (princess Madhavi) who was gifted with the boon (or a mantra perhaps) which enabled her to become virgin anytime, even after living with a man and having a baby. Finding no other way to help Galava, king Yayati handed over his daughter (princess Madhavi) to Galava and asked Galava to take her to other kings and obtain the horses from them in exchange for Madhavi.

It sounds utterly ridiculous. Just a pure fiction this story is. There is no father (especially a king) who would hand over his unmarried daughter to some poor stranger who shows up at the door looking for horses for guru-dakshina, with the instructions that he (the stranger) can exchange / barter her for horses from others (kings etc.).

Anyway with Madhavi in hand or on his side, Galava approached several kings to acquire steeds by offering Madhavi in return. He first visited king Haryasva of Ayodhya who had only 200 steeds, not enough to meet Galava’s demand of 800 steeds for Vishvamitra. Thus even though Haryasva wanted to have Madhavi as his wife and bear children for him, his resources (horses) were not enough. But Madhavi rescued the situation. She asked Galava to take 200 horses from Haraysva and agreed to live with the king temporarily, only until she would give a son to the king before going back to Galava. According to the story and agreement, Madhavi stayed in Ayodhya and bore a son for Haraysva. She then became virgin by virtue of the boon and returned to Galava.

Galava then took Madhavi to Divodasa, king of Kashi, who also had only 200 horses. Madhavi, like before, offered to stay temporarily with Diviodas promising to give him a son in return for 200 horses from him for Galava. After living with king Divodasa and giving him a son, Madhavi again became virgin and joined Galava in search of more horses. Galava next took her to king Ushinara of Bhojanagari who also had only 200 horses. Madhavi offered to stay temporarily with Ushinara also and promised to give him a son in return for 200 horses. After living with king Ushinara and giving him a son, Madhavi became virgin again and joined Galava in search of more horses.

Galava, with the help of Madhavi, had acquired 600 horses by this time but he still was 200 horses short of the required guru-dakshina (800 horses). Even though he had the “virgin” Madhavi back to help him collect the remaining horses, there were no more horses left with any kings unfortunately. Thus, accompanied by Madhavi and 600 horses, Galava went to Vishvamitra and explained his inability to acquire more horses for guru-dakshina. But the guru would not disappoint Galava. He took 600 horses from Galava and also the beautiful “virgin” Madhavi in lieu of the remaining 200 horses, with the approval of Madhavi to be his wife until she would give him a son. Galava was thus finally able to pay guru-dakshina to his guru who had acquired 600 choicest horses and a beautiful “virgin” princess as wife, to live with him and have a son for him.

As indicated above, there is also not much in this story to show the mistreatment and exploitation of women long ago. If any thing, Madhavi comes across as a willing woman who encourages a stranger (Galava who is no relation to her) to take her to different men (several kings and Vishvamitra) and exchange her in return for horses for guru-dakshina. She even uses a special and improbable boon granted to her, which can make her virgin again and again (even after living with a man and having a son / child), to have herself bartered repeatedly. That does not show a mistreatment but a willing participation on her part. Anyway, if the women were mistreated and at a disadvantage (as some people think of this story of Madhavi implying), then why would the powerful men (kings) turn over their entire herds of valuable horses in return for living temporarily with a woman who was going from place to place and from person to person? Wouldn’t a king at that time be easily able to get a woman (even a virgin and Madhavi perhaps) to marry and live with him and have his children (sons) without having to surrender his entire fleet of best horses which could certainly put him in danger and make him vulnerable against his enemies? Of course, no real king would do that – give up his entire best horses for a brief stay with a woman.

In conclusion, the story of Madhavi has no credibility and there is no logic behind it. Its chances of being real are as remote as some woman acquiring her virginity these days with only a mantra or a boon after living with a man and having his children (like in the case of Madhavi). Moreover, there is nothing in the story of Madhavi which reflects the poor condition of women long ago. If anything, it suggests that even the kings had a hard time finding women for themselves and having sons with them long ago; and they would lose the entire herds of best horses to live temporarily with a woman. This “ancient” story of Madhavi appears to be as imaginary as the claims by some people that Pandava princes in the Mahabharta were experiencing extreme hardship during exile but their troubles ended when their wife Drupadi celebrated and fasted during Karva Chauth.

