The dice is rolled and the warring, jealous extended families – the Pandavs and the Kauravs gamble it out to settle their personal scores. Kingdoms, valuables, and even brothers and wives are put at stake in the epic gamble. This week and the following week’s episodes of Mahabharata are perhaps the most crucial of all – they outline the factors that lead up to the epic battle of Mahabharata (available on STAR PLUS, Youtube and other independent websites).
It must be remembered that the story of Mahabharata was authored by the great sage Ved Vyas, and the sequence of events are subject to his interpretations. However, Mahabharata depicts events that rattle our sense of propriety to this date. An event that changed the course of ancient Indian history was Draupadi’s public molestation and attempted rape.
Draupadi, was a revered Indian princess of the Panchal kingdom, who married five Pandav brothers of the Indraprastha kingdom. Her motivations behind marrying the brothers is subject to debate. Earlier interpretations of Mahabharata portray Draupadi as a brilliant, sexually liberated and ambitious woman. She embraced the implications of being the queen to five adept warriors and the strongest kingdom of that time – Indraprastha. Later versions of Mahabharata portray Draupadi as a family oriented woman who honored the decision of her mother-in-law – to be the queen to five brothers to keep the family peacefully together. Though her decision was widely speculated, it was honored by the wider Kshatriya (warrior) community.
It is said that Draupadi was so beautiful, sexually desirable, politically savvy and ambitious that she invoked a sense of insecurity in patriarchal men such as the Kaurav prince – Duryodhan. Both Duryodhan and his friend Karan were rejected as suitors by Draupadi, as she went on to select Arjun as her wedded husband (eventually, she went on to take all 4 of Arjun’s brothers as husbands).
In addition, she was unafraid to speak her mind during the proceedings of the royal court where she presided as the queen. For example, Duryodhan and his 100 Kaurav brothers were invited to Indraprastha for a royal gathering. Here Duryodhan and his brothers insulted the Pandavs in an open courthouse. Mahabharata on Star Plus shows the ministers of the court suggested Duryodhan be reprimanded. This this Draupadi suggested his weapons be confiscated rather than physically punishing him. As Duryodhan is stripped off his weapons and leaves the Indraprastha courthouse in a huff, he falls in a pool of water. The entire courthouse laughs at him and Duryodhan hears someone uttering “a blind man’s son is blind” (an insulting reference to Duryodhan’s blind father – Dhritarashtra). It is debatable whether Draupadi uttered this – for example, the current version of Mahabharata shows Draupadi’s maid standing behind Draupadi saying so; the furious Duryodhan erroneously assumes these were Draupadi’s words.
Instead of understanding Draupadi’s effort to reduce the humiliation Duryodhan is facing, Duryodhan is ill-advised by this maternal uncle to seek revenge on Draupadi – who has crossed her limits by challenging Duryodhan in the royal court. Duryodhan states that stripping a warrior of his weapons is equivalent to stripping a woman off her clothes. This is the critical juncture that escalates jealously and hatred Duryodhan feels towards his cousins – Pandavs and their wife, into an all out war about morality.
The question arises whether characters in the Mahabharata justify rape as appropriate revenge for a woman who dared to wrong a warrior. In addition, did the lifestyle choices Draupadi made also make her the target of misogynistic sentiments? Most importantly, does Mahabharata inadvertently justify Draupadi’s attempted rape because – she was an ambitious queen who was treated honorably by her five husbands, she set new standards for a liberated woman by marrying five men, she asserted her intelligence by actively participating in the royal courthouse, and she confronted insolent men regardless of their political stature?
My personal inference is NO, but I do believe that Mahabharata is open to interpretation by everyone based on their personal value system. For example, those who value the conservative definitions of marriage and women’s social roles frown upon Draupadi’s characterization as an ambitious queen who asserted herself throughout the story. Other’s pride Draupadi’s characterization as liberated and politically savvy woman – who tried her best to balance her political desires to be a powerful queen and personal desires to keep the entire Pandav clan together. I for one, agree with the latter – Draupadi is the ultimate portrayal of a motivated and progressive woman – reminding us of powerful queens like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Elizabeth and others.
Watching and re-watching this historic chain of events leading to Duroydhan’s downfall, reminds us of two important failings of the human mind:
- Attachment to ego – Duryodhan is a prime example of a man disillusioned by his ego. He always felt wronged by his more successful cousins; he only listened to those who fed his ego; and he reacted immediately instead of evaluating events with a calm mind. Duryodhan was a man who rarely introspected, in fact he confused his egotistical jealously for ambition and honor.
- Blaming others during time of distress – As humans, we all have the tendency to blame our circumstances or people around us for negative outcomes in our lives. For example, had Duryodhan been mindful, he possibly would not have fallen in the pool of water, and possibly would have not blamed Draupadi for his apparent insult.
In retrospect, it is easy to see Duroydhan’s egotistical fallacy. He lost the plot early on, he lost his empire and finally his life – primarily because of his illusions about self.