Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Pain, fortitude and Sacrifice in Tagore’s ‘Karna-Kunti Samvad’

Pain, fortitude and Sacrifice in Tagore’s ‘Karna-Kunti Samvad
Abstract- Indian Epic, the Mahabharata is a collection of fascinating stories and episodes. It has been inspiring creative writings in many languages for centuries and Tagore’s pen also did not remain untouched.
 Karna’s life in the epic had fascinated many. Kunti’s attempt of wooing Karna to change his side from the Kaurvavas to the Pandavas just on the threshold of the war is one of the dramatic episodes in the epic. This episode is recreated by Tagore in his poem ‘Karna-Kunti Samvad’ (A dialogue between Karna and Kunti). The poem is translated from Bengali to English by Ketaki Kushari Dyson.
This paper will highlight the pain, fortitude and sacrifice of Karna as depicted in the poem. Kunti offered him a respectable royal position as the eldest Pandavas in addition to her affection as mother. But Karna rejected all and struck to his notion of Dharma.
Karna was aware that it is the Pandavas who will win the war, but he opted to fight along with the looser. He struggled throughout his life for the glory and status. When everything was offered to him, it came in conflict with his notion of Dharma. Instead of changing sides and living a comfortable life, he opted to meet his doomed destiny with fortitude and courage. But probably his sacrifice had earned him far greater fame in addition to the satisfaction of living life on his own terms.  
Key words- Episode, Dramatic, Sacrifice, Dharma, Temptations.
The poem opens with a monologue of Karna, which appears like a self-introduction. He says,
“On the sacred Janhavi’s shore I say my prayers to the evening sun. Karna is my name, son of Adhirath, the charioteer, and Radha is my mother”
Through this introductory sentence, the poet seems to be highlighting the different aspects of Karna’s personality. The first sentence itself emphasizes on Karna’s Nobel, spiritual, divine aspects. He says I am praying on the sacred Janhavi’s shore. River Ganga, close to its source, when it descends from the Himalayas is called Janhavi. As the youth is impetuous and fast, the river Janhavi is also fast, slim and turbulent when it descends from the Himalayas. Immediately after this monologue Kunti comes. Tagore seems to be drawing a parallel between the youthful, impetuous and turbulent Janahavi on the one hand and impetuous young Kunti on the other hand, as she was when she gave birth to Karna and abandoned him.
After this in the next sentences Karna says that he is a son of Adhiratha, the charioteer and Radha. Immediately after this he addresses Kunti. This is a deliberate poetic technique to bring out a contrast, between his belief that he is the son of a common charioteer and reality of his noble birth.
When he sees a lady, he asks who she is. Kunti says that it was she who had introduced him to this wide world and today she came to him casting away all embracement.
Karna feels strangely pulled towards the lady and says that the light of her lowered eyes melts his heart as the sun rays melt mountain snow. Her voice feels like a voice from a previous birth and stirs strange pain. He asks how his birth is linked to her. Here Kunti like a doting mother says,
“..Be patient child…..let the sun god first slide to his rest and let evening’s darkness thicken around us”
Kunti’s statement to allow Sun-God to slide to rest before she divulges her secret is like as if she is afraid to speak about the secret when sun is still there lingering on the horizon. Because it was the Sun god who was also a party to her secret pre-marital forbidden adventure!
She now revels that she is Kunti. Karna exclaims,
“You are Kunti! The mother of Arjuna!”
Kunti says yes, she is the mother of Arjuna, But Karna should not hate her for that. Then she recollects the day of tournament. She says when Karna entered in the arena shining like a sun and she felt tortured. She gave him blessings with her eyes only. She says her bosom burst like a fire when Karna was insulted and was asked his father’s name. Kunti also praises Duryodhana for coming forward and crowning Karna as a king of Anga.
Karna now asks why she came there, in the field of battle! She says she came to beg a favor from him and he should not turn her away. Karna had a reputation of being a great donor, a “data”. He asks what she desires. And Kunti say she came to take him away. When Karna asks where will she take him? She says to her thirsty bosom and to her maternal lap. In spite of this Tagore’s Karna do not understand. He says that she is a lucky woman blessed with five sons and he is just a petty princeling, without pedigree and where she would find room for him? Kunti says that she will put him right at the top. Above all her sons as he is the eldest. Here Karna’s nobility began to surface. He says,
“By what right would I enter that sanctum?”
He further adds that the Pandavas are already cheated of empire and how he could take away the portion of mother’s love. A mother’s love is a divine gift. It cannot be gambled away, nor be defeated by force. Kunti says that it was by divine right that he came to her lap and by the same right he should return again to take place amongst his brothers.
Karna touched by the appeal of Kunti tells her that she had whisked him off to some enchanted world, some forgotten home; her words have touched his heart. He feels that obscurity of mother’s womb is encircling him today. He says that indeed he had heard that he had been abandoned by his natural mother and often he had dreamed about his natural mother. In the dream he saw slowly, softly his mother had come to see him. He beseeched her to remove her veil and let him see her face and at once the figure vanished tearing apart his dreams. That very dream has come today in the guise of the Pandava’s mother, on the battlefield on the bank of Bhagirathi.
Now with revocation of this dream, the dilemma also surfaces. He says tomorrow morning a great battle will begin, the horses stamps their hooves in anticipation of the battle and why tonight he had to hear his own mother’s voice from the throat of Arjuna’s mother. His name rings in her mouth with such exquisite music that suddenly his heart rushes towards the five Pandavas, calling them brothers.
