Putrashoka — Grief on the loss of a Child

Putra – child ; shoka – grief.

My paternal grandmother had 7 children. 3 survive. The remaining 4 died between the ages of 3 months and 2 years. She accepted it as Karma. But, despite that she couldn’t help grieving, every so often I would find her with tears in her eyes. And one day she told me that the worst kind of grief or pain that a person could face was ‘putrashoka’ – grief on the loss of a child. In later years she amended that statement – she saw a whole bunch of next to next generation go awry. Her reaction was that ‘putrashoka’ was grief on the loss of a child not just to death, but to ‘adharma’. She had a very strong definition of dharma and adharma.

My maternal grandmother lost her son – my mama – when he was 58. He died of cancer. She was broken. She told me pretty much the same thing – putrashoka is devestating. and, then she referred to someone we know who was addicted to narcotics and said, I am sure that the boy’s parents are facing worse putrashoka – even if he is still alive. Atleast, my son did his duty.

Putrashoka is not an absolute – it, like most other emotions, falls in a spectrum. There is grief caused by death. There is also grief caused by a ‘child’ who has gone astray; grief caused by a ‘child’ who doesn’t care anymore (perceptually); various kinds of grief.

Somehow, over the last few of days the term ‘putrashoka‘ has been floating in my brain quite a bit. All of us, in different ways cause our parents hurt and grief. Hopefully, these are out of thoughtlessness rather than deliberate desire to hurt. A phone call not made, a visit that doesn’t happen, a raised voice, shutting them out of our lives … my parents face it, yours may too. They may say something, or say nothing. Depends on their own pride. My parents will not say anything, but i can sometimes see it in their eyes.

This morning’s report in the Indian Express on two different grieving mothers brought home the concept of putrashoka.
This is from the mother of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma – who died in the shoot out in Delhi:

“I won’t cry any more,” she said. “He did not die in an accident or of any disease. He is martyr, and if everyone is raising slogans for him I will do the same.”

And, then there is the other mother. the mother of Atif, young man who was killed in the same incident. (aside : the word incident is so inadequate to describe what happened at Jamia Nagar, but for now it has to suffice). The young man who was allegedly planning to blow up innocents across the country.

“How can anybody kill innocent people? Everybody’s life is precious, everyone loves their children. If he was in the right, then let Allah take this daag (blot) away from him,” she says.

One mother has the answer to why her son died. Mohan Chand Sharma’s mother knows and has the pride that her son gave his life to protect more innocents from being blown up. It may give her solace when grief overwhelms her.

Atif’s mother possibly knows that her son’s death would prevent more people from getting blown up – and that’s because he was the one blowing them up. and, her grief may be exacerbated by the guilt that she couldn’t do a damn to prevent his actions. She couldn’t have — but guilt is not very rational…

And, then there are those mothers whose children don’t come home because a bomb blew them up….

Putrashoka — grief on the loss of a child….

14 Replies to “Putrashoka — Grief on the loss of a Child”

  1. unfortunate is the word i would have used…
    i always thought that Gandhari’s grief was the most in the Mahabharat … because her sons went awry ! as a mother she had to cope with both their loss, and their actions….

  2. It’s supposed to be the worst sort of grief, isn’t it? I guess if people are horrified when siblings, close friends and others in their own generation die, wouldn’t it be doubly worse when their children die before them? 🙁 I have seen it happen even if the children are in their 60s or 70s and the parents are in their 80s/ 90s.

  3. absolutely. my mama passed away almost 8 years ago — my grandmother still hasn’t gotten over it… she asks God – why him, why not me….. and it is heart breaking to see her grief…

  4. I read your post twice and this question still remains: what about ‘putri-shoka’?

    And on that Gandhari thing, Irawati Karve’s ‘Yuganta’ has an interesting take on the female characters in Mahabharata. We had it as a book for our Leadership Vision course in IIMA and then I read the original in Marathi too. She translated it herself and the two versions are very close. See if you can find it and are interested to read it.

  5. @shefaly – i have read yuganta. I found her take very interesting.
    i found her analysis of Draupadi very cruel. And that of Bhishma…. viscerally cruel… possibly apt .. but still cruel.
    i can’t quite recollect her analysis of Gandhari – have to re read it.

    i am not sure about putri shoka… i interpret putra shoka as death of a child as opposed to death of a son. but, you are right … there isn’t too much on the death of a daughter….

    @ Nilu – you should read Yungana — it is a seriously good take on the motivations of the key characters of the Mahabharat… i am glad that management schools are offering such complex and intrinsically Indian work.

  6. @ Harini: I do not recall in detail but there is a reference of her blind love for her sons in there. I am too lazy to go upstairs and get the book and paraphrase it for you 🙁

    When I was at IIMA, we had much material with Indian references. That is not to say we did not read Ibsen and other literary works as well, to relate to a broader context of life. There were the leadership models that fascinated me no end. The Dadhichi model of the leader who gives himself fully to his cause; the Indra model of the micro-manager. There were others too and I am sad that my notes got lost but I am sure Professor Indira Parikh’s work is available in the libraries some where.

  7. In terms of mythology putrashoka seems to have been a potent curse as well so much so that it was considered a cause of death in that context it can be explained as ‘death caused by grief caused by death’ (ref verses pertaining to Dasharatha, the background of his curse). I also found a fine instance of Putri shoka in Coleridge’s Old man in the alps.

    Yes my grandparents too lost more than they loved. A survival rate of 4 out of 10 which seems to have been quite commonplace.

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