The World’s First Marital Tiff?

Visions and Revisions in Sanskrit Narrative


Marital tiffs and soap opera-like tales that leave you wanting more….no, we’re not talking about the latest miniseries that’s all the rage on Netflix.

We’re actually talking about early Sanskrit texts, which may potentially also hold the world’s first-ever reference to a married couple’s argument!  The latest treasure trove of Sanskrit narratives—Visions and Revisions in Sanskrit Narrative—will be up for grabs later this year and features some really fascinating and captivating accounts of Sanskrit literature.

Here’s a glimpse into the story of what may be the first-ever marital tiff and use of emotional blackmail:  

"Hey, wife! Just think -- stand still, you fearsome woman. Let's talk. If we don't, then these thoughts will never bring us joy!" 

There are the words of history's first jilted lover Purūravas, whose furious wife, Urvaśī, has just stormed out.  This dialogue, which may be the world's oldest marital tiff,  is recorded in the Ṛgveda, an early Sanskrit text dating from about 1500 BCE.

"What shall I do with this speech of yours?", his semi-divine partner snaps back. "Go home. I'm as hard to hold as the wind!"  Purūravas goes on to try every trick in the book to win her back. He reminds her of their lovely home, their active sex life, and the wonderful son they have together, Āyu.

In desperation he finally plays his trump card – emotional blackmail: “I, beloved of the gods, might fly away as far as possible this very day. I might lie in the lap of Death. I might be eaten by hungry wolves!”

This does the trick. Urvaśī's heart melts: "Purūravas, don't die! Don't fly away. Don't let those horrible wolves devour you!” 

And so the couple are reunited. 

This famous narrative has sparked the imagination of India authors throughout the ages, and it reappears many forms in the Brahmaṇas, epics, purāṇas, kathā literature and dramas...

Sanskrit narrative is the lifeblood of Indian culture, encapsulating and perpetuating insights and values central to Indian thought and practice. Visions and Revisions in Sanskrit Narrative brings together 18 of the foremost scholars across the globe, who, in an unprecedented collaboration, accord these texts the integrity and dignity they deserve. The last time this was attempted, on a much smaller scale, was a generation ago, with Purāṇa Perennis (1993).

The pre-eminent contributors to this landmark collection use novel methods and theory to meaningfully engage Sanskrit narrative texts, showcasing the state of contemporary scholarship on the Sanskrit epics and purāṇas.

During 2023 Immersia, editors of this volume, Associate Professor McComas Taylor and Dr Rak Balkaran, presented some highlights from this collection as an exclusive prelaunch initiative. The book, once launched, will be accessible here.