Monday, April 26, 2010
Draupadi, the undaunted spirit!
I don't think I've given so much thought to The Mahabharata after I outgrew the fascination for Nitish Bharadwaj who played Lord Krishna in that tele-serial.
I always liked The Ramayana though. Or at least as a child when I heard the stories of Rama, it was always with an admiration that I looked up to the prince-God who was such an obedient son, an ideal husband and a very nice brother. I even remember an ad (was it a contraceptive ad, I can't recollect) where the to-be-bride is blessed by elderly women to have a husband who is like Ram, who has a brother like Lakshman and mother like Kaushalya (with lyrics something to this effect Jiske ho Lakshman se bhai jiski Kaushalya si mai...)
But now, almost a couple of decades later, I started looking at The Mahabharata in a different perspective. For no specific rhyme or reason! And the first thing that caught my attention is the etching of the female characters, the prominent ones especially.
A hint at the idea of equality - however subtle it might be - is another concept that I couldn't miss in my not-so-thorough examination. Not once did I feel that the character of Draupadi was treated any different from the character of Krishna. I almost felt like the author said it in so many words that if Krishna can have more than one wives, so can Draupadi. Now that's what I call equality.
Of course, the subtlety or the cover-up is more for the sake of unwilling, grudging, unapproving readers who're rather averse and intolerant towards the idea of a woman having more than one husband. So, I don't think we can blame the author for blaming it on the mother-in-law (but of course!!!) who asks her sons to divide whatever they got equally among themselves. But still, at one level, the Maharshi has to give up the pretense and try to show Draupadi in a good light, and prove her to be as much a pativrata as Gandhari (who chooses to remain blindfolded for the sake of her blind husband). Especially in the episode with Keechaka in the Virata Parva.
At one point, I even wondered if Gandhari would have been better off not being blindfolded so she could give her husband good advice and guide him in the right direction instead of the routine "following in husband-God's footsteps". But I'm not questioning Gandhari's convictions here. It's Draupadi that I sympathize with more (and often pity too). To me, the biggest condemnation of her character stems from the fact that no so-called 'sane' couple would name their daughter Draupadi or Panchali. Beats me totally!
I strongly believe that despite some story about Draupadi's previous birth justifying her marriage to five men, her character had never been properly understood or absolved. Supposedly, Draupadi in her previous birth wishes to marry Lord Shiva but ends up committing suicide as Shiva says her wish cannot be fulfilled in this birth. But in her desperation to get her wish granted, she asks for 'pati pati pati pati pati' five times in a row when God, overjoyed with her severe penance, appears in front of her. Her boon is granted, but she'd have to be re-born as Draupadi. I don't remember where and when I read the story but I found it utterly ridiculous when I realized, with shock, the attempt to attribute chastity to a woman with five husbands!
I partly understand Draupadi's plight, her sense of justice, convictions, confusion, struggle. I admire her fight to prove herself in a male-dominated world... and also sympathize with her character totally but...
BUT... call it double standards or whatever, I don't think even I'd dare to think of naming my daughter after her, or rechristen myself Draupadi!! Sorry Mrs Panchali but I can do only so much as writing a blog post about you, and pay you a literal literary tribute, BUT nothing more! Thank you very much!
This post is dedicated to the undaunted and indefatigable spirit of Draupadi aka Panchali who has endured more s*%# than Sita aka Janaki, the pativrata ...