Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Decoding Hindu Mythology Usha’s Pleasure

In the Orissa State Museum is a rare palm leaf manuscript that tells the story of Usha's pleasure or Usha - Vilasa written in the 16th century by Shishu Shankar Das. The story is based on an episode in Sarala Mahabharata, the Oriya retelling of the Mahabharata, which in turn is inspired by both the Sanskrit Mahabharata as well as the Sanskrit Bhagavata. It tells the story of an Asura princess, Usha, who falls in love with Krishna's grandson, Aniruddha.

Usha, the daughter of Bana, the Asura king of Shonitapura, once dreams of a handsome young man, following which she is restless as her body burns with desire. She wonders who he is. Her friend, a sorceress, Chitralekha, draws for her the faces of many handsome men and gods and kings, who inhabit the three worlds. She draws the faces of Indra and Brahma and Surya, but none match the exquisite features of the man Usha dreamt of.

Finally Chitralekha draws the image of Aniruddha, the son of Pradyumna and the grandson of Krishna, who resides in Dwaraka. "That's him. Bring him to me for my satisfaction," Usha begs Chitralekha.

So Chitralekha flies across the land from Sonitpur in the east to in the west, and abducts Aniruddha while he is still asleep. In the morning, Aniruddha finds himself in the arms of Usha. He too falls in love with her and they make love. As they are enjoying themselves, Usha's father, Bana, walks in on them. He recognizes the young boy as the grandson of Krishna and has him thrown into the dungeons.

Bana is described as a devotee of Shiva. So he does not like Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu on earth. Krishna, his brother Balabhadra and his son Pradyumna come to Sonitpur on Garuda in search of the missing Aniruddha. He orders Bana to release Aniruddha. Bana refuses. A great battle follows in which Bana is defeated by Krishna. As Krishna is about to kill Bana, Shiva appears and requests Krishna to spare Bana. Krishna agrees on condition that Bana lets Aniruddha marry Usha. Bana agrees and in a huge celebration Krishna's grandson marries Bana's daughter. Usha follows her husband and her grandfather – in - law to Dwaraka as a coy bride.

This story is interesting at many levels. This is one of those rare stories where a woman expresses her desire for a man. It even involves the abduction of a man by a woman on orders of another woman. A bold theme even in modern times. The lovemaking of Usha and Aniruddha is described without embarrassment. Before they make love, they marry as per Gandharva rites, which means without consent of adults, but taking the consent of the elements such as the sun and the sky and the trees. It suggests pre - marital sex and it is seen with a maturity not common even today.

The story spans the breadth of India. Sonitpur is located in Assam and Dwaraka is located in Gujarat. It perhaps indicates the spread of Krishna worship beyond its origins in the Gangetic plains. In the 16th century, there was great rivalry between worshippers of Shiva and worshippers of Vishnu. This story shows the superiority of Krishna, hence Vishnu, over Shiva's devotee, hence Shiva. It also shows an attempt at reconciliation through marriage.

Finally, an Asura's daughter becomes the grand daughter – in - law of Krishna, indicating that Asuras were never seen as evil as is popularly believed but merely as a class of beings different from humans and gods. The association of the East, Bengal and Assam, with Tantra probably inspired the character of Chitralekha who has knowledge of sorcery and black magic. The story of Usha and Aniruddha is clearly a medieval ballad full of romance and passion, valor and magic that still captivates us.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik
Author, Speaker, Illustrator, Mythologist
Courtesy: Star of Mysore


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