Last night I started reading the Mahabharata (again) to my daughters and realized I had the perfect solution to the whole sexuality education debate in India. Forget the sex ed modules and curriculum and books and stuff. Just make them all read the Mahabharata.
They will learn about the
- lack of gender binaries (Shikhandi is a man born as a woman, Brihannada is Arjun in woman’s clothes),
- gender discrimination ( two children were born to a fish and presented to the King but he abandoned the girl child and took the boy to the palace to raise as a prince) ,
- sexuality expression ( Mahabhisha was entranced by Ganga’s naked body and thus banished from heaven. He was reborn as Shantanu and married Ganga who drowned their first seven newborns , left him to raise the 8th one in a forest and he grew up to be Bhishma) ,
- alternate sexualities and fluid gender (Tara and Chandra’s child Budh ( Lord of Planet Mercury) is of a neuter gender thanks to Tara’s husband’s curse. So the life partner he finds is someone who is born a man but turns into a woman every time the moon wanes),
- abstinence as something terrible as well as powerful (Bhishma was showered with flowers by the gods when he took a vow of celibacy while Pandu had been celibate due to a curse which would kill him if he ever touched his wife, and so his body had become filled with so much knowledge and power that he asked his sons to eat his flesh after he died so they would obtain all that knowledge !)
- infertility and its consequences ( again good old Pandu could not make his wives Kunti and Madri pregnant so he asked Kunti to use her powers to make herself pregnant by invoking Lord of Death Yama and then Vayu to bear her sons),
- polygamy and polyandry ( Duryodhna is noted for his promise to his wife that he would never marry again, since clearly most kings had multiple wives and Draupadi is of course the one and only much cited example of polyandry though it was not by her choice.) ,
- women’s right to choose—husband ( Draupadi at the Swayamvar) , pregnancy ( Kunti),
- pre marital and extra marital relationships ( Brihaspati, God of Jupiter was married to Tara ( Goddess of Stars) but he was more involved in his rituals than in her, and she fell in love with Chandra ( Moon God). She eloped with him but Brihaspati asked the other gods to bring her back since her participation was needed for the rituals. Turned out she was pregnant by then and it was Chandra’s child. But the gods decreed that as her husband, Brihaspati had to be the father of any child borne by his wife whether biologically his or not. How cool is that ?!),
- children in and out of wedlock (King Uparichara rested under a tree and had a joyful spurt of semen which he wrapped in a leaf and gave to a parrot to take to his wife so she could get pregnant but on the way this fell into the river and was consumed by a fish who then gave birth to twins—a boy and a girl) ,
- power and sex ( The fish girl was ferrying a sage across a river one day when he expressed the desire to make love to her and created a mist around the boat for privacy, she also gave birth to their child and he made a virgin again , all by the time they had crossed to the other bank).
Beyond this, they will learn about race, caste, class, flaws in systems of government and governance, ethics, morals, social obligations, treatment of indigenous people, respect for elders, failures of elders, greed and its consequences, all actions and their consequences, teacher-student relationships, parent children relationships, gods with human failings, demons with moral high ground.
And most of all, what Gregory House has been saying all along—Everybody Lies !
We also found some parallels to Doctor Who. The Doctor would be Krishna by the way. Having fun, a new woman in every season, friend and advisor to all, charming, restless, wise beyond his years, striving for peace but ready for war.
For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, the Mahabharata is way cooler and more gory, ( Parashuram filled five lakes with the blood of the Kshatriyas he killed) , sexually explicit ( sages and kings keep having uncontrollable urges with fairly dramatic consequences for all concerned) and philosophical (everyone’s past life is the explanation for their suffering in this one).
There is deception ( Arjuna is dressed as a Brahman when he competes for Draupadi’s hand in marriage), dishonour ( Ambika is turned away by her former lover as well as Bhishma who has kidnapped her) , rebellion ( Duryodhana takes on Karna as a friend and brother against the wishes of all those who think a charioteer’s son cannot be a social equal of princes), seduction ( Apsaras are constantly seducing sages to break their penance and reduce their powers over the gods) , injustice ( Draupadi was never asked if she was willing to be the wife of 5 men) revenge ( Drona goes to war when insulted by Drupad and seizes half his kingdom so they can be equals )and sheer imagination ( a hermit was asked to make 2 princesses pregnant since their husband had died and the kingdom needed heirs. One of them closed her eyes when she saw him since he looked terrible and so gave birth to a blind child).
Not to forget the biggest battle of the Kuruskshetra where Krishna speaks to Arjun and shares the Bhagvad Gita (literally the song of the Gods) (nothing to match that in the battles on King’s Landing) and finally of course Valar Morgulis—all men must die.
The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world, and it is worth every verse to find a translation and get started.
Trust me, I am the Doctor 🙂