With the ebb of the Twentieth Century and the dawn of a new age, with promiscuity at the zenith, morality at its nadir and cultural values disappearing fast over the horizon, a glance at our glorious past may inspire us to reinforce the values of Hindu Dharma in our lives. These in turn will go on to 'samskarise' our children. One such value concerning morality is of the Pativrata, a word which may sound new to Hindus outside India.
Pati means husband. Vrat denotes vow. A woman who staunchly remains loyal to her husband is a Pativrata. The Ramayan mentions that an ideal Pativrata will not see another man other than her husband even in her dreams. In the Shikshapatri (159) Bhagwan Swaminarayan stipulates that a Pativrata should serve her husband as she would serve and worship God, even if the husband is blind, diseased, poor or impotent. Sati is another synonym for Pativrata - one who preserves her sattva (purity) - physically, mentally and spiritually. It also denotes the widow who ritually immolated herself on the cremation pyre of her deceased husband. Sati also has a greater meaning. Sat means Paramatma - God. "E" means gati - journey. Hence a woman who dedicates herself totally to attain God is also termed sati. Mirabai, the bhakta-poetess (Swaminarayan Bliss, January 1998) and Zamkuba (Swaminarayan Bliss, December 1999) are two such examples.
In ancient Hindu tradition the great satis Ansuya and Savitri are well known. The scriptures also proclaim another five women as satis:
Ahalya Draupadi Sita Tara Mandodari tathã,
Panch kanyaha smaret nityam mahãpãtaka nãshineehi.
"The daily remembrance of the five Pativratas, namely, Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara, and Mandodari eradicates great sins." If sins are eradicated in remembering their names this gives us an inkling of the remarkable nature of and power latent in a Pativrata.
In this article we shall consider examples from a time period stretching half a millennium. These women remind us of the lofty value of and pride in maintaining satitva (chastity) rather than succumbing to defilement.
Around 1330 CE Raval Ratnasinh was the Rajput ruler in Chitor, Rajasthan. His queen, Padmini, was famed for her beauty throughout India. When Alau-d-din Khilji, the Afghan ruler in Delhi, heard about her he ached to possess her. Therefore he stormed Chitor. After a fruitless and protracted siege he sent a message to Ratnasinh to allow him just a glimpse of Padmini, after which he would leave Chitor. All the Sisodia Rajput noblemen were against this for it would be a violation of the woman's satitva. The Rajputs' strict morality allowed no man other than the husband to see his wife's face. But to be free of the Afghan's relentless siege the Rajputs agreed. They would arrange for him to see her image reflected in a series of ingeniously arranged mirrors. After he saw her image his baser instincts ran riot. Day and night Padmini's image seared his lecherous heart. He reamassed a greater army and reattacked Chitor. While the Rajput heroes prepared for battle inside the fort, their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters performed puja by lighting a huge fire in the fort's centre. As the Rajputs spilled out of the gate Padmini was the first to jump into the fire, followed by several thousand females! This act, known as jauhar in Rajasthan, was valiantly performed on three occasions in Chitor's history to preserve their women's satitva.
Padmini was lawfully married to Ratnasinh. Yet an important feature of a Pativrata is to remain loyal even if she has betrothed herself to a man mentally.
During Akbar's reign, King Bajabahadur of Malwa had not bowed to him. Although he had many queens he accepted Rupamati, the daughter of a dancer and singer. Probably being of a lower social order Rupamati could not marry the king and mentally chose him as her husband. He in turn admired her expertise as a singer, archer, horsewoman and hunter.
In 1590 CE Akbar sent Ahmad Khan to conquer Malwa. He defeated Bajabahadur who fled. Rupamati too fought in the battle and was wounded.
When Khan reached the queen's chambers he slew all the queens. He was then informed about Rupamati. Thereupon he sent her a deceitful message that he had captured Bajabahadur and that she could stay with him and recover in peace. When she arrived she realised his treachery. After she recovered he pleaded with her to accompany him to Delhi where he would shower her with riches. Rupamati refused. Before he arrived again to forcibly take her she prayed to God. To protect her satitva she then drank a potent poison! Even today people in Malwa sing ballads extolling her as a Pativrata.
To uphold satitva demands profound moral and mental courage. Moreso when talent combines with beauty, as was the case with Rupamati. The allure of material riches, power or threat of political coercion are minor inconveniences, like flies to an elephant. The Pativrata regards her satitva as a form of devotion and every factor which may hinder or taint it is ruthlessly excised from the root. If this requires suicide it is warmly welcomed.
