The Vulnerable Spot

Indian Mythology, World Mythology 13 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, Feb. 13, 2011

This is a story from Greek mythology. The nymph Thetis fell in love with and married a human called Peleus. They had a son called Achilles. Thetis being a nymph was immortal. She wanted her son to be immortal too. So she took the newborn Achilles and dipped him in the waters of the River Styx. This river separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. It would make Achilles’ skin impervious to all weapons. Unfortunately, to dip Achilles in the water, Thetis had held him by his ankles. The part that she held was not touched by the magical water. That part, the ankle in general and the heel in particular, remained vulnerable to weapons. Eventually, Achilles’ enemies took advantage of this vulnerable spot to kill him. Paris, prince of Troy, shot an arrow that struck Achilles’ heel. Thus despite all efforts of Thetis, Achilles died as all humans do.

Now this story is from Hindu mythology. Gandhari’s son Duryodhan was preparing for a fight until death with the mighty Bhima. Gandhari feared for her son: he would surely die, not only because he was unrighteous but because he was not as physically strong as Bhima. She was determined to save her son. Gandhari had spent all her life with a blindfold around her eyes. She had done so on the day of her marriage in order to share her husband’s blindness. Because of this, her eyes contained great power. If she removed  her blindfold, the power retained in her eyes would be transferred to the first thing she saw. “Before you go into battle, son,” she told her son, “come before me without any clothes so that I can look upon your body. Every part I see will become impervious to weapons.” Duryodhan did as commanded. But he was embarrased to come before his mother totally naked. So he covered his groin and hips with a wide banana leaf tied at the waist. When he came before Gandhari, she removed her blindfold and looked upon her son for the first time in her life. On seeing the leaf around his waist she wept. “Oh my son,” she said, “What have you done? Now a portion of your body will be vulnerable to weapons. Your enemies will strike you there.” Sure enough, Bhima struck Duryodhan on his thighs (a metaphor for groin?), which did not have the power of Gandhari’s eyes, as a result of which Duryodhan bled to death.

Two stories from two different parts of the world. Perhaps the story came to India from Greece or went to Greece from India, via the armies of Alexander or via the Indo-Greek rulers who followed Alexander, whose influence stretched right up to Mathura 2000 years ago. Or perhaps these are simply two cultural expressions of an universal emotion of ambitious parents trying to save their vulnerable children.

Even today in the political, Bollywood and business arenas, we hear of fathers and mothers doing everything in their power to prop up the careers and fortunes of their sons and daughters. Like Thetis and Gandhari they desperately hope against eventuality and they struggle against fate. But eventually, a parent only gives life to a child, but cannot shape his or her destiny.

  • R.Nataraja

    Hello Sir,
    As I started reading the first line I got to know that this character is related to Troy but after going through the myth behind his death, it was crystal clear that even in mahabharatha we had a same story.Good to know the smiliarities between Hindu n Greek Mythology.

  • Earlier these similarities were appealing to me and I was always led to believe that ancient Indian civilization is the seed of all other western civilizations.
    But over the past few years and months I have discovered another story. A story written in the dust bowl that is modern day uzbekistan. Here archaeologists have made an endearing find of a lost civilizations. These people predate the zorastrians also and are estimated to have been around the time of the dusk of the Indus valley civilization.
    They were fire worshippers and cow herds(because of the steppes). They abandoned their motherland because the river that they depended on changed course. And a part of them fled west towards modern day Turkey. Another section fled east to another huge river the Indu. Then on realizing that the river has also disappeared the moved to the Ganges plain. They are believed to be the first ‘civilized’ people to enter these regions. they were the Aryans et tu ‘civilied’.
    No wonder that the later greek and vedic culture echo similar stories. Both the Ramayana and Jaya have similar cousins in the Illiad and Odyssey.

    • Meetali

      Thanks sir, its Good and knowledgable.

  • rajesh gawade

    Great article once again sir.
    But GOD forgot to create Vulnerable spot for our corrupt politicians.
    Sometime I feel even GOD is corrupt or what?

    • Padmanabhan

      Of course, even God was in human form in these stories. So automatically, he had his favorites, and he supported them when required. There were many reasons given to justify the same.

  • Harshita thats how the saying “Achilles’ heel” came about…a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength.
    Interesting story.I think the story might have gone to Greece from India, considering This story from Mahabharata is the oldest documented of the two?

  • Interestingly there is a third parallel in Norse Mythology, Baldr/ Baldur/Balder son of the father of gods Odin and goddess Frigg.

    Unlike Duryodhana and Achilles, both of whom were immersed in arrogance, Baldr is described as the best of gods of Valhalla (Balder the Good). Baldr and his mother both have prophetic dreams of Baldr dying, so Frigg,wife of Odin and the first among goddesses, made every object on earth make vow to not hurt Baldr. All objects except mistletoe which she considers too harmless to be taken into account. In the halls of Valhalla, hurling weapons at Baldr became a popular pastime as they were ineffective against Baldr

    Now Loki the mischievous one,created a magical dart from mistletoe plant and had Baldr’s blind brother god Hoor throw at Baldr inadvertently,killing him. As most would probably be aware,Baldr’s death is a very important event in Norse mythology.

    The parallels between Duryodhana and Achilles and Baldr may not be appealing,but the linkage between Indian mythology and Norse mythology is nearly proven.

    Devji, I would really like you to throw some light on this connection.

    • Blitz2

      Not many people know but Krishna too was said to have a vulnerable spot in his heel. The story goes (if my memory serves right) that once Durvasa rishi (one of the Saptarishis) came to Krishna’s Palace as a guest. He asked for some curd and rice and after eating some, made them (Krishna and Rukmini) smear it all over their body. 
      Krishna did so, leaving out the soles of his feet (he felt that it would be an insult to the food). Durvasa pleased granted him the boon that he would be invulnerable and would not obtain death through any part of the body that had been smeared with the rice and milk.

  • a l mohan

    parents can give birth to their child but cant shape their destiny!very TRUE!

  • asrat

    As a teacher once said: ” We can’t build the future for our students but we can build our children for the future”, parents give birth to children and train them to live in the world into which they grow.

    • Meetali

      fantastic and realistic quote

  • About the Infuence of the Indian Civilization,  a samll piece of Information. A Large Populace of Japanese practise a Native religion called Shinto or Shintoism along with Buddhism.  Now here is the Surprising fact: Some Shinto Temples Have Ganesha and Saraswati Idols And Infact Japanes Recognise Ganesha.

  • L Radhakrishna Rao

    How duryodhana is unrighteous when he did all his duty?your Mahabharata is still Hindu based and promote race mixing.