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Un-Extended Familes in Ancient Times


Surprisingly, theory of ‘extended families’, living together, is not evidenced in the Hindu scriptures.  No family of note in the scriptures is noted for living together.  Those that try to so end up being unhappy. 

Valmiki Ramayan :-
Ramayan, the first historic epic, does not have Dashrath living happily with all his wives in ‘one palace’.  None of his brothers or sisters are noted to live in the kingdom and certainly none in his capital.  Valmiki Ramayan clearly notes that each of his wives and sons have their own palaces.  Despite this, his wives quarrel !  There is no peace despite having separate households for them.

Dashrath’s sons have greater unity amongst them than most other princes.  Maybe this is because they are born from the same ‘prasad’.  Hence, as such, they are more like one soul divided in four.  As ‘quadruplets’ they have more feeling of oneness than normal siblings would.  Afterall, the original Prasad from the Putra-Kamesti yagna was designed to give one brilliant son to the king.  He decided to maximise his blessings by splitting it up in 4 parts.

The siblings were united in their purpose of being nice to each other, but this did not mean they were ‘happy’ in their lives.  During the exile, Rama was with Sita, but Lakshman was without his wife Urmila.  Once they returned from exile, no sooner had Rama sat on the throne, he ordered his pregnant wife to be exiled back to the forest.  No one – not even his mother – asked why!  What sort of extended family is this if no one questions an expulsion of a member?  What sort of extended family is this if they can see that the head of the family is miserable and yet do nothing to alleviate that misery?  Surely families, extended or nuclear, are designed for create happiness not misery!  It is shocking that no one in the Raghukul royal family, not even the kind hearted Kaushalya tried to find out how Sita and her son(s) are doing in the forest.  Even Janak, Sita’s father, does not take it upon himself to help his daughter stranded in the forest all by herself.

If we look beyond the socially acceptable reading of the Ramayan, it poses a lot of uncomfortable questions about the morals and ethics that it preaches vs practices, especially about the first family of Ayodhya.        

Vali and Sugriv were not at peace with one another.  Nor were Ravan, Kumbhakaran and Vibhishan. 

At first opportunity, Sugriv preferred to grieve over his brother rather than avenge him.  Sugriv took over the kingdom and his brother’s wife!!  On his return, Vali took full revenge and Vali barely escaped with his life.  When the time came, Sugriv was so fired up with blood lust, he asked Rama to kill Vali rather than mediate between him and his brother and make peace.

Ravan was a mean brother and stole the kingdom of Shri Lanka from his own step brother Kuber.  Kumbhakaran only managed to live in peace with him because he slept most of the time, keeping well out of politics and family affairs.  Vibhishan had divergent views from his brother and took refuge with Shri Rama as soon as the hostilities were declared.  Vibhishan proved his loyalty to Rama and helped him win.

Mahabharata of Vyasa :-
The other great family from historical epics is that of the Kurus during the time of the Mahabharat war.  Animosity between the Kauravas and Pandavas brought carnage to every kingdom in the country at the time.  The family squabbles were so intense, princes tried to kill each other from a very young age and assassination plots were hatched with surprising regularity.  Dividing the kingdom only brought a temporary reprieve before the entire clan was dishonoured in open court.  The final war was so bloody, even the blind wept for want of peace.

During that era, there was no peace in other royal families of Bharat-Varsh either.  Kansa imprisoned his father and placed his own cousin sister under house arrest to usurp the throne and prevent any challenges to his rule.  We can only imagine the terrible state of affairs in the rest of the kingdom of a man who can kill his 7 nephews and nieces in cold blood.

Shishupal hated his cousin Shri Krushna with vehemence so bitter, he could not sit silent when Shri Krushna was given the highest honour at Rajasuyagna held by their cousins the Pandavas.  Family feud ended in fratricide as Shishupal was publically beheaded for his vile insults.  All other cousins, royal or otherwise, were shocked, but stayed silent.

Every other mythical tale talks of problems between brothers, in-laws and quarrelsome cousins. 


So why do we go on about the virtues of extended family?  When have they existed and why?  Read the next article to understand WHY Indians like to extol the virtues of extended families.

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