chapter  8
17 Pages

Textual–Sexual Transitions

The Reification of Women in the Mahābhārata
ByUma Chakravarti

The author shows how ethics itself in the Mahābhārata is ideologically constructed by narrow kṣatriya interests. The political transition from kin and clan units to kingdoms and the corresponding shifts in relation to land go together with anxieties about lineage and control of female sexuality. This is concomitant with changes in social practices of marriage, which becomes the exchange of women as wombs. But the author forcefully points out how the text – that purports to be about all ‘human’ ethical issues – is strangely reluctant to expound on the ethical dimensions of reproductive practices even after marking them as violations. The author makes her case by analysing the rākṣasa mode or ‘marriage by abduction’ seen in the abduction of Ambā (along with her two sisters) to serve as brides for the king. Ambā’s expression of sexual autonomy in openly expressing her desire to choose her husband is not only thwarted, but her righteous rage is not even allowed to surface as a moral crisis by the narrative logic, in a clear case of the silencing of feminine agency whereby actual women in the Mahābhārata are not agents who can choose to live, love and reproduce on their own terms.