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The Tale of Madhavi- The self-renewing virgin

As a story of pride, jealousy, conflict, love, war, and sacrifice, Mahabharata's tale has been

passed down through various generations. The diverse characters, tethering on the delicate

line between good and evil, always bring forth a debate between morality, responsibility, and humanity. With a plethora of characters weaving the narrative, it is difficult to fully appreciate their stories and sympathize with their decisions.

The life of Madhavi is one such story that was never given the scrutiny and appreciation it

deserves.

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Madhavi was born to the famously generous king Yayati and an Apsara descended from the

heavens. Upon her birth, she was contradictorily granted both the boon of remaining a virgin forever and a legacy to spur four brave sons meant to rule incredible kingdoms. Despite seemingly obtaining a great blessing, her life was anything but. An impoverished but learned scholar Galav, the disciple of the great sage Vishwamitra, was adamant about offering his teacher a Guru Dakshina. Puzzled by his teacher’s seemingly bizarre demand for 800 Shyama Karna horses - as white as the rays of the moon with one black ear, he took the counsel of his friend. Upon taking his advice, he reached the court of King Yayati looking for the rare stable. Renowned for his generosity, the king could not let this man

go empty-handed despite not owning any such horses. Thus he proceeded to offer him his

most economically valuable possession - his blessed-to-remain-a-virgin daughter. After

advising him to barter his daughter and her virginity to different kings over and over again in exchange for the horses, he set Madhavi’s tragic destiny in motion.



Thus began a string of marriages in her life, not even one out of love. In this course, she was

married to three different kings - King Haryax of Ikshvaku, King Divodas of Kashi, and Ushinara, the king of Bhoj Nagari. She bore three sons in exchange for 200 Shyam Karna horses each, who became a few of the most celebrated kings and composers of the Vedas. After obtaining 600 horses, Galav learned that there were simply no more such horses left. He took it upon himself to offer his guru the 600 horses and his most valuable possession - once again, Madhavi.


Vishwamitra accepted this Guru Dakshina and Madhavi bore a son yet again, fulfilling the

prophecy. Witnessing the spectacle of his daughter, now a mother of four successful sons, King Yayati was overjoyed. He thought it was only suitable to arrange a Swayamvar for his blessed but ageing daughter. Denouncing all the proposals, Madhavi finally voices her desire to disappear into the woods and ‘ live in the manner of a deer ‘. She does so eventually, without a man by her side, all alone.

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After listening to Madhavi’s story, one is left wondering why she even went along with

everything. Few renditions lead us to believe that she was a silent but willing participant in the journey while a few tease the possibility of her falling in love with Galav. Even though both those options might have been valid, one would never know for she was never given a voice in her story. The incredibly generous King Yayati gave away his only daughter to help a penniless scholar. The impoverished scholar scoured the world to fulfil his teacher’s demand. These are the stories often told. Not the story about a woman who was an unwilling casualty in this adventure traded continuously for benefits. Not the story of a woman with a blessing so incredibly burdening that it became a curse. Not the story of a woman who was given neither a choice nor a voice.

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