Yudhishtra asks Markandeya to explain the morals and virtues of women and of Kshatriyas. He wonders how Kshatriyas who are obliged to fight and kill can obtain virtue. But, his remarks are more towards women’s virtues. He acknowledges how women risk their lives and undergo pain and suffering in the process of giving birth and raising children. He also says the others deserve special respect because of that. He also goes on to say that women who are chaste, who keep their senses and hearts under complete control and regard their husbands as veritable gods are of the highest virtue.
In order to make this point clear (women who are devoted to their husbands are special), Markandeya tells the story of an ascetic by name Kaushika. When he is performing his prayers under a tree, a she-crane who was sitting pollutes him on his head. Kaushika gets upset and looks up at the crane and the bird dies instantly by “the heat” of his anger. The ascetic repents but goes on his way.
In the next village, he goes for alms to a familiar house. When he calls for alms, the lady of the house is ready to bring some water and food to the guest. But, her husband comes home at the same time. She asks the ascetic to wait and starts taking care of her husband. Her chastity and her devotion to her husband are emphasized in the story. By the time she finishes feeding him and comes out, the ascetic is angry.
Sensing the anger, the lady asks to be forgiven, because she was doing her duty as a “good wife”. She adds that his anger will not do her any harm and tells him “I am no she-crane”. (This is a famous story in the south even now. In Tamil, the woman says “Kokku enru ninaithayo”). She goes on to tell Kaushika what the virtues of a Brahmin and an ascetic should be. She also refers Kaushika to go to the next village and meet a butcher who can teach him all about virtues. Yes, a butcher. This is another important episode in Maha Bharatha and the words of the butcher (Vyadha Gita) are full of practical wisdom. (in the next post)
The main point made in this section seems to be that a woman who is chaste and serves her husband and her family has powers which are superior to those of the ascetics and those who perform penance (tapas).