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Durable Link to this BlogFriday, March 21, 2008

Theri Gatha (Songs of the Theris)

Theri Gatha (Songs of the Theris)
Story of Bhadra (Bhadda Kundala Kesha)

When Buddhism was at its peak in India, many women devotees composed songs. Buddhism had recognized women's right to salvation in their individual capacity, whether married or not. A collection of compositions of "Theris" or women elders forms important part of Buddhist canon. It consists of stories at time autobiographical, of seventy-three nuns, who came from all walks of life like palace or rich mansions, brothels and huts. Fed up with greed, cruelty at voluptuousness of materialistic world, they renounced everything to find their way out, which ultimately means becoming a recluse. Written by women, it throws light on what some women thought about men.

Bhadra was the daughter of a rich merchant. She was beautiful with curly hair (Kundalakesa). She fell in love with the son of their family priest. The young man had criminal tendencies and was involved in heinous crime and was sentenced to death. Bhadra had him released on payment of a large sum by way of ransom, through her father. She insisted on marrying the youth to which also her father agreed.

But Sarthaka her husband, had no love towards her. She tried to reform him but in vain. She tried win him over, by catering to his whims and fancies in a lavish way. But this also did not please him. He had all evil plans and was extremely fond of gold and jewelry.

One day, he took his wife out in the excuse of fulfilling a previous vow, and visiting a shrine on the hilly and lonely path. He also advised her to wear all jewelry and perform puja. Bhadra obliged him.

After ascending the hill, Sarthaka caught hold of Bhadda on a secluded spot and threatened to kill her. Bhadda totally taken unawares, and frightened, asked him why. He told her that he wanted all her jewelry. "All the ornaments are yours, take them. But why kill me?" -- Bhadda asked him in choked voice. Sarthaka told that if he spared her life after taking all the ornaments, news will spread through her and he may be caught and punished. He was determined to kill her.

Bhadra pondered. She feigned her overpowering love, because of which he was saved earlier from death. She wanted a last embrace before her death. In a deep embraced & kiss, she took him to the edge of the cliff on which they were standing and pushed him with all her strength. Then she threw all her ornaments as well and returned to her home. She was now a completely disillusioned person. She sought consolation by becoming a convert to Buddhism and finally a nun.

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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