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Mahabharatee: A Feminist Perspective on Mahabharata – Guest Post by Shruti Hajirnis Gupte

Shruti Hajirnis Gupte ~

I was fortunate to be born in a house where “reading” was a culture. In the small bungalow where I spent my early childhood, I could find books all over the place – cupboards, racks…even the dining table. But it was the books on mythology that caught my attention.

The stories in mythology – especially two great Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata – were all about the actions of men. As I grew up, I started finding the women in these stories. I realized that they were hidden amongst the actions of the men.

Although Mahabharata, the longest epic, is written from a male perspective, it has references to many women. Even in today’s society, we observe that the lives of women are dominated by men to whom they are associated through different kinds of relationships; the women of Mahabharata are no exception. However, these women dare to question the actions of men, to refuse the directions of men, and to raise their voices against suffering.

In Mahabharata, out of the total eighteen chapters, five chapters from Bheeshma Parva to Sauptika Parva have an elaborative description of war fought by men. Nevertheless, what follows next is Stree Parva / “Book of the Women.”

As I grew up and became a young professional, the chapters of Mahabharata started rearranging themselves for me. A thought came to my mind: What if the women met together to have a discussion before going to war?

I decided to invite five important women to hold court before the war began. It was hard to choose five women – some had little mention in the original story, some were always seen from a male perspective, and most importantly, some were long forgotten. I decided to give them all a chance to speak their minds.

The first one who would want this discussion to happen would be the mother of Vyasa, Mahamata Satyavati. Could she retire peacefully in the woods while her dynasty was being divided on the battlefield? Would she accuse her great granddaughter-in-law, Draupadi, of causing the war? Would Draupadi, burning for revenge the last thirteen years, agree to make a peaceful settlement? Would she relent? The answers to these questions came like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to me; in placing them, I found a new chapter of Mahabharata.

It was a challenge to bring the five women together into a single frame. I decided to take help from the author of the original story, the Vedas, and Puranas – Maharshi Vyasa. I was amazed how much work this great sage did and wanted to find a common thread in all his work. As I started exploring more, I thought I got it.

Vyasa, whose name itself means “compiler”, unfolds his philosophical thoughts on the background of dreadful events like war. The knowledge of Vedas, an ancient wisdom, is shared in the form of Bhagawat Gita – a perfect dialogue right in the middle of the Kurukshetra war. I therefore decided to use this war as the backdrop for my story.

Through the women of Mahabharata, we see the travails and tribulations of our very own existence, mirrored in these characters.

I chose to call the women’s story Mahabharatee. The Sanskrit word “bharati” means Indian woman, a knowledgeable woman. The term “mahabharatee” is the epitome of Indian woman. The five women of Mahabharata – Satyavati, Draupadi, Kunti, Gandhari, and Rukmini – depict the true power of Indian women. Therefore, a discussion between them could be referred to as Gita: a perfect dialogue.

As the first feminist Gita, Mahabharatee leads where every other philosophy leads: self-realization.

– Shruti Hajirnis Gupte

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A chartered accountant by profession and currently pursuing a career in the corporate world, Shruti Hajirnis Gupte is a writer by passion. Her first book, Mahabharatee – Five women who held court before war, published by Pirates Publishers, featured in “Top 100 Debut Novel list”. She also frequently writes blogs on Women’s web and Medium. A dancer, lover of literature, and connoisseur of French and Sanskrit, Shruti is a disciple of renowned Bharatnatyam exponent Dr. Sucheta Chapekar.

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