Manthara and Richard III: The Contrast Between the Sanatana and the Mleccha Mind

Manthara and Richard III: The Contrast Between the Sanatana and the Mleccha Mind

The concluding episode of this series of comparative analysis of the Manthara episode and Richard III delves into a striking, fundamental contrast between the Sanatana mind and the Mleccha mind.

Read the Past Episodes

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Manthara and the Winter of Our Discontent
Manthara and Richard III: The Contrast Between the Sanatana and the Mleccha Mind
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Richard’s Seduction of Anne and Manthara’s Brainwashing of Kaikeyi
Manthara and Richard III: The Contrast Between the Sanatana and the Mleccha Mind

MANTHARA’S OVERWHELMING SUCCESS in poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind owes to the ironclad control she exercises over her. It is motherly in nature but she is the archetypal mother who uses the full power of her emotional grip to assauge her jealousy. On the practical plane, between Kaikeyi and Manthara, absolute power  unambiguously rests with Kaikeyi, one of the queens of Ayodhya. However, real power rests with Manthara. Emerson’s timeless lines powerfully delineate this phenomenon: 

The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne.”  

A measure of the kind of power Manthara wields over Kaikeyi is available in her own words when she tells her that Dasharatha is a: 

“dharmavādī śaṭho bhartā... dāruṇaḥ ca | 

Your husband speaks of righteousness…but it is a sham. He is harmful and cruel.”  

Manthara’s other adjectives for Dasharatha include “duṣṭātmā, śatru, sarpaḥ iva” — a wicked man, an enemy, akin to a serpent. 

That a lowly servant maid like Manthara had the untramelled licence to use this kind of language against her own mistress’ husband and the king shows how solidly she had gripped Kaikeyi in her thrall. But Manthara does not simply stop at hurling abuses against Dasharatha. She earnestly and elaborately coaches Kaikeyi in the specific, practical steps she should take in order to obtain the throne for her dear Bharata. These steps also reveal how Manthara had a penetrating insight into the flaws of Dasharatha himself. His greatest weakness was Kaikeyi, a fact that the queen herself was unaware of until Manthara awakened it. This is how she puts it in Sarga 9: 

dayitā tvaṃ sadā bharturatra me nāsti saṃśayaḥ |

tvatkṛte sa mahārājo viśedapi hutāśanam ||

You are immeasurably dear to your husband. I have no doubt about it. King Dasaratha will even jump into a fire for your sake.    

na tvā krodhayitu śaktona kruddhā pratyudīkitum|

tava priyārtha rājā hi prāānapi parityajet ||

The king is incapable of making you angry. He is unable to see you in anger. He will give up his life for your love.

na hyatikramitu śaktastava vākya mahīpati |

mandasvabhāve buddhyasva saubhāgyabalamātmana ||

Oh, foolish one! The king will not be able to transgress your word. You realise your abundant strength.

The keyword that Manthara uses is mandasvabhāve — dimwit. A more accurate characterisation of Kaikeyi is hard to find. 

It is Manthara who reminds Kaikeyi of her incredible beauty and the pernicious uses she can put it to. It is Manthara who tutors Kaikeyi to wear soiled clothes and occupy the Apartment of Wrath. It is Manthara who coaches Kaikeyi in the fine art of feigning anger. It is Manthara who reminds Kaikeyi of the two boons that Dasharatha had promised her in the past. It is Manthara who tells Kaikeyi to redeem those two boons, specifically: one, to send Rama to exile for fourteen years, and two, to install Bharata on the throne. Boons which cause the giver his own death. It is thus Manthara who is responsible for Dasharatha’s death. 

The whole episode reveals several valuable insights. 

On the human plane, it reveals Manthara as an arch ingrate. Despite her menial status, she lived a rather cushy life as a maid of the queen herself, all thanks to Dasharatha’s benevolent rule. 

On a larger canvas, it upholds another great truth demonstrated throughout history: that it doesn’t always need a Great War to destroy a powerful king. Emperors and empires have often been demolished by a petty person armed with enough cunning and determination. Just as how a deadly worm kills an elephant by patiently gnawing at his brain. 

IN THE RAMAYANA, Manthara uses the limitless power of language to satisfy her perverse spite — Kaikeyi is just the instrument who she has fine-tuned according to her will. She not only succeeds in sending Rama to exile but indirectly kills Dasharatha without firing a single arrow. A miserable death — literally, death through misery — is more excruciating. 

In Richard III, Richard uses a combination of sly language and physical combat to physically kill his opponents. The entire play is infused with a generous dose of all such crude methods. He personally plots and schemes whereas Manthara’s evil has no such “end goal,” in a manner of speaking. 

Both Manthara and Richard succeed in their devious plots. Rama is exiled and Richard usurps the throne of England. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Ramayana and Richard III

In the Ramayana, despite Manthara’s machinations, despite Kaikeyi sending Rama to exile, the bond between the four brothers remains intact. In fact, they turn against Kaikeyi herself. However, in Richard III, there is no love lost between Richard and his brothers. All of them are equally vile, all of them equally vie for the ultimate prize — the crown of England. The vilest of them all — Richard — succeeds. He seeds discord among his brothers and nobles and kills them and murders Anne and becomes the king.     

In the Ramayana, Manthara’s evil culminates in an ultimate good in the form of Ravana’s death. Rama reestablishes Dharma by coronating Vibhishana, Ravana’s own brother. Nobody would have objected if Rama had declared himself as the king of Lanka. However, Richard’s triumphant evil ultimately begets evil — he is killed in the end in a similar brutal fashion. 

This fundamental difference between the two literary masterpieces also provides a good insight into the Sanatana mind and the Mleccha mind. There is no concept of an “ultimate evil” in the Sanatana philosophical ethos. Both good and evil are two sides of the same coin. A brilliant Upanishadic aphorism illustrates this philosophy: yenaiva sasṛje ghoraṃ tenaiva śāntirastu naḥ — that which has created the terrrible has also created the auspicious. This stands in sharp contrast to the Mleccha tradition which continues to be obsessed with “the problem of evil.” 

This contrast is also why the Indian literary tradition has not produced any tragedies whereas the Western canon is replete with them. One of the meanings of the word “tragedy” is amangala. A fundamental mantra of the Sanatana tradition is īśāvāsyaṃ idaṃ sarvaṃ — the whole creation is the dwelling of Iswara. In which case, nothing in it can be amangala. 

To my mind, this appears to be a valuable takeaway from this comparative literary analysis between the Manthara episode and Richard III. 

Series Concluded

|| Sarvam Shivam || 

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