Duties and Sacrifices of women in ‘MADHVI’ by Bhisham Sahni

Bhisham Sahni (8 August 1915 – 11 July 2003) was a Hindi writer, playwright and actor, most famous for his novel “Tamas” and his play “Madhvi”. It is based on the story of Madhvi, daughter of king Rishi Yayati from Mahabharata. The play was first staged by noted director Rajendra Nath in 1982. In 2005, US trained Rashi Bunny performed it as a solo play. It’s English translation by Alok Bhalla was published in 2002. Bhisham’s interpretations of mythology shows us how women have functioned as a substitute for money whenever there was a clash of male egos. Madhvi narrates a story of Yayati’s daughter who is used like a pawn by three egoistic men for their self-interest, her father, Yayati, Gaalav, her lover, Vishwamitra, her lover’s guru. I intend to show that the play Madhvi is a scathing comment on patriarchal society and Sahni has conspicuously shown unambiguous conditions of women, even though the story is based on characters older than 5000 years but still alive. In this paper I will situate Madhvi in its social context where women have no right to fulfill their desires, they are suppressed and restricted by the norms and the rules of the society.
In “Madhavi”, Sahni draws upon a story from Mahabharata, but gives it a fine ideological spin. Munikumar Galav, arrogant disciple of sage Vishwamitra, insists on giving him gurudakshina, even though the sage wants nothing. In exasperation Vishwamitra asks for 800 white ashwamedhi horses with black ears to boot. Only 600 such horses exist in Aryavarta, three kings owning 200 each. People advise Galav to go to King Yayati, who now lives in an ashram, but has a prodigious reputation for generosity. Gaalav knew that it was impossible to arrange 800 white horses but still he does not repent infront of his guru Vishwamitra due to his ego and arrogance . He goes to and asks for his help, Yayati gives him his daughter Madhavi who is blessed with two
boons: she can renew her chastity and youth whenever she wants and each son she bears will be a chakravarti king, Gaalava hands over Madhvi to all three Kings one by one in order to get ashwamedhi horses they possess. She in turn gives them each a son. Still they are 200 short. So Madhavi goes and offers herself to Vishwamitra for a year and he dispenses with the last 200 horses. This shows how women were being used as a commodity for self profit. Gaalav used Madhvi to pay off his debts. Yayati gave Madhvi to be known as generous forever. All three kings used Madhvi to get a boy child and future King but no one gave value to Madhvi. Three times she delivered childrens and was moved emotionally while getting separated from her newly born childrens but no one gave importance towards her emotions for her childrens
The males, preserves their “reputations” — Yayati for generosity, Galav for his gurudakshina pledge. He will end up as a Rishi, no doubt about that. He is insensitive towards Madhvi moving from harem to harem, leaving a son behind each time. In the end Yayati holds a massive swayamvar in which the three kings attend with their sons by Madhavi, hoping to attract her favour or to move her emotionally. But Galav again becomes a bit uptight (she has lived with his guru, so how can he take her now?) and Madhavi walks out on the swayamvar in the end. Sahni portrayed Madhvi In order to show the sufferings of a woman in male dominated society where women are seen as an object to donate in order to maintain statuses. Yayati gives Madhvi as a gift to the young ascetic, Galava in order to maintain his reputation as a generous hearted king even after knowing the fact that Madhvi will never be happily married to any of the Kings, Yayati knew that Gaalav will only use Madhvi’s two boons for his self-interest. Madhvi is not only beautiful but has the devine gift of eternal (renewable) chastity and can
help Galava obtain the 800 white horses that he had proposed to his guru. Madhvi suggests a plan to Gaalava, who proceeds to sell the princess to the Kings of Ayodhya, Kashi and Bhojnagar one after the other for she will bear them heir to the throne. In the last deal she is handed over to Galava’s guru Vishwamitra for the remaining 200 horses. In an intensely moving scene in the play, Madhvi is subjected to a humiliating detailed physical examination in front of Galava the husband of Madhvi and courtiers before she is accepted by the king Haryashcha. The the royal astrologer who is given this task, examines one by one and comments upon her back, waist, navel, tongue, palms, cheeks, eyes, hairs, teeth, fingers, toes, lips, breasts, voices and temperament before declearing her fit to be the bearer of the future King.
