• Caitanya Chandra dasa

Rape? Why on Earth Srila Prabhupada wrote that?

The 4th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam is especially beautiful, including passages like the allegory of King Puranjana, that really makes us rethink our priorities in life. However, the fourth canto also brings us one of the most polemical and difficult to understand statements from Srila Prabhupada:

"In this regard, the word vikhyātam is very significant. A man is always famous for his aggression toward a beautiful woman, and such aggression is sometimes considered rape. Although rape is not legally allowed, it is a fact that a woman likes a man who is very expert at rape." (SB 4.25.41)

Did I read correctly? Did Srila Prabhupada really mean that? Are we supposed to believe that every woman has a secret fantasy of being attacked by a random drunkard in some dark alley? As in other passages from Srila Prabhupada, there is some deep meaning, but in this case the meaning may not be obvious.

This purport appears in the initial scenes of the Puranjana allegory. King Puranjana, the hero, enters the city and meets the mysterious young lady that was living there. The lady becomes attracted to him, and makes it clear through a series of verses, culminating with: "O mighty-armed, who in this world will not be attracted by your arms, which are just like the bodies of serpents? Actually you relieve the distress of husbandless women like us by your attractive smile and your aggressive mercy. We think that you are traveling on the surface of the earth just to benefit us only".

The lady became enchanted by the king and openly declared her intentions. Now she is waiting for the man to take the initiative.

This shows a basic principle of human psychology: a single woman will look for a man and a single man will look for a woman. However, when they find a potential spouse, they act (at least traditionally) in different ways. A man will generally try to actively seduce the lady in different ways, while a woman will try to passively attract the attention of the man, and wait for him to take the initiative. When a lady desires a man, she becomes very pleased if he gives her attention and tries to seduce her in a bold way. This is the basis of many books and movies. Many ladies fantasize about some handsome man trying to seduce then in different ways, especially by doing something heroic.

If such seduction would be directed to a lady that is not interested (we can use the clumsy advances of indian men towards our western ladies, as an example) it would be considered a form of aggression. Such advances are actually considered a crime in some countries. If the man would insist, trying to touch the lady, for example, this could be considered rape.

We can understand that the same assertive attitude is taken in a very different way according to the disposition of the lady. The line between seduction and aggression can be tenuous. Sometimes a seductive man will be able to attract a lady that is not initially interested, or a lady may be interested but have some blocks in her mind that the man may try overcome.

One can get a graphic example of this in a controversial scene of the movie Baahubali: (warning: not for brahmacaris), a scene that was defined by a prominent Indian politician as "the longest rape scene in the history of Indian cinema". Despite being called "rape" by some, it's probable that many Indian ladies where watching the movie and desiring to be in the place of the heroine.

Keeping this in mind, we can understand that Prabhupada was just describing this facet of human psychology in his purport, following the ideas expressed in the verses. The mysterious woman is stimulating king Puranjana to show his "aggressive mercy" and Srila Prabhupada felt the need of including a short commentary on this particular point.

Still, one could argue about the usage of the word "rape", a word that in western culture have a very clear meaning and is always used in a negative sense.

The point is that the meaning of words change over time. Srila Prabhupada studied Scottish English, learning from dictionaries from the 19th century. It was not uncommon even for some of his disciples to have some difficulty in understanding his English due to his particular accent and use of words.

An old meaning of the word rape was "to seize and carry off" (in other words, to steal, or to take possession of something), and that was a meaning listed in such dictionaries. Understanding the situation (a man making advances over a willing woman, winning her heart and taking her hand) becomes clear that Prabhupada is not using the world "rape" in the modern sense, but to describe the process of assertive seduction that is the basis of the love affairs between men and women.

When everything is understood, we can appreciate what Srila Prabhupada wrote:

"Every husband is certainly a great hero to his wife. In other words, if a woman loves a man, that man appears very beautiful and magnanimous. Unless one becomes beautiful in the eyes of another, one cannot dedicate his whole life to another. The husband is considered very magnanimous because he gives as many children to the wife as she likes. Every woman is fond of children; therefore any husband who can please his wife by sex and give her children is considered very magnanimous. Not only does the husband become magnanimous by begetting children, but by giving his wife ornaments, nice food and dresses, he keeps her completely under submission. Such a satisfied wife will never give up the company of her husband. Manu-saṁhitā recommends that to keep a wife satisfied a husband should give her some ornaments because women are generally fond of home, ornaments, dresses, children, etc. In this way the woman is the center of all material enjoyment.

In this regard, the word vikhyātam is very significant. A man is always famous for his aggression toward a beautiful woman, and such aggression is sometimes considered rape. Although rape is not legally allowed, it is a fact that a woman likes a man who is very expert at rape." (SB 4.25.41)