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April - June 2024

Women and Curses: Lessons for even modern times by B. Naveena

Women in our culture are depicted as role models of behaviour. As a mother, daughter, wife, sister, queen, confidante et al, a woman has many roles to play and each of these roles has its own significance even today. Women have the power to shape not only their own destiny, but also of those dependent on them, be it their family, subjects or anybody else. This is because a woman is man’s first teacher. What happens then, when such role models are wronged against? What happens when these very role models err? In the ancient days, it was not uncommon to see people using their powers to curse, when their anger was unduly provoked or when they were wronged against or when somebody was oppressed. One may remember that Sanskrit poetry’s first Śloka was born out of an urge to curse!

मानिषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वं अगमः शाश्वतीः समाः ।
यत् क्रौंचमिथुनादेकं अवधीः काममोहितः ॥

(Valmīki’s curse to the hunter: “May you not live long, O hunter, as you have killed one of the mating Krauncha birds”)

This essay chooses to examine in a bi-fold way, some of the situations which have caused women to be the epicentre of curses, transforming a character and the story. In that light, some of the women who had cursed others, as well as women who had incurred curses are highlighted. It is important to note how the behaviour which was held in contempt then, eventually leading to anger and the curse itself, still provokes contempt in the present era. This but reasserts the fact that the content of our literature is not purely for literary enjoyment, but that it is a mirror to society – a guideline for behaviour, touching both the heart and mind and conveying valuable lessons for life.

A. Women who cursed:
  • PĀRVATĪ curses the Devas that they shall never have progeny through their wives, since they request Śiva to refrain from producing a child, frightened that the offspring of Śiva and Pārvati would be too powerful for the Earth to bear. She curses thus:

(Mahābhāratam, Anuśāsana– 74.50)

“Since you prevented the birth of my progeny, you shall have no offspring.”

  • RAMBHĀ, Nalakūbara’s fiancee, becomes the cause for Nalakūbara’s curse upon Rāvaņa when the latter outrages her Nalakūbara curses Rāvaņa that his head would split into seven pieces if he approaches an unwilling woman. The curse is as follows :

(Rāmāyanam, Uttara–17.45 and 17. 46)

“He shall no longer approach any other unwilling young woman. Else, his head will be split into seven pieces that moment.”

  • KĀMADHENU curses Dilīpa to not have progeny unless he propitiates her offspring. This is the price for having neglected to pay his obeisance to her in a hurry to meet his Vaśişţha tells Dilīpa of the curse under context:

अवजानासि मां यस्मादतस्ते नाभविष्यति।
मत्प्रसूतिमनाराध्य प्रजेति त्वां शशाप सा॥ १-७७

(Raghuvamśa—1. 77)

“You who have shown disrespect to me, shall have no offspring unless you propitiate my progeny.”

  • ŪRVAŚĪ curses Arjuna to lose his masculinity when he refuses to accept

(Mahābhāratam, Vana—46. 49 and 46. 50)

“Since you have scorned me, who amfraught with passion, you will lose yourmasculinity and move among women as a eunuch.”

    • GĀNDHĀRĪ curses Krishna that his Yādava race too, will perish, since he was the kingpin behind the annihilation of the Kauravas.

(Mahābhāratam, Strī—35. 44 and 35. 45)

“36 years from this day, you will lose your sons, ministers, friends and relatives. You will become a lone walker in the forests and be killed by trickery.”

  • VEDAVATĪ indirectly curses Rāvaņa who makes lustful advances at her and pulls her She is wise enough not to curse, so as to not waste her tapas-śakti, but promises to be the cause of Rāvaņa’s death. Vedavati’s words are as follows:

(Rāmāyaņam, Uttara—17. 31 and 17. 32)

“O sinner! As I have been insulted in the forest by you, I will be born again for your destruction.

Women who incurred curses:
  • GAǸGĀ is cursed by Brahmā to be born on the Earth– King Mahābhişak, upon attainment of heaven, comes to pay his respects to Brahmā in Satyaloka. Gańgā is also present there. Mahabhişak casts a lustful glance at Gańgā, which she too reciprocates. Angered by this, Brahmā curses Mahābhişak to be born on Earth as a king, with Gańgā as his disobedient wife. They eventually become Shantanu and Gańgā. Brahmā’s curse is as follows:

(Mahābhāratam, Ādi—89. 7)

“O wicked man! Reside in the human world with her who has stolen your heart, wherein she shall act against your wishes.”

  • TĀŢAKĀ—Although a beautiful Yakşa Princess by birth, Tāţakā incurred the wrath of Agastya, when she tried to wreak havoc in his hermitage, distressed by the death of her Asura-husband Śunda due to Agastya’s curse. He curses her to become a demoness:

(Rāmāyanam, Bāla–25.13)

“Dropping this beautiful form at once, get transformed into an ugly, mighty, man-eating ogress.”

