Feminist fathers in Mythology: The story of King Janaka and his daughters


Team Udayavani, Jul 13, 2020, 10:00 AM IST

Janaka was an ancient Indian king of Videha, approximately in the 8th or 7th century BCE. The rulers of the Videha kingdom were all called Janakas. He was also known as ‘Rajarshi‘ as he was a king and Rishi (sage) at the same time

He  is revered as being an ideal example of non-attachment to material possessions. He was intensely interested in spiritual discourse and considered himself free from worldly illusions

He was an intellectual and performed his duties with great deliberation and was universal in his thoughts and extremely spiritual despite being a king of great repute. While performing yagnas or doing charity or homas or even while ruling the country he was in a kind of trance or blissful samadhi.

King Janaka was a very religious and spiritually inclined man, always surrounded by wise and learned sages and Rishis. Ashtavraj Rishi was his guru for spiritual development. There were often long debates on matters of religion, spirituality and inner development at his court.

Janaka was childless when once he found a baby in a furrow when he was ploughing a field as part of a yagna. Because of this Sita was described as the daughter of the earth goddess Bhumi. Sita was raised by Janaka and his wife Sunaina.

Usually during his time kings prayed for sons and performed special yagnas, but Janaka was an exception. His first daughter Sita was an adopted child followed soon by the birth of his second daughter Urmila.

He held annual spiritual conferences encouraging intellectual debates between not just between rishis but women seers who challenged and questioned their male counterparts.

While Sita was a young girl, she once playfully picked up the mighty bow of Shiva that was placed in the royal armory. At that time Janaka decided that the bow of Shiva would be used to pick the best husband for Sita.

King Janaka always taught his daughters to lead and they were not discouraged from speaking up or voicing their opinions and choice. In those times, Sita was the woman who ventured into the  forests and argued with Ram to take her with him in his fourteen year exile. Also,  Urmila holds fort in the palace of Ayodhya. Later, she is the only one who questions Ram of his decision of banishing her sister.

Janaka was not interested in war and wins, he was always fond of his daughters and celebrated their achievements and helped them to set their goals and encourage them to live beyond the luxury of the palace. He took them to the conferences, exposing them to a world far different and far away from the luxuries of home.

His both daughters were also strong and independent. Sita was a single mother who raised their sons in the wild woods. Urmila bore the pangs of marital separation alone without shedding a tear of self-pity or remorse.

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