Working box marriages

Why Krishna's Satyabhama could have been a seasoned feminist

If Radha stands for young, rebellious love, Rukmini for determined devotion, Satyabhama stands for a demanding, even possessive partner. The nature of Krishna's relationship with his second principal wife can best be described as fiery - a red among pastels, so to speak. This is evident from the many episodes in mythology, including the divine couple.

Who is Satyabhama?

Satyabhama's fleeting temperament can be traced back to the fact that she is an incarnation of the earth goddess Bhudevi. In contrast to the playful yet docile Lakshmi, Bhudevi is a primal and wild woman archetype. Such women, even when married, do not submit to any authority. In South India, the idea that Vishnu has two wives - Sridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhudevi - is quite popular. It is based on the myth of the Varaha Avatar. Vishnu in his boar form saved the earth goddess under the primeval seas, where the demon Hiranyaksha had captured her. While Bhudevi takes her savior as her husband in this story, she has the chance to return the favor in her form as Satyabhama.

The shine of truth

We don't know much about the birth of Satyabhama other than that she is the daughter of Satrajit - a Yadava king and the royal treasurer of Dwarka. Krishna's argument with Satrajit over the jewel of Syamantaka is a different story, but it culminates in Krishna's marriage to all three of Satrajit's daughters - Vratini, Prasvapini, and Satyabhama.

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It is interesting that even though Krishna refuses to take the priceless Syamantaka gem from Satrajit, he is bargain with Satyabhama, whose name means "the splendor of truth".

Satyabhama then becomes the metaphorical jewel that Krishna takes home with him anyway. Though their marriage is initially "transactional", Satyabhama soon lays claim to their share of love from Krishna ...

Related reading: Krishna's wife, Rukmini, was much braver than most women today

Co-woman, co-warrior

Although a co-wife among Krishna's eight main spouses (collectively known as the Ashta Bharyas), Satyabhama refuses to be a "good little woman" and to stay at home. As true Ardhangini (literally half of the spouse) urged her to accompany Krishna everywhere, including on the battlefield. Krishna pampered her, knowing that she was not only a trained and skilled warrior, but also part of a larger drama that was about to unfold.

Naraka a.k.a. Bhauma, a powerful asura, had once received a blessing from Brahma that no one could kill him except his mother, the earth goddess Bhudevi. Narakasura was drunk with power and defeated all kings and gods, defeated Indra and seized Amaravati.

He even had the audacity to steal the mother of all gods - Aditi's earrings and kidnapped 16,000 princesses. The gods and sages asked Krishna for help and he decided to go to war with Narakasura.

When Satyabhama heard of this, she wanted to come with them to avenge Aditi, a divine relative. So Krishna and Satyabhama ventured into battle. Satyabhama was really Krishna's warrior wife.

A great fight ensued and at some point Krishna is injured and knocked out by Narakasura. This angry Satyabhama, attacked with all her anger, attacked Narakasura and killed her. As the incarnation of Bhudevi (and thus Narakasura's mother), she was able to free the earth from its horrors and at the same time honor Brahma's blessings. But when he was dying, Narakasura asked his 'mother' for another blessing. So that the world will remember him not with malice but with joy and that the day of his death will be celebrated every year. This myth is the reason for the ritual celebration of Naraka Chaturdashi on Diwali.

Related reading: These two Diwali stories teach us about gender equality. But are we ready to learn?

Was Satyabhama jealous of other women of Krishna?

Satyabhama's competitive spirit didn't stop on the battlefield and the struggle for attention has been a constant in her life. There are numerous stories of her rivalry with Rukmini, but they are consistently designed to show how the former's selfless love is better than the obsession with Satyabhama. A discerning woman is not idealized in patriarchal mythologies, but today's feminists will admire her lively spirits. The story of the Parijata tree is one such example.

Once Krishna brought some flowers from the divine Parijata tree to Rukmini. Driven by jealousy (or perhaps a need for equality?), Satyabhama demanded that her husband bring her these flowers too. Krishna spoiled her again and offered to bring her not only flowers, but the entire Parijata tree. He takes her up the Garuda and goes to Amaravati, Indra's residence, where the Parijata tree is. Satyabhama uproots the tree and after a great fight the tree is brought back to earth and planted in Satyabhama's garden and she is happy - at least for some time. She feels victorious, but her pride comes before a fall. The branches grow in such a way that all the flowers fall in Rukmini's garden and Satyabhama must eat humble cake. Rukmini also beats her in the Tulabharam incident.

Related reading: Pride and jealousy have no place in a relationship, Lord Krishna proved

One cannot help but feel bad about Satyabhama, whose way of seeking love may seem selfish but is no less passionate. This woman is true to her nature and expresses her need for love. She is neither shy nor patient and does not allow herself to be tamed by social expectations. Satyabhama is a difficult woman to love, but definitely a worthy one. Do you agree?

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