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Mandodari, p.1

Mandodari, page 1



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  Queen of Lanka

























  An Afterword—By Mandodari



  Follow Penguin




  A feminist and a passionate mythologist, Manini J. Anandani is currently pursuing her postgraduate diploma in comparative mythology from University of Mumbai. She has previously worked in the hospitality, marketing, communication, banking and sales sectors, and as a corporate trainer. She lives in Mumbai with her husband, Jeetu, and her daughter, Anika. Mandodari is her first book.

  To all the women in mythology—

  the daughters, the sisters, the wives and the mothers—

  known and unknown

  Ahalya Draupadi Sita Tara Mandodari tatha I

  Panchakanya smarennitya mahapataka nasini II

  Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari

  One should forever remember the panchakanya—

  the destroyers of sins

  The Panchakanya shloka is a well-known Sanskrit hymn about the five iconic heroines of Hindu epics. All five women were married and though their lives were full of misery, they tackled the most difficult situations with courage. Orthodox Hindu wives remember the Panchakanya in their morning prayers. It is said that chanting this shloka washes away sins and provides valour, composure and ability to the woman who recites it.


  Once an apsara named Madhura wanted to appease Shiva. She wished for the lord to either accept her as his second consort or bless her with a husband as great as he himself was. Hence, she took vows and adorned herself with jewels to please him. She reached Kailash when Shiva’s prime consort, Parvati, was not around. Shiva was in deep meditation, unaware of any presence in his surroundings. However, the scent of the apsara’s celestial body aroused the supreme god with lust. Shiva roused from his meditation and saw the beautiful-bodied Madhura. He made love to her and she willingly submitted, hoping to receive a boon.

  When Parvati returned to Kailash, she noticed traces of ash from Shiva’s body on Madhura’s breasts. Frantic and full of anger, Parvati cursed Madhura to turn into a frog and live in a well for the next twelve years as punishment for charming and luring her husband into committing adultery.

  Shiva calmed his angry wife and expressed remorse for his act. He consoled Madhura and gave her a boon: she would reincarnate as a beautiful woman and marry a great, valorous king—one of Shiva’s own devotees.

  Years after this incident, an asura king called Mayasura and his apsara wife, Hema, were performing months of penance in a nearby forest to seek Shiva’s favour. Mayasura and Hema had two sons, Mayavi and Dundubhi. Unhappy with their roguish sons, the couple longed for a daughter.

  It was a pleasant morning when Mayasura ended his penance and was walking through the forest to fetch some water. He heard a child crying nearby and started looking around. He realized the cries were coming from a nearby well and rushed to the child’s rescue. Mayasura called out to his wife, who was still meditating. Together, they rescued a beautiful girl child from the well. Grateful to Shiva for answering their prayers and blessing their penance with the child, they adopted her as their daughter.

  They brought her up as Mandodari.


  I was getting dressed early that morning to join my brothers for hunting.

  ‘You are not going anywhere,’ said Mai while braiding my hair with flowers. ‘You hurt yourself every time and I get an earful from the queen.’

  Mai was the midwife assigned to my mother Hema and me. She was old, witty and took care of everything.

  ‘But I can hunt better than my brothers, Mayavi and Dundubhi,’ I argued.

  ‘Princesses don’t go hunting. Princesses are born to marry a handsome prince and . . . ’

  ‘Please stop putting these flowers in my hair, Mai,’ I interrupted.

  While my mother was a beautiful apsara and a celestial dancer, my father was the ruler of Mayarastra and a renowned architect. He was a father figure for the rakshasa, asura and daitya races of Bharatvarsh. He was also the designer and king of the three flying cities known as Tripura. He taught me about architecture on the different landforms of Bharatvarsh—mountains or heavenly plateaus known as swarg, plains known as bhoomi and deep valleys or the underworld known as patala. These terrains were collectively known as Triloka or the three worlds. The deva gana race occupied mainly the mountainous region of Bharatvarsh known as Devaloka. The plains were shared by the manava gana and the rakshasa gana. The underworld or the nether world was ruled by another race of asuras called the danavas.

  Mai had once explained to me that we were asuras by race and others such as the devas and the manavas were very different from us.

  As a teenager I always enjoyed playing outside with my sakhis. We would go hunting, compete in archery and often talk about marriages. We would gossip about princes and their affairs, and that’s how I learnt about love. My sakhis shared numerous stories about love. Some were made up.

  I grew up learning about the different buildings and mansions my father created for the rulers of the netherworld. It was said that his buildings and palaces drew envious looks from even deva Indra’s Amravati. Sometimes he was visited by the devas too as there was barely a match for his design and architecture in Devaloka.

  When I turned fifteen, my father started involving me in his ventures. I took a keen interest in construction and design as my father was a master of architectural illusions. Our palace was full of architectural wonders. My bedroom chamber was attached to a private garden, which had a small path connected to the main court of the estate. Our gardens were adorned with divine flowers and manicured landscapes that seemed like bright glittering emeralds during the day. Fresh waterfalls and supernal fragrance from the flowers made a remarkable combination of the natural world and illusions.

