The Greatest of Henpecked Husbands

Stories of pativratas – women devoted to their husbands – are generally celebrated in history, folklore, and classic literature. Henpecked husbands, on the other hand, are mostly not considered worthy of mention. So when I came across the tale of such a person in our scriptures found it very interesting. More so because, instead of looking down on him, he is proclaimed as the greatest of henpecked husbands!

There was this King Jyamagha, born in the renowned Yadu vamsha, who had a wife named Shaibya. It is said that though they didn’t (or wouldn’t) have children, he didn’t marry another woman because he was afraid of his wife. Once he returned to his capital with a young woman, won in war, in his chariot. On seeing this, his angry wife asked who it was that occupied the place reserved for her. He was terrified and said that it was a daughter-in-law he had brought for her.

The wife, now smiling, asked how it was possible since she was without sons. He replied that this girl could be their daughter-in-law when they did have a son. Gods and ancestors approved of his statement, and later they had a son who married this very girl who was accepted as the bride of the prince yet unborn.

How can this be explained? For those who want to see it only as a story, what would the sages be trying to tell us through this story?

I think of this as a demonstration of the power of prayer. It is also instructive in when a prayer will work and when it will not. Jyamagha would have always wanted and prayed for a son who can continue his royal line. However, so far, his prayer did not work because it possibly lacked fervour. But after having assured his wife that this girl was their daughter-in-law to be, the fear that he would lose his wife’s love and trust if this didn’t turn out to be so would have contributed to his ardour.

This can also be seen as the power of truth. Truth works both ways. Those who are devoted to Truth will never lie or utter words that are not true. Whatever they say, even in jest, will also become the truth. King Jyamagha, who belonged to a pious line of royal sages will surely have been devoted to truth. So, if in a moment of peril he says something without giving it due thought, it is up to the universe to make his words come true!

For those who seek a down-to-earth explanation based on our very limited understanding of matter and mind, there is still another way to look at it. Could it have been that he was too timid to approach his wife earlier? That could potentially make her behaviour towards him unfriendly, which in turn would further reduce his confidence in approaching her. The mention of a son and daughter-in-law might have helped to break this vicious cycle by evoking the feminity within her, thus making her more approachable (as indicated by the smile on her face).

It is hard to conclusively say if any of these theories are even close to the truth, but it doesn’t matter as long as it made us ponder upon some of these aspects. With that let us draw to a close, the discussion on this extraordinary story of the king about whom sage Parashara quotes a shloka in Vishnu Purana:

भार्यावश्यास्तु ये केचिद्भविष्यन्त्यथ वा मृताः ।
तेषां तु ज्यामघः श्रेष्ठश्शैब्यापतिरभून्नृपः ।।

Of those under the control of their wives – who are no more or yet to be – King Jyamagha, the husband of Shaibya, was the greatest!

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