Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mahabharata/Jaya - Draupadi Vastraharan (Disrobing)

"A woman who is married to 5 men is not a wife but a whore. A whore has no honour. Even if she was brough here naked, it would not matter. Elders like Bhishma and the King are quiet, then why do you, Oh Vikarna, raise objections? Sit down and don't speak on dharma which you don't know about". Thus spoke Karna to suppress the protests of Vikarna, younger brother of Duryodhana, at events happening in the recreational hall. These lines uttered by Karna (maybe to revenge his insult by Draupadi during Swayamwara) would trigger the shameful events to follow. Karna had always been a reluctant participant in all the treacherous plans of Duryodhana and Shakuni. But today, he too came down from the way of Dharma.

After loosing himself, Yuddhistira even stakes his own wife. This was on the instigation of Karna. Vidura had requested King Dhritharashtra to stop the game but he is insulted by Duryodhana. Vidura tries again but nothing happens. Elders like Bhishma, Drona and Kripa are all present but no one raises an objection ever. Yuddhistira looses this game as well and Draupadi is now Duryodhana's maid.

Duryodhana tells a servant to bring Draupadi to the hall so that her can order her to go to the maid's quarters. She is no longer a queen and cannot stay in the palace. The servant returns with a question to Yuddhistira from Draupadi which goes like this "Can a man who staked and lost himself to be a slave have any right to stake his wife?" Duryodhana orders the servant to call Draupadi and ask all this personally. Draupadi refuses to come to the hall. Duryodhana then sends Dushashana to bring her. Dushashana drags Draupadi to the hall by her hair. Draupadi (was having a period) was wearing a single a piece of cloth as she was waiting for her ritual bath after which she can meet the elders. Her cloth was slightly blood strained as well. Bhim tries to get up to attack Dushashana but is stopped by Yuddhistira.

Draupadi questions Yuddhistira and his brothers. She asks then Bhishma, King Dhritharasthra, Drona and Kripa to help and protect a helpless woman. She also asks them the question if a woman is a property of the husband. Vidura instigates the king to answer and stop this madness. This is when Vikarna stands up and tries to protest the shameful event. To suppress this, Karna cites the then existing laws according to with a woman who sleeps around with 5 men is like a whore.

In some retellings, Bhishma sadly tells Draupadi that "Dharma works in very subtle ways". I believe Vyasa explained the most mysterious event in the entire epic in this work. Why did Bhishma or the other elders got up to help Draupadi or stop Yuddhistira from staking high? Except for Vidura no one did. In some retellings, Draupadi had confessed to Yuddhistira only that she had insulted Duryodhana. So did Yuddhistira (the embodiment of justice and righteousness) do this purposely? 

In India many board games are spiritual metaphors. Snakes and Ladders was invented by a saint named Namdeo. It states the journey of an individual atma taking multiple lives. Every time he has a bad life, he is caught by snake and then has to come down and start the journey again. In the same sense, every time for a good life he gets a ladder and goes to higher planes of existence. I have read, throw of dice indicates free will while the movement of coins on the board indicate destiny/fate (although I would feel it is vice versa). 

Following the words of Karna, Duryodhana orders the Pandavas to remove their crowns and robes which they do. Then, he orders Dushashana to remove her cloth. He then exposes his thighs and directs Dushashana to make Draupadi sit in his lap after disrobing. . No one in the hall object. Bhishma, Drona and Kripa struggled with their own understanding of Dharma as no law was broken. Draupadi, realizing this, finally prayed to Krishna.

Dushashana started pulling her robe. Draupadi immersed in prayers, raised her hands up and then a miracle happened. Dushashana kept on pulling clothes but it never finished. Somehow a new piece of cloth would appear. This was a miracle. I have heard so many miracles performed by the modern saints as well. Devotees seeing their divine sages in a distant town with out the sage having ever personally gone there. So maybe, this was one instance of divinity. Also, Draupadi was holding onto the cloth tightly and Krishna did not help her till she let go of her clothes and raised her hands. Spiritually, this means that you need to totally surrender to God/Self/Truth for Him to reveal Himself and help you. 

