Partnering for life : Starry tales from Arundhati-Vashistha & Dhruv Tara
Folk tales are fluid, and they have an inherent intelligence in them. They are carriers of traditions, rituals and keep the culture flowing. However, each of these rituals and interpretations does have regional variations. These stories are a travelling metaphor that assumes new meanings in different regions depending on what society wants to propagate or their cultural aspirations.
The story of Arundhati and Vashistha, and Dhruva Tara are two such stories that have scientific intelligence and cultural aspirations embedded in them. Cultural aspiration is reflected in these stories where certain qualities are significant for relationships or partnerships, like consistency, dependency, and mutual growth. These attributes find high emotional aspiration in the context of a partnership or marriage.
There is a ritual of showing the binary stars of Arundhati and Vashishtha and Dhruva tara in many Indian Marriages. In doing so, there is hope and blessings given to the newlyweds that they should aspire for a relationship as equal and supportive as Arundhati and Vashisth and as constant and guiding as Dhruva tara.
A relationship must be well-coordinated ( like a binary star system ) where one person is not the system's centre. It's a partnership, and for any alliance to be at its optimum efficiency, both the parties need to contribute and mutually benefit as an individual. Modern researchers have also pointed towards the fact that there are mental and physical health benefits of a compatible spouse who shares similar values and priorities since it accelerates individual growth and team growth.
Modern relationship counsellors are reiterating the need for helping each other in the process of self-discovery and growth. There are various such examples in the ancient stories. Ubheya Bharati helped Madan Mishra, her husband, assume the role of a hermit after being defeated by Adi Shankaracharya in a debate where she was the moderator, which is an exemplary role of a partner. Similarly, during one of the discourses of Vashishta, Arundhati stepped in between and sought his permission to take the teachings ahead for his students. Vashishta was taken aback by her clear perception of the subject and overwhelmed at that moment and tells Arundhati that now "you are My arddhangini (अर्धांगिनी-wife) in the true sense."
Post rituals in most Indian marriages, the bride and groom are shown Polaris star (Dhruva tara ) and binary star Alcor- Mizar (Arundhati & Vashistha ). There is a beautiful logic behind it. Have you ever thought about why it's not any other star in the sky but binary stars Arundhati (Alcor) - Vashishth (Mizar) and Dhruva Tara (Polaris).
Alcor and Mizar (part of Ursa Major) are the only binary stars in the celestial world that are gravitationally bound and co-orbit. It signifies an equal relationship where one is not the centre and the other orbits around it, but both are centres to each other. For a marriage or alliance to be fulfilling and compatible, it requires balance and holding /complementing each other with one's skillsets and strengths as Arundhati and Vashishth hold each other.
Dhruv tara or Polaris or pole star is part of the Ursa Minor constellation, known as the dependable star and constant to its position in the sky. It was the compass for human travellers since antiquity. In most Indian marriages, after the marriage ritual gets over in the wee hours, the bride and groom are shown this star. There are various locally sung marriage songs where seeing Dhruv tara is mentioned. ( देखो देखो ध्रुव तारा, ध्रुव तारे सा हो अमर सुहाग तिहारा, देखोदेखो ध्रुव तारा – bride and groom are asked to look at Dhruv tara and is being blessed to have immortal marriage and seek blessing that their relationship is as unshakable and constant as Dhruva Tara)
Dhruva means unshakable, unmovable and fixed. Similarly, our relationship/ marriage/ alliance should be steady and fixed. Dhruva has been the guiding light for the navigators; likewise, the spouse/partner should guide each other even in the darkest of the night.
Dhruva is not the brightest star in the sky but most dependable. So individuals in the marriage/relationship need not be extrinsically beautiful and glittery, but they must have tenacity and dependency.
Both the stories of Arundhati- Vashistha and Dhruva has been wonderfully woven in our folktales which has an unquestionable scientific base ( co orbit of Arundhati & Vashistha and stable position of Dhruva tara) which is used for counselling the newlywed for a balanced and fulfilling relationship.
Arundhati, the wife of Vashistha, was a learned, unblemished, inspiring and worthy of imitating. She was so high on her learning and strength of her character that she could not be imitated even by Svaha, the wife of Agni, on one of the occasions when Svaha could emulate wives of other six Saptrishis's but not Arundhati. According to another story, Arundhati is also attributed to excellent counselling skills, where she could convince Lord Shiva to marry Parvati.
Arundhati (Alcor) is the fainter star compared to Vashistha(Mizar) and is identified in the sky after Vashistha is visible ( relative to the position of Vashistha, Arundhati is pointed). There is great learning in the identification process as well. Even if one of the spouse/partners is easily identified shining in the outer world, their brightness and shine will always point towards the spouse/partner who contributes to holding them together with their qualities and skillsets.
Dhruva's story is the story of perseverance and courage. Dhruva, the child, sets out to seek Lord Vasudeva as he is denied his father's lap (Utttanpada) by his stepmother (Suruchi). She asked him to go and ask the Lord himself who would allow him that privilege. Dhruva proceeds to the jungle and meditates for months together. Despite being dissuaded by Narada, he was determined to seek the Lord. Finally, Lord appears and, moved by his steadfastness and penance, granted the boon and the position of a celestial body. Its believed that Dhruva sits in the lap of God and so beyond any change and is constant. Dhruva is blessed with being untouched even during maha pralaya (महा प्रलय).
Indeed a beautiful allegory for people stepping into a relationship, and this is such a universal story that it befits numerous types of partnership where mutual dependency, guidance, growth, integrity and equity is the foundation for a sustainable and evolved relationship.