Candid Revelations (Hindustan Times)

A very interesting article from the Indian paper, Hindustan Times:
CANDID CORNER - Epic revelations    
Abhishek Singhvi

PERMISSIVENESS of ancient Indian society and their ultra-liberal view
on sexual relationships is breathtaking. Nowhere is this better
depicted than in the Mahabharata, the greatest epic ever written.
Writing in these columns on the katha tradition (January 11, 2006), I
had referred to the Mahabharata as "supreme itihaas" and unparalleled
"kavya". It is at once incomparable philosophy and a unique
confrontation with ethical dilemmas. It is an encyclopaedic edifice to
which poets, acharyas and thinkers brought their diverse offerings,
making it a rare meeting ground of different traditions, styles and

I turn to the liberality in the Mahabharata on relationships between
the sexes. This is seen right from the origin of its author and of the
Pandava/Kaurav clans. The preface starts with Queen Girika asking King
Uparichara to make love. The king leaves without doing so, but is so
consumed by passion that he ejaculates on a leaf in the forest, which
he then sends to his queen through a falcon. The seed drops mid-flight
and impregnates apsara fish Adrika, who gives birth to a son and a
daughter. The king keeps the son and a fisherman keeps the daughter,
Satyavati. The celibate Parashara is so besotted with Satyavati that he
makes love to her in a boat, and of the union is born Ved Vyasa.
Parashara blesses Satyavati, saying that that her son would be the
"greatest poet the world has ever known".

the 14th Kuru king, is mesmerised by Ganga, whom he marries, but
undertakes never to question. Their physical love is so overpowering
that Ganga becomes pregnant seven times in seven years. But she drowns
each of her children. Shantanu is distraught but does not question her.
When he finally does, she tells him of the curse on her and leaves
Shantanu, taking with her their eighth child, Vasu Prabhasa. She
promises him that Prabhasa would return after 16 years to rule the
Kurus. It's again Shantanu's uncontrollable sexual urge that leads him
to marry Satyavati. His "old and mighty illness, love" leads him to
promise Satyavati that only her children would rule the empire. This is
ful- filled by his son, Devvrata, who takes a vow that not only would
he not claim the kingdom, but he would also never marry and remain
celibate all his life. It's this sacrifice that makes Devvrata Bheeshma.

of princesses from swayamvaras is frequently practised and accepted as
'gandharva vivah'. Bheeshma abducts Amba, Ambika and Am- balika for
Satyavati's son. Amba, unable to marry her beloved, seeks union with
Bheeshma and her rage at being spurned leads to her rebirth as
Shikhandin. Then, in the first sex-change of the an cient ages, she is
converted into the male Shikhan di by a yaksha. There are graphic
depictions of group love-making between Satyavati's son and his two
queens. When he dies issueless, both Satyavati and Bheeshma openly
apply the apparently estab lished "ancient custom, allowing a brahmana
to be called to sire sons" from the two young widows to ensure
continuity of the family line. Satyavati en trusts this task to her
son, Veda Vyasa. Mahab harata describes in minute detail hours of love
making on successive nights between Vyasa and the queens. Since Ambika
closes her eyes in fright, blind Dhritrashtra is her offspring and
since Am balika is ashen-faced at the sight of Vyasa, pale al bino
Pandu is born of her. Vyasa also has a sexual encounter with an unnamed
maid, which leads to the wise Vidur's birth.

concept of immaculate conception and giv ing birth without a nine-month
pregnancy is typi fied by Kunti. A rishi and his wife decide to
copulate in an open forest and turn into a stag and a hind for the
purpose. Pandu kills them while they are in the act and is cursed that
he would die the moment he made love to anyone. So, Pandu lets his wife
Kunti practise "immaculate conception" with the gods, giving rise to
Yudhishthir (with Dharmaraja), Bheema (Vayu) and Arjuna (Indra).
Polygamy is common and Pandu's second wife, Madri, seeks the same

created Gandhari's 100 sons from the foetal pulp disgorged by her.
Pandu died because he could not control his libido on seeing Madri
naked. Masturbation, as practised by Muni Gautam's celibate son
Sharadwan, leads to the birth of the twins Kripa and Kripi. Having been
won by Arjuna in an archery contest, all five Pandava brothers share
Draupadi, since Kunti had unknowingly said "all of you share the alms
you have got". But Mahabharata describes in detail how all five
brothers desired Draupadi and how she desired each of them. Polyandry
was thus equally acceptable.

escapades while away from Draupadi included passionate lovemaking with
the snake woman Ulupi, who practised pre-marital sex, and his active
pursuit and eventual elopement with Krishna's half-sister and his own
cousin, Subhadra. After her initial anger, Draupadi welcomes them both
and even makes love to Arjuna. Incidentally, this also recognises
marriage between cousins.

Such examples are endless. The approach to these issues 5,000 years ago is truly mind-boggling.

Abhishek Singhvi is MP, National Spokesperson, Congress, and Senior Advocate