APPENDIX

Story of Madhavi of the ancient times (Ref. 1)

This is a story of ancient times that appears in Udyoga Parva (sections 119-122) of Mahabharata. It is a story that is uncoiled in four stages. Initially, Narada narrated it to Dhritarastra, which Vyasa recorded; Vaishampayana narrates that to Janamejaya; and finally Suti recites the entire epic. Narada’s narration comes about as an extension to his own story of fall owing to his conceit and arrogance. It is incidental; and not integrated into the Epic. It is not supported by any other narration in the Epic. The story raises many uncomfortable questions about the status and treatment of women in a society of a bygone era, which was guided by its own set of values. The fascinating but disturbing episode has been studied, in depth, by scholars, feminists and dramatists from sociological, psychological and various other angles.

Let’s, first, look at the story in its brief and summarized form; and then discuss some of the issues it throws up.

1.1. It is said that Galava was a very devoted pupil of the sage - King- teacher Visvamitra. He stayed and served loyally even when his teacher was passing through difficult circumstances. At the end of the academic period the teacher, pleased with the pupil, blessed him and let him go. But Galava requested the teacher to state the fee (guru- dakshina) that he would accept. The teacher was content; but the pupil pressed on earnestly. Finally, with a little displeasure as it were, Visvamitra asked Galava ‘present me with eight hundred white steeds of good pedigree; white as the rays of the radiant moon, and every one of it having one ear black in hue. Go Galava, delay not ’.

1.2. Galava promptly sets out in search of such rare type of horses but was unable to find any. While he was brooding in desperation, his friend Suparna offered help; and took him to many kings who might possibly possess horses of such rare description. After much wandering, the two reached the court of King Yayati of Prathistana. Suparna, on behalf of his friend, submitted the plea and requested the king to help Galava be free from the burden of Guru-dakshina. But, the King Yayati, whose wealth by then had depleted, had no horses that satisfied their specification.

Nevertheless, he, as a king, would not disappoint a needy one who came seeking help.

Therefore, he gifted, instead, his beautiful daughter Madhavi (also called Drsadvati); and suggested that by setting her as price they could secure from any king/s who owned the horses of their requirement. Yayati added, that Madhavi was capable of promoting every virtue; and her beauty was so striking that any king would gladly give up his kingdom, if it were needed, to be with her even for a short while. Now, that there appeared a ray of hope, Suparna wished his friend well and took leave of him.

2.1. Galava first thought of the best of the kings, Haryasva of Ikshvaku race who ruled at Ayodhya. He was famed for his valor, wealth and large army. Galava offered Madhavi in marriage to the childless king Haryasva in exchange for ‘eight hundred steeds’ born in good country, of lunar whiteness, and each with one ear black in hue’, saying ‘this auspicious and large eyed maiden will become mother of thy sons’. Haryasva cried out “I most desire to have this beautiful maiden; but, sadly I have only two hundred steeds of the kind you wanted. I beg you; allow me to beget one son upon this damsel and you make take away all those two hundred steeds”.

2.2. Madhavi intervened and suggested to Galava “I am blessed by a sage with a special faculty that each time after childbirth I will regain my virginity. Accept the offer made by King Haryasva; take his two hundred excellent steeds and let him beget one son upon me. Thereafter you may collect me and take me to the next king and to another, in similar manner, until you obtain all your eight hundred steeds. And, that should set you free from the debt you owe to your teacher”. This idea seemed a workable arrangement; and was acceptable both to Galava and the King. Galava became the owner of those two hundred steeds; but he let them continue in king’s care. In due time, Haryasva had a son by Madhavi. She thereafter, by the power of her wish, turned into a virgin again. The new born was as splendid as one of the Vasus; and was named Vasumanasa (also called Vasuprada). He later grew up to be one of the wealthiest and greatest of the benefactors among all the kings.

2.3. Galava next took Madhavi to Divodasa King of Kashi who had already heard of Madhavi’s extraordinary beauty as also of her story. He rejoiced greatly upon the fortune to be with her. But, he too had only two hundred such steeds that Galava required. He agreed to beget only one a son from Madhavi in exchange for those two hundred steeds. Madhavi lived with Divodasa till a son was born to her. He was named Pratardana who later became a celebrated hero. Madhavi having regained her virginity left her second son with his father and returned to Galava.

