Draupadi's Monologue

Courtesy - http://en.wikipedia.org

I know you remember me for that one incident. I'm not the last one to be disrobed though, is it not? Thousands of years later, you lot are still doing the same. How can you say you have changed? Progressed? You’ve just had an illusion of movement – but you remained at the same place.

Anyway there’s more to my life you know? There’s more you need to learn from my misfortunes. Unfortunately, you don’t. You choose to look for miracles and justifications instead.

It is said I was not born the biological way. No I was the result of a yagna performed by my adopted father King Drupada. My parent is Agni technically speaking, because I emerged from the sacrificial fire, along with my brother Drishtadhyumna. Actually, King Drupada was praying for a son who would take revenge on Dronacharya – the latter had defeated my father and had taken away half his kingdom. So my brother promptly vowed revenge and promised to kill Drona. But then Drishtadhyumna and I were twins – so I tagged along. When we emerged from the fire, we were already young adults – we weren’t born as babies.

In fact, our birth was not necessary. I came to know that King Drupada and Drona had been best friends right from childhood. So close that Drupada had promised half his kingdom to Drona when the time came. It so happened that after my grandfather died, and my father ascended the throne he kind of forgot his promise. Not that poor Drona laid claim or anything – but he was in very deep poverty. His situation was so bad that he was unable to feed his son. So he came to King Drupada asking for help – but what did my father do? He shooed Drona away after calling him a beggar. Now why will any man swallow an insult like that? So Drona waited patiently for his time, became the guru for the warrior princes – the pandavas and the kauravas. Now when it came to gurudakshina, he asked the pandavas to win half of Drupada’s kingdom. All fair and square if you ask me. My father should have let go, and sought forgiveness. Instead he conveniently manipulated all this and my poor brother took that oath to kill Drona.

Now where did I fit into the scheme of things? I was considered spectacularly beautiful – with my dark complexion (yes...what is with you people and your fixation with pale skin?) and lotus eyes. People came from far and wide just to have a glimpse of me. So in what way would a young beautiful woman prove useful? That’s right. Use me strategically in matrimony. My father, having wrested the oath from my brother, was now intent upon furthering his revenge. It was Arjuna wasn’t it who had defeated him on the orders of Drona? What if Arjuna himself married me? Imagine how I felt, when I realized my stake in the whole murky thing.

As if this had not riled me enough, do you know how the whole marriage business was set up? I was offered as a prize for an archery contest – as if I was some plaque or trophy. Some impossible archery task had been set, and my father was sure only Arjuna would be able to complete the task. My heart was thudding – what if some horrible creep finished the task? What then? If they thought I’d keep quiet, they had a surprise coming for sure.

In fact when Karna, handsome and valiant as he was, stood up to participate – he’d even lifted the bow – I had to refuse. Here I am a princess; don’t I have the teeniest right to seek someone my equal? After all, at that time I only knew Karna as the son of a charioteer. Really, I had nothing personal against him – but considering I was being given away like some silver gift set, I had to look out for myself. Are only men entitled to ego? Are only men entitled to pride? I had ego, and I had pride. I was proud of my status and I was proud of my beauty. I have no regrets. But dear god, say no to a man – forget that – just hearing a woman’s voice can set these fellows into a rage. I apparently insulted Karna. How? By just voicing my opinion? I believe it is the same even today.

Anyway, there was this young man dressed like a priest. I tell you, my heart skipped a beat when I saw him. It was love at first sight. Thank god he won the competition, and he turned out to be Arjuna.

Well, all’s well that ends well I thought. But what did I know? Because what happened next was just ridiculous. These five Pandavas are very devout sons. And when they took me to meet their mother Kunti, Yudhishtira said, ‘See what we have brought Mother.’ She was busy, poor old woman, and she replied, ‘Share it equally amongst yourselves.’ So next thing I know, I have five husbands. I find it very strange. A woman, when she is young like me, is objectified and used as a property. But put some grey strands on the head, and the same woman is revered to the point of blindness. From when did the brain become redundant?

I was hopping mad, and I caught hold of my best friend Krishna. Imagine what he says? He says it’s all my doing! Apparently in my previous birth, I did some penance that pleased Shiva so much and he agreed to offer me any boon. So I rattled off some qualities and said give me a husband with all these. Shiva is a logical god – so he said, look, no man can be found with all those qualities, so here’s a deal. In your next birth, I’ll give you five husbands instead of one – and all these qualities will be distributed amongst those five. And here I was.

