The Concept of Motherhood in India: Myths, Theories and Realities

To understand the concept of motherhood in the Indian subcontinent created and promulgated through myths

The importance of motherhood in traditional patriarchal cultures is rooted in the teachings of all the world religions. Hence, the connections between world religions and the concept of motherhood in India made in this collection are valuable. The anthology covers the myth of motherhood in Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim cultures. With the focus of this volume being on motherhood in the Indian subcontinent, readers should reflect upon motherhood as a transformative process that affects the lives of very large numbers of young women all over the world every day. 

The dichotomy between the value placed on the concept of motherhood in India in the devaluation of a mother who has given birth to a female infant, in comparison to a mother who has given birth to a male infant, is traceable to economics. The benefits of raising male children who will support their parents in old age versus raising female children in dowry-ridden societies where daughters represent financial loss are still prevalent views in some parts of the world. 

In areas of South Asia, newly married women are expected to bear at least one child in the first year of marriage to prove their fertility. Similar views are also prevalent in other countries. In this context, an anthology is a much-needed one in understanding the theories, myths, and realities associated with motherhood.


A woman is physiologically equipped to bear children. She attains motherhood through the act of carrying a child in her womb and giving birth. A deep-rooted biological determinism, employed and interpreted by the patriarchy for its benefits, lets the society carry on in the belief that all women are to bear children, and assumes that mothering and childcare knowledge come naturally to them once they give birth. Both assumptions are harmful to women and their children. Women with little knowledge of prenatal care during pregnancy end up with a sense of isolation, which may result in depression. 

They often fail to filter out superstitious beliefs and practices/family customs from real healthcare issues, resulting in complications during childbirth or giving birth to unhealthy children (health does not only mean physical health). A confirmation of the bio-deterministic patriarchal view keeps the fathers free from childcare responsibilities, whereas the mother’s reel under the tremendous pressure to provide the best health, education, and moral wellbeing to their children.

Biological essentialism is used conveniently by the patriarchy to overlook the construction concept of motherhood in India and assign the childcare-related activities as the responsibility solely of the mother, who could win accolades for being a good mother.


To understand the concept of motherhood in India we need to reflect on its ethos, its strong mother-goddess tradition that is reflected in the name by which all women, irrespective of their age, when the relationship is not specific, are called “Ma.” Private buses and taxis plying their trade on the streets, sweet parlors, department stores, and restaurants bear names of the mother ‘Ma Tara’, ‘Ma Kali’, or carry the mother’s blessings – ‘Mayer Ashirbaad’ etc. 

These are reflections of a deep-rooted belief in the mother as the protector and food giver (Annapurna). But, as we shall see, these emotive responses to the mother archetype have little or no connection with the real-life status women get to enjoy as mothers in India. ‘The Breast Giver’ by Mahasweta Devi depicts this phenomenon in a hyperbolic dimension where the maternal figure feeds scores of mouths, but herself remains metaphorically starved.


Motherhood as a lived experience is not measured in the same way as in the past – both mothers and society have changed. Now we have a different familial structure in India, with working mothers, nuclear families, and changing models of parenting. There are homosexual marriages, IVF conceptions (cytoplasmic and nuclear transfers, cloning), and surrogacy to be considered. 

The concept of motherhood in India thus needs to be revisited. Maternity was focused on in the United States at the beginning of the millennium. Popular culture turned its attention to high-profile celebrity pregnancies, hi-tech fertility treatments, water births, IVF, and surrogacy. Celebrities in their late thirties and forties went public with their pregnancy experience on TV chat shows.

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