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Volume III - The Art of Personality

Part II - Rasa Shastra - The Science of Life's Creative Forces

Chapter X


There is a story told of Sadi, that chivalrous and most ideal of poets, that he loved a girl very dearly. He admired and valued her more than all else in his life, so that there was nothing that he would not do for her sake. One day coming to see her he found her, though he could scarcely believe his eyes, in the arms of another. But going away quietly he took his stand at the gateway of her house. When the other man saw Sadi standing there he thought, 'Surely now, filled with jealousy he is waiting to kill me.' But Sadi, as he saw him approach, called 'Friend, be at peace. I am waiting to give you a word of good advice: that as I have seen and gone away quietly, so do you, if you should see her in the arms of another. For that is they way in which the wise love.'

Ghayrat, or chivalry, so often takes the form of jealousy that the one is usually confounded with the other. This same male tendency lies at the root of dueling, a custom not foreign to any part of the world, which down the ages has been the cause of every kind of conflict and upheaval. The honor of one may be the honor of another, or of ten, or a hundred others. And thus a woman's honor may be upheld as that of a king.

Man has always held woman to be most sacred in life, more precious to him and appealing more to him than all the rest of life. If she be his mother, he sees her as his source and creator, his only sustainer and protection. In heartbreak and disappointment and in the very depths of despair comes the thought of the mother, who was his first friend before anyone was attracted to him, and his first guardian and teacher. If she were his sister he thinks more of her than of himself, for her position in life is more delicate than his; she is the honor of the family, and he considers that he shares the responsibility of his parents for her. None of this goodness is artificial. It is of the very essence of humanity, springing from the nature of things. To a father the responsibility of a daughter seems greater than that of a son. Her dishonor or unhappiness strikes at him most keenly. And in that closest relationship of life, a word against a man's wife destroys his happiness and peace. He would accept any degradation to shield her. And this equally whether he be attached to a woman worthy of his ideal or to a prostitute, to one who has lost all sense of self-respect. In each relationship her honor is his own honor.

This male tendency is seen taking selfish and brutal forms in the social life of the community. For instance, when the responsibility that the birth of a daughter places upon the family has induced such a custom as the killing of female children at birth, a custom found in many different countries at different times. Or when as now in Western civilization, even among the wealthy, parents restrict their families and take means to prevent the birth of any child, male or female, through dread of responsibility. Again, the natural dependence of woman is often greatly increased by man. For so strong is the feeling that a man's responsibilities in life are greater than hers, since he bears hers as well as his own, that woman is deprived in order that he may have every advantage that offers. In order that he may be better fitted for his fight in the world, her natural disabilities are added to and increased.

One sees in the West that girls often receive less opportunity for education than their brothers; that daughters inherit a lesser portion than sons, that the work of women is paid at a lower rate than that of men. And in the East this male tendency is responsible for such customs as the seclusion of women. Thus everywhere, East or West, even if unexpressed, there exits this tendency to regard a woman as the honor and care of a man, and consequently as less dependent upon her own efforts than upon his.

It is the thought of individual freedom that is attacking the old ideals, and destroying also this ideal of Ghayrat, or chivalry, for in spite of the selfish, even brutal forms that it may take, it is an ideal; and he who follows it possesses a religion. In the West man accepts greater advantages of life without accepting corresponding responsibilities. The Hindu with a less strong thought of individual liberty, still preserves many ancient ideals; and no student of Hindu life can deny that these are as sacred to him as his worship of gods and goddesses, and are part of his Dharma or religion. If the Hindu once calls a woman sister, or daughter, or mother, he regards her as such all his life, through the sacred bond of his promise, and he feels in honor bound to protect and sustain her, though she may not be related to him in any way.


There is a feminine chivalry, which the poets of Hindustan call Naz, a beauty that shines out if lighted by the deference of a man. It is a beauty that lies silent and hidden till an act of attention, of admiration, or respect on the part of a man stimulates the vanity in which it is rooted. Under courtesy and consideration it unfolds to perfection that is shown in the woman's every action and feeling; in her words and deeds, smiles and tears, so that every one of them becomes filled with beauty. The value that a woman attaches to a man's small acts of courtesy is rarely understood by man, and it seems to him inexplicable and part of that mystery which he believes shrouds her from him. But there is no woman, no matter what type or class, country or nation, in whom there is not this beauty which the courtesy of man alone discloses.

There is another kind of feminine chivalry, which the poets call Nayaz. This tendency is seen expressing itself as the gallant and courageous response that a woman will make to her admirer; or it may express itself in a gentle, yielding forbearance towards him. It makes her lenient and forgiving to a man, modest and gracious. When he has a desire to protect and to help her, it is a gentle chivalry on her part that makes her put herself, as it were, into his hands. She gives him that trust which he wants her to place in him, and accepts his attentions, just because he so desires her to trust him and to receive his care or homage. It is her chivalry which constrains her to value male chivalry and hold it precious.

And there is yet another kind of feminine chivalry; Nakhra, which is the radiance and beauty that man, recognizes as feminine. When a woman possesses this quality, nothing can hide it. It shines out unwavering and undimmed, natural, without self-consciousness. No effort on a man's part is needed to disclose it. Nor, on the other hand is it the result of any conscious effort of her own. In it there is no pointing with a dart, no aiming with an arrow, towards some target of admiration or reward. It lies in her simple and unaffected recognition of a certain part of life as her kingdom, over which she is by right, queen; and where she reigns with consideration towards those dependent upon her. That is the very essence of aristocracy and chivalry.

No situation in life can extinguish this natural beauty; and it may be seen shining in the unconscious movements, in the unclouded gaiety and sunniness, and in the intelligence of a maiden who is as yet untouched by any burden of life. It is a queenliness; a womanliness that irradiates its possessor at every step of her journey through life; and more than any other human quality it wins the heart of man.

checked 18-Oct-2005