Full-text resources of CEJSH and other databases are now available in the new Library of Science.
Visit https://bibliotekanauki.pl


2015 | Tom: 5 | Numer: 1 | 111-126

Article title

Female and male attractiveness as depicted in the Vanaparvan of the Mahābhārata



Title variants

Languages of publication



This paper deals with the bodily attractiveness of heroines and heroes, as described in one of the two most important epics of India. The basis for this analysis is the love stories and episodes included in the main plot of the Vanaparvan, the third book of the Mahābhārata. The stories from this book have been taken into consideration due to their numerous occurrences, which are a sufficient ground for generalizations. Many characteristic features of their protagonists are repeated in different sub‑stories. Also, the images of female and male characters, princesses, queens and kings are presented and discussed in detail. The external beauty of such female heroines as Damayantī, Sāvitrī, Sukanyā, Suśobhanā and Sitā; as well as the attractiveness of two semi‑goddesses, called Apsarases, are described and analysed. The names of the Apsarases discussed in the context of female beauty are Urvaśī and Menakā. Besides this, the image of an unnamed courtesan is discussed, as it is the most detailed description of a female character and probably follows the ideal of female beauty as shown in the Mahābhārata. As far as the male protagonists are concerned, the images of heroes such as Nala, Bhīma, Aśvapati, Rāma and Daśaratha are taken into consideration. The examples of male attractiveness also include features of the five main heroes of the Mahābhārata: the Paṇḍava brothers.






