Love and Longing in Art: Demeter and Persephone

Demeter-Persephone-1

When we think of the phrase ‘love and longing’, we often just think of romantic love. In today’s post we’ll look at one of Greek mythology’s most famous stories – about the love of a mother for her daughter.

Demeter is the Greek goddess of the harvest. If there is a mother-goddess in the Greek Pantheon, someone who fit right into the role of a caregiver, it is she. One of her two greatest gifts to mankind was that of agriculture. The other – a set of Mysteries called the Elusian Mysteries, which give the initiate higher knowledge of the afterlife – came about as a result of her tryst with Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

The story goes that once when Hades was on a pleasure trip on his chariot drawn by Cerberus, he came across Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, and was so smitten by her that he carried her off to Tartarus with him. (Don’t be alarmed. Gods do that a lot.) Demeter was so anguished by her daughter’s abduction that she combed the whole cosmos in search, neglecting her duties to look after the farms and food of human beings. Demeter’s grief caused an unending winter to descend upon Earth, and men died of starvation. Seeing the possibility of mankind dying out, Zeus stepped in and sent Hermes to broker a deal with Hades.

Meanwhile, Persephone finds herself in a golden cage in the Hall of Hades, surrounded by delectable food of all kinds. She resists her temptation, though, because she knows that once one partakes of food in Hades’s realm, one could never leave Tartarus. But after weelks of hunger, she finally gives in and eats six pomegranate seeds in private, hoping that the Prince of Darkness would not come to know.

Persephone-pomegranate

But he does. Of course he does. The Prince of Darkness knows everything. When Hermes arrives to make a deal, after much negotiation, Hades agrees to let Persephone go to Demeter for six months of every year, on the condition that she would return to him for the remaining six. In time, Persephone would grow to like Hades (as much as one could be persuaded to do so) and allow herself to be anointed the queen of the underworld. In time, she becomes, in Homer’s words, a ‘venerable majestic queen of the shades, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead’.

Every time Persephone returns to Earth, though, Demeter’s joy knows no bounds. She exults in happiness, giving food and bounty to everyone on Earth. And when her daughter prepares to leave for her husband’s abode, she falls into despair and depression, freezing the world white. That is how summer and winter came to be.

Are there mother-daughter love stories in Hindu Mythology?

I was thinking whether there is a related myth in Hindu mythology that celebrates the love of a mother for her daughter. It occurred to me then that in Hindu myths, the more dominant theme of love – or devotion, rather – is between father and son. In Parashurama’s story we find a son’s blind obedience of his father’s words. In the Ramayana too, a king willingly goes into exile just to honour his father’s promise. And when it comes to women, their love is often directed towards their husbands, fathers or sons.

No matter how hard I racked my brains, I could not find a story of a mother and daughter. Perhaps the closest is the story of Sita and Bhudevi, when the latter welcomes her at the very end of Uttara Kanda.

Can you think you any that I’m missing? Or don’t our myths believe that mothers could love their daughters?

Pictures Courtesy: Pantherfile

Comments

  1. Lovely story narrated right here, now let me go rack my brains about any possible mother-daughter stories from Indian mythology.

    Like

  2. it’s wonderful read, thanks for sharing this piece 🙂 racking my brains too, sigh, not able to think of any profound example, but mom loves her daughters 🙂 no doubts.
    P.S.- do we have any good mention of Radha & her mother bond somewhere ?

    Like

    • Ha, I’m sure moms love their daughters and dads love their sons too, Ruchi. In popular parlance, though, we only talk about ‘daddy’s girl’ and ‘momma’s boy’. Occasionally we say ‘like father like son’.

      But for some reason, there is no similar expression for mother and daughter. And there aren’t many stories in mythology that celebrate the bond between a mother and her daughter. Except for this, I found.

      Not sure about Radha and her mother. Will look it up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah so true, I also shared my agreement with the tones of your post conclusions 🙂
        So true, we only say these phrases to kids. Mommy boy, maa ka ladla, papa ki pariiii, daddy’s girl/princess.
        We have already typecasts our emotions/ canned it within parameters & adjectives it seems, isn’t it? Time to reflect & change. Btw really lovely post 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: