Civil Wooing For Sexual Consent 6000 Years Ago : A Mahabharata Story

It is civil but no less lusty or viscous, from what has been very vividly described in Devi Bhagavata Purana (II.2.1-36). The encounter took place over six millennia before our present day, between Sage Parashar and Satyavati, variously referred in ancients texts as Kali, Matsyagandha, and half a dozen other names. The narration herebelow freely adapts the textual content in the book to present the story in a more contextually meaningful and interesting way.

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The Sage was relatively young and a scion of great Vedic seer Sage Vashisht’s lineage. Satyavati was well formed but barely sixteen, who rowed a small boat to ferry travellers across river Yamuna. She was the future stepmother of grand warrior Bheeshma and the powerful matriarch of Hastinapur-based mighty Kurus, which later split into Kauravas and Pandavas during decades preceding the apocalyptical Mahabharata War.

But there were no superlatives about our protoganists when the incident took place : the Sage was greatly honoured in niche quarters but relatively unknown otherwise among common folks. Locally, the ordinary-looking but well-worked girl was better recognised, both as the Chief’s daughter and as a girl who was sharp, smart and voluptuous.

The story is but a tiny snippet within a mammoth epic. However, the unique sexual encounter of a virgin with a non-husband is neither rape nor adultery, and is teeming with information about the status of women, even minors, in the later Vedic age society prior to the Sindhu Sarasvati civilisational explosion of urban settlements in northern half of the Indian subcontinent.

The story of that day, mid-river, on the ferry…

On the boat, midway through the crossing, Sage Parashar was overcome by lust and, desiring the boat-woman, he grasped the young girl’s right hand and held her from her rowing with entreating eyes, “Please…”

Kali smiled. “Sir, what are you about to do ? Please consider, does it befit your glorious lineage descended from Sage Vashisht ? And your own ascesis and the scriptural demarche ?

” O Knower, what is this you wish, enslaved by desire ? You are the best of brahmins; rare is human birth on earth and rarer still as a brahmin. You know it all.

“O Exalted One, you notice my body is fish-odorous. Why yet do this un-aryan feeling arise ? I doubt not your wisdom, but what auspicious marks in my body do you see that you crave to possess me ? Does the desire so possess you that you forget to discriminate between what befits and what does not ?”

Thus saying , the dark-complexioned Satyavati mused : Oh, my ! In his madness to possess me this twice-born has lost his senses. He’ll upset the boat and drown me with it. He’s desperate; his heart is pierced by his want for me. None can prevent him from acting under its influence.

The girl however continued to address the great sage, in her bid to avoid the tragic event that she felt is sure to follow :

“O Great one, be patient till we reach the other bank.”

Suta, the narrator of tale in the epic, extends the story thus : Sage Parashara heeded her well-meant advice. He let go of her hand, quietened, and sat through rest of the way over the waters.

But reaching the other side, tormented by the same desire, he seized Matsyagandha again beseeching an intercourse.

Quivering with apprehension, and greatly annoyed, she spoke to the sage before her, “O foremost amongst the best of sages ! My body stinks; can you sense it not ? Making love ought to equally delight both the souls through its process to quench their wanting.”

And even as she spoke, in a flash, she turned fragrant, a sweet and pleasant presence, lovely to hold and beautiful to behold. Making his beloved musky and enchanting, the sage seized her right hand and, pulling close, squeezed her into his bosom.

But Satyavati instantly recoiled back and told the sage bent on coitus, “We are visible to everybody on the bank, O Sage, and by my father in particular. Coitus in broad daylight, in the open, would be a most beastly conduct, the thought of which disgusts me. Hence, O best of sages, wait till nightfall. It is prescribed for men to restrict the act to night time, under cover. Doing in daylight would be a grievous sin; if seen by others, it would bring great disrepute. Grant this desire of mine, o wise one.”

Finding her words logical, the generous sage at once shrouded all in mist by his yogic power. But while the riverbank was shrouded by deep darkness, Satyavati spoke to sage in a sweet, dulcet tone :

“I’m a virgin, O chief among the twice-born ! Enjoying me, you’ll depart where you will. But infallible is your seed, O Great Knower. What of me? If today I become pregnant, what shall I tell my father ? How shall I explain ? What shall I do if he casts me away ? Pray, tell me.”

The sage assuringly responded to her fears, “Beloved, today, having delighted me, you shall be restored to your virgin state. You shall regain your virginity, as of yore. Yet, woman, if you fear, ask what boon you will.”

Satyavati said, “Best of twice-born, you ever honor others. Hence act, that my father nor anyone else would know about it. Act, that my virgin status is not destroyed. And, as it happens, may your son be like you, as wondrously gifted. May my body be forever fragrant. And, may my youth be forever fresh, ever new.”

Assuring her of her son’s fame as Ved Vyas, the immortal sage with millennial reknown as compiler of Vedas and author of Puranas, Parashar swoops upon the consenting maiden. Having sated himself, the sage bathes in the Yamuna and departs, never to have any contact with her again.

The clever young girl was more than consenting and even more delighted. She bore the divine son and delivered the baby during the same shrouded while, on that isle in the river, and set the baby afloat and off. The day cleared when she reached the bank and was met by her father, who noticed nothing amiss.

The same woman drew the amorous attention of the mighty Kuru king, Shantanu, who married her. The kingdom rose in power under her deft matriarchal lead, overshadowing every other, with her gifted, undefeated warrior stepson Bheeshma at the head of the  Kuru army.

But that was when the tragic consequences of the act on the river isle were yet to unfold, leading to the apocalyptical Mahabharata War…

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