Perhaps no other faith glorifies the idea of love between the sexes as Hinduism. This is evident from the amazing variety of mythical love stories that abounds Sanskrit literature, which is undoubtedly one of the richest treasure hoards of exciting love tales.
The tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale format of the great epics ofMahabharata and Ramayana, lodges a lot of love legends. Then there are the charming stories of Hindu gods and goddesses in love and the well-known works like Kalidasa’s Meghadutam andAbhijnanashakuntalam and Surdasa’s lyrical rendition of the legends of Radha,Krishna and the gopis of Vraj. Set in a land of great natural beauty, where the lord of love picks his victims with consummate ease, these stories celebrate the myriad aspects of the many-splendored emotion called love.
The Lord of Love
It is relevant, here, to know about Kamadeva, the Hindu god of carnal love, who is said to arouse physical desire. Born out of the heart of Creator Lord Brahma, Kamadeva is depicted as a youthful being with a greenish or reddish complexion, decked with ornaments and flowers, armed with a bow of sugarcane, strung with a line of honeybees and floral arrowheads. His consorts are the beautiful Rati and Priti, his vehicle is a parrot, his chief ally is Vasanta, the god of spring and he is accompanied by a band of dancers and performers – Apsaras, Gandharvas and Kinnaras.
The Kamadeva Legend
According to a legend Kamadeva met his end at the hands of Lord Shiva, who incinerated him in the flames of his third eye. Kamadeva had inadvertently wounded the meditating Lord Shiva with one of his arrows of love, which resulted him to fall in love with Parvati, his consort. From then on he is thought to be bodiless; however, Kamadeva has several reincarnations, including Pradyumna, the son of Lord Krishna.
Revisiting the Love Stories
Classical love legends from Hindu mythology and folklore of India are both passionate and sensuous in content, and never fail to appeal to the romantic in us. These fables fuel our imagination, engage our emotions, sense and sensibility, and above all, entertain us. Here we revisit three such love stories:
The legend of the exquisitely beautiful Shakuntala and the mighty king Dushyant is a thrilling love story from the epic Mahabharata, which the great ancient poet Kalidasa retold in his immortal play Abhijnanashakuntalam.
While on a hunting trip, King Dushyant of the Puru dynasty meets the hermit-girl Shakuntala. They fall in love with each other and, in the absence of her father, Shakuntala weds the king in a ceremony of ‘Ghandharva’, a form of marriage by mutual consent with mother Nature as the witness. When the time comes for Dushyant to return to his palace, he promises to send an envoy to escort her to his castle. As a symbolic gesture he gives her a signet ring.
One day when the hotheaded hermit Durvasa stops at her hut for hospitality, Shakuntala, lost in her love thoughts, fails to hear the guest’s calls. The temperamental sage turns back and curses her: “He whose thoughts have engrossed you would not remember you anymore.” On the plea of her companions, the enraged sage relents and adds a condition to his curse-statement: “He can only recall you upon producing some significant souvenir.”
Days roll by and nobody from the palace comes to fetch her. Her father sends her to the royal court for their reunion, as she was pregnant with Dushyant’s child. En route, Shakuntala’s signet-ring accidentally drops into the river and gets lost.
When Shakuntala presents herself before the king, Dushyant, under the spell of the curse, fails to acknowledge her as his wife. Heart-broken, she pleads to the gods to vanquish her from the face of earth. Her wish is granted. The spell is broken when a fisherman finds the signet ring in the guts of a fish – the same ring that Shakuntala had lost on her way to the court. The king suffers from an intense feeling of guilt and injustice. Shakuntala forgives Dushyant and they are reunited happily. She gives birth to a male child. He is called Bharat, after whom India gets her name.
Legend of Savitri and Satyavan
Savitri was the beautiful daughter of a wise and powerful king. The fame of Savitri’s beauty spread far and wide, but she refused to marry, saying that she would herself go out in the world and find a husband for herself. So the king chose the best warriors to protect her, and the princess wandered throughout the country searching for a prince of her choice.