Now as Karna accepts that his heart is rushing towards his brothers and mother. Kunti says assertively,
“Then come on, son, come along with me”
And Karna responds like a small child who is dependent on his mother,
“Yes mother, I will go with you. I won’t ask questions……
Without a doubt, without a worry, I’ll go.
Lady you are my mother! And your call has awakened my soul….no longer can I hear the drums of battle……”
He further adds that victory and defeat, hero’s fate and violence of war all seems false now. He says,
“Take me. Where should I go?”
Kunti tells her that he should come with her on the other bank to the Pandava’s camp.
Karna responds that there a motherless son shall find his mother forever. He seems to be craving more and more for mother’s love, which he had suddenly found. He says,
“One more time say I am your son”
Kunti calls him again “My son”
Here now the resentment that Karna had for his natural mother for discarding him begins to surface. He now asks her,
“Then why did you discard me so ingloriously?”
He says he had no family honour, no mother’s eyes to watch him. She abandoned him to the mercy of this blind, unknown world? He now throws volley of questions at her. Like why did she allow him to flow on the current of contempt? Banishing him for his brothers? He says that she had put a distance between Arjuna and him and since childhood a subtle invisible bond of bitter enmity pulls them to each other. Kunti feels obviously embarrassed at his questions. Karna rescues her by saying that she may choose not to answer his question. But she should tell him why she came to take him back again. But Kunti responds to Karna’s questions. Seeking redemption for her grave sin of discarding an infant! She says,
“Child, let your reprimands, like a hundred thunderclaps rend this heart of mine into a hundred pieces”
She says that as she had casted him aside, it is a curse that hounds her. Her heart is childless even with five dear sons. She had committed a hundred crimes by discarding him, who had not even uttered a word and now she asks him to forgive her and let that forgiveness burn fiercer than any rebukes within her breast. Forgiveness burning fiercer than rebukes is a very noble thought and highlights the tenderness of relation between mother and son. She further says that his burning forgiveness will reduce her sins to ashes and make her pure.
Karna is melted by reaction. He says,
“O mother, give-give me the dust of your feet and take my tears!”
Kunti now reveals the purpose for which she came to him. She says, she did not come simply to clutch him to her breast, but to take him back where he by right belongs. She says that he is not a charioteer’s son, but of royal birth and he should cast aside the insults that have been his lot and came where his brothers are.
But now Karna seems to be recovering from the emotional frenzy that had seized him. Addressing Kunti as mother, he says he is a charioteer’s son and Radha is his mother. That is most glorious identity. He does not have any other identity glorious than this. He says,
“Let the Pandavas be Pandavas, the Kauravas, Kauravas- I envy nobody”
With initial emotional fever cooling down, Kunti now appears more balanced. She says to Karna that with the strength of his arms he should recover the kingdom that is his own. She now presents a very ideal picture of family felicity and brotherhood. She says as Karna is the eldest, he will be the king and sit on the jeweled throne. Judisthir will cool him by white fan, Bhim will hold umbrella for him and Arjun will drive his chariot.
But Karna refuses to get carried away. He tells Kunti rather sarcastically,
“To one who’s just refused the maternal bond are you offering, mother assurance of a kingdom?”
He now reproaches her and says,
“The riches from which you once disinherited me cannot be returned- it’s beyond your powers”
He accuses her of tearing him away from mother, brothers and royal family all at one go.
But now if he discards his foster mother and accepts his royal mother, it will be a cheating. He says fie on him, if he snaps the tie that binds him to the lord of the Kuru clan, and lust after a royal throne.
Kunti though failed in her mission, appreciates his heroism. She now enters into a monologue and says that how stern the justice of Dharma is. She says that how a tiny, helpless child, who was forsaken by her, had got hero’s powers and returned to hurl weapons at his brothers. What kind of curse it is!
Karna now reassures her, and tells her not to be afraid. He predicts that it is the Pandavas who will win. He says that on the panel of the night’s gloom, he can clearly read before his eyes the divine results of war. He implores her not to ask him to abandon the side that is going to lose,
“Let Pandu’s children win, and become kings, let me stay with the losers, those whose hopes will be dashed”
His utterance acquires an emotional overtone. He says,
“The night of my birth you left me upon the earth;
Nameless, homeless. In the same way today be ruthless, mother and just abandon me”
He asks her to leave him to his defeat; infamous and lusterless. He only asks for the blessings that greed for victory, fame or kingdom never deflect him from hero’s path and salvation.
Karna as a tragic hero had fascinated the mind of people for centuries. He struggled for glory throughout his life. He rejected the offer of becoming the eldest of the Pandavas and becoming an emperor but embraced the death. The death which was more glorious than living the stigmatized life of being disloyal! In the war that comes immediately after this, Karna fights valiantly. But he fights with the awareness that he is fighting against his own younger brothers and the Pandavas fights against him perceiving him as their enemy.
Throughout the narration of the epic, it seems that Karna’s destiny is doomed in spite of his heroism. He is abandoned at birth, cursed by his preceptor Parshurama and the Brahmin, whose cow was accidently killed by him. Indra, the divine father of Arjuna also takes away his natural armor. Krishna and Kunti reduces the sting of his strike by reveling that he is attacking his brothers. Karna was indebted to Duryodhana and finally opted to make a supreme sacrifice for him. 
1.      The poem (English translation) is available on www.parabaas.com/translation/database/translation/poems/RT_karnakunti.html.


