Mandodari is one of the lesser-known characters in the Ramayana. In many versions of Ramayana, her character is portrayed as a quite insignificant one. But here, I’m going to talk about the character of Mandodari in the context of her portrayal in Manini J. Anandani’s book, Mandodari, which is based upon Sanghadasa’s Jaina version of Ramayana. However, the book’s story is not strictly adhered solely to Sanghadasa’s Jaina version of Ramayana. It involves instances connecting other Jaina versions of Ramayana as well. The book, Mandodari talks about the life of Mandodari right from her birth uptil her marriage with Vibhisana.
Mandodari, although is a lesser-known character in most of the versions of Ramayana, she plays a pivotal role in the Indian mythology. She is remembered among the “all-time great women”. She counts among the Panchakanyas that are known as the five iconic heroines of Hindu epics. Following is the Panchakanya Sanskrit shloka:
Ahalya Draupadi Sita Tara Mandodari tatha I
Panchakanya smarennitya mahapataka nasini II
Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari
One should forever remember the panchakanya –
the destroyers of sins
There exists a well-known belief attached to the Panchakanya shloka. It is believed that even though the lives of all these panchakanyas were full of pain and misery, they tackled all the challenges and faced the worst of situations with extreme valour and courage. So, chanting this panchakanya shloka provides valour, composure and ability to deal with difficult situations to the women who recite it regularly.
Mandodari’s role in Ramayanas
Mandodari’s role in most of the Ramayanas is only limited to the wife of Ravana who never wanted him to go to the wrong path, and who always stood by his side, and who later married Vibhisana after the death of Ravana. But there’s a lot about her character that has often been overlooked. We know that after the death of Ravana, Mandodari married Vibhisana; but have we ever wondered that was she really interested in getting married to the man whom she believed to be responsible for her husband’s death?! She was a woman who truly loved her husband despite being ignored by him a myriad of times for other women. She can be considered as an epitome of tolerance. It is often said, “love is blind”. Mandodari proved that point.
According to some versions of Ramayana, it was love at first sight for both Ravana and Mandodari. Ravana got enamoured by one of the finest looking women in the universe, whereas Mandodari felt that Ravana’s aura was so magnetic that she could feel herself being pulled towards him even when she was barely paying any attention to his face. In Anandani’s Mandodari, about the first meeting with Ravana, Mandodari says, “My eyes were transfixed on him ever since I had stepped into the room, barely acknowledging the other people present there.” (p.6). When he looked at her for the first time, she says, “I felt a river running inside me.” (p.7). This proves that Mandodari got charmed by Ravana’s personality.
In the book, Mandodari, there’s a tale attached to Mandodari’s birth that once an apsara named Madhura wanted to appease Shiva. She reached Kailash when Shiva’s primary consort, Parvati was not around. The scent from her body aroused Shiva with lust, and he made love to her. When Parvati reached there, she cursed Madhura to turn into a frog and live in a well for twelve years. Shiva calmed his wife, and consoled Madhura by giving her a boon that “she would reincarnate as a beautiful woman and marry a great valorous king – one of Shiva’s own devotees”. Years later, an asura king called Mayasura along with his wife Hema was performing penance to seek Shiva’s favour to get blessed with a daughter as the couple was fed up of their ‘roguish sons’. Mayasura heard a child crying nearby, and found that there was a girl child lying in a nearby well. He and his wife rescued the child, and felt grateful to Shiva for answering their prayers. They adopted the child as their daughter, and named her as Mandodari.
Mandodari from the very beginning is portrayed as a beautiful and highly sensible princess. In her childhood, she used to settle all the fights between her brothers, Mayavi and Dundubhi with the help of her wit and intelligence. She completed most of her education by the age of twelve, where her education comprised physical training through Yoga, deva and asura history, a few Vedic texts for literary references, social science, culinary arts, engineering and different languages. She also learnt “an ethical code of conduct essential for a queen” (p.9). Apart from this, she used to help her father in his architecture designs and matters of state by sharing her opinions with him.
