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Friday, January 1, 2016

The Seed and the Field: A possible explanation for the obsession with male progeny

All of my “blogs” until now were products of several years of thinking and several months of editing. This one is an exception. The insight seems to be important enough that I wish to share it soon, before I forget!

This blog is based on reflections after reading a passage in the First Canto (Parva) of the Mahabharatha. It is a discussion between King Pandu and his wife Kunti. Pandu is trying to convince Kunti to conceive a child through a different male of her choice, since his curse prevents him from having any sexual relationship with a woman. In this passage, Pandu repeatedly refers to the male part of union as “seed” (Sanskrit equivalent) and the female part as “the field”, apparently the field where the seed is sowed.

This makes me think that our ancestors in those times did not have a true understanding of how a “child” comes out of a male-female union. They were aware of the male part. They could see it. But, the woman’s part was not known. How would they have known about the ovum even if they knew about the ovary? They probably thought that everything needed for a child to be born was in the male fluid (the seed). The only thing the woman provided, they thought, was a “field” for the “seed” to grow.

If this was the perception, it is no wonder that they thought that male is the only essential partner for a progeny and he is “superior” since he is the only one who can make sure of a progeny. That progeny has to be a male for progeny to continue (since the female did not contribute to the child except a place to grow) and that male child was needed for the “moksha” or liberation of both the father and the mother.

This can explain several episodes in the epics in which the “seed” of a rishi becomes a child without any woman. For example, Parasara deposited his “seed” on water which reached an island and became the famous Vyasa. His other name is “Dwaipayana” because he grew up in an island (in Sanskrit, the word for island is dweepa). The other example is when Bharadwaja captured his “seed” in a pot from which Drona was born. 

This can also explain the way men acted as if women were just “baby factories”, took other women if the first one could not give a male child. This can also explain the obsession with the “male” child in the Indian culture – may be?.

My guess is that the metaphor of the “seed” and the “field” is based on the misconception (pun not intended) that the male "part" contained all that was needed to make a child and that the woman had no part in it except to provide a place to grow. 

It is only a conjecture and I have not come across any writing with a similar interpretation anywhere. I cannot prove it. But, this idea may explain some of the myths perpetuated regarding the importance of the male child in the Indian society and come to think of it, even in the western society.

After posting this essay, I came across a statement by Christopher Hitchens in his book with the title "God is not great" (Hachette Books, New York, 2009). He says that St.Augustine has written that "the fully formed nucleus of a human body was contained inside each individual sperm" (page 64). He does not give any reference. 

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