Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IT NEVER HAPPENED IN THE MAHABHARATA!


A long time ago there was an incident involving a royal lady in northern India who, after being lost at an imperial gambling challenge, was brutally shoved around by her hair in the assembly hall, and was ordered to be publicly stripped naked while bleeding on her period! That the damsel in distress then called out for the dark skinned God Almighty and that He came to her rescue with whirls of sari to shroud her modesty is all well known to have ensued as the part of this plot defining twist in the longest epic in the world, Mahabharata. This scandalous scene of the insult of Draupadi at the infamous game of dice, while her five helpless husbands and the rest of the world stared down at her, forms the crux of the events that shape the principle imagery of this colossal classic for anybody in the know of its complex storyline. Like the man once said, there’s not a thing in the world of storytelling that is not already covered in the Mahabharata. But despite all that robust substance including a ghastly episode of the 18-day long apocalyptic battle, the disrobing of Draupadi with Lord Krishna slipping never-ending mileage of sari from up in the air, is still the singular most iconic picture that the Sanskrit poem reminds one of.


Now what if one fine day you are told, it never happened in the actual text? That the insult of Draupadi stops right with the part where she’s dragged into court? That there was no stripping to begin with, least to mention furlongs of fabric speeding all over the place? That Lord Krishna was never present while the offense progressed, in the original version? Gasp!

This disillusioning piece of trivia was recently dropped on me by a book written by M.T. Vasudevan Nair called Randamoozham (meaning Second Turn), a retelling of Mahabharata through the point of view of Bhima, one of Draupadi’s five husbands. The work, in novel format, was bereft of all the magical elements of the Mahabharata I knew. There was a rational approach adopted towards even the most fantastical plot element of the epic. So when the wicked scene of Draupadi’s abuse cut short right before the sari-stunt and the rescue operation that followed, I took it merely as another of the author’s attempt to rationalize the happenings in the actual Sanskrit text. But later in the epilogue he clarifies his stand on a number of well-known scenes from the epic, including the disrobing act that was clipped in his version, as they were segments that were added at later stages. Apparently he was merely sticking to the original text!

That both Mahabharata and Ramayana were subjected to countless additions over time is an established fact. The so-called original text that later expanded into the present day Mahabharata was called Jaya (meaning victory), an 8,800 versed poem that was basically an ode to bravery and conquest. The philosophical interpretations and most of the subplots and secondary stories were future additions that inflated the text to its current 200,000-verse length. Now there is no denying the fact that these interpolations happened to the text over time, but if the central image of the epic- the disrobing scene- was one of them, proof is indispensable.

The controversial dice game and the subsequent stripping along with the divine intervention take place in the second book section of the epic called the Sabha-Parva. Even though the game itself begins in chapter 59 of this section, Draupadi is not dragged into the Dice Hall up until chapter 66, which is where the pitiful state she was in before being hauled into public view, including the bloodstain on her clothes, is stated in graphic detail. Then the drill as we know follows, where she’s dragged by her hair into the Hall, she implores to her husbands and the elders present there for help, Dhuryodhana and Karna throw volley of insults at her, she’s ordered to be undressed, she cries out for help in the name of Lord Krishna who appears and provide her ample cover with the said magical reel of sari and saves her from disgrace. This scene takes place in chapter 67. Holding that thought about it being a part of the annex, you wait till the remaining plays itself out. As a part of the deal, Draupadi with her five husbands are exiled for 13 years in the jungle, and upon their return, are refused the kingdom, which finally triggers the bloody battle of Kurukshetra. In the run of all these events that ensue, the humiliation at the Dice Hall is cited at various instances, but every time it comes up, there is only the “being-dragged-by the-hair” bit that’s emphasized and absolutely no mention of the disrobing or its paranormal culmination involving Lord Krishna. Not by Sanjaya who after the Pandavas’ exit to the jungle with their wife, recounts the events at the Dice Hall to the blind king Dhritarashtra, not by Draupadi herself when she narrates the same incident to Krishna in Vana-Parva, not by Bhima, not by Yudhishtira, not by Krishna, not by Dhusshasana, all of whom alludes to the disgrace at the Dice Hall on different occasions in the due course of the story, but without a word of the alleged disrobing. In brief, there is nowhere in the whole text that the disrobing is hinted except in those verses where it actually takes place. But these could be very sketchy clues to declare that the scene as a whole was rigged.

