Distracted by Balaram’s beauty

Distracted by Balaram’s beauty

Tales of men being intoxicated by the beauty of women are common. Stories of women intoxicated by men’s beauty are rare.

In Persian lore, we hear the story of Yusuf (Biblical Joseph), son of Yakub (Jacob). Joseph was a very nice man, very handsome, extremely talented, loved his father so much that his brothers became jealous and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Yusuf was bought by an Egyptian general whose wife Zulekha had fallen in love with Yusuf. In the Christian story, the wife tries to seduce Joseph, but fails and is thrown into prison. But in Persian story this love is true and not just based on lust.

There is gossip in the town that Zulekha is in love with a maidservant and an embarrassed Zulekha invites all the women of the town to her house to eat, and she places fruits and knives in front of them as refreshments. As the women are harvesting the fruit, she asks Yusuf to come inside and show her beauty to all the women. The stunning appearance of the maid distracts women to such an extent that instead of cutting the fruit, she starts cutting her own hands and does not feel pain. When they leave the women see their blood-soaked hands and realize Yusuf’s beauty and realize that Zulekha is not to blame. Perhaps this is a Persian comment asking men to cover their faces to protect women, just as women are asked to cover their heads to protect men from temptation.

On the Mangi-Tungi hills in northern Maharashtra near Nashik there is a very unique image of a Jain sage meditating with his back to the people. Jains identify this image with Krishna’s brother Balarama (Padma), as described in the Jain Harivamsa Purana (Jain Mahabharata). He was so handsome that seeing him women could not work. One day Balarama saw a woman drawing water from a well. Distracted by his looks, she was tying a rope around her son’s neck instead of a pot. Embarrassed, he decided that he would never enter the village or show his face again. So he started meditating with his back to the world. Being a monastic order, there is a clear disquiet with sexuality in Jain lore. Even Buddhist texts state that a monk’s meditation makes him so magnetic that it is best that he shuns women away for both of them.

Hinduism is relatively more comfortable with sexuality. In the Mahabharata, Nakula, the fifth Pandava, on his way to the forest after a gambling match, covers his face with dust and dirt so that women enchanted by his beauty do not chase him. In the Bhagavatam, Usha kidnaps Krishna’s grandson Aniruddha while he is sleeping. There are stories in mythological literature where women chase Shiva, Rama or Krishna, enchanted by their beauty. However, as the Tantric era gave way to the Bhakti era, people preferred to rationalize these stories as the result of spiritual magnetism. Thus the male body was made invisible, as was the desire of the women.

The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Contact him at devdutt.pattanaik@mid-day.com



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here