Archive for October, 2007

Saranyu: The Runaway Horse Goddess: Part II

In Part I, I described the Hindu horse goddess Saranyu who left her husband, the sun, by turning herself into a mare and running away. When Saranyu ran away, she left a double—an imposter wife—behind. The imposter took care of the husband, Surya, and even had more children with him. In this conclusion to the story, we learn what happened to Saranyu and why her story still resonates today for modern women, 3,000 years later. 

Born into Illusion 

The imposter or shadow wife left behind gave birth to Manu, a son whose name is the derivation for the English word human. In the ancient Hindu Rig Veda, Manu was the father of the human race. In Hindu understanding, Manu, as the child of the false wife, was thus the result of an illusion, underscoring the belief that as humans, we are born into illusion, and our task is to awaken.

 “She is Not My Mother”  

In Part I, I described how Surya did not notice that his real wife had left and what a poignant metaphor that is for modern women who often must repress their true selves to stay in their marriages. It was actually Saranyu’s young son who noticed the deception when the imposter wife/mother mistreated him. The young boy knew that the imposter was not his mother and complained bitterly to his father. As soon as Surya learned the deception, he turned himself into a stallion and ran off to reclaim his bride.

 Desire or Curiosity? 

There are different translations of the ancient Rig Veda, leading to alternate interpretations of what happened next. They do agree that Surya, as a stallion, found Saranyu the mare. In his excitement at seeing her again, Surya spilled his semen on the ground. She sniffed at the semen which entered her nose and impregnated her. Saranyu had a second set of twins, Nasatya and Dasra, known as the Asvins.

Where the interpretations differ is whether Saranyu’s curiosity caused her to smell her husband’s semen, or if she purposely chose to smell the semen because she desired more children. The myth is curiously similar to the Greek Persephone who bent down to smell a flower. Her action caused her to be abducted into the Underworld by Hades on horseback.

 Important Themes 

Consciousness

Birthing of a new consciousness is one theme in the story. The Asvin twins born from the joining of the mare and stallion were physician-gods that appeared in the heavens in the dawn to guide their father’s solar carriage. Their purpose was to “protect humanity from suffering and misery and guide human beings to enlightenment.”[1] They were also the gods of agriculture. Just as their big brother Manu brought the birthing of humanity, the Asvins brought healing. Without Saranyu’s bid for freedom, neither humanity nor healing would have been brought to the earth.

Splitting

Another important theme in the story is that of splitting. Saranyu shape-shifted into two forms: a mare and the imposter or shadow wife. As a mare, she was wild and free in a way that she was unable to be as the wife of the sun god. In psychology, splitting is an important concept that often happens as the result of a trauma. A false self often arises to appease the world and protect the “real” self. How often do we do that as women even when no trauma is evident? How many times do we tell others, “I’m fine,” when our heart is broken, our world has been shattered, or we can hardly face the day and we don’t even know why?  

Solar Consciousness

Solar consciousness and its effects are another important facet of this potent myth. If we had all sun and no rain, the earth could not survive. Just as global warming threatens our very planet, the kind of consciousness that does not recognize and value the dark, the natural world, the importance of the feminine, and the mysterious is lopsided. Death, decay, aging, suffering, illness, and loss are all facets of life that our solar culture often avoids at all costs. When my father died, for example, he requested that there be no memorial service. He wanted to spare us our grief. Yet there was no opportunity for the extended family and community to cry together share our grief, which made his passing harder to work through.

 Saranyu’s Choice

Whatever the reason Saranyu sniffed the semen, it was a very sensible thing to do. Smell is an important sense in our daily lives and also metaphorically. We use expressions like, “something just doesn’t smell right about the situation” to discern the truth. In the wild, it is the mare in estrus that chooses her mate. I prefer to think that Saranyu chose to smell the semen knowing the consequences, and that she chose willingly, and on her own terms.

 Running Away as Running To

Finally, we often consider running away as a poor alternative to facing the obstacles in our path. In this case, Saranyu’s running away led her to birth humanity and healing. More women, even mothers of young children, leave their marriages in the U.S. today than men. Saranyu’s story points out why: women often cannot express their authentic selves within the confines of traditional marriages and so they are leaving. Rather than scapegoating women as failures when they initiate divorce, we must examine marriage and our assumptions about marriage. No one seems to be asking the important question, “Why is marriage failing so many women, and especially mothers of young children?” Saranyu’s running away is a “running to” the authentic self that was vital to humanity.

 Conclusion

The story of Saranyu is a potent story for women in our time as we juggle multiple roles and demands. Our deepest desires for authentic relationships—with our mates, our children, and with others—can go unsatisfied unless we undertake the often-difficult journey to know ourselves. Just as Saranyu needed to leave her husband and children behind, we need to find ways to be true to our authentic needs and create openings for soul to come shining through. There are many pathways—therapy, journal writing, women’s circles, retreats, meditation, being with horses and other animals—that help us to hear our own true soul voice. Make a date with yourself today, and keep it. The world will be a better place because of it.

        


[1] Fischer-Schreiber, I. (1989). The encyclopedia of eastern philosophy and religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen. Boston: Shambala.

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