Heroines: Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History

by Ira Mukhoty

Category: Non-Fiction

The idea of heroism in women is not easily defined. In men the notion is often associated with physical strength and extravagant bravery. Women’s heroism has tended to be of a very different nature, less easily categorized. All the women portrayed—Draupadi, Radha, Ambapali, Raziya Sultan, Meerabai, Jahanara, Laxmibai and Hazrat Mahal—share an unassailable belief in a cause, for which they are willing to fight to the death if need be. In every case this belief leads them to confrontation with a horrified patriarchy.

In the book we meet lotus-eyed, dark-skinned Draupadi, dharma queen, whose story emerges almost three millennia ago; the goddess Radha who sacrificed societal respectability for a love that transgressed convention; Ambapali, a courtesan, who stepped out of the luxurious trappings of Vaishali to follow the Buddha and wrote a single, haunting poem on the evanescence of beauty and youth. Raziya, the battle-scarred warrior, who proudly claimed the title of Sultan, refusing its fragile feminine counterpart, Sultana; the courageous Meerabai who repudiated her patriarchal destiny as cloistered daughter-in-law of a Rajput clan; the gentle Mughal princess Jahanara: who claims the blessings of both Allah and the Prophet Muhammad and wishes ‘never to be forgotten’; Laxmibai, widow, patriot and martyr, who rides into legend and immortality fighting for her adopted son’s birthright; and Hazrat Mahal, courtesan, begum, and rebel queen, resolute till the very end in defying British attempts to seize her ex-husband’s kingdom.

In these engrossing portraits, mythological characters from thousands of years ago walk companionably besides historical figures from more recent times. They rise to reclaim their rightful place in history. Daughters, wives, courtesans, mothers, queens, goddesses, warriors—heroines.

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