I slapped my forehead. It was quite scandalous. I mean even in those days, it was the same – there was a social sanction for men to take on many partners. But polyandry was frowned upon. But the key thing here is, learn from this mistake. Be careful what you pray for – you may actually get it. And it is especially daft to pray for good spouses. Anyway, don’t look at this literally. I know many of you have done analysis about my sexual liberation – it all seems so modern isn’t it? After all, each of my husbands loved me dearly, and I reciprocated. Oh well, you won’t be so shocked had it been a man marrying five women, right? So get over it.

But you need to look at this symbolically. Look at what qualities each of these five men stood for. Understand that no matter what, human beings are meant to be incomplete. No single quality can make a man great; there has to be a measured combination. Look at that fool Yudhishtira. I mean, I know he’s known as Dharmaraja and never speaks lies etc.etc. But what use is logic and judgement when one has no common sense? What use is morality when one loses sight of basic humanity?

I say humanity because I have to talk about my molestation. From my father to this husband of mine – they used me as nothing more than a pawn. They gambled me away, as if I were a sheep or a goat. As I stood in the court, amidst the most learned men and elders of all times, as my voice rang out questioning my husband’s right over me as a property – no one had an answer. It was then that I knew I was alone. It was my own battle. It was a moment of truth – I stood amidst my five husbands, I stood in the king’s court, I stood amidst warriors and soldiers, sages and gurus, but I stood alone. When it came to it, in that court, so called law, logic, dharma theories would be chosen over the dignity of a human being. And when it came to it, my husbands would rather obey their brother than standing by their wife. No finger would be lifted to prevent the crime that was about to take place. No elder’s tongue would lash against Duryodhan who parted his garment, flashed his thigh and asked me, a much married woman, to go sit on his lap. He did this right in front of his father and his guru, his brothers and uncles. What security could I expect from this court? What justice could I expect from this lot?

Miracles do add a good boost to the narrative, don’t they? They said a vision of Krishna appeared and an endless saree draped me – and Dushyasan eventually felt tired trying to disrobe me. It is so ridiculous that I laugh. Do they really think that as this vermin disrobed me, I turned on my feet with folded hands? I too am a warrior princess, born of Agni. And rage burnt inside me, set fire to every cell in my body. I fought like a tigress; I wasn’t going to give in. I fought with my bare hands even as I screamed.

When the heinous episode ended, all I remember is that I was trembling with rage, my chest was heaving and my body was drenched in cold sweat. But I don’t remember feeling weak. I don’t remember feeling like a victim. I still felt an extraordinary rage. I stood there, in the midst of these learned men who had betrayed me – as a wife, as a sister, as a daughter, as a woman. I wanted their blood. Yes, blood. Nothing less would quench my thirst.

But don’t read this episode for what it was. Look at the larger picture it portrays. That day, I was not the one who was disrobed. The ones who were stripped naked were all these wise men. Men in whose hands we’d entrusted the kingdom. Yes, Dushyasan had stripped them off their mask of pseudo-culture and their sense of moral superiority. He showed them for what they were – naked, gutless, impotent men – who with all their so called knowledge and skills, were unable and unwilling to defend a hapless woman.

In the fight and politics of these men, whatever happened to me became nothing more than an unpleasant incident. I had to wait for years and years before the perpetrators died on the battlefield. A justice delayed in a justice denied. Sounds familiar?

In the end, there was no victory. Victory is just an illusion. Yes the Pandavas won the war. But at what a terrible cost! What victory do I celebrate? That eventually Bheema broke the very same thigh that Duryodhana had flashed? That he brought me Dushyasan’s blood so that I could drench my hair in it? Did it bring me closure? Did it take away the injustice? Did it take away the years I spent in the forest when I deserved a better life? Did it take away the constant fear of being attacked by some wandering man – be it Jayadratha who abducted me, or Keechaka who tried to molest me? No...there was no justice in my life for all that I had suffered. I even lost all my five sons in the battle – burnt to death. Have you come across such an unfortunate mother? A mother who saw her grown sons, her flesh and blood – all consumed by fire?

Truth be told, I’d been defeated the day I was born out of that fire, as a woman. I was nothing more than a blade of hay, caught in whirlwind of this land – the land of blood lust and bloodthirst – where brother deceived brother, where a married woman was lusted after, where babies were abandoned for the sake of honour, where children were murdered for the sake of vengeance.

And today, the learned men and women read the Mahabharata over and over. They expound theories about dharma and karma and look at minute justifications for each and everything. They talk of karma. Foolish ones, remember that with every breath you take, you have a choice. Choice to do the right thing. You choose to commit heinous crimes, and justify it by saying ‘it is karma.’ Shame on you. The lessons stare at you in the face, yet you learn nothing.

The crime committed against me is repeated day in and day out. It is the age old game - it is easy to settle scores, teach lessons, break egos, break spirits by using women as pawns, is it not? Is it not the same even today? The wise men and women are still as impotent, still as dumbstruck. Their reactions are exactly as it was thousands of years ago – turning a deaf ear and a blind eye. No, nothing has changed. Don’t you see from what I’ve narrated – this always leads to a cataclysmic event. An annihilation. Perhaps that is the karma  you’ve chosen. So be it.

© Sumana Khan - 2013

Comments

  1. Sumana I agree that the heinous crimes against women happen even today and blind eyes turn on them but the swayamvar and pandav patnitva is quoted out of the cultural context of that era. No woman today should have the life of Draupadi! Sad that some people choose to worship all the wrong things in her life. I find all religious text out of context today, not just the Mahabharat but the Quran and Bible too. So pick up the good and drop the horrid. We have to move on to a better society.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Anjali...I dont know about the bible and the quran...but the mahabharata, IMO is still relevent...simply because we've not changed. Yes, we have to move on - but it can only happen if we learn from our mistakes.

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  2. This is very powerful Suman...awed.

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  3. I have always fumed at the way Mythology treats our women. Sita and Draupadi and countless others.This is extremely well written Sumana.

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  4. Draupadi has always been a favorite. Anything to do with her I read with passion. This is no exception. Well written. Your summing up says it. Nothing has changed. Annihilation is the karma we seem to have chosen. So it shall be.

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    1. Thank you Shail. Yes...I guess self-destruction is encoded in humans.

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  5. What a power-packed post! I recently read a book called 'The Palace of Illusions' which is more or less Mahabharata, narrated by Draupadi and I could see this post as an extension to the book.

    Women have always been objectified may it be today's world, Bollywood or our ancient history. I admire Draupadi for her strength and she indeed deserves to be remembered more than all the men of her age. She was a real fighter and not all those husbands of hers who won the final battle.

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    1. I'll try and pick up the book Akanksha. Thanks for stopping by :)

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  6. Wonderful writeup, Sumana! I don't know if you can; but do try to see Naathvati Anathvat, by Shaoli Mitra. It is about Draupadi and addresses much of what you have so eloquently written about.

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    1. Thank you Roshni. I'll definitely pick up the book. Yes, Draupadi is a fascinating and complex character.

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  7. Amazingly empowering post !

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  8. Brilliant!
    I would rate this as your best blog post in the last year and a half that I have been reading your blog.
    Keep penning away

    Regards
    GV
    Camp: Fremont, California

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  9. Brilliantly written. It's so true...the more things seem to change, the more they remain the same....

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  10. I take our stories with a pinch of salt. I can never understand why Draupadi did not stop Kunti from asking her sons to share her or why Kunti never said Oops! and let it go. It cannot be that stupid.
    What makes me really angry is when people say that Draupadi started the war. Really?

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    1. Yes true. One - I wonder about our reference context - we do view those events with today's reference, so many things don't make sense. Secondly - I still strongly believe there's a lot of symbolism we're missing out because we read into the text literally.

      Yeah...Draupadi started the war, as did Sita apparently.

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  11. Beautiful! I liked your account better than "The Palace of Illusions" because there too, Draupadi is driven primarily by her feelings for a man (Karna). Your blog however looks at her as a human/woman first and then wife/daughter etc.

    Yes Draupadi started the war. Because her spineless husbands didn't have it in them to ask for what was rightfully theirs or at the very least stand up against injustice!

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    1. I must now really pick up Palace of illusions...am intrigued :)

      I think Draupadi or not, the war would have taken place (she was a catalyst though)...because the hatred ran far too deep.

      Thank you for stopping by Sushma :)

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    2. You must read Palace of Illusions. It is one of my most fav books. And I don't think her feelings for Karna makes Draupadi any less human/woman, only more so. .

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  12. Well written. However, I think it is just a story and should be treated like that and not as a lesson in moral science. I think literature reflects the culture of a certain period and may be when Mahabharata was written that was how women were treated in the society or may be it was just the figment of the imagination of the author. I think authors deserve some poetic license.

    As a kid i read a lot of Enid Blyton only to grow up and realize that some western countries consider her as sexiest. I personally believe that picking up characters from stories and judging them by the moral standards of the times that we live in is not fair.

    Having said that i get the idea behind your piece and agree that the essence is completely relevant.

    BTW i have visited your blog often and i really like the way you write. There are lot of people who write awesome blogs but somehow what you write always connects. In fact i have read some of your posts multiple times. Are you a professional writer or something?

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    1. Thank you for stopping by RP.

      It's hard to read the Mahabharata or the Ramayana with emotional detachment :) Perhaps I'm growing old (and not necessarily wise ;)) - but these texts are meant to be read over and over again - not for any lessons, but just to understand human behaviour and psychology. And that's what fascinates me - our virtues and vices have always been the same, irrespective of time, age or race.

      Yes, authors absolutely deserve poetic license - which is why I love to dissect their thought process.


      Thank you so much for your kind words about my writing; it means a lot to me. I'm TRYING to become a good writer. Will I eventually become a professional one...only time can tell :)

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  13. I am just wondering how it would've been if a woman wrote the Mahabharata. The work would've been completely different.

    My exposure to MB is only through DD of yore. This post enlightened me of the finer aspects that I missed during the TV shows. Your post will make a wonderful academic paper! Bravo.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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  14. draupadi's anguish just is so brilliantly penned by you. like u say we have not learned anything at all :(

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Priya.

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  15. Draupadi, unfortunate woman,was ill treated by both the Heroes and the Villains. Difference is in the justifications given. Krishna very handily gave her the justification for being shared by 5. However for her ill treatment by the Kauravas we have to believe that they did it because they were evil. Pretty good characterisation if the Mahabahrata were written today.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Vivek. What you say about Draupadi is true.

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  16. Such brilliance! I visited after quite sometime and here you are still drawing my complete attention and creating awe in me. I've never been able to find the reverence our society has for the Mahabharatha or Ramayana justified and to draw models from it is a very stupid thing to do. I agree when you say we shouldn't take literal meaning but read between the lines to know the true meaning of the story.

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    1. CTC! After such a long time :) Thank you for stopping.

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    1. It's a narrative, so please don't take every sentence literally. Having said that...Bholenathji is the gullible of the trinity isn't it? :) Spiritually, despite being raised a Vaishnavite, I think I connect more with Shiva!

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    1. yeah...have some final submissions going on. should be free in April :)

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    1. ha ha indeed it is. I just finished my submissions today. yipee! i'll spend a couple of days sleeping and reading trash. then I'll definitely, definitely post :) how sweet of you to plod me <3

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  20. Hehe, good to see some serious defence of Draupadi. I always get enraged when misogynists blame Draupadi for the "war to end all wars".

    Another thing which every other author tries to do when they write a book from Draupadi's POV is to show her in love with the man who called her a whore and incited Dusshasan to disrobe her, the man who literally ordered her "vastraharan". I just can't understand how Palace of Illusions and Yajnaseni can be called "feminist" in any sense?!

    To top it all, apparently even Krishna offered Draupadi as final bait to Karna during that talk of theirs where Karna's parentage is revealed.

    Draupadi definitely lives her to her name of Panchaali (also means puppet) in that scene.

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  21. Ah...one more book to read. Thanks for stopping by iconoclasstic.

    I think the minute an author takes a stance that 'I will present so and so from this angle...' a slice of the characterisation is lost. The angle dictates the characterisation. Draupadi, for ages, was just seen as this victim. From that perspective, bringing forth more of her internal workings - even being in love with Karna...at least gives her a depth. But yes, maybe we should strip off all labels, and look at all of them just as humans - terribly flawed, but real flesh and blood people.

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  22. Very interesting.. I dint know the whole draupadi tale in detail.. interesting piece.. but something i dislike strongly is connecting women with "modesty" and "honour" ..I loved the [part which spoke of krishna sends an endless saree!! tat thing makes me wonder y krishna doesnt cme n drape women n kids who r raped wid enldless sarees or blah blah.. bt again tat wont happen rite?? bcoz it is we grls inviting everything by our provocative dressing

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  23. Replies
    1. thank you Ravi. Welcome to Kaapizone :)

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  24. its great but......... I wanted to view it in hindi as I need this script for a competition so can u tell me that how can i do that?

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Prisha. I'm afraid this content is protected by copyright, and ethically speaking, you cannot translate it and use the text for your competition. But I do hope the post inspires you to come up with your own, original interpretation of Draupadi. All the best!

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  25. There have been many myths about Goddess Draupadi, many are mis-interpretations, base-less. She is considered a grama devetha and kula devatha for many people. 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. There are more details about Goddess and way to the shrine at:

    http://blog.thitherwards.com/draupadi/

    Draupadi Amman Thunai - May Her blessing be always on you all!!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, and for sharing these rich details.

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  26. Sheer brilliance and astounding truth.

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    1. Thank you, and welcome to Kaapizone, Vijayalakshmi :)

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