Pancha Kanya: A Quest in Search of Meaning—Part II

Journal of Human Values 12 (2):107-136 (2006)
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Abstract

At times we come across traditional sayings that pose enigmas. Often, striving to resolve the puzzle turns into a quest, a search for meaning that, quite unexpectedly, throws light on problems facing us today. Such an enigmatic Sanskrit couplet exhorts invoking five females regularly to redeem us of failings, howsoever grievous: Ahalya draupadi kunti tara mandodari tatha\ Panchakanya smarenityam mahapataka nashinim\\ The choice of the five is itself intriguing, all being epic heroines: Ahalya, Tara and Mandodari from the Ramayana; Kunti and Draupadi from the Mahabharata. Even more so is the celeberation of each as kanya, not as nari or sati. If kanya connotes ‘virgin’, the matter becomes more puzzling since each had intimate relationships with more than one man. In analysing what is known about them, we are surprised, fore these heroines of ancient myth turn out to be, quite unexpectedly, guides for us in the twenty-first century. In the previous issue the exploration had dealt with four of the five kanyas. This concluding part examines the persona of Draupadi, heroine of the world's longest epic, the Mahabharata.1

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