There is no literary space in Indian mythology that is not filled with the glory of strong female characters and their virtues. One often narrates about the virtue of strategist in Princess Draupadi or the virtue of sacrifice and patience in Goddess Sita. One also describes the virtue of pure love and devotion in Queen Rukmani or the virtue of hard work and dedication of Princess Parvati.
But unlike above-listed virtues, when we read ‘Kundalakesi’ – “One of the five colossal epics in Tamil literature“, we understand that there is more to a strong girl than sheer love for her partner. Why do I speak of ” the virtues ” of this protagonist? Well because while I mention above of the four women who made sacrifices for their husbands, there are times when it takes the same character to push their male egocentric partners from the cliff, literally!
Though this masterpiece of literature has not survived completely in all these years, yet the fragments of this story are found in Buddhist subtext and their stories. In 1951 a Tamil film by the name “Manthiri Kumari ” was produced which has this 10th-century story as the undertone.
This story is of a girl named ‘Kundalakesi’ who not only falls in love with Kalan, a bandit who is about to be sentenced to death but also saves his life and marries him. This girl literally did it before Britney Spears sang ”But mama, I’m in love with a criminal”.
Some say she paid the king in gold as much as the bandit weighed. Some say that she tricked the king in proving him innocent. There is no clear description as to how the girl rescues the bandit. But eventually, she marries the guy and lives happily after, until fate had it.
One fine day, amidst a fight, she teases her husband with the slang “thief” reminding him of his past. At this moment, reality hits harder than anything to the bandit and so does the insecurities. Just one slang was enough to stir a sour idea of killing his wife in his mind. Kalan’s plan of taking Kundalakesi up on the hill after a couple of days of the fight and pushing her was an epiphany in disguise for our girl.
On some pretense, Kalan takes Kundalakesi up the hill and discloses his plans of killing her. Seeing no forgiveness in his eyes, Kundalakesi knows there is no other way of escaping the scene. So, she uses her wit yet again. She requests him to let her circumambulate him – her husband – three times like a god, before her death. In midst of the circling when she is behind him, she pushes her husband over into the valley below and kills him.
She feels remorse for killing the man she once fell in love with and someone she had married. Therefore, after killing her husband she accepts her fate and decides to be accountable for the death of a human being. She narrates the entire incident in front of the king and decides to turn into a Buddhist nun.
Though various scholars have called the epic as a work of polemics and controversy. For me, this is neither a belligerent act nor a love story. For me, this is a story of a girl who in the face of death, unravels that – No matter what, I should love myself first (self-care). I should respect myself (self-esteem) and understand the importance of freedom from toxic relations (sense of justice).
Some life lesson, one can enrich themselves with after reading this story is:
- Money certainly has the power to get you anything but it does not guarantee love and respect.
- Life is nothing but accepting and forgiving and improving to set ourselves free from the past.
- Love is nothing if it cannot liberate you in all sense and direction.
- Taking accountability and responsibility for our choices and actions rather than being a victim, is the first step towards achieving freedom.
- But above all this, it tells us that – Freedom is not a piece of cloth, which can be snatched by mere mortals. It’s a state of mind.
The reason I decided to share this story for India’s 74th Independence Day is that its high time we realize it’s not 1947 anymore. We are no more in physical shackles. Yet there are many of us who are still in the mental shackles of toxic relations, insecurities, enmity, and hostility. We still shy out in standing for ourselves and taking unapologetic decisions about our well-being.
Not everyone gets a prince in shining armor that comes to the rescue. Sometimes it’s only us who can free ourselves of the invisible manacles. At times the hero or even better the heroine has to also take the role of an antagonist, to free themselves just as Kundalkesi did.
Written by – Tillotama and Shefalika Upadhyay