Dushashana gets tired and lets go of the cloth. Draupadi vows that she will never forgive the kauravas and she will not tie her hair till it is washed in Dushashana's blood. Bhima too gets up and vows that he will cut those hands of Dushashana and drink his blood after tearing his chest. Bhima also vows that he will smash those thighs of Duryodhana. Draupadi is about to curse the picture when Queen Gandhari enters the hall and pleads her to not curse. Then, Gandhari pleads King Dhritharasthra to do some justice here. King Dhritharashtra, alarmed as negative omens from the wailings of animals, fears the curse of a pious woman. King Dhritharashtra tells Draupadi to forgive all and gives her three wishes. Draupadi asks for her husbands' freedom and then for their weapons. Draupadi reminds that as per Khsatriya dharma (Warrior code), a Kshatriya lady can only seek 2 wishes and not more. That would be greed.

Karna tells Duryodhana, praising Draupadi, "She has the sharpest tongue. The Pandavas have been saved by a woman". Arjuna addresses Karna as a charioteer's son again and vows to kill him.

King Dhritharashtra pleads to Yuddhistira and Draupadi to go back to Indraprastha and forgive all that has happened.

But this chapter leaves us with those lines "Dharma works in very suble ways" as told by Bhishma. Did he know anything more? Can man always decipher the reason why intelligent men too makes glaring mistakes? Is it a frailty or are they just a medium for Dharma to exact justifying actions on them and/or others? Can a unrealized person ever understand the workings of Dharma? In the end, all actions have to catch up in some way or the other. Who knows? Maybe, with this event Vyasa wants humanity to check and question the events happening around them. Not all the situations will be a direct result. Hence, the game of dice? Who knows what game is being played by cosmos keeping some human/s upfront as the doer? 


  1. Hmmm... good question to ponder over... I love your questions and takes.

    Bhishma, as a character, just like Karna intrigued me. Bhishma, I felt was always acting as a witness. He never participated in any action as a karta, I feel.

    Therefore, later in the war too, he was the commander-in-chief as a witness but not as a karta. He was like... I know what is going to happen and am just a pawn. Let the game begin and end as per His leela!

    Karna, on the other hand, was a perfect man. One who would stand by his friend, would always protect his wife, his kingdom and was always generous.

    His only folly was that he was traumatized by his upbringing (right from childhood) and that destroyed his inner peace. Like I remember seeing the movie, Ray, where he was traumatized from his childhood because he thought that he was responsible for his bro's death.

    As per code of Dharma, Draupadi agreeing to be shared between five bros was incorrect. Being such a strong woman, she would/could/should surely have protested then when Kunti told the bros to share her.

    I mean, she loved only Arjuna but was ok with sleeping with all five of them! :-) I think, she had an overdose of sexual appetite and with some women, they just have that lusty effect on men. I can't explain that. But hope you get it. And any mother would realize the folly of her sweeping statement of sharing her amongst five bros... and would have immediately taken back her wish/command.

    So lot of fishy stuff... If Draupadi was only Arjuna's wife, Yudhisthira wouldn't have staked her... Bhishma would have thought that this is Law of Karma playing out through a game of dice...

    1. Well,, before making hideous comments on Draupadi's sex appetite, you should take into consideration the earlier life of Draupadi, and Draupadi is incarnation of Indra's wife Indrani, and all 5 Pandavas are incarnation if Indra himself although fathered by differ rent demigods, its Indra himself born in 5 different bodies.

      Also one should take into account, Draupadi in her previous life had received blessing from lord Shiva to get ‘Mahapratapi’ or a great hasbund, however while asking this boon Draupadi repeated her words five times.
      So she gets what she asked for.

      One should also think on the rules laid down by Maharshi Narad on the married life of Pandavas. Although Draupadi was wife of 5 husbands, it doesn’t reflect any high sex appetite. The rules were so strict that breaking just one of them caused Arjuna to go to vanwaas(living in forest ) for twelve long years.

      If Draupadi had very high sex appetite, she could have married to Kauravas instead of Pandavas, because Kauravas were 100 while Pandavas were just 5.
      So the sex appetite comment is totally nonsense in this case.

      Furthermore, one should do research on Draupadi is one of the 5 great Pativratas listed in the Hindu religion (Ahilya, Sita, Taara, Mandodhari and Draupadi)

      One should do some research and understand the meaning between the lines before commenting on the any characters of Great Hindu history.

  2. Nicely said Abhi Etta... i liked the idea of Bhishma being a non-participant... so in a way he is like Balarama and yet not completely like him... karna's traumatizing childhood and insults were well known... Yuddhistira's out look you mentioned is worthy... but he too knew that Duryodhana will never leave him in peace... so who knows...

    As for draupadi's being shared.. it is really fishy...

