Madurai, Thillai and a space within

Marriage could belong to any of the three models

December 07, 2017 04:24 pm | Updated 04:44 pm IST

Our myths offer us different ways of considering the balance of power in marriages and relationships. How do these models construct gender roles, and talk about the relationship between male and female, models that not only have consequences for the balance of power within a marriage, but also, consequently, through the rest of society?

Particularly interesting for me are the ideas of marriage developed by Siva-Sakthi myths set in Tamil Nadu — the comparison between what is known as the ‘Meenakshi’ marriage, the ‘Chidambaram’ marriage and the third option, the idea of Ardhanari.

The Meenakshi marriage owes it’s name to the Goddess of Madurai, Meenakshi, a Pandyan princess who, having conquered the three realms, met Siva in the form of Sundareshwara in battle — and the pair fell in love and married. Sundareshwar comes to Madurai, to live in Meenakshi’s palace — and as a result this idea of marriage holds the woman to be more powerful, dominant over the man.

Interesting story

The Chidambaram marriage maintains the opposite, that men are dominant and powerful over women. Siva is the main deity of Chidambaram temple — and there is an interesting story that asserts his superiority over Parvati in the form of Kali. Legend has it that Parvathi and Shiva argued about who was more powerful — and to settle this dispute, agreed to a dance competition in Chidambaram (Thillai). Shiva, in the form of Nataraja, danced, and Parvathi, transforming into Kali, was able to match him move for move.

On the verge of being defeated, Shiva performed a dance move that Kali could not replicate — he raised his leg above his head.

Kali could not follow him — for to do so, to raise her leg above her head, would mean exposing herself in public. So Kali admitted defeat, and was banished to a temple on the outskirts of the town of Chidambharam, and Shiva was proclaimed the victor — superior to and more powerful than Parvathi. Interestingly, the idea of female shame, or public embarrassment, is tied to this idea of male dominance and power in this myth.

The third model is the most equitable one — the idea of the “Ardhanari” marriage. In the form of Ardhanaishvara, Siva and Parvati fuse together in one body, balanced and equal, no side asserting dominance or control over the other — an ideal that favours of mutual authority, completion and union between the sexes.

We still see all three models operate in the marriages and relationships around us even today. In some cases, the woman is dominant, in others the man, and ones in which power is balanced equally between and shared by both partners.

Although an equal shared balance seems the best to me, it is not always possible for each person, and couple, has a different partnership style. Such stories and myths provide us the ability for ourselves to consciously consider and choose what model, or ideal, we would like to implement in our partnerships, and which model is best suited to our own way of being.

The writer is the author of ‘The Mahabharatha- A Child’s View,’ ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Missing Queen’

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