Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Angry Women from the Mahabharata: Draupadi

Draupadi: The Jewel of Panchala

Draupadi or Panchaali as she is also called is one of the famous characters in the Mahabharata. As a result of a boon granted to her by Shiva in a former life, she was fated to have five strong and virtuous husbands - The Pandavas. At her swayamvara, it was Arjuna who performed a near impossible task to win her hand and heart but due to a combination of events she was wed to the five brothers.

Now the most troublesome aspect of all this is that her consent was taken out of the equation. But I have always felt that the Mahabharata's commitment is to realism as opposed to idealism. If you think about it, there are times in life when we find that the choice is not always ours to make but we have to live with the consequences. At other times, we make a choice and find it impossible to live with it. Perhaps that is the point of the epic... It is not necessarily about the choices we make or the ones that are made for us, it is about making these choices work for us. As best as we can. And I think Draupadi is a shining example of living the best life she could despite her far from ideal circumstances. No wonder she is celebrated as a jewel among women!

Check out the story of Draupadi's swayamvara in episode 8 of #MahabharataWithAnuja which also includes the charming tale of Tilottamma the ravishing temptress right here.

The disgraceful disrobing of Draupadi

The humiliation of Draupadi in the grand sabha by the Kauravas and Karna is one of the most heartbreaking chapters in the Mahabharata. It is hard not to get furious with every single one of the so - called great and noble men and heroes seated there. Bhishma, Vidura, Drona, Kripacharya, Dhritarashtra were supposed to be wise men but they did little more than recline on their backsides allowing this travesty of justice to take place.

Yudhishtra has to be the biggest putz of all time for gambling away everything he had before proceeding to stake and lose his wife. The other four Pandavas were almost as infuriating for going along with their big brother's folly. To his credit, Bhima rebuked Yudhishtra harshly and asked Sahadeva to fetch him a flaming torch so he could burn the hands that had dared to gamble away a beloved wife. It was Arjuna who urged him to simmer down since the dissent in their ranks was a source of great amusement for the Kauravas.
It was Karna, the so - called great hero with the noble heart and generous disposition who made the disgusting suggestion that Draupadi be enslaved and stripped of her garments. I hate when his fans gloss over his disgusting behavior as though it did not matter that a strong woman was made to pay for daring to reject him at her swayamvara (And no, I don't think it was okay for Draupadi to insult and demean him for being a charioteer's son but she was well within her rights to refuse to marry him). Sure he later redeemed himself with valorous deeds but this is a #MeToo story and it is to his shame that he stooped to such despicable levels of conduct. And no the unfortunate circumstances that governed his life still did not make it okay for him to behave the way he did.

Don't even get me started on Duryodhana who was salivating at the prospect of humiliating the wife of his enemies and insisted that Karna's foul proposal be carried out. The barring of his thighs to a tearful Draupadi is simply inexcusable. And Dushasana is the basest among all things foul and odious for manhandling Draupadi the way he did, though she set her pride aside and appealed to him piteously revealing that she was menstruating at the time.

Love how dignified Draupadi was even in such a lamentable situation. Refusing to bow her head in shame, she called out all present for allowing such a gross act of injustice to take place. Only Vikarna, one of the younger Kauravas placed himself in her corner, stating that she was right in claiming that Yudhishtra having lost himself had no right to stake her. It was Karna who dismissed Vikarna and ordered him to leave the Sabha.

Sick of their collective perfidy, Draupadi refused to be cowed or give in to despair but defiantly placed her faith in Krishna and begged him to come to her rescue. And the dark Lord, did not let her down. And that is why he deserves to be revered for all of time. Unlike the others, he knew the value of respecting women and being there for all who needed him the most.
It was difficult to keep it together for episode 11 of #MahabharataWithAnuja since my emotions were all over the place but do check it out here.

Many attribute the rage and humiliation of Draupadi as a key causal factor that culminated in the bloodbath that was Kurukshetra. Bhima was so incensed by her plight that he smashed Duryodhana's thigh, ripped off Dushasana's arm and drank his blood. These were only two of the high - profile characters who paid the price for what they had done to Draupadi. Many more died on that battlefield - noble - minded, great souls among them. In the end, I have always wondered if Draupadi regretted instigating her husbands to fight to avenge her. Would she have chosen this path if she had known before hand that she would lose so much more than her honour? That her favorite Abhimanyu, her five sons by the Pandavas known as the Upapandavas, her father, beloved twin brother, nephews would all die on the battlefield, leaving her desolate and utterly heartbroken? Nowadays, so many endorse righteous anger and outrage when dealing with injustice or pain. But anger is such a corrosive emotion and it destroys indiscriminately. Cliched though it may be, ultimately the best revenge might just be to live well. 


sudalai said...
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Vasant Ram said...

Mythology has always fascinated me,it was great reading this piece