Poem: The Corruption of Kaikeyi

He tells her that she must keep
good company. For names are
ruined thus. Without warning.

Which is why, nobody names
their daughter after the woman
who sent a good man to his
exile. Even if, it was only her
confidante, who started it all.

The corruption of Kaikeyi, not
her own doing, has now ruined
a very lovely name.

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25 Responses to Poem: The Corruption of Kaikeyi

  1. sowmya says:

    do people name their daughters Mantara?


  2. avataram says:

    I know an astronomer who called his daughter Jantar Mantara. Does that count?


  3. Chevalier says:

    Awesome. And also Draupadi, Gandhari, Dushala, Mandodari, Kunti, Ambalika. Beautiful names, forever destined to be unused.


  4. Shefaly says:

    Interesting, considering she was named after her father’s kingdom so in theory, every daughter of the Kaikeya king is already Kaikeyi, whatever her name.

    Names and associations is a burden that transcends culture. In modern times, people of a certain class would not give their children certain names.

    That said, (to Chevalier), I happen to know one Gandhari, one Kunti and two Ambika and one Ambalika and what do you know, even one Panchali and one Sushala. Duryodhan’s mother never called him Duryodhan. He was called Suyodhan. Admittedly the Gandhari and Kunti are an older generation but the rest are my own generation (Gen-X).


  5. avataram says:

    Krishna’s first wife (before rukmini and subhadra) was Shaibya. He married her to avoid a fratricidal fight between Uddhava and Shvetaketu, two of his friends. I dont think there are many Shaibyas.

    Uloopi, Arjuna’s wife might be another one.

    Among men, Yayati is quite rare. And Nahusha, Vichitravirya and Drishtadyumna….


  6. Antonio says:

    Congratulations for your blog.
    Gail thinks you are hilarious and a good blog-writer. Keep those blog entries going.
    Greetings from Granada -España-!


  7. bhumika says:

    Some names carry the burden of history on their shoulders.

    I love the unusual subjects of your poems and the way you write them, it’s like a strong comment on a taken-for-granted-position and leaves me in deep contemplation.


  8. aparna says:

    hell! who would name their daughter kaikeyi, even if she didnt have that story to her (dis)credit ??


  9. km says:


    Stop supporting bad people 🙂


  10. Lekhni says:

    And even though Duryodhan is not his real name, and even though the name itself has a negative meaning, I know a friend’s brother who was called Duryodhan.

    Kaikeyi is too well-known a name and so no one would want to name their child after her, but I can very well imagine the lesser known ones like Ambalika making a come back.

    Speaking of Kaikeyi, I loved this story from Mantara’s perspective.


  11. sowmya: I definitely know of a few Mantaras.

    shefaly: To be fair, Gandhari and Kunti weren’t “evil women”. I know of a few Panchalis, and one Draupadi. Ditto for Ambika, Ambalika – but never heard of a Kaikeyi – either in our generation or the previous one. Somehow, that name appears to have a particularly bitter connotation.

    avataram: That might have something to do with the fact Shaibya is an ugly name? 🙂 I think we need to distinguish between complicated names and the simple ones. Kaikeyi rolls off my tongue like butter! It’s a beautiful, lyrical name.

    bhumika, Rajesh: Thanks. 🙂

    aparna: Oh why? It is such a pretty name!

    km: Ha! You remember that one! Well, I think over the years we get such a distilled, sanctified version of the epics, that characters become like black and white flags. No kids named Surpanakha either I guess. Though I think Ravan makes for an interesting name.

    Lekhni: I was mildly surprised when I chanced on a temple dedicated to Duryodhana in Kumaon. (Interestingly half the people in that area it is Someshwara and the other half insist that it is Duryodhana. ) I guess even the most despised characters have takers.

    And yeah, Ambalika sounds like a very pretty name.. and my guess is that a lot of people don’t really know about the whole Amba, Ambalika, Ambika story..


  12. Shefaly says:


    Note your points but was responding to Chevalier’s point in that bit. 🙂

    That said I think evil is relative. Much literature depicts step-mothers as evil but in reality, many are not (I know from experience and no, mine does not even get online, leave alone find this blog and read what i said about her).

    I followed the link to your Surpanakha post (what an imagery that name evokes! Nails like a winnow!). I think if you do not already know of it, Irawati Karve’s interesting perspective on women characters in Mahabharata will interest you. Yuganta is the name of the book. We had it as essential reading in a Leadership Vision course in IIM-Ahmedabad. The original in Marathi is wonderful but she translated so it is pretty close in the English edition as well.

    PS: What does Shaibya mean? Could it have been Shaivya instead? Derived from Shaiva, a devotee of Shiva?