Physical description




  • Oriental Institute, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland


  • Kālidāsa. (1976). Granthavali. Complete works of Kālidāsa. R. Dvivedi (Ed.). Varanasi: Banaras Hindu University.
  • Kālidāsa’s Kumārasaṃbhava, cantos 1–7. Edited with a commentary of Maḷinātha, a literal Englishtranslation, notes and introduction. (1917). M. R. Kale (Ed. and trans.). Bombay: The Standard Publishing Co.
  • Mahabharata. Kniga tretya, lesnaya. (1987). (Y. V. Vasilkov, S. L. Neveleva, Trans.). Moscow: Izdatelstvo Nauka.
  • Mahābhārata. (1988). (M. N. Dutt, Trans.). Delhi: Parimal Publications.
  • Nal i Damajanti. Baśń staroindyjska z ksiąg Mahabharaty. (1921). (A. Lange, Trans.). Warszawa–Kraków: Wydawnictwo J. Mortkowicza.
  • The birth of Kumāra by Kāli‑Dāsa. (2005). (D. Smith, Trans.). New York: New York University Press.
  • The Mahābhārata. (1933–1966). V. S. Sukthankar, S. K. Belvalkar, P. L. Vaidya et al. (Eds.). Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
  • The Mahābhārata. (1973). (J. A. B. van Buitenen, Trans. and annotated). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • The Mahabharata of Krishna‑Dwaipayana Vyasa. (1970). (K. M. Ganguli, Trans.). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
  • Manu’s Code of Law. Critical edition and translation of Mānava‑Dharma‑Śāstra.(2005). (P. Olivelle,Ed. and trans.). Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Manu Swajambhuwa, Manusmryti czyli Traktat o zacności. (1985). (M. K. Byrski, Trans.). Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy.
  • The origin of the young God. Kālidāsa’s Kumārasaṃbhava. (1985). (H. Heifetz, Trans. with annotationand introduction). Berkeley: University of California Press. Secondary sources:
  • Awasthi, S. (1990). The Mahābhārata in performance. Forms and tradition. In: R. N. Dandekar (Ed.). The Mahābhārata revisited (pp. 183-192). New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.
  • Bhawalkar, V. (2002). Eminent women in the Mahābhārata (vol. 1–2). Delhi: Sharada Publishing House.
  • Biardeau, M. (2002). Le Mahābhārata. Un récit fondateur du brahmanisme et son interprétation (vol. 1). Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
  • Boccali, G. (2004). The relations between Itihāsa and Kāvya: some preliminary results. In: J. Vacek (Ed.). Pandanus: Nature in literature (pp. 11–26). Prague: Charles University.
  • Brockington, J. (1998). The Sanskrit epics. Leiden–Boston–Koeln: Brill.
  • Carrière, J.‑C. (1989). Le Mahabharata. Paris: Éditions Belfond.
  • Carrière, J.‑C. (1990). The Mahabharata: A play based upon the Indian classical epic (P. Brook, Trans.). London: Cox & Wyman Ltd.
  • Deshpande, Ch. (1978). Transmission of the Mahābhārata tradition. Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study.
  • Dowson, J. (1987). A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history and literature. New Delhi: Manu Publications.
  • Frédéric, L. (1998). Słownik cywilizacji indyjskiej (vols. 1–2). (P. Piekarski et al., Trans.). Katowice: Wydawnictwo Książnica.
  • Ingalls, D. (1962). Words for beauty in classical Sanskrit poetry. In: E. Bender (Ed.). Indological studies in honour of W. Norman Brown (pp. 87–107). New Haven: American Oriental Society.
  • Kane, P. V. (1998). History of Sanskrit poetics. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • Karttunen. K. (2000). Sparrows in love. On understanding of other cultures. Studia Indologiczne, 7, 197–205.
  • Meri Saheli presents B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharat (vols 112; comics). Bombay: Pioneer Book Co. Pvt. Ltd.
  • Milewska, I. (1999). Two modern film versions of the Mahābhārata: Similarities and differences between an Indian and a European approach. In: M. Brockington, P. Schreiner,& R. Katicic (Eds.). Composing a tradition: Concepts, techniques and relationships (pp. 169–178). Zagreb: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
  • Milewska, I. (2005a). Kobieta jako pokusa ascety w literaturze staroindyjskiej. In: M. Jakubczak (Ed.). Boginie, prządki, wiedźmy i tancerki. Wizerunki kobiety w kulturze Indii (pp. 171–186). Kraków: Universitas.
  • Milewska, I. (2005b). Love and ascetics in the Mahābhārata as compared to Umā and Śiva story from the Kumārasaṃbhava. Cracow Indological Studies, 7, 41–52.
  • Milewska, I. (2010). The problem of childlessness in chosen stories of the Mahābhārata and interrelation between dharma and kāma. Cracow Indological Studies, 12, 247–260.
  • Milewska, I. (2013). Ze studiów nad Mahabharatą. Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka.
  • Mitra, A. (1993). Television and popular culture in India: A study of the Mahabharata. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
  • Monier‑Williams , M. (Ed.). (1995). A Sanskrit‑English dictionary. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • O’Connor, G. (1989). The Mahabharata. Peter Brook’s epic in the making. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Pigoniowa, M. (1996). Termin strī w Meghaducie Kalidasy. Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis.Classica Wratislaviensia, 20, 161–172.
  • Rossella, D. (2001). Odd pairs: Indian stories in western music. In: J. Boccali, C. Pieruccini,& J. Vacek (Eds.). Pandanus: Research in Indian classical literature (pp. 107–122). Prague:Charles University.
  • Rossella, D. (2002/2003). The feminine beauty in the classical Indian poetry: Ideas and ideals.Cracow Indological Studies, 4–5, 465–477.
  • Rossella, D. (2006). Wonderful India: Interior and outer landscapes in Indian classical poetry.In: J. Vacek (Ed.). Pandanus: Nature in literature and ritual (pp. 53–78). Prague: CharlesUniversity.
  • Smith, D. (1990). Beauty and words relating to beauty in the Rāmāyaṇa, the Kāvyas of Aśvaghoṣa, and Kālidāsa’s Kumārasaṃbhava. The Journal of Hindu Studies, 3, 36–52.
  • Smith, R. (1960). The story of Nala in the Mahābhārata. Journal of the Oriental Institute, 9, 357–386.
  • Upadhye, P. M. (1980/1981). Urvaśī’s character — a new approach of study. Indologica Taurinensia,8–9, 487–494.
  • Williams, D. (Ed.). (1991). Peter Brook and the Mahabharata: Critical perspectives. London:Routledge.
  • Wojtilla, G. (2006). On some natural devices describing female beauty in Sanskrit poetry. In: J. Vacek (Ed.). Pandanus: Nature in literature and ritual (pp. 23–36). Prague: CharlesUniversity.
  • Varadpande, M. L. (1990). Mahabharata in performance. New Delhi: Clarion Books.

Document Type

Publication order reference


YADDA identifier

JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.