Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
Thank you for the A2A.
The era when the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is believed to have taken place was one where ideologies like divorce or spousal ‘fights’ (serious ones) were uncommon.
Despite the presence of several headstrong women characters in both epics, it can be seen that almost all (if not all) of them gave utmost respect to their husbands. Whatever they said was the final word. The husband was the center of the woman’s universe. They had a very strong belief that no matter what, the bond they shared with their husband was an unbreakable one. There is a reason why a man referred to his wife as his ardhangini or ‘my other half’.
A man and a woman became a complete person only upon being bound to their spouse by marriage. A man and a woman were bound together forever by the power of the mangalsutra that he tied around her neck at the marriage, by the kumkum he smeared on the parting of her hair, by the seven oaths they took together. These were irrevocable and interminable. But the ways in which women handled relationships back then were truly amazing! They put in all they had to keep the relationship intact. For without their husbands, they were incomplete beings.
The pious Queen Mandodari bore her husband Ravana’s philandering ways silently. It is commonly believed that it was the power of her chastity that kept him alive despite his several misdeeds. Yet, she loved him and lamented his death.
After all that she underwent at Lanka, Devi Sita was put through a test by fire by her own husband to prove her chastity to the world. Lord Rama heaped the most painful accusations on her, he deserted her and sent her away to the forest when she was pregnant and yet, Devi Sita had nothing but love and loyalty towards her ‘Lord’. A pregnant Devi Sita retired to the forest saying that she could not bear her husband being humiliated by society because of her.
The kings of those days married two or three wives, as was common practice, for various reasons – political and otherwise. The other wives didn’t object to any of the King’s decisions and accepted the new brides as their sisters. Again, the husband was their ‘Lord’. In the Mahabharata, King Pandu took on young and haughty Princess Madri for a wife not long after he married the calm and docile Princess Kunti. The politically favorable decision was not questioned. Madri was partially responsible for Pandu’s death soon after but Kunti bore none of that grudge when she adopted Madri’s orphaned sons, Nakul and Sahadev, as her own sons.
Draupadi was destined to be the wife of five brothers at the same time – an arrangement that was frowned at and was the subject of many insults all her life. She accepted it despite her initial reluctance just to honor a mother’s inadvertent order. She was shamefully gambled away like a piece of property by her husband during the infamous Game of Dice and she was insulted beyond description by her perpetrators. Yes, she was furious at her husbands and never forgave them. But she did not walk out on them. She kept the flame of revenge alive in them for fourteen years and avenged her insult at the Kurukshetra war when her husbands and kinsmen felled each one of those who insulted her.
Yes, problems did arise. But the women of those days maintained such a stoic facade and carried on despite any difficult situation they faced, unlike how it is today. Nowadays, people storm out of relationships at the drop of a hat. It was not like that back then. How could one person walk out of one half of the person’s own self? This was the philosophy. A man and woman married to each other became an inseparable and integral part of each others lives.
Some people view these philosophies as being highly misogynistic, patriarchal and sexist. But those were different times…times that none of us alive today have any first-hand idea about. So we can’t really judge them.