  • ŪRVASĪ – With thoughts on King Purūravas, she enacts the role of Goddess Lakşmī in a play in Instead of saying “I love Puruşottama”, she says “I love Purūravas” and thus the play gets ruined. As a punishment, Ūrvaśī is banished from heaven, with a curse to return when she begets a child through Purūravas. Sage Bharata’s curse in this context is:

(Vikramorvaśīyam, Act III)

“As you have transgressed my instruction, you shall have no celestial residence.”

  • KUNTĪ—On learning about Karņa, Yudhişţhira cursed Kunti saying that, “no woman shall be able to hide a secret from now on”.

(Mahābhāratam, Śānti—6. 22)

“Woman would be incapable of keeping a secret to herself.”

  • RAMBHĀ— She gets petrified (i.e., turned into stone) by Viśwāmitra when she tries to seduce him upon Indra’s instruction. He curses:

(Rāmāyaņam, Bāla—64. 12)

Since you tried to seduce me, who seeks to conquer lust and anger, you shall stand as a stone image for ten-thousand years.”

  • ŚAKUNTALĀ—Durvāsa curses her for i g n o r i n g h i m d u e t o h e r m e n t a l preoccupation with Duşyanta:

 (Abhijñanaśākunthalam, Act IV –1)

“As you have not noticed me (whose treasure is penance), he (whom you have been thinking of) shall also not recognise you, even when reminded, like how an intoxicated man does not recollect the talk made before getting drunk.”

  • AHALYĀ—A well-known tale of infidelity. The curse of Gautama is:

(Rāmāyaņam, Bāla—48. 29 and 48. 30)

“You will stay here for thousands of years without food or drink, lying on ashes, full of remorse and you shall be unperceived by all created beings.”

Relevance in the present era and lessons to be learnt:

A)   In the context of women who cursed:

  • Pārvati–Giving respect to elders, good manners and courtesy are always to be maintained, forming a part of Sadāchāra. Śiva and Pārvati being parents of the universe (जगतःिपतरौ व;.दे) are to be regarded in high esteem. Entering their room and praying to Śiva to constrain his vitality equals disrespecting their stature and It is truly an act worthy of condemnation.
  • Vedavati and Rambhā–Coveting a woman other than one’s own wife is also a sin. Touching a person performing penance leads to dire This can also be seen in the case of Sagara’s children. Also in the second instance, Kubera’s would-be daughter-in-law is indirectly Rāvaņa’s would-be daughter-in-law, too, since Kubera is Rāvaņa’s half-brother. This amounts to incest and sin. Thus, loss of control over one’s sense-organs leads to self-destruction.
  • Kāmadhenu–Not paying your respects to elders is also an act worthy of condemnation.
  • Ūrvaśī–Although Ūrvaśī’s curse was in haste, it indirectly helped Arjuna to remain incognito during Ajñāta-vāsa.
  • Gāndhārī’s curse leads to the annihilation of the Yādava race (which was becoming too powerful & full of internal conflicts), also bringing about the completion of Krşņa Avatāra.

A) In the context of women who incurred curses:

  • Gańgā—Clearly, a case of losing self- control, she loses her exalted state of heavenliness.
  • Tāţakā – Yet again reaffirms that disrespect towards the noble and acting in haste will result only in peril. The wise saying, सहसा िवदधीत न f9fयाम् अिववेकः परमापदां पदम् “Do not act in haste; lack of discrimination will lead to great dangers.” proves itself worthy of emulation.
  • Ūrvaśī— Although this indirectly helps the childless Purūravas to have offspring, this also points to the fact that one must have complete concentration on a job that one has undertaken. Even a syllable can change fortunes, as can be seen in Kumbhakarņa’s prayer of िनITाcवम् instead of िनद वcवम् (vanquishing the Devas). As the saying goes, एकःश दः स यक् @ातः शा ािrवतः सु यु ः ffवग लोके च कामधुक् भवित (Even one good word, when learnt & used correctly, can become equal to the celestial wish-fulfilling cow).
  • Kunti—Disbelieving the words/boons obtained from sages/elders, acting in haste to test them and hiding the truth, all result in misery and grief.
  • Rambhā—Disrespecting holy men, saints and savants reaps only trouble.
  • Śakuntalā—Yet again, not paying your respects to elders by letting your mind wander, obstructs welfare
  • Ahalyā—This well-known tale reasserts that infidelity continues to be condemned in this era,


Loss of self-control is the primary cause of misery, be it infidelity, lack of concentration, or lack of discretion between right and wrong in thought, word or action. So let us join ĀdiŚankara in saying:

कपालिन् भिक्षो मे हृदयकपिमत्यन्तचपलं | 
दृढं भक्त्या बद्ध्वा शिव भवदधीनं कुरु विभो || (Śivānandalaharī—Verse 20)

O Śiva! O mendicant with a skull-bowl! I’m offering you my monkeyish mind. Please tie it up with the firm rope of devotion and bring it under your control.


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Kale, M.R., The Abhijnanasakuntalam of  Kalidasa,  (Delhi:Motilal  Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 2010)

Devadhar, C. R., Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 1997)

SrimadValmiki Ramayana, (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1992)

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