  At the centre of the garden lay an illusory path towards the main court. It was made of fine crystals, which were transparent—walking on it felt like walking on the stars. We were devotees of Lord Shiva and hence a temple dedicated to him was built before the entrance to the main court. The temple was made at a height on a single-stone marble platform that looked like the mountain of Kailash. A huge Shiva Lingam of solidified mercury was worshipped in the centre. This temple had no roof, but trees had been planted around it in a way that they covered the entire temple platform. We believed that Shiva was neither a deva nor an asura. He took no sides. He favoured no one and envied no one.

  The dome-shaped main court was centrally situated in the capital of Mayarastra. Visitors and guests were received in the main court first, and then directed towards the guest chambers or else towards the city exit.

  One day, there was a very special guest expected at court. Mother told me about a young Brahmin boy who was going to visit father that day to seek his architectural advice on building temples in his kingdom. Rumours went around that he was a great scholar and also a Shiva bhakta like us. People called him Ravana.

  Ravana was the son of the great sage Vishrava and the daitya princess Kaikesi. He was, thus, biologically a daitya and
belonged to the caste of Brahmins. Mother told me that Kaikesi’s father, Sumali, the king of daityas, wished for his daughter to marry the most powerful being in the mortal world so as to produce an exceptional heir. Sumali expected this heir to help develop the masses of his clan. He rejected the kings of the world as they were less powerful than he. Kaikesi took matters of her marriage into her own hands and searched among the sages and the scholars. She finally chose Vishrava, a Brahmin scholar and researcher.

  Vishrava was an intellectual par excellence; he had earned great powers through tapasya. He was married to Ilavida, daughter of Rishi Bharadwaja, and she had given him a son named Kubera or the Lord of Wealth as assigned by the devas. Vishrava was performing a yagna in his ashram when Kaikesi stood in front of him. She was young; her features sharp and body well-toned. She approached Vishrava unswervingly for his seed to bear her a child who would improve the conditions of her clan.

  Vishrava fell in love with Kaikesi and took her as his second wife. Although hurt and feeling rejected, Ilavida respected her husband’s decision and abstemiously accepted Kaikesi as a part of her family and in the ashram. Vishrava fathered quadruplets through Kaikesi. The eldest son being Ravana, followed by Vibhishana, Kumbakarna and a daughter named Meenakshi. When Ravana was born, Kaikesi placed her crystal necklace around her firstborn to signify the superior destiny he would bring for her clan. The reflection of his mother’s crystal necklace on his face created an ocular illusion of ten heads and so he was named Dashaanan, the one with ten heads.

  Dashaanan learnt and mastered the four Vedas from his father at a very young age. He possessed a thorough knowledge of Ayurveda and astrology. He learnt music, arts, political science and occult science and became a renowned scholar of the six shastras.

  He was named ‘Ravana’ by Shiva. It was believed that he once stood for months in tapasya to seek Shiva’s blessings. He wished to carry the lord to Lanka so he would be close to him. He even tried to dislodge Mount Kailash on which Shiva was meditating. Shiva pressed the mountain down with his toe, crushing Dashaanan’s forearm and his ego, clearly rejecting his move. Ravana then composed the Shiva Tandava Strotam to praise the lord and ask for forgiveness. Shiva acknowledged Ravana as his primary disciple—parambhakt—and also narrated a text on astrological predictions called ‘Ravana Samhita’ to him.

  Taking advantage of his growing demonic powers, Dashaanan usurped his half-brother Kubera’s throne in Lanka. Vishrava advised Kubera to let go of his throne as Dashaanan had greater powers and war strategies. After witnessing Dashaanan’s disrespectful treatment of his older brother, Vishrava disowned his asura family and returned to his first wife, Ilavida.

  Close family members and ministers of the court were invited to meet the renowned guest of the day. The dome of the main court was translucent and visible only to the people standing inside. I walked towards the main court realizing that I was late, or perhaps the others had arrived before time in their anticipation to meet Ravana.

  There was music in the air. I stepped inside the court and saw a well-built man sitting right next to father’s throne. He was playing the veena. Everybody’s eyes were on him. He was tall, slightly tanned and sat with one leg crossed where he had placed the veena. He wore a tall golden crown, taller than father’s. His earlobes were long and he wore gold earrings; he had shoulder length hair. His forehead was smeared with chandan paste in a symbol that signified his Brahmin caste. He wore an upanayana thread across his chest and a huge opal-pendant necklace. His perfectly carved abdomen was draped in a pure silk dhoti with a golden border. I couldn’t take my eyes off of his arms, which were the most muscular arms I had ever seen. He had a royal blue-red velvet stole draped over his arm.

  He kept his eyes shut while playing the veena. His aura was so magnetic that I could feel myself being pulled towards him even though I was barely paying attention to his face. My eyes were transfixed on him ever since I had stepped into the room, barely acknowledging the other people present there.

  Suddenly there was rapturous applause, ‘Marvellous! You play music better than a Gandharva!’ praised my father.

  He opened his eyes, placed the veena down, joined his hands in respect and smiled at my father.

