Published in Devlok Sunday Midday, December 30, 2012
The word Amazon comes from the Greek words meaning ‘absence of a breast’. In Greek mythology there is reference to a tribe of female warriors who cut off one of their breasts to make it easier for them to wield a bow and swing an axe. Or it might just have been a rite of passage for these fierce women to declare that they were not like other women that the Greek heroes were familiar with: they would not be restricted to the hearth and home.
The Amazons were devotees of Artemis, the goddess of the chase, known to Romans as Diana, who was always surrounded by female companions and did not appreciate the company of men, except when a child was desired. Male children were given away in adoption and the female child was raised as the next generation of Amazons. There is great argument if these women were lesbians, women who love other women romantically and sexually.
Indian mythology refers to the land of the women too. In local versions of the Mahabharat, such as Jaimini Bharatam written in Kannada, in the chapter known as Ashwamedha Parva, Arjun who defends the royal horse of the Pandavs, encounters Pramila, queen of the land of women, who wishes to marry him and wants him to stay with her. Arjun resists at first, but Pramila and her women claim the royal horse and refuse to part with it until he relents. Finally to release the horse, Arjuna agrees to marry Pramila but on condition she accompany him in the rest of the journey, returning home only after the horse has been delivered back to Hastinapur.
The land of women reappears in the story of the Nath-gurus, Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath.
A princess once saw a gandharva as he was flying over her palace. She laughed out loud angering the gandharva who cursed her that she and her companions would live in a distant land in a plantain orchard; any man who entered their land would die instantly. Thus the women were deprived of all romantic and sexual pleasures. One day, the women heard Hanuman singing; such was the potency of his voice that it made the women pregnant. Thus the women became mothers but they prayed to Hanuman to send them a man who would live with them. Such a man had to be an extraordinary man, one who would be impervious to the gandharva’s curse. That man was Matsyendranath.
Mastyendranath falls under the spell of the women in Stri-Rajya, particularly its two queens, Kamala and Mangala, and is unable to leave their enchanted plantain orchard (kadali vana). After many years, Mastyendranath’s student, Gorakshanath learns of his whereabouts and enters this enchanted land disguised as a woman. Since he too is a great yogi, the gandharva’s powers have no impact on him. He goes around the streets beating a drum and singing, “Pay attention Matsyendra, Gorakh has come.” Hearing the drumbeats and the song, Mastyendranath comes back to his senses and leaves the enchanted kingdom of women.
Nothing else is known of these women. Does this land exist? Who knows? It certainly exists in India’s mythic imagination.