One day she reached a dense forest, where dwelt a king who had lost his kingdom and fallen into his bad days. Old and blind he lived in a small hut with his wife and son. The son, who was a handsome young prince, was the sole comfort of his parents. He chopped wood and sold it in the countryside, and bought food for his parents, and they lived in love and happiness. Savitri was strongly drawn towards them, and she knew her search had come to an end. Savitri fell in love with the young prince, who was called Satyavan, and was known for his legendary generosity.
Hearing that Savitri has chosen a penniless prince, her father was heavily downcast. But Savitri was hell-bent on marrying Satyavan. The king consented, but a saint informed him that a fatal curse laid upon the young prince: He is doomed to die within a year. The king told her daughter about the curse and asked her to choose someone else. But Savitri refused, and stood firm in her determination to marry the same prince. The king finally agreed with a heavy heart.
The wedding of Savitri and Satyavan took place with a lot of fanfare, and the couple went back to the forest hut. For a whole year they lived happily. On the last day of the year, Savitri rose early and when Satyavan picked up his axe to go into the forest to chop wood she requested him to take her along, and the two went into the jungle.
Under a tall tree, he made a seat of soft green leaves and plucked flowers for her to weave into a garland while he chopped wood. Towards noon Satyavan felt a little tired, and after a while he came and lay down resting his head in Savitri’s lap. Suddenly the whole forest grew dark, and soon Savitri saw a tall figure standing before her. It was Yama, the God of Death. “I have come to take your husband,” said Yama, and looked down at Satyavan, as his soul left his body.
When Yama was about to leave, Savitri ran after him, and pleaded Yama to take her too along with him to the land of the dead or give back the life of Satyavan. Yama replied, “Your time has not yet come, child. Go back to your home.” But Yama was ready to grant her any boon, except Satyavan’s life. Savitri asked, “Let me have wonderful sons.” “So be it”, replied Yama. Then Savitri said, “But how can I have sons without my husband, Satyavan? Therefore I beg of you to give back his life.” Yama had to give in! Satyavan’s body came back to life. He slowly woke up from the stupor and the two gladly walked back to their hut.
So strong was the single-minded love and determination of Savitri that she chose a noble young man for her husband, knowing that he had only a year to live, married him with all confidence. Even the God of Death had to relent, and bowed to her love and devotion.
The Radha-Krishna amour is a love legend of all times. It’s indeed hard to miss the many legends and paintings illustrating Krishna’s love affairs, of which the Radha-Krishna affair is the most memorable. Krishna’s relationship with Radha, his favorite among the ‘gopis’ (cow-herding maidens), has served as a model for male and female love in a variety of art forms, and since the sixteenth century appears prominently as a motif in North Indian paintings. The allegorical love of Radha has found expression in some great Bengali poetical works of Govinda Das, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Jayadeva the author ofGeet Govinda.
Krishna’s youthful dalliances with the ‘gopis’ are interpreted as symbolic of the loving interplay between God and the human soul. Radha’s utterly rapturous love for Krishna and their relationship is often interpreted as the quest for union with the divine. This kind of love is of the highest form of devotion in Vaishnavism, and is symbolically represented as the bond between the wife and husband or beloved and lover.
Radha, daughter of Vrishabhanu, was the mistress of Krishna during that period of his life when he lived among the cowherds of Vrindavan. Since childhood they were close to each other – they played, they danced, they fought, they grew up together and wanted to be together forever, but the world pulled them apart. He departed to safeguard the virtues of truth, and she waited for him. He vanquished his enemies, became the king, and came to be worshipped as a lord of the universe. She waited for him. He married Rukmini and Satyabhama, raised a family, fought the great war of Ayodhya, and she still waited. So great was Radha’s love for Krishna that even today her name is uttered whenever Krishna is refered to, and Krishna worship is though to be incomplete without the deification of Radha.
One day the two most talked about lovers come together for a final single meeting. Suradasa in his Radha-Krishna lyrics relates the various amorous delights of the union of Radha and Krishna in this ceremonious ‘Gandharva’ form of their wedding in front of five hundred and sixty million people of Vraj and all the gods and goddesses of heaven. The sage Vyasa refers to this as the ‘Rasa’. Age after age, this evergreen love theme has engrossed poets, painters, musicians and all Krishna devotees alike.
~ By Subhamoy Das