Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Women in Mahabharat

Had attended a lecture series on "Women in Mahabharat" by Aaranyavaak. Speaker was Dr Sucheta Paranjpe. This blog is just a reproduction of notes that I took during the lecture.


Unlike Gandhari, Kunti stood up for her sons. They had Kunti’s unwavering support. Only exception was Karna. Kunti must have been sad when she set him afloat on the river, bundled in a casket. There’s a song which describes her state of mind, which is included in Durgabai Bhagwat’s Vyasparva.

When Kunti realizes who Karna is, before the war, she goes to him and asks him to join the Pandavas, but Karna doesn’t agree. That’s not ethical on Kunti’s part.

Similarly, she also fails Draupadi, when she inadvertently advises her sons that the “goods” Arjuna had bought should be shared equally amongst the five brothers. When she comes out of her suite (or kitchen), and sees that it’s Draupadi and not fruits as she had assumed, Kunti should have taken back her words. But, she doesn’t. Instead she says, “My sons will find it difficult to break my word.”

This is very tragic because Kunti has also been a victim of a forced parentage and marriage. Her biological father gave away her to King Kuntibhoj (She was adopted) without taking her wish/desire into account.

She was also cheated when her marriage was arranged with Pandu, who was a sickly man. Their marriage couldn’t be consummated because of a curse on Pandu; if Pandu kept a physical relationship with a woman, that would result in his death.

It so happens that Pandu is unable to overcome his attraction for Madri, his second wife. Their marriage is consummated and that results in Pandu’s death. When Kunti learns of Pandu’s death from Madri, she also realizes the reason. Her feelings are expressed thus, “Rati, Mati, Gati ya madhye tu vartan nighgalis.” That means, Madri was lucky to explore her desires at least once.

After this incident, Madri decides to commit “Sahgaman” (not sati). Her two sons, twins, Nakul and Sahdev are left in Kunti’s care. (Kunti has three sons – Yudhishtir, Arjun and Bheem born as a result of boons granted to her by Durvas Muni). Kunti has special affection for Sahdev, the youngest. She is also said to have told Draupadi, when it’s Sahdev’s turn to be with her, to shower more love on him.


She is the nayika of Mahabharat. Spirited, willful and confident. She is also said to be the perfect example of “Pativrata”. Her birth is said to herald the “destruction of Kshatriya clan.” There was a proclamation to that effect from the skies, so it’s said in one of the versions of Mahabharat.

Described as “tejaswi”, Draupadi was also cheated in marriage. After the Pandavas decide to adhere to Kunti’s wish, Draupadi is not known to have reacted. But, her, father, King Dhrupad took objection to such a marriage. He consults Krishna and a priest. Both say that such a marriage is valid. No one, however, thinks it necessary, to ask Draupadi’s willingness. Her humiliation isn’t complete though.

On the first day (night), Draupadi is asked to sleep at the feet of Pandavas’ in such a manner that each body part is in contact with the bodies of five brother. (the brothers would sleep in a row).

Why did Draupadi, who shows her fiery temperament, in the course of Mahabharata, not react when she’s divided amongst the five brothers? Two plausible reasons: One, she must be stricken at the turn of events and is too confused to take a stance. Secondly, she must have decided to avenge her marriage later.

The highlight of the epic is Vastraharan, as we know it. In the Critical Edition, it’s discussed as Vastrakarshan. When Yudhishthir, who has a weakness for a game of dice, and is invited to play along with his brothers, the Kauravas had no inkling that he would pawn himself, his brothers and his wife.

Thus, the Vastrakarshan wasn’t planned. Draupadi, who had that time was menstruating, was garbed in a single garment (as per the conventions), with her hair let loose, was in her suite. When a servant passed on the message that her husband had pawned her and she had become “Kauravas dasi” and was ordered to come to the court, she sends a reply, “What right does the man, who has already lost himself, have to pawn me?” – this displays her spirit.

However, the Kauravas, in a boisterous mood, send Dushyasan, who drags her back to the court. Dhritarashtra stands up for her and says the “Queen of Kuru clan cannot be humiliated.” He grants her three boons – she can ask what she wants. The Kauravas, who think that they will loose all riches they had gained from Pandavas, are astounded to hear Draupadi’s demands. Her first wish, “Yudhishthir should be freed from the shackles of being a servant.”

Her second wish, “The other four should be freed from the shackles of being a servant and be given one weapon each.”

“On the basis of these two demands they will regain what they have lost,” she concludes.

On hearing this, Karna, says, “Draupadi is the one who rows the Pandavas to safety/to shore.” She is given the simile of a “boat.”

After reaching their quarters, Yudhishthir is again invited to a game of dice by the Kauravas, which he accepts again, despite Draupadi’s pleas to not do so. This time they are exiled for 12 years and 1 year of ‘adnyatwas.’

In this period, Draupadi urges them to acquire skills – Yudhishthir is asked to improve his skills at dice, Bheem is advised to hone his wrestling, Arjuna, his archery and the younger two were asked to study veterinary science.

This aspect of encouraging and motivating husbands to explore their potential, is the finest example of “Pativrata.”

Interestingly, Draupadi, Kunti, Madri have no name of their own. Their names have been derived from the names of their fathers or the kingdoms they ruled. This lack of identity shows how women were treated even in that period.

1 comment:

  1. Nice thoughts on the Pativratas, thanks for sharing. One cannot stop thinking about Draupadi while talking about Pativratas. She is considered to be 'Kula Devata' and/ or 'Grama Devatha' by many people.

    In fact, there are many shrines for Goddess Draupadi, spread in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. One of the shrines, where She is a Grama-Devatha and Kula-Devatha to many, is located in one of the small villages of Tamil Nadu.

    The village is named KONDAL, Mayiladuthurai Taluk, Nagapattinam District, Nidur P.O, Tamil Nadu.


    Draupadi Amman Thunai - May you all be BLESSED by HER grace!!