Was Draupadi happy? – Part 1

asked Sriparna, the computer scientist, the other day.  One would think she must have been, she said; for if one day, one of her husbands was cross with her, there was enough room for compensating comfort – there must have been at least one other of them from whom she would have received care and affection on that day. But life being a tale of many twists, did it really happen that way to her, she asked.

   It didn’t, said the computational linguist, Sobha. That was what Pratibha Ray’s famous novel “Yajnaseni” suggests, she said. One gets the same impression from S.L. Bhyrappa’s well-known novel “Parva” as well.  Only the contexts are different and the victims, surprised and hurt, are different. In Ray’s novel it was the wife Draupadi. In Bhyrappa’s, it was the mother Draupadi. The mother Draupadi realized that Arjuna was teaching Abhimanyu, his son from Subhadra, military strategies that he did not teach his son from her. Maybe he found Abhimanyu more intelligent and more receptive; after all, didn’t Drona teach things to Arjuna which he was disinclined to teach his son? Draupadi felt too badly let down to even think of such a thing.  

   Dealing with five husbands, we guess, who were five different personalities, she might have been emotionally drained and often felt lonely, when she found time to be alone. In any case, that was a very demanding task, Sarala’s Bhima told Yudhisthira in the snowy Himalayas, and she had performed it with much grace and élan. She was extraordinary, he said.

   One gets the impression from Sarala Mahabharata that that each of her husbands desired her, respected her and was genuinely fond of her (although one of them – Yudhisthira –  was not at ease with her, but he kept his discomfort to himself till when saying it out loud wouldn’t hurt her) and she didn’t seem to fail in performing her wifely duties with respect to any of them. None of them said anything to the contrary. Till after she fell in the Himalayas. “She fell because of her sin”, said Yudhisthira to Bhima. And what was the sin? Taken aback, Bhima wanted to know. What he said shocked and shook Bhima but it is not relevant to our present concern, namely, whether she was happy; so let that pass.

   Yudhisthira’s response to Bhima’s question in Vyasa Mahabharata is relevant to us. He said that though she was the wife of all the Pandavas, she was partial towards Arjuna. On that account, she had failed in her stree dharma (wifely duties). Now, as far as we are concerned, doesn’t it show that she lived a life of compromise in the matter of her heart and had tried to conceal it all through her life? Now, was she happy?

   She had concealed something else too, according to Sarala Mahabharata, although the edition that I use makes no reference to this, namely that although he had five husbands, she was attracted towards Karna. In “Yajnaseni”, the author, drawing from both Vyasa Mahabharata and a certain edition of Sarala Mahabharata, makes a connection – Karna, a Kaunteya, was a brother of the Pandavas. We can think of it this way: before she saw Draupadi, Kunti had asked her sons to share whatever they had brought. That turned out to be a young woman, not alms. That there was an absent son when she said this, no one knew – not that she had him in mind then. But words, once uttered, are no more bound to the utterer, his intentions and the specific circumstances. Sometimes they materialize in the form predicted and sometimes in a form entirely unexpected; sometimes on account of the utterer, sometimes, on account of the context of the utterance.

   Born from the sacred fire of a yajna, performed for an unholy purpose by the great sage Vyasa himself for king Drupada, Draupadi was born to be the instrument of revenge. After giving two children to the jajman Drupada, the holy fire was unwilling to give him another; the gods eventually relented because of Vyaa’s spiritual energy, and the girl had emerged. Drupada wanted to avenge his suffering in the hands of the Kauravas. He needed a daughter who would fulfil his dark wish. He had prayed to Bhagawan Shiva to grant hi the boon that would enable him to kill the Kauravas. The great god, who is easily pleased and who readily grants boons without a thought, did not oblige; he told him that he would never be able to kill the Kauravas; only Arjuna could do that. He would give the girl in marriage to Arjuna, and one day, Drupada told Vyasa, there would be war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas and Arjuna would destroy the Kauravas and he would have his revenge. From the yajna fire had emerged, first, the one, neither male nor female, who came to be known as Sikhandi, then the boy, who came to be known as Dhristadyumna. Drupada was very upset but Vyasa asked him to look after them well because Shikhandi would be the cause of Bhishma’s death and Dristadyumna, of Drona’s and it would be only after their death that the Kauravas could be killed, he told him.

   Little is said about Draupadi’s upbringing in Drupada’s palace. We can imagine though what kind of upbringing she would have had, knowing that for her revenge-obsessed father, she was an instrument for the attainment of his objective.

