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Roles of a wife

In the Mahabharata, we have the story of Shakuntala and Dushyanta. Shakuntala comes from ‘shakya’ or possibility, representing the fulfilment of hidden possibilities. During the course of the story Dushyanta acted as if he did not recognise Shakuntala, which was on purpose. He could see that there was a lot of wisdom lying in Shakuntala, and by acting ignorant he provoked her to reveal that knowledge. A part of Shakuntala’s dialogues were on the roles of a wife; let us see what she had to say.

The first word Shakuntala defines is ‘patni’. This comes from the Sanskrit root ‘pa’, which has two meanings – one to give food and drink, and the other to nourish. Here Shakuntala explains how a wife nourishes her husband’s soul by giving him the drink of love.

The ‘patni’ is called ‘jaaya’ when she becomes pregnant. This word comes from ‘jana’ or to give birth too. If she gives birth to a son, he is called ‘putra’ formed combining ‘pu’ and ‘tra’. ‘Pu’ stands for suffering or purgatory, and ‘tra’ means to transcend. Shakuntala is saying that by the birth of a son, the father transcends suffering.

The next role she calls is ‘bharya’ from the root ‘bhru’, meaning to pervade and ‘bharthu’, which means a leader or asupporter. Her consciousness pervades the secret of existence. Only she knows how to give birth. In this role, she embodies creation and brings the bliss of creativity and wealth; also, in hard times she supports and nurses her husband.

The next role is ‘priyamvada’ from ‘pri’ meaning to please, to be a friend, to soothe. Shakuntala says that the wifefills her husband’s heart with the elixir of friendship. In this role she also provides for travellers who pass her husband’s door.

She finally talks of ‘kaanta’ from the root ‘kaam’ meaning desire. The wife is the fulfiller of her husband’s innermost desire. She says, “O king the deepest desire in all men is that of continuity (through birth of a child), even the great sages with all their powers and knowledge had to marry to quench this thirst.” In this role, fulfilling this deepest desire she is ‘kaanta’.

She says the wife brings ‘preeti’ or love, ‘rati’ or fulfilment, and ‘dharma’ or the natural law of evolution to her household.