Indian, single and parent

An organisation does not believe that single men and single women can adopt and raise children. It would rather keep children in the orphanage.

Can we call their belief superstition, as it is not based on logic or any scientific evidence? Would the rationalists protest against such notions? Probably not. We simply assume that a person praying to a rock is ‘irrational’ and ‘unscientific’ and must be mocked, but a person who believes single men and women cannot be good parents is following ‘a different kind of logic’ that must be respected.

Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik

Be that as it may, before some celibate men in a spirit of mimicry, prevalent among fundamentalists around the world, claim that adoption by single men and women is ‘against Indian culture’, it is important to keep ourselves informed about the many stories of successful single parents — male and female — in Hindu mythology. Some of them adopted children; others raised their own, alone.

Rishi Kanva, for example, adopts an abandoned child that he finds in the forest and raises her as his own. She grows up to be Shakuntala who, when rejected by her husband, Dushyanta, raises her son, Bharata, on her own. The son becomes so great a king that the land he rules comes to be known as Bharata-varsha, now known as India.

The Upanishads tell the story of Satyakama who asks his mother, Jabala, about his father. She replies, ‘I don’t know. I had many men when I young servant.’ Depending on our political beliefs, we can say Jabala was an exploited female servant or a liberated young woman. Rishi Gautama accepts Jabala as his student as he finds the child truly unafraid of the truth.

The Puranas also tells the story of Kardama who has no desire to take responsibility of the household and so, with his wife’s permission goes into the forest. The wife, Devahuti, raises her son, Kapila, on her own. Kapila is the great scholar of Samkhya philosophy.

In the Ramayana, Sita raises her sons, Luv and Kusha, on her own in the forest, after she is kicked out by her husband Ram following street gossip. She does not go back to her father’s house. In the Mahabharata, after Pandu and Madri die, Kunti raises her own three sons and her two stepsons on her own and then returns to Hastinapur only to secure their inheritance. A lesser-known story tells us how Shantanu, separated from his wife Ganga and his son Devavrata, finds and adopts the twin children, Kripa and Kripi, abandoned children of Shardwana. He notices that they are placed on a deerskin and realises they are the children of a rishi, and so raises the children in the way of the rishis.

Parvati produces Ganesha on her own, without the help of a husband, as her husband, Shiva, is uninterested in family. So her son is called Vinayaka (vina = no, nayaka = man). Thus Parvati displays her autonomy.
Ganesha is also called dvi-mata, having two mothers. And Ganesha’s brother, Kartikeya, is raised by many ‘mothers’ which includes male gods, the fire-god Agni and the wind-god Vayu, as well as a whole bunch of goddesses, like the river-goddess Ganga, the mountain-goddess Parvati, the goddess of the forest of reeds Shara-vana, and the star-goddesses Krittikas. The father, Shiva, is conspicuous by his absence. Talk about unconventional families. These are not to be taken literally, but they reveal a psychological comfort with diversity, which is the hallmark of Indianness.

The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Reach him at

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  • Sarah30-Oct-2015

    What? Is that what Vinayak means. Is it that simplistic? Doesn't Vinayak come from, 'Vishesharupen nayakaha'?

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