Spirituality and Mythology

There was masturbation in our myths, too

What do our myths say about masturbation, and does it really matter if they didn't talk about it?

Is masturbation only wrong when it’s a woman?

The recent trolling of a well-known actress in a highly forgettable movie is a trifle upsetting. The episode in question, of course, is the woman pleasuring herself, supposedly to the surprise of her husband and to the consternation of an audience that knows all about it, but doesn’t want to talk about it. For the uninitiated, the scene in question is about an actress masturbating on screen. Now that sounds a bit more awkward than the earlier sophisticated ‘pleasuring herself’, right?

The pertinent question, of course, is why the trolling? Is it because it had to do with a woman, and thus was unacceptable? Because men have been shown doing it or suggesting it on screen with little condemnation. Or is it because it was not in a porn film, but a mainstream film and that too with someone who is not a porn star? Is it boiling down to a man-woman issue or just that it was upsetting, especially since it is about women?

In a recent public space, I was asked if the act (someone still didn’t quite want to use the word, masturbation) was an acceptable thing, irrespective of the gender. Well yes, and as usual, we do find references of such in our mythical stories, too, except that they are not as explicit as we are used to. Our storytellers of yore believed in imagery and flowery language, much like our old films which showed two flowers coming together!

Related reading: Oh My God! A take on sexuality in mythology

Of course it always existed!

This takes me to a relatively less known myth from the Mahabharata. Once upon a time, there in the city of Chedi, there lived King Uparichara Vasu. He was a famous and a brave king, who was respected by even the Gods. Once he had the urge to go hunting. Just when he was about to leave, he got a message from his wife, Queen Girika, who was in her fertile phase, to come and make love to her. But the king had other ideas of sporting in the wild, and left his wife disappointed. When he had had his fill of hunting, he decided to take rest. The weather was lovely and romance was in the air, and that is when he thought about his lovely wife. The narrative says, thinking about her, ‘his seed fell’.

The narrative says, thinking about her, ‘his seed fell’.

As I said earlier, our texts have never been explicit, but being of an oral genre, such language enabled the storyteller to avoid being too direct and also avoid a single incident taking the focus away from the main narrative, which in this case is leading to the birth of Satyavati, who goes on to play a significant role in the epic.

The Greeks and Sumerians have stories about it

Greek mythology, too, makes an interesting reference to the act of masturbation. According to the philosopher Diogenes, Pan, the god of the wild and the shepherds, was frustrated by his unrequited love for Echo, who was in love with the handsome Hyacinthus. Seeing Pan in pain, his father, the god Hermes, is supposed to have taught him the act of masturbation, a ‘solitary and sophistic act of intercourse’, to relieve him of his frustration. Pan, in turn, is supposed to have taught it to the lonely shepherds!

According to Sumerian mythology, the famous rivers Tigris and Euphrates are supposed to be the result of the god Enki masturbating in the dry riverbeds to give birth to them. Once again, there is no taboo on the act or the implication of masturbation. The cynic might say that these all refer to male masturbation. As someone once said, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence! Mythology has primarily been written by men and quite often for men. In this all-male domain, this has been overlooked, but that doesn’t imply that female masturbation did not exist. Besides, not discussing it then cannot be a reason to not discuss it now.

Related reading: The changing landscape of love, sexuality and marriage in India: Bimal Kundu

It’s a basic human instinct

The said movie might not have caused the ripples desired by the producers of the movie, but it sure has brought the subject out in the open and that too through mainstream cinema. So the gentleman who was scandalised to watch the scene with his grandmother, take heart! The actress wasn’t doing something that was alien to human culture; she was giving in to one of the most basic instincts of humans. The best you should have done is not watched the movie with your grandmother. Stop trolling the actress! Besides, we are living in a world, where if you can, so can she!

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