When Mandodari got married to Ravana, she was on cloud nine as it was a dream come true moment for her. She married the man whom she admired from the very moment she saw him. In addition, the title of the “Queen of Lanka” added more glory to her dream. She says, “coronation in Lanka was a divine ceremony that raised a monarch to godlike stature” (p.20). On her wedding night, Ravana says to Mandodari, “Mandodari, this journey of our life might not be easy for you. You were a princess, not a stranded offspring who was always given half-caste treatment. You may find it difficult to understand me at times but you have to trust my goals.” (p.22). To this, Mandodari replies, “I will not disappoint you, my lord. I am your wife; I will always stand by you.” (p.23). It can be said that these words stayed with Mandodari throughout her life. She always supported Ravana. No matter he brought a new wife within the two months of his marriage to Mandodari, she accepted his marriage blindly. In the beginning, she felt broken on knowing about Dhanyamalini (Ravana’s second wife), but later she accepts Ravana’s second marriage as “a negotiation done for diplomatic reasons” (p.29), for she was told that the marriage took place for political advancement which would be strengthening the rule of Ravana.
Mandodari’s words to herself, “a reigning queen should gracefully accept other wives taken by the king, so said the standardized code of conduct for queens” (p.30) signify her sorrow. It is worth noting here that it can be understood as an effort of a queen to suppress a wife. Although Mandodari did try to express her disapproval over Ravana’s affairs with other women, Ravana’s words like, “Mandodari, you don’t have to worry about the other women. You know I love you the most” (p.36) and “You will always be my first choice, Mandodari. Do not compare yourself with other women” (p.45) were always enough to tame her. Looking at the constant increase in the no. of the women being added in the Antapura aggrieved Mandodari’s soul to a great extent; but her words, “but I’ve now realized that there are marriages made in the interest of the state, marriages for political reasons and marriages for gaining allies” (p.38) reflect her state of mind. She chose to make a compromise with herself.
She was a dutiful woman, for she always tries to cover her husband’s faults. For instance, when Ravana killed his sister Meenakshi’s husband, she instead of condoling Meenakshi, asks her to behave properly with her brother. She says, “Decorum, Meenakshi! This is not the way to speak to your king!” (p.157). Apart from this, there are instances like, Ravana’s decision to undergo a surgery to get elixir placed inside his body, Ravana’s decision to go to Sita’s swayamvara, later his decision to abduct Sita, and his idea of having a war with Rama. Mandodari was against Ravana at all these times, but she chose to support him as she says, “I didn’t want to infuriate him any further lest he stopped seeing me. Hence, I had to blindly support him in most of his decisions.” (p.47).
Some feminist critics argue that Mandodari suits the image of “the angel in the house”. The term called “the angel in the house” applies to such women who are “passive and powerless, meek, charming, graceful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing, pious, and above all – pure”. Mandodari was indeed a charming, graceful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing, pious, and completely pure lady. However, in several versions of Ramayana, she isn’t directly portrayed as a passive, powerless and meek woman. In Sanghadasa’s Jaina version of Ramayana, Mandodari’s decision to give birth to her firstborn without letting Ravana get a hint, and later telling him boldly that Sita is his daughter just a day before when he was to step in the battlefield to fight with Rama shows that Mandodari was an independent woman who feared none. These instances oppose the idea of Mandodari being a meek woman. She was a woman of free-will, who knew how to assert her rights. However, she always felt weak in front of Ravana’s love and affection for her. Ravana’s words like, “You know I love you the most” (p. 36) and “You will always be my first choice, Mandodari” (p.45) always proved to be her weakness.
At times, Mandodari is portrayed as a double-minded woman too. She often felt confused regarding what exactly does she want. For instance, when Ravana goes to Sita’s swayamvara, she wanted him not to win and get another wife. But when he loses the contest, she genuinely feels bad that her husband has lost the contest. Apart from this, there’s a possibility that Ravana might have started to transform after his defeat at Sita’s swayamvara. He wanted to win that contest mainly for getting Shiva’s bow. But his defeat was a huge shock to him. It made him introspect over his faults and flaws. He asks Mandodari, “Do you think it was my arrogance that failed me? How have I changed, Mandodari?” (p.153). Mandodari, at this point, could have helped him realize the faults and flaws in his character, but instead, she supports him, and says, “Arrogance is now one of your characteristics, Lankeshwar, and it makes you who you are.” (p.153).
