You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : August 1998

purAnA and the sibling ideal

From: sudarshan (
Date: Thu Aug 20 1998 - 10:51:32 PDT

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

Browsing through last week's digests I came across a very poignant query
from a member who, in the context of alluding to the relationship between
Ravanaand his sister, Surpanaka, asked if there are any other "pUrAni-c" or
"itihAsic"anecdotes that serve to underscore or celebrate that most
cherished of human relationship --- the special bonding between a brother
and sister.

The Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other "puranA-s" in many instances have
described the "dharmA-s" enjoined in many ideal relationships  e.g. between
father and son (Dasaratha& Rama), between brother and brother (Rama and
Bharatha, Yudhishtra and his brothers) between man and woman (Rama and
Sita) between sisters-in-law (Kausalya and Kaikeyi) between bosom friends
(Rama and Sugriva, Karna and Duryodhana) and so on. But, as the member
seems to rightly indicate, when it comes to  describing that rare tie of
affection between brother and sister, "purAnic" episodes are, I am afraid,
truly and woefully few, far and between. One cannot recall to mind a
sterling "purANic" character (or characters) exemplifying the classic
brother-sister complex of relationships with the same ease or familiarity
with which one can, say, instantly identify Bharatha and Rama, as the two
most towering dramatic personae typifying the unique "dharmA" that binds
siblings, isn't it?

One is therefore likely to ask oneself if the "pUrAnA-s" did not
deliberately give the brother-sister bond of affection the short shrift.
Why, we may well ask, why is there nothing idealistic about such a
realationship? Are there no "dharmA-s" that can be plumbed by essaying the
psyche, the role and the character of sibling protagonists against the
backdrop of a "puranic" situation or theme? Is there nothing edifying about
such a dramatic construct? Have we nothing to learn from such relationships
as we do otherwise from a deep study of the relationship between say, Rama
and Dasaratha, Krishna and Sudama, Kunti and Karna or Sita and Hanuman? Why
are "puranic" offerings on the brother-sister score so meagre?

TO such questions I would answer: No, the great "puranA-s" which are
nothing but the Vedas in the form of narrative drama have not left any part
of human affairs uncharted and unexplored!

The wonderful relationship between brother and sister, and the "dharmic"
essences within such a tie of human affection, are  essayed in lore as
vividly and comprehensively as any indeed in the full and grand spectrum of
human relationships that constitutes the subject-matter of the
"puranA-s"! The principal aim of the Vedas and the Puranas is to lead us
into right conduct ie. to do right by ourselves, to do right 
by everyone else and obtain happiness in this world and the after-world. A
relationship as important as the "brother-sister" one would not therefore
have escaped the notice of the great and wise ones who authored the
treasures of "puranic" mentoring that have been bequeathed to us.

I recently came across one such episode from the 'siva-purana' dealing with
the brother-sister relationship. It was once narrated by a "mahAn" in the
course of a religious

I shall share it with you all in the next post.