Panchakanya- The story of 5 Eternal Virgins despite being married.

अहिल्या, तारा, मंदोदरी, कुंती दृापदी स्मरणं, नित्यं, महापातक नाशनाम.

Ahalya, Tara, Mandodari, and Sita, while Draupadi and Kunti from the Mahabharata. Sita and Kunti are often replaced by each other according to people’s beliefs.

These five women were born in  Kanya Rashi or the constellation of Virgo. The word ‘Kanya’ is used to denote a woman who is a ‘Virgin’. These women were the symbol of “Purity” and were considered the Eternal Virgins group despite being married.

Virgin women were supposed to have great powers of ‘Tapa’. So, all these women, despite being married, had the power of Tapa. These panchakanya are ones who owned their virginity and could revive it. The panchakanya’s were so pure that even through the fire they could pass unharmed.

Ahalya

The Bala Kanda of the Ramayana mentions that Brahma molds Ahalya out of pure creative energy. Brahma created her out of the water as the most beautiful woman in order to break the pride of Urvashi, the foremost celestial nymph. Brahma places her in the care of Gautama rishi until she reaches puberty. When that time arrives, the sage returns Ahalya to Brahma, who, impressed by Gautama’s sexual restraint and asceticism, bestows her upon him. Indra, who believes that the best women are meant for him, resents Ahalya’s marriage to the forest-dwelling ascetic.

In another tale, it is said Ahalya is created from the ashes of the sacrificial fire by the Saptarishi (seven seers) and gifted to sage Gautama.

The king of the gods, Indra, was infatuated with her beauty and comes disguised as Gautama when the sage was away, and requests to have physical relationships with Ahalya. In some versions, Ahalya sees through his disguise but still complies out of “curiosity” and because her husband would neglect his matrimonial duties. In later versions, Ahalya falls prey to Indra’s trickery and does not recognize him. In all narratives, Ahalya and her lover Indra are cursed by Gautama. Gautama then curses Ahalya to remain invisible to all beings for thousands of years, fast by subsisting only on-air, suffer and sleep in ashes and be tormented by guilt. Nevertheless, he assures her that her sin will be expiated once she extends her hospitality to Rama, who will visit the ashram. Thereafter, Gautama abandons the ashram and goes to the Himalayas to practice asceticism. Indra was cursed to be castrated or be covered by a thousand vulvae that ultimately turn into a thousand eyes.

The Ayodhya prince Rama, with his brother Lakshmana and their guru, the sage Vishvamitra pass Gautama’s desolate ashram while travelling to King Janaka’s court in Mithila. As they near the ashram, Vishvamitra recounts the tale of Ahalya’s curse and instructs Rama to save Ahalya. Ahalya is said to have been touched by Rama’s feet and rises from her stone state to human form and goes to her abode, the Gautama’s hermitage.

Tara

Tara was the wife of the monkey king Bali who was presumed dead after a battle with a demon after which she married his twin brother Sugriva according to the custom of the time. The lack of the description of formal marriage suggests that Tara’s relationship to Sugriva is neither widow re-marriage nor polyandry, but simply appropriation by Sugriva. In the references of the coronation of Sugriva as king, Angada is also described as the heir-apparent crown prince, while Tara is mentioned as Sugriva’s wife. The Adhyatma Ramayana declares that Sugriva acquires Tara.

It turns out that Bali isn’t killed in reality. When Bali returned, he was livid and abducted Sugriva’s first wife, Ruma, as revenge. As battle lines between the brothers were drawn, wise Tara counseled her first husband to return Ruma to his brother. Tara said Sugriva had not snatched her but married her legitimately only because Bali’s death had been confirmed. Tara, the mother of Bali’s son Angad, finally managed to wrest a promise from him that he would not kill his own brother. The brothers fought a duel in which Bali was killed by Sugriva’s mentor Rama. Sugriva was crowned king of the kingdom of Kishkindha. As dowager queen, Tara diplomatically left the question of the ascension of her son to the throne for his stepfather to resolve. She knew well that the guilt-ridden uncle Sugriva would not deny her son his right to the throne.

In his dying breath, Bali reconciles with Sugriva and instructs him to follow Tara’s wise counsel in all matters.

While all was well with the king and his lustful nature got the best of him and he eventually ignored his promise to Rama to help him win Sita back. Lakshaman was livid to find Sugriva had backtracked on his words. He entered Sugriva’s personal chambers to bring upon his wrath on the king but Queen Tara very diplomatically pacified the prince.

Thus she was instrumental in saving the king from the wrath of the Lakshmana and brought coherence in the Rama camp to fight the great war to avenge Sita.

Mandodari

Mandodari is the daughter of Mayasura, the king of the Asuras, who are god-like demons. He rescued a beautiful girl child from the well. He and his, wife, Hema, adopted her and named her Mandodari. She was taught aspects of architecture by King Mayasura. He taught Mandodari about the various landforms of Bharatvarsh which were Swarga (heavenly plateaus), Bhoomi (plains) and Patala (underworld). When she turned fifteen, he started involving her in his projects and eventually met Ravana when he came to seek her counsel.

Valmiki’s Ramayana describes Mandodari as a very beautiful, pious and noblewoman whose appearance once led Hanumana to mistake her for Sita. She was known to be extremely patient with Ravana’s attitude towards women, but always questioning his actions and rebuking his choices.

Despite Ravana’s faults, Mandodari loved him and was proud of his strength. She was aware of Ravana’s weakness towards women. A righteous woman, Mandodari tried to lead Ravana to righteousness, but Ravana ignored her advice.

Draupadi

Draupadi is also referred to as Panchali (meaning one from the kingdom of Panchala), Yajnaseni (meaning one born from a Yajna or fire-sacrifice), Mahabhaaratii (great wife of the five descendants of Bharata) and Sairandhri (an expert maid, her assumed name during her second exile in which she worked as Virat kingdom’s queen Sudeshna’s hair-stylist).

Panchali is the Dharma Pathini of the Pancha Pandavas. The concept behind her marrying five people is that she is the Shakthi Roopa of the five devas, Dharma – Yudhishthira, Vayu – Bheema, Indra – Arjun, Nakul and Sahadev – Ashwini Kumaras.

No woman ever faced the trials and tribulations that Draupadi faced in her life. Even after being born out of the fire to Drupada, even if she had heroic husbands, she had to undergo Vastra harana, exile, Agnata. Post-war she was faced to watch her entire clan being killed.

Kunti

She is one true Matriarch of the Saga of Mahabharata. Kunti or Pritha was the daughter of Shurasena and the foster daughter of his cousin Kuntibhoja. She is the sister of Vasudeva. She was married to King Pandu of Hastinapur and was the mother of Karna and the first three Pandava brothers Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna. She was the paternal aunt of Krishna, Balarama, and Subhadra. She was the stepmother or foster mother of Nakula and Sahadeva.

Kunti’s marital life was also unusual. Having chosen Pandu as her husband in a svayamvara ceremony, she never had a child by Pandu. Her husband had received a curse from the sage Kimdama that he would die on having intercourse with his wife because he had shot the sage with an arrow when he was copulating with his wife in the guise of a deer. Deeply hurt by the turn of events, Pandu decided to retire into the forest and live the life of renunciation. Kunti accompanied him. She invoked her boons for herself and Madri and had 3 children of her own and two for Madri. Pandu dies unable to abstain.