There is something about ancient cultural stories that has always fascinated me. As a child growing up in American suburbia, it never struck me as odd that I was obsessed with reading the Indian epics in great detail, even though my exposure was limited to books and videos my dad would rent from the Indian grocery store.
Of course, I used to look with awe at the beauty and majesty of the queens in these stories and imagine I was one of them. But these epics also taught me at a young age the meaning of morality and justice. How to live with honor and duty. How to respect elders and each other and act with integrity. How to sacrifice selfishness for a greater good. I don’t claim that I am any sort of an expert on these topics; but I like to believe engrossing myself from an early age in these stories made me a better person.
The first time I remember embodying one of these stories came when I was a teenager. I remember a time when I was harassed and insulted by a man I was dating in a way that was unfathomable to me. The rageful energy of “Draupadi” came up very strongly in my body at that time; I connected with her experience of intense anger and suffering — her disillusionment at being left alone and unsupported, even as a wife of 5 husbands. The rage and pain of Draupadi is more relevant than ever today with current social and political happenings and the #Metoo Movement; she is a powerful and timeless archetype of the wounded feminine.
And the complicated character of “Karna”: Born as an outcast, constantly judged for his caste and creed, denied opportunities to flourish in a world designed for the privileged, which made him ultimately side with evil because he had no other choice. Despite his talent and potential, Karna was refused the opportunity to study warfare with the greatest teacher, Drona, because he belonged to a lower caste. He was constantly insulted and discriminated against for his socioeconomic status, looked down upon, and suppressed from achieving excellence. Sound familiar? His plight and helplessness reminds me of the experience of discrimination and racism that people of lower economic class and darker skin feel in the current day, which can drive them to make immoral life choices and decisions.
I remember tearing up when Bhishma said to Arjun, after hearing of Abhimanyu’s death: “Those who attacked and slaughtered an unarmed child don’t deserve to be called warriors - they are sad human beings. Forgive them if you can.” It reminds me every time I am hurt by someone or witness ignorance in the world without understanding why, that the ones who are inflicting pain on others are the most unfortunate of them all — they are too in deep pain and need to be forgiven and loved.
I can often hear in my head when Krishna told Arjun: “Aren’t you the same warrior who said that you can only see the eye of the bird you will shoot? So why are you looking at the sun(time) and other places now? Keep your eye on your goal, and nothing else.” Time was, after all, in Krishna’s control to be manipulated as needed. So why was Arjun worrying? Similarly, when I am anxious about running out of time on my goals and dreams, I can remember these words and relax a bit; it is all under the Universe’s control anyway, and I simply need to trust.
Thus, I don’t believe these are stories to be brushed off as irrelevant to our lives — in fact, i think they have greater and greater relevance to the modern day, and they can function to inspire us to live with greater honor, clarity, and purpose in troubling times.
Are there any stories from your culture that speak to you? Please share at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Stories And Culture