The Panchtantra is one of the earliest books of fables. Its influence can be seen in The Arabian Nights, The Canterbury Tales and most notably in The Fables of La Fontaine. Panchtantra, a book composed about two thousand years ago, needs to be re-examined today for its gender biased ideology.
In the Panchtantra women are depicted as ignorant, speechless, dumb as well as conspirators, and seductresses who do not follow ethics of life. Panchtantra, known as the book of five principles, neglects feminine gender having a constructive power. In his characters, its author Vishnu Sarma, personifies cleverness, frailty, ignorance, weakness, chastity, service, conspiracy and dependency in women. He teaches not to trust women. He keeps on infusing doubts about her in the hearts of man by saying that honey flows freely in her speech and there lurks deadly poison in her heart.
Panchtantra follows Manu Smriti, a book of Hindu Law Code, now not in much use because of its controversial teachings about women. But Panchtantra teaches that the women should be perfect beings of sacrifice and role model. She is to listen every command with apt attention and does not have any right to speak because it will be impolite on her part and a kind of disobedience. Speaking for self does not suit her otherwise perfect sacrificial stature. She has to prove her love for the family and should carry the burden of community honor on her shoulders. At one place Panchtantra says that men should not wage a war if they do not expect wealth, land and women. She should not hesitate in sacrificing any thing for the sake of the family in general and her husband in particular. She should be ready to face trials like Sita and Sati. This depiction has harmed her in many ways. She can not err for being the incarnation of goddess and if she goes wrong she will never be forgiven. She is constructed very vigilantly according to the male codes of the society.
Panchtantra judges women through various modes and gives bizarre test to prove her womanhood. There is a long and sharply worded diatribe in its introduction against women in general in book I from the pages 138 to 146.
The book aims at the harmonious growth of all the powers of man to balance the needs and demands of the individual by belittling women in every aspect and sphere. Books like Panchtantra threaten the very existence of women. An exegesis of the text shows the conspiracy that was launched to subordinate women by influencing innocent minds.
In the book, she never enters the hermetic world of males. One can observe a conspiracy and deceit directed towards women by the dominant fundamental group. Through male produced books, males voice their own opinion. She has been controlled by a triumvirate of ‘Father’, ‘Husband’, and ‘Son’. She was forced to learn altruism with the help of written literature, such as Ramayana and Panchtantra. She learnt it verily. She grew another skin on her body and never tried to pull herself off this slough.
The stories of Panchtantra invoked and constructed the image of women and represented the experience of women in region, religion and socio- economic locations. The book encapsulates the image and representation of women in Indian epics and myths. The book conjures (make appear as a picture) up all the stereotypes and misperception about women-- heartless, tyrannical. Head of the family is father who is heavily biased against the female gender and believes in her inferior status as an article of his faith-- voiceless, timid and suffering generation. In one story, the composer tells that even a noble and great man is destroyed by trusting a woman and his enemy. Thus women are no less than an enemy for the author of this book.
She experiences the throes of the family troubles and longs for an idyllic place for herself. She feels utterly bereft and never could live in morally and spiritually salubrious place. She is looted of her imaginative fecundity. No one ever note her cadence. She has been no more than a salacious object. Males as the producer of the literature fabricate lies and propagate it in the society to exploit woman. The book carries the moral that one who blesses the family with a son is a woman.
Visnu Sarma, author of Panchatantra says that no one has ever heard of spent passion in a woman. This derogatory statement means that women are never sexually satisfied. These types of sentences humiliate woman. Because of this humiliation, she loses her self-confidence. Such sentences shock a reasonable reader. No where the author leaves women without demeaning her. He says that if husband is out of city, it is the best time for greedy women for stolen raptures. They do not care for pure marriage bed and a tender loving husband. And he also says that women do not care for anything in the world and will be ready to accept anything in their hot pursuit of finding a man.
The question that comes to the mind is how the writer is sure that every woman is man hungry. Who gives him authority to make such sweeping statements about women? One can ask how the author of Punchatantra has reached the conclusion that every husband is tender and loving. The author exploits the myths of Sati, Sita, Savitri and Sulochana. He does not care for the simple codes of morality. She is projected in extremes--- absolute ignorant, having no brains and having intellect by which she can betray the world. Therefore man needs a fortification against her but he finds himself incapable of doing so. She can play with a man like a pet bird whose wings are clipped. The writer does not believe that she is the creation of the same God.
Visnu Sarma lists seven evils. It is surprising that woman is the first and foremost evil among them. For him, fathering a girl is not a matter of pride. It is rather another name for grief. He says that daughters are unavoidable disasters. One should get her married as soon as possible and if father is not able to find a good suit for her he should give her to the vilest person. Self willed women are not good for the society and the happiness of the husband should be the only concern of their life. Even after so many lessons, he says no one can understand woman’s heart.
To give a place to balanced development of both the genders society should get rid of such stories that play their role insidiously in gender creation. To establish peace in the society one must keep in mind the words of Dr. Stephen Gill that dissatisfaction leads to conflict and to avoid it their issues should be addressed at their earliest. Women should be given a chance to participate in national development and nation will progress if we allow it to work with both the hands.
By the disgracing women in Panchtantra, the author has harmed both the genders in general and feminine in particular. In fact Visnu Sarma has given a psychological dimension to males to think about women and abuse women in many ways through his language and criticism. He directs his negative energy into the channel that harms women not for days and months but for ages. It is known that women in India had equal rights in ancient times. Those times need to be revived for peace and prosperity.
Anuradha Sharma is a lecturer at Navjivan Arts and Commerce College, Dahod in Gujarat and writes poetry in English and Hindi both. Her poems and research papers have appeared in many journals, anthologies and news papers in India and abroad. At present she is working on a Minor Research Project funded by UGC and has been selected for Associateship by IIAS, Shimla. She is editing a book on Stephen Gill and also translating his epical poem The Flame into Hindi. E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org