2.4. The next was, King Ushinara of Bhojanagari who also had only two hundred of such horses. He handed then over to Galava and lived with Madhavi till a son named Sibi was born (he later gained renown as the upholder of truth and justice). Madhavi turned a virgin once again.

2.5. Thereafter Galava collected Madhavi back from King Ushinara. But, he had so far gathered only six hundred horses, and still needed two hundred more to fulfill the commitment to his teacher. Then, his friend Suparna (Garuda) informs there were no more such horses; but makes a suggestion. As suggested by Suparna, Galava submits to his teacher the six hundred horses he had so far gathered , with a request to accept Madhavi in place of the remaining two hundred horses; and absolve him of the Guru-dakshina .Visvamitra elated at the prospect of having Madhavi, accepts the offer gladly and discharges the pupil of his obligation. Madhavi bore to Visvamitra a son named Ashtaka (who later gained fame as the king who performed grand Ashva-medha yajnas).

3.1. With his debt discharged, Galava retires into the forest. As he departs, he thanks Madhavi for saving him, as also her father and the three childless kings: " Oh Madhavi, the beautiful maiden , You have borne one son who will be a lordly giver, a second a hero, another fond of truth and right; and yet another a great performer of Yajnas. Farewell to you, virgin of slim waist”.

After sometime, Visvamitra retreats into the forest. He hands over the six hundred horses to his son Ashtaka and sends Madhavi back to her father Yayati.

Yayati tries to arrange for Madhavi’s wedding, as many suitors (including the three kings who had sons from her) were eager to marry her. But, Madhavi is no longer interested in marriage or childbearing. She refuses all offers and retires into the forest as a hermit.

3.2. The recurring virgin Madhavi is not sovereign herself; but sovereignty passes through her to her four sons who grow up to become great kings whose deeds are celebrated in the Puranas.

In the end , everyone except Madhavi had something to gain: Yayati had the satisfaction of helping a needy person; the three childless kings beget worthy sons and heirs; Visvamitra gained six hundred of rarest horses as also the pleasure of living with the beautiful Madhavi; and Galava extolled for his guru-bhakthi was relieved of the obligation to his teacher.

Madhavi’s salvation lies in her silence and her retreat into the woods, ’ living in the woods after the manner of the deer’………………..

References

(1) S. Sreenivasa Rao, “The bizarre story of Madhavi of the ancient times,” Oct. 1, 2011,

http://ssubbanna.sulekha.com/blog/post/2011/10/the-bizarre-story-of-madhavi-of-the-ancient-times.htm

------------------------------------

by: Dr. Subhash C. Sharma
(Oct. 31, 2011: http://lamberdar.hubpages.com/hub/mythical_Madhavi)

Seva Lamberdar

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Re: Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

Post by Propagandhi711 on Wed Feb 26, 2014 10:44 am

what an interesting story...topical & relevant to all of us too. I read all of it.

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Re: Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Wed Feb 26, 2014 10:57 am

Propagandhi711 wrote:what an interesting story...topical & relevant to all of us too. I read all of it.

Thanks Propa, especially for reading all of it.

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Re: Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

Post by Kris on Wed Feb 26, 2014 9:40 pm

Wasn't there a Madhavi in the movies once? She was my parents' neighbor once.

(Sorry for the tangential comment The name reminded me of this)

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Re: Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:27 am

Kris wrote:Wasn't there a Madhavi in the movies once? She was my parents' neighbor once.

(Sorry for the tangential comment The name reminded me of this)

Nothing tangential about your comment.  Your "Madhavi" (in the movies) seems more real than the Madhavi in the Mahabharata according to Ref. (1)  and relisted in the Appendix here.

What is interesting about the story on Madhavi in the above is that some silly people cooked up this tale as a part of the Mahabharata probably quite recently, as explained in my comments.

Moreover, some others (supposedly the present day experts, scholars and learned people) are taking this story seriously and treating it as a real life situation about women in the past, based on the fictional tale involving a long ago princess who even got married, had sex, gave birth to a child and became virgin again and again.

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Re: Comments to the story of mythical Madhavi

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