During Akbar's reign his famous musician Tansen once made a mistake while singing the Deepak raag. This resulted in an unbearable ailment. The only remedy was for someone to sing its 'antidote', the Malhar raag. Akbar despatched orders to his Subedars ruling the other states in the land, to search for expert singers of Malhar. None could be found. Finally, the Subedar of Gujarat discovered two Nagar Brahmin sisters named Tana and Riri Mehta of Vadnagar, in north Gujarat. He sent them to Delhi. Here they sang the Malhar raag and cured Tansen.
Their unmatched talent combined with beauty caused many a general's heart to flutter at Akbar's court. These lecherous generals followed the sisters to Gujarat. Here they colluded with the Subedar of Gujarat and tried to coerce the sisters. They flatly declined. The generals then planned to kidnap them. When the sisters gleaned this, they drowned themselves in the village pond before the horde arrived.
The foregoing three examples, namely Padmini, Rupamati and the Mehta sisters, are of the Pativrata who preferred to destroy their physical bodies in order to preserve their Pativrata Dharma.
As mentioned earlier there is also the Pativrata who dedicates herself totally in pursuit of God. During this endeavor, if her husband becomes a hindrance, she will forsake him. This is the greatest Pativrata in the Hindu Dharma. Of the many such women during the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan we shall consider two: Kadvibai and Rajbai.
Kadvibai of Jetpur in Saurashtra was inclined towards bhakti (devotion to God) from childhood. She had vairagya (detachment) and cared little for food and clothes. After marriage she discovered that her husband despised her offering bhakti. He began to cruelly harass her hoping she would renounce devotion to God. To prevent her from offering devotion at night he would place one leg of his bed on her chest.
She then sought the help of her brother Shivram. Both left Jetpur to visit relatives in a nearby town. Here they both heard Shriji Maharaj's voice, "One should not wear clothes and ornaments of a married woman. One should not keep the hair on one's head. Are you such a woman?" Shivram realised that Shriji Maharaj wished her sister to renounce samsara.
On returning to Jetpur she continued singing kirtans. Unable to tolerate this her husband shouted, "From today you are not my wife. You are like a mother and sister to me! Do as you please."
These orders came as Godsend. But the Brahmin community leaders decided to do away with her. The town's Kathi chief, being a Swaminarayan follower, came to her aid wielding a sword. The Brahmins fled. That night Shriji Maharaj appeared to her in a divine form and instructed her to hurl herself in the nearby river at a point where she saw His murti. She would reach the opposite bank safely. From there she would be guided to Gadhada.
Events unfolded as prophesied. In Gadhada Shriji Maharaj initiated her as a samkhyayogini (a woman who has renounced all worldly ties) and she spent the rest of her life as a true Pativrata.
Like Kadvibai, Rajbai had never wished to marry and yearned to observe lifelong brahmacharya and offer devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Yet she was forced into marriage by her mother. On the first day after arriving at her in-laws, she prayed to her Lord for succor. When her husband entered her room and was on the verge of touching her, he screamed. Instead of Rajbai he saw a lion on the bed! Scared stiff, he bolted out of the room and ordered his parents to get rid of her!
Rajbai requested to be sent to Gadhada to her cousin Jivuba, who had also chosen the path of brahmacharya and devotion. Later the in-laws arrived to take her back. Shriji Maharaj had no choice but to command her to go. Poleaxed with despair she fainted. Blood oozed out of every pore of her body. This horrified the in-laws. Rescinding their demand they requested Shriji Maharaj to restore her to life. This He did.
Rajbai then spent the rest of her life in Gadhada. When she passed away to join Bhagwan in Akshardham, the firewood would not kindle. Agni, being a male deity, was hesitant to touch a Pativrata. Then Gopalanand Swami, a senior paramhansa, instructed the devotees, "Tell Agni Dev that the sati has left. There's no harm in touching her material body." The fire then instantly kindled.
Such examples of the Pativrata generate pride in the glory of Hinduism's lofty values of Dharma. This applies to men too, for Pramukh Swami Maharaj often mirthfully points out in colloquial Gujarati that, "Just as there are ideals for the sati there are ideals for the 'sato' (the male)".
The Pativrata then, is not only a dharma but a sublime and unique legacy of Indian Culture. She is the embodiment of all the virtues associated with satitva, such as, purity, morality, fidelity, chastity, righteousness, goodness, duty, tolerance, service, devotion and many more. It is vital that these values are practiced, in order to inspire future generations and so preserve this noble tradition. The scriptures support this:
In the Ramayan, Shri Ram asks Lakshman:
Pushpam drushtwa falam drushtwa,
drushtwa strinam cha yauwanam,
Trini rupani drushtwaiwa kasya no chalate manaha.
"Whose mind is not deflected on seeing a flower, a fruit or a beautiful woman?"
Pitã yasya shoochirbhuto mãtã yasya pativratã,
Oobhãbhyãmewa sambhutaha tasya no chalate manaha.
"His mind will not be deflected, who is brought up by a father who is pure and a mother who is a Pativrata."