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When Gods lose their immunity...

December 02, 2017 11:52 IST

'There are several stories in the Mahabharata where kings drunk on their power are banished to hell.'
'The story of Krishna and Kamsa is a case in point and the Ramayana, at its very core, is a story about Rama's victory over an arrogant Ravana,' says Arundhuti Dasgupta.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Robert Mugabe, one of Africa's most tenacious dictators, is finally out.

Mugabe stormed into power in Zimbabwe in 1980, interestingly just a year after another powerful man in the news for all the wrong reasons today, Harvey Weinstein, began building his empire with Miramax.

Weinstein is out too, buried under a heap of harassment and assault charges and his incarceration has helped bring down many more.

 

Abuse of power is an eons-old occupational hazard and yet there are very few who do not fall prey to its wiles.

There are several instances in mythology where the gods set the worst examples of such behaviour.

Indra, the Indo-Vedic king of gods, regularly abused his powers as did Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods.

Indra was punished for his ways; the sage Durvasa cursed him for his arrogance and the sage Gautama for his adultery, but chastisement was never a deterrent.

Also Indra's indiscretions were often overlooked because he was a strong king, his ability to protect the gods and control the weather taking precedence over all else.

Similarly Zeus, who hid himself from Hera's wrath, never hesitated to force himself upon another god or mortal when he so desired.

Zeus did not lose his kingdom over such behaviour either, for as god of the skies he was considered too important to be punished.

However, as times changed, the gods lost their immunity.

A story from the Puranas records the travails of Anasuya, wife of the sage Atri.

Anasuya's chastity was the stuff of hymns and songs. Narada sung her praises daily until the three goddesses, Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati, were driven to a state of frenzied envy.

They asked their husbands (the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) to put her purity to the test and the gods duly complied.

The three turned up for a meal at the sage's house when he was not there and then demanded that Anasuya serve them in the nude.

But Anasuya cottoned on to the game and used her powers to turn them into infants before stripping.

When their husbands did not come home, the goddesses made their way to the hermitage and begged for forgiveness when they saw what Anasuya had done to the all-powerful trinity.

The gods were returned to their original form and Atri and Anasuya were blessed with a son, an incarnation of the trinity. The son is worshipped in parts of Maharashtra as Dattatreya.

While these tales tell us about how gods suffered for their lust, envy and other indiscretions, there are plenty of stories about a divine ruler/creator being killed or divested of their powers for being arrogant or cruel to their people.

In Babylonian texts, Tiamat, the creator goddess, had to be killed by one of her grandchildren, Marduk, to stop her from destroying her subjects.

In Greek myth, Cronus faced a similar fate at the hands of his son, Zeus.

There are several stories in the Mahabharata where kings drunk on their power are thrown to the dungeons or banished to hell.

The story of Krishna and Kamsa is a case in point and the Ramayana, at its very core, is a story about Rama's victory over an arrogant Ravana.

While Kamsa and Ravana inflicted torture upon their subjects and hence suffered, the epics also have stories about kings being dealt with a severe blow for lusting after another's queen or denying their kith and kin of their fair share of property.

Some kings had to suffer even if they did nothing at all, merely grew old. According to Donald Mackenzie (Egyptian Myth and Legend), Egyptian rulers were considered to be representatives of the god Osiris. During their reign, their word was law and their acts divine.

But every 30 years the kings had to step down. They were then killed and in a gruesome cannibalistic tradition, feasted upon.

In a strange twist of myth, history and divine coincidence, the 30-year jinx seems to hold for modern day despots, too.

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was brought down by the Arab Spring after 37 years on the throne.

Given the numerous stories, anecdotes and historical events that shine a light on the consequences of bad conduct among the rich and powerful, it would seem but natural that mankind would evolve to create better-behaved specimens.

Given the daily exposes of the poor judgement and obnoxious acts of those in power, that seems like a pipedream.

Arundhuti Dasgupta
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