Heartbreak Suicides

Modern Mythmaking 14 Comments

Published in Devlok,   Sunday Midday, July 04, 2010


It is heartbreaking to hear of young men and women killing themselves when their heart is broken, when they feel so hurt and humiliated that they cannot bear to go on living. The idea is to stop feeling, because the feeling is unbearable, lacerations of the soul that cannot be healed. One feels so alone that one does not see the point of going on living anymore. No friend, no family, no support system, no connection, no significance. A life so worthless, or frightening, that one does not want to experience it any more. Or perhaps an act of ultimate communication – so that one is finally heard, and the ones who are left behind are finally punished, made to suffer as they suffered.

I remembered the story of Tambaku, the daughter of a tribal chieftain who no man wanted to marry despite the bridal price her father was willing to pay. She was too ugly! So she killed herself and the gods decreed that she would be born as the tobacco plant that every man would crave to put in his mouth. Thus, they would always want her and she would eventually kill them.

I remembered the story of the Raat-ki-Raani tree that blooms only at night. She was in love with the sun-god, Surya. But he did not care for her. Heartbroken, she refused to see him. She opened up only at night, refusing to led her fragrance permeate the day.

And then I saw the Sun-flower, staring at the sun all day long. He does not care for her but she still stares at him, hoping, waiting, for that one day when he will stop to gaze at her.

I remember the little mermaid of fairy tales who wants to marry the prince of the shore. He yearns for a beloved but cannot find her. The little mermaid cannot leave the sea and run to his castle. All she can do is sing as passionately as fishes do, but for his human ears it will just be a hollow song of the wind and the sea.

The idea of a heartbreak inspires literature. Valmiki once saw a hunter shoot one of a pair of love-birds. The survivor bird wailed around its beloved, circled around it a thousand times, and finally dashed against the ground to kill itself. Valmiki who saw this cursed the heartless hunter and the curse took the form of a verse. Thus was born the first poetry. As Valmiki said, “From pain comes poetry.” And that is what inspired him to write the Ramayana – a love story between a princess who loved a prince who could not reciprocate with the same passion as he was bound by royal responsibilities and family duties, who rejected her because her reputation was stained by contact to another man, yet who refused to marry another woman, preferring the company of a cold gold statute created in her likeness.

A woman called Vedavati wanted to marry Ram but he refused as he was faithful to only one wife. The same Vedavati killed herself when Ravana tried to take her by force. Some say, she was reborn as Sita. Others say, it was her curse that led to the killing of Ravana and that like Radha who waits in Madhuvan for Krishna to return, she is still waiting on the hills of Jammu for Ram to come to her.

  • Interesting – that apart from the love bird example (where we don’t know its gender), each one is a ‘she’ who pines and perishes.

    Are these myths made as grist for the patriarchy mill? Doesn’t this then tell us more about our wider culture than the individual stories as such?

    • Devdutt

      There are stories of male ‘piners’ like Ruru….but as modern scholars are obsessed with patriarchy, these stories are carefully overlooked

      • Akshay

        You must tell that tale as well, Devdutt ji, a google search for ‘Ruru’ returns me pictures of birds in New Zealand and Japanese actresses.

        • noops

          I think he meant Puru.
          A king from stories in Puranas (eg bhagvata Purana). He pined for Uruvashi, a apasara from heaven. She married him on one condition that besides here noone sees him naked and that he promises to take care of her two lambs (or sheep kids ?).
          Indra wanted Uruvashi back and he made a plan with gandharvas to steal the lambs when he was having sex with her at night. Uruvashi, as she heard the cries of lamb asked him to immediately fetch for them, he ran out naked,as he was… and gandhavas threw light at him. Hence the two conditions were violated and uruvashi left. With him pining for her.
          After a lot, he finally sees her and he begs her to come back. She asked him to move on.. and said something about fickleness of a woman etc etc. But he was unrelenting so she agreed to spend a night with her every year.
          Ultimately he did many yajnas ans stuff to reach the same loka as her.
          but later in 11 part of Bhagvatam he is said to have been finally become an ascetic, bitter about the chasing after material desires and the resulting futility.
          nice story right.. still its true most of the puranic storie leave the ladies pining.

        • Sushma

          He actually meant Ruru. There is a story of him and his wife in Bhagavatam.

  • Anil

    Very well! Yet another stroke of genious in the sketch you have for this article.

    Warm regards,

  • Suraj

    “Are these myths made as grist for the patriarchy mill? Doesn’t this then tell us more about our wider culture than the individual stories as such?”

    There’s definitely truth to the statement that there certainly more pining females than males when it comes to love stories.

    But as Devduttji points out, there are men who have broken hearts. Actually the first story that came to my mind when I saw the title of this article was that of Siva carrying Sati Ammavaru’s corpse and wailing and meandering around the universe.

    This is a story peculiar to South India, but a popular one. After Brighu Maharishi kicks Mahavishnu’s chest, Lakshmi Ammavaru leaves Vaikuntam leaving him depressed to wander on Earth in search of her…this is a popular beginning to the Tirumala-Tirupati Sthala Puranam.

    And of course, in various bhakti traditions, Sri Krishna equally pines for Radha.

  • Neha

    Me not completely convinced with certain ideas and request your clarification regarding the same. The solution to a person who has suffered HEART BREAK is “The idea is to stop feeling, because the feeling is unbearable, lacerations of the soul that cannot be healed.” But i feel that for human beings it is natural tendency that if you put restiction on a particular idea or thing, then ur mind will surely be entangled in the same thoughts.Eg if you ask a person not to think about dolphins for a minute it is sure that atleast once or twice the person would certainly think about them. According to me the Story of your heart break should be there at the back of your mind but you must have an optimistic attitude that THERE ARE PLENTY OF OTHER GOOD REASONS TO LIVE FOR RATHER THAN DOING SUICIDE FOR A HEARTBREAK.

    I believe there is a MORAL flaw in the story of TAMBAKU because since no one was marrying her she became tobacco- a reason for their death. But the essence of spiritual education is FORGIVENESS. In this case it is like taking REVENGE which i think was not appropriate.

    • sreenivasa

      It is human propensity to feel insufferable pain during ‘heart-breaks’ as in the case of any other emotional turbulence. The idea is to learn and practice to divert our mind from unpleasant. e.g. when you have pain on one part of body, always thinking about it make you feel more pain than if you try to engage yourself in another interesting/ activity. As for Tambaku, I consider it as a reminder from Mother Nature that “It Takes All These Sorts to Make a World”.

  • Gaurav

    Young people suicide, Farner suicide, Dowry suicide, College performance failure suicide, suicide bombing – all kinds of self-killing is happening. I dont see an in-depth attempt to understand this in any of the responses. A broader sense of belonging and self fulfillment can help I believe.

  • Manasie

    Firstly let me start by saying that I have recently discovered your site. it is really well written. I have myself shared the link with over 15 people till now. so Way to go! :)

    But coming to this post, although you have drawn a parallel between how lovers have always resorted to ending their lives in order to punish the one they loved… dont you think that if that person would have cared, he/she would have not let that happen at all? so these people gave up their lives for someone who does not care in the 1st place.

    Also, I feel that by citing examples from history, maybe this post gives reasons to people who are at that stage in life to give up in the hope that something better awaits them…?? ur views?

    • Devdutt

      The article is about unrequited love….all possibilities exist.

  • all in all, Ramayana was a heartbreaking love story. thanks for reminding this :)

  • Awesome facts and stories r written by you Sir , m 21 n i love reading ur articles more than watching movies .. You rock sir , \m/, \m/ , Hat’s off to ur work. !1 :) :)