Feminine Mythique History & Culture

Gender as the ultimate weapon

The story of Sikhandi, with its many variations, is most fascinating in the Mahabharata. The cause of Bhishma’s death, the character is a tragic figure, the pathos going back to another birth — that of Amba, the ravishing princess of Kasi. Bhishma’s only goal is to protect the kingdom and the king’s interests, so he will stoop to anything. He watches the humiliation of Panchali in Dritarashtira’s court but then earlier, he had himself treated another woman with shocking insensitivity.

In his bid to find a bride for Vichitravirya, the prince of Hastinapur, Bhishma goes to Kasi, where the king has organised a swayamvara for his daughters — Amba, Ambai and Ambalika.

To the puzzled contestants, he declares that he is representing Vichitravirya. He defeats them all and leaves with the three beautiful princesses in his chariot. Are they interested in this alliance? Bhishma does not care. On the way, however, he is challenged by Salva, king of Saubala, who is in love with Amba. Bhishma defeats him and reaches Hastinapur, which gets ready for the royal wedding.

A question

Her sisters have reconciled but Amba has a question for Bhishma: “I have already decided that the king of Salva will be my husband. How is it ethical for me to marry your prince?” Agreeing, Bhishma sends her back to Salva but the humbled king is not ready to accept her. The girl returns to Hastinapur, where Vichitravirya rejects her, in spite of Bhishma’s pleas. Amba turns to Bhishma — “You put me in this predicament. Marry me.” Of course, Bhishma

Amba storms out and goes to the forests. It is said that Parasurama, kshatriya-hater, takes up the cudgels for her but cannot conquer Bhishma.

Amba does penance seeking divine help to avenge Bhishma. Siva appears and assures her that her desire will be fulfilled, but in her next birth. An impatient Amba jumps into fire and is born as Sikhandini, daughter of Drupada. Chagrined about her sex, she again does penance and becomes a man but with the appearance of a woman. The time has come for revenge.

Bow lowered

It is Day Ten of the Kurukshetra war. Unable to bring down Bhishma, Krishna puts Sikhandi on the chariot in front of Arjuna and the Pitamaha is stunned. Fight with a woman? Not ethical, he says and lowers his bow. “She is a man, Bhishma, and strange, you are talking about ethics,” mocks Krishna. “Remember Amba, this is Sikhandi, her reincarnation,” he reminds the sire.

That Arjuna lets off arrows and Bhishma is felled is a tale well-known. Amidst debates over LGBT rights, it is fascinating that thousands of years ago, Vyasa has documented it. A variation is found in Virata Parva, where Arjuna assumes the guise of a woman, Brihannala.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 9:44:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-story-of-sikhandi/article19270035.ece

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