There is an episode in the
Mahabharata where readers come to feel that something is clearly amiss. The
occasion is when Dusshasana, after the victory of the Kauravas in the gambling match, insolently enters the women’s quarters in the
palace and drags Draupadi through its corridors as the horrified inmates look
Which palace was it? Was it as
near as Kaurava’s Hastina-puri where the gambling match took place or was it the Pandava’s palace at Indra-prastha
which was situated quite away from there?
To explain my quibble it is
necessary that I narrate some background story.
By the time the Pandavas were
finally beaten in the gambling match, they had lost everything they possessed. They not only
did stake themselves and lost; they also forfeited in the process their right
over their dear wife Draupadi. Now Duryodhana was the new master of
Draupadi and her five helpless husbands. And so he sent for her to be brought to the
gambling hall where all the respectable members of the Kuru clan and their well-wishers were present. Prominent among
them were Dronacharya and Kripacharya, the two celebrated teachers; Bhisma, the
grand old man of the royal family; Karna the friend of Duryodhana and the bête
noir of the Pandavas. There, the five Pandavas were ignominiously made to shed
their clothes reducing them into the five stark naked fellows on the street.
And then, on the orders of Duryodhan the victor, an attempt was made to disrobe Draupadi,
the queen of Indra-prastha. Had Krishna, the incarnation of lord Vishnu, not
given her a continuous stream of cloth Dusshasana would have succeeded in
outraging Draupadi’s modesty right in front of all the people present there. Thereafter,
the rest of the Mahabharata veers around the theme how the Pandavas took
revenge against the Kauravas, the perpetrators of such a dastardly crime, how victory in the war came at an unimaginable cost and so forth.
Here is my little quibble, based
on a simple assessment of the setting of that crucial juncture. Duryodhan, with
an elaborate plan to defeat the Pandavas with the help of his uncle Shakuni and
his loaded dice, had invited Yudhisthira to Hastina-puri court to gamble. And Yudhisthira and his brothers had responded to the invitation and reached the venue of the match, a place that was not adjacent but really away
from their own capital city of Indra-prasth. Oh yes, earlier the Pandavas, with the help of a Rakshasa architect
Maya, had laid out the beautiful city of Indra-prastha in their share of the kingdom by cutting the forest of
Khandava-prastha. The elegance of the city had stoked the fire of envy in
Duryodhan. According to the epic, the day the gambling match took place, Draupadi,
the common wife of the Pandavas was resting indoors at Indra-prastha palace as
she was in the midst of her period. This means, while the five Pandavas headed
for Hastina-puri, Draupadi was left behind in the palace of Indra-prastha. As
the narratives in the epic progresses, Dusshasana is seen entering the women’s
quarters of the palace and dragging Draupadi up to the gambling hall.
palace was that? Was it not the palace of Hastina-puri? Everything in the narratives points
to the fact that Draupadi was just near. Or else how could Dusshasana produce
her in the gambling hall before the victors so very instantly? So, arguably she was
in the palace of Hastina-puri and not in Indra-prastha. The availability of Draupadi just around the corner enabled Dusshasana
to quickly barge into the women’s area in the palace and maltreat Draupadi who was sitting
there with her hair unbound and dressed in a single piece of cloth that was
blood-stained. And he grabbed her by hair and dragged her through the corridors
of the palace. Had she been in Indra-prastha, Dusshasan would not have so
easily succeeded in abducting the queen of the palace. At least the guards of Indra-prastha would have resisted him. Moreover, had she been
taken from one palace to the other, Vyasa would have narrated the scene of
dragging in such a way that the road to her ignominy would have been vivid and
the readers would have been made to feel that she was actually being dragged the entire distance that separated the two capitals.
I’m sure even those days the writer of the epic knew that for effect it was necessary to show the story and not just tell it. In the other epic, when Ravana abducted Sita from
the forest of Panchavati to Lanka, has not Valmiki said it in so many words? The route was aeriel; and the means of transportation was Pushpaka Vimana, the ancient aeroplane. But such
clarity is not there in this particular episode of the Mahabharata. And it was so,
simply because Draupadi was not dragged through the streets from the palace of
Indra-prastha to the gambling hall of Hastina-puri; rather she was very much there in the women's quarters of Hastina-puri to be dragged up to that hall, both situated in the same building.
So in all reasonableness,
Draupadi was resting in the palace of Hastina-puri on the day of gambling.
But a question arises here: why
did she at all go to Hastina-puri, the capital of the Kauravas? What business did she
have to go there when she was in the midst of her period? Was not she staying
inside wearing a single blood-smeared cloth and with her hair let loose? And the bigger question is, did she willingly go there knowing well that it was a gambling match? Did
she go there as the cheerleader of her team of five? And was she not doing
something that would shatter her family so pathetically?
A N Nanda