Status : Read from June 21 to July 05, 2015
Format : Paperback
My rating: /5
Author: Pratibha Ray
Summary (as in book cover): Strange as it may appear, Draupadi, the most accomplished heroine of the Mahabharata, happens to be the most suffering, sacrificing, and yet the most misunderstood character from the epic.
Though counted among the five supremely virtuous women, honoured as pancha sati in mythology, the name Draupadi still bears stigma and is often contemptuously uttered by people in society as the woman who brought about the greatest war of all times.
Pratibha Ray makes a determined effort for a balanced portrayal of the epic character and brings to the surface the broader and deeper aspects of Draupadi’s mind that lay submerged in the majestic sweep of the grand Mahabharata.
Review: This is re-telling of the epic Mahabharata from the view point of Draupadi, highlighting her sorrows, happiness, challenges and mental dilemma. If you have never read Mahabharata or watched the many serials on Mahabharata that comes on TV, you will probably not understand anything in this book. Mahabharata has huge cast of characters, which is not covered in this book, as this books focuses mainly on the female protagonist character Draupadi. The dialogues in the book are too dramatic and there is repetitive comparison of eyes and feet with blue lotus. But this could be compromised taking into consideration that this is from ancient epic and it’s a translation of the original written in Odiya. The descriptions of beauty, emotions, sorrow, war, death, confusions, courage are all beautiful. Mainly the elaborate picture put fort of the sorrow, dilemma, sacrifice and the hardships faced by a female for the welfare of family and dharma is appreciable.
Draupadi was not a biological daughter of king Drupad. But she was born from the sacrificial altar hence the name Yajnaseni. She was born to avenge Drona for her father’s insult and establish dharma. Though she fantasies about Krishan, but she is told that she will be married to Arjun, the finest of Aryavart, the third Pandav. But for that a svayamvar is arranged and Arjun will be the only one who will be able to meet and fulfil all the conditions of the svayamvar to win Draupadi’s hand for marriage. A svayamvar is not just winning a bride. It is also a display of the female beauty to the public gathered for svayamvar, like some object on exhibit.
Young and old, Brahmin and Kshatriya, men and women – everyone gazed stunned at my dark loveliness. With lowered eyes, slowly I advanced towards the prescribed spot. I was profoundly ashamed to be the target of so many lustful eyes.
How painful it was for a woman to have her beauty on display in an assembly hall. Strangely enough, scholars and priests were incapable of seeing this.
Though Arjun wins Draupadi in svayambar, but she had to accept all the five Pandavs as her husband because of one careless statement uttered by her mother-in-law (Kunti). To keep Kunti’s words and not to insult her Draupadi accepts the five brothers as her husband. Things to be noted here is Draupadi does not get a chance to select the person she wants to marry. She is left with no choice but to accept to become a wife to five brothers, even though she didn’t want this and loved only Arjun. This shows her sacrifice and submission to the morals of respecting the elder’s words blindly.
While all the five Pandavs are different and have different attitude towards her, Draupadi sacrifices everything to keep the unity of the Pandavs. She respects and admires Yudhishthir like God, as he is an unperturbed man. She fears Bhima for his aggressiveness in his demands. She has poetic love towards Arjun and motherly love towards Nakul and Sahadev. Though she had five husbands but she was lonely.
The woman who was mocked at every step for being loved by five husbands – how lonely she was, how friendless! Who would understand that?
Her life sails on with her responsibilities towards her husbands, her joys, sorrows and sacrifices. She bears the burden of staying away from her beloved husband Arjun for twelve years and to accept all the women (Ulupi, Chitrangada, Arya and Subhadra) Arjun marries during his celibacy period of twelve years.
The un-fateful day arrives of the dice game. Yudhishthir accepted Duryodhan’s invitation for the dice game. Addicted in the game of dice, in the hope of winning, he staked all his entire immovable and movable property, his slaves, brother and himself and lost all. Ultimately, he staked his wife Draupadi too and lost.
Here begins the most heinous act where Draupadi is dragged by her hair to the assembly hall, where the dice game was played, by Duhshasan as if she was a lifeless statue. In front of her were her five husbands, seated helpless and silent and watching the insult of their wife. Seated among the kings and princes where Dhritarastra (father-in-law), Bhisma (grandfather) and guru Drona and Kripacharya, but all dumb. Karna, Shakuni and Duryodhana were encouraging Duhshasan on his heinous and outrageous act of disrobing Draupadi in public.
