Panch Kanya

Ideal wives of ancient India


 Scriptures mention five women as ideal wives -

Ahalya Draupadi Sita,Tara Mandodari tatha, l
Pancha kanya smarenityam, maha pataka nashanam ll


"Mediating on the merits of the five great ladies, namely Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari, helps destroy even the greatest of sins !!"

So say the scriptures !!
But why ?
Why these five in particular ?
What is so special about these five ladies ? 
What do they have that is so special as to be able to destroy even the greatest of sins?

Indeed, these five are so special on the minds of most Hindus, that they are held up as the “ideal” wives for most Hindu women to emulate.

Lets examine what makes them so ideal and indeed so special.
If somewhat unconventional, their lives do have a very special story to tell.

* Ahalya was raped.

* Draupadi had multiple husbands.

* Sita was accused of having sons by another man.

* Tara was married to her younger brother-in-law after her husband was killed by him.

* Mandodari was the wife of a serial womaniser.


If you read their lives, one thing is for sure, none of them was a “compliant, malleable” wife.  They were not the picture perfect “pativrata” depicted in novels, movies and popular folklore.  None of these women stood by and took what family and society gave them at face value.  Infact, they held on to their dignity as women despite what family and society threw at them.

Ahalya refused to accept social exile for being raped.  She was duped into thinking she was having sex with her husband.  How can that be her fault ?  Instead of slinking away into a forest retreat to cry over her dishonour, she stood firm, staying in the very ashram where she was shamed and carrying on her good work despite society’s censor.  In the end, Rama, considered to be the model of duty and embodiment of correct behaviour, came out on her side and declared her blameless in this incidence.  At no point did Ahalya seek anyone’s assistance in her fight against injustice.  She let her work speak for itself.  It is a telling point that in the end, her husband had to come back to her, not the other way around.  Indeed, Ahalya was the embodiment of patience.


Draupadi’s life was full of woes.  She was mocked and subjected to all sorts of unkind remarks all her life, yet, she lives through it all with queenly dignity.  From time to time,  she lashed out at her husbands, her family, society and even at Shri Krushna to remind them of their duties.  But, at no time did she cry like the typical heroines of Indian movies, instead, she was the lioness who urged her champions to fight for the just cause time and again.  One wonders what she would have done had she had the capacity to yield weapons instead of her husbands !!  Draupadi fanned the fires of revenge whenever her husbands seem to “cool off” in the 12 year exile.  But, she is no war monger, when compassion was called for, she was the first to relent and forgive Guru-putra Ashwasthama.  Her keen sense of justice and “rights” kept her husbands from veering off into sentimentality under family pressure.  Loyal to her husbands till the end, she demonstrated how “divided love” can unite a family.  Hers was the toughest task as she had to keep together five different personalities and focus their energies towards a great goal. Indeed, Draupadi was the embodiment of “karma – action”.

Sita, the often misunderstood wife and queen of Rama was a woman with an independent mind of her own.  After Valmiki’s original, later renditions of Ramayan of paint Sita in softer, sadder tones.  Unlike most women at the time, Sita was a headstrong woman, one who successfully argued her case with Rama and her in-laws to follow Rama into exile.  Even while in exile, she proved herself up to the challenges of living in the forest.  During her captivity, Sita showed the strength of her character by staving off the unwelcome attentions of Ravan for nearly a year.  Her spirited speech at the time of Rama’s abandonment alone is proof of her strong, independent streak.  It was no mean feat in those days to live the life of a single mother, and yet, she successfully bought up two sons in the ashram of sage Valmiki.  At no point did she ask for assistance from her parents, compensation from Vibhishan or compassion from Rama.  Indeed, Sita was the embodiment of dignity.

Tara was the widowed wife of Vali, who married Sugriva and successfully championed her son’s right to inherit the throne of Kishkindha.  Her knowledge of what was going on in the kingdom was even keener than that of Vali.  She knew of Rama’s friendship with Sugriva and had full details of their conversations.  Despite her best efforts, Vali fought the new alliance of Rama and Sugriva and lost his life.  Being a realist, Tara accepted the passing of her husband and married Sugriva.  But, being resourceful, she was not going to let the death of her husband deprive her son of his rights !  In accordance with the social customs of Vanar society, she married the new King and became his chief queen.  Usually, the new king would dismiss the sons of his predecessor and insist on his own children getting the throne.  But, Tara made Rama and Sugriva guaranty her son’s succession for the dishonourable way they had killed her husband.  She kept up the diplomatic pressure on the new alliance to make sure her son would not be the looser in the new rule.  Tara is indeed the embodiment of resourcefulness.

Mandodari the beautiful !  She was the captivating beauty who married an aspiring asura king and became the empress of his vast asura empire.  Mother of valiant sons, she was the queen of a golden city, on a jewel shaped island in one of the most beautiful. tropical paradises on earth.  However, her husband had a roving eye and Mandodari must have suffered constantly by his lust for beautiful women.  But, instead of arguing, fighting or making life a misery for her family, she took charge of the situation and managed the ever growing seraglio of her husband with aplomb.  Like Tara, she was very resourceful and knew statecraft better than most ministers.  She handled Ravan with great skill and diplomacy and retained her position as his chief queen against all odds.  From what Hanuman observed, despite her delicate position, she exercised great control over Ravan and was a moderating influence over his tempestuous nature.  It could not have been easy living in the politically charged asur court of Ravan.  Despite the fact that her rival wives also had scores of valiant sons, she managed further the cause of her own son with great skill.  During the war, she counselled Ravan with great care.  Indeed, had he followed her advise, he would not have lost his life.  Mandodari was indeed the embodiment of diplomacy.

There are the characteristics of great wives as listed in the Puranas – dignity, patience, diplomacy, resourcefulness, drive to succeed, looking out for the family etc.  Later descriptions of wives as Rambha in the bedroom, mother in the kitchen etc are fanciful descriptions of poets like Kalidas who had rather a romantic image of what it means to be a woman and a wife.  The Puranic description of womanhood seems to be more in keeping with realities of today.

I would exhort all Indians, regardless of their religious affiliations, to read the original scriptures and their accurate translations, rather than commentaries and abridged versions, to get an idea of what being an Indian man / women actually means.

Example of what is available on the net
        Valmiki Ramayan



© Bhagwat Shah    [email protected]


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