  3. DivineInterventionJanuary 8, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Bhisma silence was due to his own oath (after giving up Hastinapur kingdom in favor his step mother's progeny) to protect and side with the Hastinapur kingdom whosoever is the ruler, good or bad.
    Legally he has no right to intervene. Dhritarashtra being the king has a right to stop Draupadi's vastraparan or any court proceeding. But, as evident throughout Mahabharata, he is so biased towards his own sons.

  4. Could you please finish this sentence: I have read, throw of dice indicates free will while the movement of coins on the board indicate _________. I'm very curious to know. Thank you.

  5. I have read, throw of dice indicates free will while the movement of coins on the board indicate destiny/fate :-). Have updated it as well.

  6. After the mahabharata war was over and Pandavas were visiting Bhishma who was on his death bed of arrows, Yudhishthir asked Bhishma to give pandavas lecture of dharma. At this, Draupadi laughed. When asked, she questioned Bhishma about his silence in the court when Draupadi was being disrobed, and therefore, how can he talk of dharma.. At this Bhishma answered, this was the result of the food (one's earnings) that was gained from unrighteous sources and therefore it has fogged their minds so they could not differentiated between dharma or adharma but now as even the last drop of his blood has gone, he is able to see what is right and what is wrong.

  7. @ Amitabh, Hi... I have read a few version but not come across this. That was a nice insight - thanks for that. Now I am reading Bibek Debroy's unabridged translation so when he publishes this parva, I might read it :-). Also, do you know if Ganguli's English translation is available. Flipkart does not have it all. So that I dont have to wait for Bibek's to get published.

  8. Please tell in what way the bhishma pitamaha silence was dharma?. I personally respect Bhishmacharya. After the Mahabharata war he understood that Dharma is to protect Motherland and helpless woman is it? even a maid or any other woman can not be treated like that. Pitamaha had all the rights and power to stop it. please answer this sir. But once I heard because of his one of the vow to serve the Hastinapur throne made him be silent. But why ?

    1. The epic leaves us with a big Why too. I don't have any answer though I would believe the there is an answer hidden in "Dharma is subtle". Maybe he knew something about the past or future based on which he decided inaction is the best response. Who knows? Not me for sure.

  9. Bhishma didnt say nethng cz he knew dat only aftr draupadi's bstraharn , the war wuld take plce n the kauravas wuld finally b defeatd. Draupadi was born to b d main cause of d kurukshetra war.

  10. Mahabharata is Epic episode of world, crossing the barrier of cast,creed,country etc. It has definite relevance even to present day social structure. Mahabharata should be interpreted in the light of the "spirit" of it ,and not in literally meaning. For example 'ten' head of Ravana does not mean Ravana having 'ten 'heads over his neck , but he possess 'wisdom' of ten heads , that is profound knowledge.
    Draupadi having five husband synonym the virtues of husband she desires equivalent to all five.
    Secondly legalising five husband to most virtuous woman indicate the polyandry is not a taboo in liberal society, where Male are allowed to have number of concubine (Digvijay Singh, N D Tiwari & Co)
    Draupadi is epitome womanhood ,bold , strong , virtuous ,insatiable, paragon of dark skinned beauty, possibly most desired woman of the Universe . The carnal desire for Her has burned all Maharathis of Mahabharata ,including Karan, symbolic of Social upstart .
    My only appeal that present day youth should read this Great Epic in right perspective as it has tremendous relevance to Modern Society

  11. bhishma and drona et alare a blot on our culture. How could Bhishma be a silent spectator to the disrobing incident. He must be a crook.To defend Hastinapur is one thing and to admonish wrong doers is another Bhishma hides behind his vow to protect Hastnapur. were pandavas taken as slaves or just bonded labourers?
    There is no no paralell to the silence of the worst crime by all saintly(?) people like bhishma. They should be hanged

  12. Bhishma is a hypocrite and shameless elder. Pandavas are at the worst servants of Duryodhana and not slaves.Even african slaves purchased by Americans and Europians were never put to such shame. Bhishma should be stupid to think that Draupadi can be disrobed or treated in any way.(she can be even raped in the court? If Bhishma is duty bound to save hastinapur, he can fight for Kauravas in war. What logic is that which says he has to codone the crimes of Dhuryodhana.
    Either in those days there was no civilisedrule, they are all uncivilised jungle tribe
    These anamolies occur because they developed a story told by nomadic tribes into a great epic. at amuch later date.Real dharma lies in upholding the dignity of a woman.Unfortunately comentators try to justify the most heinous silence of Bhishma. he is a shame on India.