Whenever Mandodari felt like opposing Ravana, she satiated herself with the status of being Ravana’s prime consort. She wanted to be considered a perfect “queen”. It can be said that in her efforts to prove as the well-deserving cum perfect queen of Lanka, she failed as a wife. There are several instances highlighted in Anandani’s Mandodari that in a way prove that Mandodari had full control over Ravana’s life. For example, once Ravana gave orders to kill a dasi’s husband when she refused to submit to his sexual demands. This makes Mandodari very angry, and she decides to leave Ravana. This makes Ravana restless. He stops his orders and begs to Mandodari to forgive him and stay.
Another instance which proves the importance of Mandodari in Ravana’s life is Mandodari’s suicide attempt. Once in Ravana’s absence, Mandodari, on the order of Mata Kaikesi allowed Rishi Gritsamada to complete his tapasya in the Shanti Bhavan premises. As Ravana was a half-caste, so he had suffered constant mockery and condemnation at the hands of Brahmin sages. This made him detest the entire Brahmin race. On knowing about Rishi Gritsamada, Ravana orders Mandodari to ask him to leave Ravana’s place immediately. As Rishi Gritsamada was doing a special experiment using a pot filled with milk and grass to invoke Goddess Lakshmi, in which she was expected to dwell, so he requests Mandodari to let him complete the experiment as he can’t change his place during the experiment. He explains, “I will implant a living cell from this pot into a woman’s womb. I will bring her (Goddess Lakshmi) up as my daughter and she will restore balance on earth.” (p.91). When Mandodari tells the same to Ravana and asks him to let Gritsamada stay at their place for a few days, so Ravana becomes furious and kills Gritsamada. When Mandodari opposes him, he starts doubting her chastity by saying “And why are you so hurt? Were you fond of him?” (p.94). This enrages Mandodari, and in order to end her life, she reaches for the contents of the pot and drinks the potion, and collapses. This fills Ravana with terror. When Mandodari gains consciousness after two days, she finds Ravana guilty and shameful. He apologizes for his actions by saying, “I am deeply sorry for whatever happened. It is entirely my fault.” (p.97). He shows his fear and concern as he says, “I never imagined that my anger could take your life! I almost lost you!” (p.97). This shows that Ravana genuinely cared for Mandodari, and he was unable to imagine his life without her. But it’s just that he was often blinded by his lust.
It might be possible that if Mandodari would have genuinely tried to stop Ravana, then he might have changed, but it’s just that she never bothered to control his actions in real. However, one may argue that Mandodari oftentimes tried to stop Ravana when he was planning to fight with Rama; also, she many-a-times tried to persuade Ravana to return Sita to her husband. But there exists a huge difference between trying to stop someone mere verbally, and doing some efforts to stop that person in real. Mandodari only and always tried to stop Ravana with her words, and not with her actions. Perhaps she believed that as a wife it was her duty to tell her husband that what’s wrong and what’s right, but as a queen she shouldn’t interfere in the matters of the king as a queen must have faith that whatever the king will do will be in the welfare of his kingdom and people.
From the time of Mandodari’s marriage with Ravana, it was infused in her that she was meant to be a queen. At the time of asking for Mandodari’s opinion in regard to Ravana’s proposal, her father directly said to her, “You are destined to be the queen of Lanka. You are destined to marry a great king of these times.” (p.14). So, one may argue that it was never Mandodari’s fault that she was more conscious regarding her status as a queen rather than her status as a wife. It was all because she was always taught indirectly that if she fails as a wife, then it may be acceptable; but if she fails as a queen, then it cannot be acceptable at all.
In conclusion, it can be said that it is tragic to note that although it is a major flaw in Mandodari’s character that she did nothing in real to control Ravana’s actions, yet one may conclude that she was suffering out of her fate. The expectations of people from Mandodari, the queen of Lanka led her to compromise with Mandodari, the primary consort of Ravana. Apart from this, it is ironic to note that throughout her life, Mandodari abhorred the idea of marriage as a political necessity; but after Ravana’s death, she herself was forced to marry Vibhisana as it was a political necessity for Lanka’s welfare. Mandodari, like all of us, couldn’t escape her fate. Her fate made a mockery out of her character.