Of Mares & Stallions

Last night, I was attending a wedding here in New Delhi. It is customary here in North India that the groom arrives at the ceremony on a mare. This custom was also prevalent in other parts but has now given way to the groom arriving in a flower decorated car instead.

While I am comfortable with the idea that a horse was/is used as a mode of transport,  I am compelled talk about certain things:

  1. Last night, the poor mare was thin, emaciated and sick looking. Being closely associated with animal welfare & rights, I am aware of the terrible conditions these poor animals live in. It is the same as those animals which are used in  the circus or for rides on beaches, parks etc. In the beach town of Puri ( Odisha, Eastern part of India), camels are used for rides on the beach. The coastal climate doesn’t suit the camel which is an animal of the arid region.The animal falls sick and after repeated use is disposed off cruelly for its hide. I can think of many such instances.A drive to the Taj Mahal in Agra one encounters the ‘dancing bears’ which are chained, tortured sloth bears ‘trained’ to dance. I guess, the world over, one would have similar instances! A lot of good work and conservation is certainly being done, but it is not enough . Unless, we adhere to  Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being”, the world will really not be a compassionate  and beautiful place to live in.
  2. The second thing of my concern is whether a mare is a symbol of patriarchal dominance ? Why is it ‘Ghodi Chadhna’ ( riding a mare) and not ‘Ghoda Chadna”( riding a gelding/stallion) ? I did ask this question to my friend Kabir  who was accompanying me. Totally sloshed , he didnt have much to say, except mutter some highly un-Parliamentary and un-flattering words about ‘radical, clever women’ and  why he was not with a ‘gorgeous blonde’ instead. But, the question did bother me enough for me to Google it but unfortunately find no plausible answer.
  3.   Horses   in Vedic language/though processes/terminology  , symbolize the senses (indriyas) in the body.The description of horses has been mentioned in Ashwamedha Yagna, Dashrath in Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita with Krishna riding a chariot, Kathopnishad describing the meaning of a chariot.The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  describes the sacrificial horse used in the Ashvamedha yagna. A horse represents the senses and controlling or winning over the horse means winning over the ten senses. The Kathopanishad emphasizes the  importance of controlling the mind and the senses.  It refers to  the body as the chariot, the self as its master, intellect as the charioteer, the mind as the reins, the senses as the horses and the sense-objects as the paths.The  most popular imagery associated with the Bhagavad Gita is that of a chariot with four or five white horses, Arjuna on the chariot and Lord Krishna as the charioteer. The human body represents the chariot, Arjuna is  the individual soul and  Shri Krishna  is the Spirit or the Supreme Soul. The chariot has three wheels (Satwa, Rajas, and Tamas); it has three kinds of motion (upwards or downwards or transverse, implying superior, inferior, and intermediate birth as brought about by  our actions). The four horses, apart from senses, also represent the time, pre- destiny,  cosmic will , and one’s own will. It has three naves (white, black, and mixed, implying good acts, evil acts and acts that are of a mixed character, respectively).
  4. While I accept the symbolism that when one gets into a marriage, one needs to be responsible, steady and solid, it makes me uncomfortable that ‘controlling ones senses’ is riding a mare! The groom could very well have ridden a stallion/gelding ? Why doesn’t the bride meet the groom riding a stallion/gelding ? A hysterical explanation on a website suggests that a mare is more ‘frivolous’ and thereby needs to be reined in, cementing thus, years and years of patriarchal supremacy and thrashing of the feminine!
  5.  When I talk of horses and senses, I cannot help but remember Patti Smith and her 1975 debut album, ‘Horses’, with her defiant stare and  androgynous look in the iconic photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe on the cover. This was an album which an entire generation of youth grabbed like a life line.Patti Smith reached out to what she calls ‘disenfranchised youth’ , the ones who felt that they did/could not belong. I heard the album much later. Her obsession with  Dylan, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, echoed in me too. When I listened to that minimalist fury she unleashes, a generation apart,my teenage angst and rebelliousness were soothed by it.She focused on themes, untouched, in rock music preceding it or what people  shied away from speaking about still.( Later on in life, I also found Patti Smith’s ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ in my guy & best friend, Aditya).  Why did she name her album ‘Horses’ ? To break free of shackles of hypocrisy ? To possess speed, dynamism and power ? To rein in her demons ?
  6.  Lastly, I am truly happy to report that last night, the mare kicked the groom pretty hard. I was dying to cheer the horse but feared that I will be thrown out! (And the food was rather good). The groom was alarmingly obese and really had no business to distress an already sickly animal. I  just wish the mare had aimed the kick better! I would like to believe this was divine retribution..of a Goddess Shakti, embodying the primordial power/independence of the feminine and one who is compassionate towards all living beings.
  7.  My friend says he wont accompany me to weddings anymore. Why is it that “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch’ ? The man flounders and I smile.

Here is Patti Smith for you :

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