   Incidentally, what had the Kauravas done to Drupada? They had given him a sound thrashing which he did not deserve and when he was not in a condition to defend himself. It was certainly a wicked act by the Kauravas. But for that did they deserve to be eliminated? And for that to happen, if venerable and virtuous persons like Bhishma and Drona had to be killed, Drupada wasn’t concerned in the least. When one thinks of Drupada’s revenge, Sakuni comes out as a saint! (About Sakuni’s revenge, see the posts “Concerning Duryodhana’s killing of his Maternal Grandfather” and “The Revenge of the Dead: The Story of the Special Dice of Sakuni” in this blog.)

   One dark and rainy night the fire in the lac palace had happened and it upset Drupada’s plans. He heard that the Pandavas had perished in the fire. He now had to find someone who could kill the Kauravas.  So he arranged a swayambara for Draupadi. It was swayambara only in name; Draupadi had to marry the person who would succeed in the archery test. She had no say at all with respect to her wedding. Destiny would decide things for her and her destiny had a manifestation: Krishna! He wanted Draupdi to marry Arjuna, so he succeeded in the archery contest – let’s ignore the details. He sanctioned her marriage to the five Pandavas, so she married them all.

   Without going into details, let us note that her married life was uneventful in Sarala Mahabharata until her humiliation in the Kaurava court. There is not even a faint suggestion that any elder in the Kuru family was unhappy with her. Almost nothing is said about her interactions with Duryodhana’s wife, Bhanumati or any other princess in the Kaurava family. She didn’t do anything that would have upset any Kaurava brother. “The blind man’s son is blind” is what she had said in some other versions of Mahabharata, not in Sarala’s. There is no mention of her being impolite to Sakuni. As for Karna, in Sarala’s version, everyone knew that Karna was Kunti’ eldest child; thus, there was no relation of disrespect between her and Kunti’s eldest. She had not stopped Karna from participating in the archery test and Krishna had not suggested to her that she did so. Obviously, there is no place for that in a narrative in which Karna’s identity was no secret, namely, that he had grown up in the suta’s house but was Kunti’s eldest. Karna did not participate in the archery test to win her for himself; he wanted to win her for Duryodhana. He failed to hit the target; only the Creator god Brahma in the abode of the gods and sage Vyasa on earth knew how he failed, and of course, did Krishna. Let’s leave this matter here because it has nothing to do with our present concern. All in all, Draupadi’s wedded life was smooth; so perhaps she was happy; perhaps she was not. For the wife, especially for someone like Draupadi, sensitive, intelligent and self-confident, and wife to five persons, a quiet married life can be interpreted either way.

   Having five husbands had made her conceited and arrogant, was what Yudhisthira thought of her. He wasn’t really wrong. Now, anxiety and unhappiness are companions of conceit and arrogance. The arrogant person tends to take offence easily and loses self-control and becomes unhappy as a result.  

   In Sarala’s narrative, the first time she felt insulted in public was during the rajaswiya jajna of Yudhisthira. Bhima’s son, Ghatotkacha, from his demoness wife, Hidimbaki (Hidimba, in some versions) had arrived – his presence was needed. Following his mother’s advice, he bowed to his father, Krishna, Vyasa and Yudhisthira in that order. His mother had strictly forbidden him to bow to Draupadi, who, with five husbands, was a fallen woman for her.  The one who had emerged out of fire would not tolerate being slighted in public and she pronounced a curse on him: he would die the most dishonourable death in the battlefield. Hidimbaki came out of her hiding and cursed her that her yet unborn sons would die, when still children. How much it troubled her, the poet hasn’t told us. Sitting with Yudhisthira as a queen in the sacred jajna, among the Kuru family, sages and kings and princes, would have been a fulfilling experience for her had she not forgotten that she was like a mother to Ghatotkacha. What would have been a fulfilling experience for her turned out to be extremely unpleasant.

   To be fair to her, this was an exception, when it comes to her conduct as a member of the Kuru family. Incidentally, she hadn’t acted out of jealousy; that Hidimbaki was her husband, Bhima’s, first wife, or that her son was the first child in the Pandava family do not seem to have mattered when she cursed Ghatotkacha.  

   Bhima had married Hidimbai before he married Draupadi. But Arjuna had other wives after his marriage with Draupadi. However, apart from Subhadra, none of his wives lived with him. Draupadi had to swallow her pride and accept that situation because Subhadra was Krishna’s sister. We do not know about their interaction; we do not know whether they preferred to avoid each other rather than meet and talk like friends. In Sarala Mahabharata there is no murmur that they were unfond of each other, but there is no suggestion either that their relationship was truly cordial.   

Now what would one say? Was Draupadi happy or suffering so many compromises in life she had forgotten that there was an experience called happiness?

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