Madhvi’s tragedy does not end here ironically. Gaalava himself begins to have second thoughts about marrying her at the end as she has grown old in the process of helping him pay back his debt. His excuse is that he cannot marry the woman who has cohabited with his guru. At the same time he also expresses his willingness to accept her if she performs the ritual to renew her chastity. The theme of man’s exploitation of women for selfish interest is an old and often repeated one. But what is significant about Bhisham Sahni’s treatment is that his modern day Madhvi is able to see through the narrow , self-serving attitude of the man. She leaves and decides to go away from him. The play ends as she sets out in search for a new shape and identity for herself. Similarly Tendulkar’s new women of the 90s undergoes a transformation from what she was there decades ealier. In “Khamosh adaalat jaari hai” written in 1960 and translated in 2004, the woman is aware of the injustice of men towards her but she chooses to remain
silent and consequently does not speak against them. In the later play “Kamla”, the heroin questions Kaka Saheb with authority, ” if the man is better than the woman, why does not he become better person? Why does not he turn into her master?” Sarita assetrs confidently, “There will come a day when I will stop being a slave. I will no longer be an object to be used and discarded at will. I will be my own mistress then, and no one will own me. That day will come , I shall gladly pay any price I have to for such a day”. Yet after this she is seen taking off the shoes of her drunken and defeated husband Jaisingh.
Sahni’s subject is ostensibly social and hence ‘timeless’, especially with regards to be local events of present time. Because the norms and the rules of a society has changed only names from Madhvi to Mansi or Mona and the practices only made modern but still the same. Daughter is wedded and father performs the sacred rites of “Kanyadan”. Still a “Daan” or donation. Yayati gives away Madhavi because that’s what his “duty” binds him to do. Madhavi stands amidst the keen stares of men in King Haryasch’s court where the kingdom’s astrologer weighs upon Madhavi’s body – her statistics, skin, shapes… How different is any matrimonial add of today’s national news papers? Lecherous Divodas accepts Madhavi because she is prolific son–generating machine. A son is still considered a choicest choice. Galav markets her professionally and stoically.
A woman of beauty and intelligence born with unique gifts and special abilities spends her entire life in abiding by and standing for the secret promises, vows, desires and aspirations of the man who fathered her, the man she loved and men whom she consummated without marriage.
Each man utilized her for his selfish interests in the name of “Dharma”. They framed her youth, beauty, sincerity and devotion and painted the colors of their desires and ambitions on the canvas of her fading individuality. They used her boons to avail their interest and she kept on giving and yielding and sacrificing for the sake of respect, love or plain duty. “Dharma” is, you see, the umbrella under which all wrongs will be shielded because it has got a sky above it, large and valuable of the scriptures written by men and rules created by men. We may call ourselves an evolved post-modernistic world but is there a woman who at a certain age or stage in life, did not sacrifice for a man who thought his ambitions and wishes more important or more noble or more sacred than her dreams?? Madhavi still lives – more conventional and easily identifiable in rural set ups and more masked in the metropolis.
Hence we can conclude by saying that Madhavi is not a myth, she is a reality. Madhavi has not been vanquished by history, sadly like the legend of Gaea, she still lives either in the self-imposed glory of her sacrifice or the heart-rending solitude of her abandonment.


Submitted by-

      Shristi kumari  

       Roll  no. 1237 

       sec-B English hons. (IIIrd Year)



3 thoughts on “Duties and Sacrifices of women in ‘MADHVI’ by Bhisham Sahni”

  1. Women exploitation is very much in the roots of Indian history but none but Bhishma Sahni alluded to it while others had more important things to do, yelling the valour of men. Madhavi is a must read, it will wrench your heart. A very well structured work, Shristi!


  2. Women exploitation is very much in the roots of Indian history but none but Bhishma Sahni alluded to it while others had more important things to do, yelling the valour of men. Madhavi is a must read! It will wrench your heart! A very well structured work , Shristi..


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