Steering right back to the details of the aforesaid crime scene, there is a mention of the bloodstain on the single piece of cloth that Draupadi wore on the day when she was dragged into court while she was menstruating. Then there is a mention of the same fact right after the scene when she leaves for the Jungle with her five husbands, when Vidhura describes to the blind Dhriarashtra, the details of their departure. Now it is to be noted here that the whole sari fiasco had already taken place in between these two references. If so, the original bloodstained piece of cloth she was dragged around in was already replaced by the ones that were lent to her by the marvel of the purple colored deity. While it is possible that the changed set of costume also got stained by the time they waved adieu, it is more likely that the disrobing scene never took place in the original text and that she was wearing the same piece of cloth all day strengthening the theory of interpolation. Furthermore, if one carefully studies the scene, focusing on the response and remarks of people right before and immediately after the incident, there is no sign of an unbelievable miracle that had taken place in the middle, in their words or behavior.

If you scrutinize the verses word by word, proving this point may not seem all that far fetched, but at the end of it all, does it really matter if the scene was actually a later addition? Whoever added it was an undeniable genius who clearly understood the extremities and scope of drama, and he sure could freeze the imaginings of the entire story to that one eccentric amendment. Besides, there are numerous other scenes and details that were added to the actual text over time and if we were to read the Mahabharata shaving away all these additions, it would paralyze the story that will no longer be the one we actually knew and admired, and it’s highly unlikely that the original text would have been as popular. This takes us to another of the ongoing arguments that the text as we know today is the final form of the original work as the established author of the book VedaVyasa is not one person, but a number of scribes who were responsible to take the story to completion in its present shape! There! More to ponder!

8 comments:

  1. I had read Randaamoozham during my school days. Then I didnt have the patience nor interest to compare it with the epic. I had just taken it as being the story told through the eyes of Bhima. Since any author has the liberty to tell his own version of a story I didnt think about it much.
    This is what happens to all Epics I guess. Some become degraded. But some survives the many translations and editions.
    Nice post Jithesh.

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  2. This is interesting..I've never looked at these epic stories so keenly but I'm curious now..Nice blog and posts..

    http://priyakitchenette.blogspot.in/

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  3. I didn't know of this version.
    Very well written comparison.

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  4. I must read Randamoozham. This article is an interesting read.

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  5. I have not read Randamoozham .. but I agree as I instinctively feel the Saree increasing incident as added dramatic element... to play chance on your wife ,lose her and to be fetched in the court to hear the unutterable is insulting enough for a Mahabharata....

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  6. It is obvious that the Pandavas were just idle busybodies and vagabonds who did not have an iota of right over the Kingdom of Hastinapura and Duryodhana, as the eldest son of Dhritarashtra was entitled to be the crown prince. The question of Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas who were not even the genetic children of Pandu, the younger brother of Dhritarashtra becoming the heir apparent simply did not arise, and Duryodhana as the eldest son of Dhritarashtra was fully entitled to the kingdom in its entirety. The fact that Dhritarashtra was blind was not at all a just reason either legally or morally to deny him the crown since the King reigns not on his own but on the advice of his Council of ministers and his generals and indeed when Pandu was away and Dhritarashtra was the de facto king, there was no dearth in his abilities as an able and efficient King. The stance of Duryodhana that he would not part with a needle point of his kingdom is absolutely justified and right. Duryodhana proved himself to be a righteous and virtuous ruler and an able king and administrator who was very much loved and admired by the subjects who held him in great esteem much to the consternation of the Pandavas and their common uncouth wife, Draupadi. If Krishna supported the Pandavas, it was obviously for totally extraneous reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with allegedly upholding righteousness or Dharma. At the end of the day, the deceit and treachery of the vile Pandavas will be exposed notwithstanding all the lies imputed on Duryodhana for all to see and the Indian people will see them in their own light for who they were and the stance of the noble and righteous Duryodhana, the greatest son of Bharata will be vindicated.

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  7. The history is always written by those who won, means it is completely in favour of them. We never know what exactly was the reason from the epics. For me Duryodhana and Ravana were the perfect leaders.

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  8. There have been many myths about Goddess Draupadi, many are mis-interpretations, base-less. She is considered to be the 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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