The fifth day of Navratri is dedicated to Goddess Skandamata. She is the epitome of motherhood and brings the mother-child relationship to the fore. The most striking thing about her portrayal in popular culture is the way she is holding her infant in left hand. Her left arm is also positioned so as to bless her devotees and grant them their fervent wishes and desires. Skandmata is equal parts mother, warrior and goddess. The child she is holding in her hands is none other than Lord Skanda or Kartikeya.
The story goes that the rakshasa Tarkasur was a wicked one yet perseverant in his actions. He wanted to be immortal so he could do as he pleased for eternity. What better medium to achieve immortality than to please Lord Brahma, the great creator himself. Off he went to do penance and meditate days and months together. Finally, Brahma had no choice but to grant a boon to Tarkasur. The rakshasa, of course, asked for immortality, but the god refused since it is impossible for anyone to escape the clutches of the god of death.
The clever mind can make the seemingly impossible happen. Tarkasur decided to trick Brahma into granting his wish. He asked instead that no one be able to slay him except the son of Lord Shiva. The rakshasa knew that Shiva had vowed never to marry, and consequently wouldn’t have progency. Brahma relented, making Tarkasur nearly invincible against all mankind, the asuras and the gods as well. The promise of indestructability can inflate the ego of the greatest of individuals, and Tarkasur was a demon, a group known for their egoistic tendencies. Assuming there would be no consequences, he started wreaking havoc on the world.
Devlok started getting worried about the destruction of the universe. They pleaded with Lord Shiva to find a bride. He finally agreed and married Goddess Parvati whose avatar is Skandmata. Kartikeya (also known as Skanda) is their child. He grew up to lead the army of devatas and killed Tarkasur. In this way, Skandmata is the destroyer of evil, a symbol of motherhood and the fight for good over evil.
Indian mythology is full of such mothers who would sacrifice anything for their child. They are brave and dauntless, they are fiercely protective of their children and will go to any length to ensure their wellbeing. We honour their sacrifices on the fifth day of Navratri today.
Take the case of Shrutakirti. The love of a mother goes beyond appearances and societal validation. In fact, it is so strong, it could challenge destiny and compel gods to take back their words. Shrutakirti’s story told in the Mahabharata is a prime example of this. She was the aunt of Lord Krishna, no less. Her son Shishupal was born with four arms and three eyes. Where everyone else shrank back from the baby in terror, his mother cradled Shishupal in her arms. She refused to believe there was anything wrong with him. She was advised to abandon the deformed child but instead raised him with care and love.
A sadhu had prophecied right after Shishupal was born that the baby’s extra appendages would disappear when he was in the lap of the one meant to slay him. One day, Shishupal was placed in Krishna’s lap (he was around since they belonged to the same family). The infant’s limbs and third eye fell off. Mother Shrutakirti instantly guessed that Lord Krishna was meant to bring death upon her son, but she wouldn’t accept his fate. She pleaded with him to spare her son. Krishna changed his mind out of affection for his aunt. He allowed Shishupal 100 sins before he would kill him. Shrutakirti raised her son well. He grew up not only to live a full life but also to become a brave warrior in his own right.
On the fifth day of Navratri we join our hands in respect for all the mothers, each of whom is no less than a merciful goddess.
Single mothers rock!
Single mothers today are changing preconceived notions about motherhood and women’s role in families. They are breadwinners and caregivers, nurturers as well as disciplinarians. These strong mothers have turned traditional gender roles on their head, often single-handedly running the entire household. Many of them wear multiple hats, as mother and father to their children, as responsible daughters to their parents, as members of the workforce and active participants in the economy. Here are single moms who have climbed mountains for their children’s wellbeing.
Amitabh Bachchan lauded this single mother of two young girls from Navi Mumbai on Kaun Banega Crorepati this week. Swarupa Deshpande lives with her mother, after having separated from her jobless husband. She suffered mental abuse in her marriage. The troubles began when her husband decided he did not want to work and instead lived off his wife’s earnings. Not only did he become a financial and psychological burden, he would borrow money for luxuries, and she was left to pay off his debts while managing all the household expenses. When she realized that the future of her daughters was at risk, Swarupa walked out of the house.
Good riddance, we say! Today, she is raising her school going daughters in her maternal home. The KBC contestant called her own mother her “pillar of strength”. She dreams of building a house on her own where she will live with her small but happy family. She won a small sum in KBC but earned Bachchan’s respect. He announced that the show would sponsor a scholarship worth Rs. 5 lakh for Swarupa’s elder daughter.
This is a woman who risked her entire existence for the sake of her three unborn daughters. Jasbeer Kaur was a timid 26-year-old newlywed when she was told she is expecting female triplets. She was already a few months into an abusive relationship with an alcoholic husband when her doctor gave her this news. She was advised by her husband’s family, and shockingly by her doctor, to abort. Jasbeer did not relent. Her alcoholic spouse punished her refusal by trying to electrocute her by pushing her fingers into a live socket. A brave Jasbeer walked out, and never looked back. She moved to her maternal home and thankfully, had the emotional and financial support of her parents to pursue a course in nursing. This resilient woman went on to become an auxiliary nurse in a government hospital while supporting her three daughters. All three of them are financially independent young women in their 20s today. Eldest daughter Mandeep is a nurse like her hardworking mother.
The award-winning actress who has again become a familiar face in popular Hindi movies, raised her daughter Masaba as a single mother at a time when it was unthinkable in Indian society. Although Neena Gupta is married today (she tied the knot with Vivek Mehra in 2008), she was on her own, working as an actress while simultaneously raising her daughter who has gone on to become one of India’s top fashion designers today. The Netflix show Masaba Masaba gives a peek into the mother-daughter relationship.
Neena credits her father with taking over many of the child-raising responsibilities when acting jobs held her up. Yet, there were sacrifices along the way. She lived through the prejudice a woman goes through having a child out of wedlock. The things most young women in the city take for granted, like getting pampered at a salon or watching a movie with your gal pals, were ruled out for her since parenting duties came first.