  ‘You are simply being generous in your appreciation, Asura Raj,’ Ravana said.

  ‘Oh . . . so beside your valour, you are also a modest man, Dashaanan? A rare quality to find in an emperor like you,’ said father and they both shared a hearty laugh together.

  ‘I believe my qualities were enhanced by my guru—the great asura emperor—Mahabali.’

  Asura Raj Mahabali was the grandson of daitya king Prahlada. His reign was considered the most prosperous. The asuras believed that the devas envied him and planned his demise. It was not taken well by the asuras and that created constant wars between the two parties since then.

  ‘Well, Asura Raj Mahabali would have been proud. He has trained you well and he made you a scholar.’

  ‘Let me introduce you to my family now. I am so glad that you accepted my son Mayavi’s invitation and we had the privilege of meeting a . . . a scholar like you,’ praised father and turned him towards the court.

  He glanced at the audience and then he looked at me. I felt a river running inside me.

  Father introduced us to Dashaanan, his younger brother Vibhishana, and his royal adviser Malyavan, who had accompanied him. I don’t remember the details of our first formal introduction. My eyes were lowered with some sort of embarrassment after he looked at me. He was meeting the other ministers of our kingdom and looked away from where I was standing. I could still feel his eyes on me, taking note of every movement I made. It wasn’t that he was the first man I had ever been introduced to nor had I ever behaved this timidly with any other guest, but he was unlike any man I had interacted with before.

  I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about my brief moment with Dashaanan. I wondered if he too was thinking about me. He was staying with us that night and was put up in one of our luxurious guest chambers. Mother told me that the kingdom he ruled down south had walls made of solid gold. People called his kingdom the ‘golden Lanka’ and Dashaanan was also addressed as ‘Lankesh’. Mother and Mai were concerned whether our guest chambers were comfortable enough for Dashaanan’s stay. However, in my opinion, our guest chambers were lavish and Dashaanan didn’t look like a guest who would come up with petty complaints.

  I decided that if I happened to meet Dashaanan again, I would conduct myself more assertively. I tried to get his departure details from Mai. She said that Dashaanan would join the king for lunch and depart for his kingdom in his Pushpaka Vimana—a flying chariot that he had taken over from Kubera. Pushpaka was originally made by Vishwakarma for Lord Brahma and later given to Kubera. The vimana could travel between cities, kingdoms and overseas in a short span of time. Locals of Mayarastra gathered around the Pushpaka Vimana to gaze at the aeronautical wonder.

  ‘Isn’t Lankesh planning to join bhrata Mayavi for hunting?’ I enquired from Mai.

  ‘No, Lankesh said he doesn’t enjoy games like hunting. A man with such profound knowledge and power must have outgrown such ordinary activities.’

  I thought Mai was done admiring him. Father spent a lot of time with Dashaanan and I was doubtful of seeing him again. Mai hurried to my chambers in the evening, pulled me towards the window and pointed towards the Pushpaka Vimana flying high up in the sky. Even though I was accustomed to seeing all the illusory buildings and wonderful mansions my father had created, I was somehow still in awe at the sight of a flying vimana for the first time.

  As a princess, I completed most of my education at the age of twelve. My tutoring mainly comprised physical training through yoga, a few Vedic texts for literary references, culinary arts, social science, and deva and asura history. I mastered engineering through my inclination towards my father’s profession. I also learnt different languages. Unlike boys, girls were excluded from other lessons of chemistry, political
science and warfare techniques. Asura men were fierce warriors and conquerors. There were many stories where asuras had successfully dethroned devas and conquered their kingdoms.

  Mother had instructed Mai to teach me all the things that a perfect bride should know. I polished my culinary skills, acquired theoretical knowledge of politics and learnt an ethical code of conduct essential for a queen. I knew for sure that my life would change after marriage. I kept imagining the man I would marry. I kept thinking about the kind of values he would possess. Then I wondered whether my future husband would be an asura or a deva? Or someday, would I encounter a Gandharva in the woods and fall in love with him? I remembered and relived my short meeting with Dashaanan every day. Four months had passed since I had last seen him.

  Then one day Mai came running to tell me a new story of accomplishment she had heard about Dashaanan. Apparently, he was given a boon by Prajapati Brahma and was expected at Mayarastra to meet Pitashri regarding some matter.

  A grand Rajsik bhojan comprising a variety of meats, curries and rice was being prepared for Dashaanan. Women were excluded from the lunch meeting as Pitashri had important matters to discuss. I stayed indoors and desperately waited to see Dashaanan again.

  Next day, when I stepped out of my chambers to meet Mother, I saw several courtiers dressed in white and red robes standing with gold platters, which were covered by black velvet serviettes embroidered with gold lace; a motif woven on each of them—a golden veena. It was not unusual for us to receive such gifts and offerings, as Father often exchanged such gifts with other kingdoms in case of a victory in war, new establishments and achievements. Looking at the poise of these courtiers, I understood that those gifts came from some very reputable kingdom.

  I went inside the room where Mother was busy talking to Mai; both looked very excited.

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