A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Draupadi and Polyandry

Yesterday we read about the cause of Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavs. The main cause of it seemed to be a casual remark by Kunti. Let us understand this in slight detail.
Pandavas with Draupadi Deogarh, Dasavatar temple

After Arjun won Draupadi in the swayamvar, the Pandavs returned to their hut with Draupadi (the Pandavs and Kunti were in disguise and hiding after the Lakshagraha episode). When they arrived, Kunti was doing something and had her back towards them. On arriving one of them is supposed to have said, “Look mother what we have got” (which should have been, ‘who’ and not ‘what’, but let’s overlook this rather convenient slip-of-tongue). Without turning, Kunti is supposed to have said, “Please share it amongst the five of you” and the rest is history, of epic proportions! 

Was this such an innocent statement made by Kunti? Didn’t she not know that the Pandavs had gone to Panchal to attend the swayamvar of the princess of Panchal, Draupadi? Panchal and Drupad were known to the Pandavs very well from the past events, so statement “Look….” couldn’t have been a shareable object. Also the Pandavs were not children that everything needed to be shared! So was this a deliberate act?

Draupadi was born out of the flames of a yagna, and thus also called ‘Yagnaseni’. She was dark (Krishnee) and beautiful. She was fiery and strong. Some versions say that the jealousy towards Arjun by the other brothers was visible to the mother and this could have been the only way to keep them bound. Kunti was the glue that bound the bothers, but she also knew that beyond a point (and age), she would be ineffective. Besides youth needed something else to bind!

On realizing what she had done, she could have undone the same, but by then Yudhishtir had announced that Kunti’s words were sacrosanct and all five of them would marry Draupadi! When Drupad and Dhrishtidyumna raised objections, Yudhishtir is supposed to have given some examples of polyandry in knowledge then.

Yudhishtir gives the examples of Jatila who was supposed to have married seven sages. Then the example of Marisha marrying the Prachetas was cited. Further, the marriage of the Maruts with Rodasi was cited. But these were all divine and not mortals, said Drupad. It was then that Sage Vyasya was brought in to ‘support’ Yudhishtir’s opinion.
Vyasa telling the the tale to Drupad

The idea of polyandry was pushed through even when it was not a norm and this we see later when Draupadi was referred to as a prostitute by many and in public. So was this decision of marrying Draupadi to the five brothers a ploy by Kunti to ensure that the five brothers remain together in times of trials? Was she aware of the weaknesses of her sons and how much they needed a feminine force to keep them united, the way she was doing till then? 

If the idea of polyandry was out of place, then why was it not objected to by Draupadi’s father and brother? Draupadi was born out of fire which was conducted to beget Drupad a son who could kill his enemy Dronacharya. Along with a son, Drupad got a daughter too, so she was a bonus. These were not natural born children, but children who were ‘created’ for a cause, modern day robots, if I may add! Drupad was more concerned about his son achieving his objective and possibly Draupadi getting married to the heirs of Hastinapur could just be an added advantage or immaterial. Who knows?

In short, except Draupadi, it was a win-win for all. Kunti was happy, the Pandavs were ecstatic and the father and brother couldn’t care much. And Draupadi? Well she was born out of fire and lived a life of hell! She had five husbands but none were hers. All husbands had exclusive wives separately, but she didn’t have a single husband of her own. As Saonli Mitra, the eminent Bengali theater actress calls Draupadi in one of her plays – nathboti anathbot – the one with husbands, but yet unprotected. 

Polyandry has been effectively used in this epic. Nalayani (Draupadi in her previous birth) learns about Shiva granting her a boon of five husbands in her next life, wonders if she would not be seen as a fallen woman. An elaborate conversation takes place where Nalayani explains that as per the norms a man can have many wives, but a woman only one. She can take another husband to beget children after her first husband has consented to it (niyoga). If she takes a third husband, then she has to atone for the same as per the societal norms. A fourth husband would imply that she is a fallen woman and a fifth meant she was a prostitute. Shiva is supposed to have said, that in the days of yore, this was not unheard of and that it was boon from him, and so no sin would be levied on her. Satisfied, Nalayani goes her way to her next birth and endures her status of being nathboti anathbot.  

Polyandry was not in vogue during the times of Mahabharata and thus some sharp reactions from many of the characters of the epic itself. However, it is said that this was a practice in some tribal areas of the Himalayan range, which too had given up the practice around the same time. Yudhishtir is supposed to have referred to the clan of Northern-Kurus who followed the practice of polyandry, where they had grown up as children before they came to Hastinapur.

Well for good or for bad, for right or for wrong, for duty to ones mother or for giving vent to ones lust – call it what you will, polyandry was not widely accepted, and only Draupadi paid a price for it, none else did and the question remains – Just why did Draupadi have to suffer polyandry?

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