  13. Vandana says:

    Good writing.
    I wuld like to point out that Draupadi was a name popular in the early part of the last century, atleast.Both my grandmother and my husband’s grandmother were named Draupadi Devi………..and no they did not have five husbands!!!


  14. Shefaly: Point taken. Irawati Karve’s take on it is fascinating. I think there were a few dance performances that used Surpanakha’s perspective too. But I think the familiarity with Surpanakha and Kaikeyi means that these names are almost beyond redemption. What is fascinating about Kaikeyi is that she isn’t the stereotypical evil mother. It is apparent that she was rather fond of Rama – and later on, she merely placed more importance on her own son. But what is even more interesting is that the corruption of Kaikeyi is attributed to another woman – perhaps indicating that she was “weak”. (Not a surprise really – women mostly come across as extremely vulnerable, weak – especially emotionally..)

    Shaibya was the wife of Harishchanda. She isn’t evil – just a pawn in the whole story. But it may well have been derived from Shiva.. Must ask Lali!

    Vandana: Thanks. 🙂 I had a friend called Draupadi – and she was teased mercilessly about her name. My guess is that the aversion to this name is more contemporary. It’s hard to come by Panchalis too, though it appears to be popular a hundred years back. Sometimes, I think it was the awful representation of Ramayana on television that ruined the subtleness of each of the characters in the Mahabharata.


  15. Shefaly says:


    As Ali G might frame it for Kaikeyi: “Is it because I is a woman?” where ‘it’ is the negative spin put on what were ordinary survival-driven preferences by humans such as preference for her own son over her step-son. I think her life was an unmitigated tragedy because her son turns his back on her to go with the brother. Anybody care about this comparison of filial and fraternal loyalty? I suppose not many do. But then again who names children after tragic heroines? 🙂


  16. dipali says:

    Lovely poem, Neha. Amit Chaudhuri wrote a beautiful story about Surpanakha- how Lakshman mocked her cruelly before cutting off her nose.
    I knew a driver called Duryodhan- apparently quite a common name in his village in Orissa. Mahashweta Devi has a character called Dopdi in one of her stories.
    Yes, Kaikeyi gained nothing by not using her own brains!
    Manthara has a lot to answer for.


  17. rahul says:

    …good post..and very true..never heard of a kaikeyi


  18. avataram says:

    Irawati Karwe’s Yugant is a wonderful book. I seem to recall reading it at IIM as well.

    The Shaibya I refer to comes up in KM Munshi’s seven volume krishnavatara. Here is an excerpt from it, where uddhava, shvetaketu and krishna are all in love with her:


    That it is the name of Harishchandra’s wife is easily explained. He was also known as Shibi, and therefore a wife or daughter of Shibi would be called Shaibya.


  19. Inky says:

    She was a good “lady driver”, saved her guy’s life, did not impulsive encash gift vouchers, did not think that servants were supposed to remain silent, and when she did a job, she did it thoroughly! She’d be a heroine in our times!


  20. Just thought I’d add a couple of more recommendations – here is a different take on the Uttara Kaanda: http://rudolphwithyournose.blogspot.com/2008/02/twilight.html

    And, I watched a play about a year and a half ago called “Retellings” which was the story of Shakuntala and Sita from their perspective – a little heavy in style and content, but very good!


  21. lak says:

    (Got it, Neha!Thanx for the link) I liked the poem and the thought behind it very much. Very restrained, I thought. And of course, like all the other comments, set me thinking about other “undesirable” names. Vaise, why would Draupadi be an attractive name? By itself, it just means daughter of Drupad. And connotation-wise, naturally, most of her claim to fame was her five husbands, so any girl named Draupadi would say to her parents, “What did I ever do to you?”
    BTW, ever heard that Kaikeyi was Russian, and came from the Caucasus mountains? (Remember the kingdom she came from was Kekaya) I remember reading an article to this effect in the Hindu long ago.


  22. Mazhai says:

    Hey.. whats good in our culture , in our context would be bad in somebody else’s and vice-versa.. did you know that there are a section of people who claim to be descendants of Duryodhana and would proudly take on names of that clan and avoid the pandava names like those of their mortal enemies! Also, in Srilanka.. Ravana would still be revered whereas Rama would be the King across the Ocean who is perceived as teh yester year Bush!.. History is but a version of the Victors in the war.. 10 years down the line even Bush might be hailed as a Statesman like Nixon was in later years!


  23. jillumadrasi says:

    So that maid has been promoted to a companion now? Is that likely?


  24. Pratik Bubna says:

    Beautifully written…thought provoking


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