Bhim flared up in anger and spoke ill about Yudhishthir for staking Draupadi in dice game. Then Arjun calmed Bhima saying:
Bhim! Have you lost your senses? Yudhisthir is the eldest. He is like our father. In a game, victory and defeat do occur. What is the use of blaming anyone for that?
These very words of Arjun pierced Draupadi’s heart.
Well! What respect for tradition and culture! So much respect! Elders must not be spoken ill of…Arjun is advising Bhim while petty persons are insulting and outraging his wife. He is bearing it all. Is this the evidence of the great Bharatan civilization and tradition? Is this the heritage of the Aryans?
Krishna, the dear sakha , saved Draupadi’s dignity in the court.
After losing in the dice game, the five brothers along with their wife had to go for exile in the forest for thirteen years with one year to live in disguise.
After the thirteen years of exile, the Kauravs refused to return the Pandavs their property which was rightfully theirs. The inevitable, Kurukshetra war began, slaying sons, friends and blood relations. Arjun killed his own elder brother Karan. All the five sons of Draupadi were killed in their sleep by Asvathama. The sacred battlefield turned into a crematorium. Lakhs of corpses, splits into parts were scattered in the battlefield.
After thirty six years of ruling the kingdom, the five brothers and their wife travel through the Himalayas, renouncing their world pleasures to reach the heaven. For all her attachment to life, Draupadi’s foot slips of the Mount Meru and she falls. Not once any of his husbands gives a second glance and proceeds ahead.
This book highlights the Hindu moral character, where elders are worshipped as God. And any directive by them is followed blindly. But I liked Karan’s view on this:
Lady! I acknowledge that your husband is brave. But I fail to understand what sort of man he is. If I were in Arjun’s place and Ma had ordered that the woman I had won in the svayamwar was to be shared by other brothers, I would have left that kingdom. I do not consider blindly obeying improper directives as the sign of manhood. This is the only difference between Arjun and me.
In the story Karan is projected as arrogant and egoist. But given the circumstances he was born and then discarded by Kunti for the fear of society, and every moment he was down casted for being a son of charioteer, that should be a common attitude of a man. He reminded true to his friendship and even after knowing that he will lose his life in battle he stood by his words. Draupadi has also at instances expressed her affections and respect towards Karan.
Draupadi is counted among the five supremely virtuous women including Ahalya, Tara, Mandodari and Satyavati, the Pancha Sati. But on the other side her name is often used to refer to a woman of easy virtue. Draupadi was the weapon for preserving dharma on this earth and destroying the wicked. Buy why it’s always a woman?
Should only woman be forced to be the medium for preserving the dharma and annihilating evil throughout the ages? Is it woman who is the cause of creation and destruction? Sita had to become the medium for destruction of Lanka and the establishment of Ram’s rule. For this, she had to discard all the joys of her life and become a forest-dweller. Then, Ravan’s lust imprisoned her in the Ashok forest, insulted her, tormented her. Finally, dharma was established on earth. The intension behind Lord Ram’s birth was fulfilled. But ultimately what did Sita get? The sentence of exile from Ram! Public test of chastity! The earth cracked open at the Calumny. To hide her sorrow, shame and insults Sita sank into Earth’s lap.
The last five things that Draupadi asks from her sakha Krishna are for the beautiful earth:
Whatever has happened in my life – let it not be repeated in the life of any other women. Lay down a rule that no woman will ever have several husbands at a time.
Do not let even the enemy grieve for his sons. There is no grief in the world grater than this.
The pain that I suffered in the court, let no other woman in the world ever have to go through this. Make women beautiful, but do not make men so lustful.
Because of race, religion, language and colour let no country split into parts like Hastina and Indraprasth.
I do not want to reach svarg in this body. If anyone reaches svarg in his own body, it will be Yudhishthir. For, despite being virtuous, he is cruel towards human beings. He is more than a man, he is god. Instead of undergoing the suffering of reaching svarg in one’s own body, the effort to turn one’s own motherland into a heaven will be preferable.