Dronacharya, the Failed Teacher of the Mahabharata

Abstract- Indian epic, the Mahabharata looks at the life from different perspectives. Grown over a long period of time through the process of interpolation and extrapolation (roughly from 400 B.C. to 400 A.D.) the epic has become a timeless text. Human nature is too complex to be compartmentalized as good and bad.  The canvas of life cannot be painted as entirely black and white. There are many grey sheds in the human personality which the epic tries to portray very effectively through personification. Dronacharya, the Guru of the Kuru princes is such a complex character. Disciple of Parshurama, he was an expert in handling the weapon. Though born as a Brahmin, he carries an attributes of the Kshatriyas. He could not forget that he was insulted by Draupada. Using his students as a tool he settles his personal score and humiliates Draupada. Thus perpetuates the violence. By showing undue favoritism to the Pandavas, he intensifies the jealousy between the cousins Kauravas and the Pandavas. To fulfill his promise made to Arjuna of making him to be the greatest archer, he demands the right thumb of Eklavya. Through the character of Dronacharaya, probably the epic tries to give a message that ‘What teacher should not be?’ Kaurava princess growing up to be haughty and uncompromising also indicative that he had failed to inculcate good human values in them and remove the negativity from their mind.  This paper is an analysis of Dronacharya’s personality in the epic.

Key words- Anger, Forgiveness, Pride, Revenge. 

Introduction- The Mahabharata tries to capture the eternal drama of human life very effectively. ‘Bhagavad Gita’ Ch. IX tries to explain this complicities and intricacies of human nature as an interplay of three ‘Gunas’ (qualities) i.e. ‘Sattavik’ (Good), ‘Rajasik’ (Passion) and ‘Tamasik’ (Dullness). All these ‘Gunas’ are present in everybody in different combinations. At a particular time one of the ‘Guna’ predominates and under its influence we think and behave.  
    ‘Sattavik’, said to bring happiness and knowledge. ‘Rajas’ brings craving and attachment and the ‘Tamasik’ creates dullness and inertia. As these ‘Gunas’ are present in us in different combinations, we find that the characters in the Mahabharata behaves differently at different times under their influence. An extremely good person like Yudhishthira comes under the influence of ‘Rajasik’ and ‘Tamasik’ and indulges in gambling in spite of the warning and looses everything including his wife.   
   This paper is an attempt to study this play of ‘Sattava’, ‘Raja’ and ‘Tama’ in the character of Dronacharya in the ‘Mahabharata’ and how the influence of the different ‘Gunas’ leads to the transgressions of the ‘Dharma’ i.e. righteous duty.                                      
Early Life-   Dronacharya was born ‘ayonisambhava’ i.e. without mother to sage Bharadwaja. Sage Bharadwaja saw Apsara Ghrtaci when her skirt was blown away by a sudden breeze. His seed i.e. semen burst forth which he held in the Drona (trough) and through which the child was born and named as ‘Drona’. (Buitenen 1973: 267)
Probably he was born from the union of the sage and some forest dwelling woman, who was extrapolated from the pages of the epic to protect the honor of the sage Bharadwaja and also to bring respectability to Dronacharaya.
Very soon Drona learned the scriptures and art of warfare. Draupada, the son of king of Panchala was always used to come to the hermitage of sage Bharadwaja to study Vedas with Drona. As children they were very fond of each other and Draupada promised that once he becomes the king, the kingdom will be of Drona’s to enjoy. ((Buitenen 1973: 269)
Later after his father’s death Draupada became the king. Drona also got married to Kripi, who was also born without mother like him. They had son Asvatthaman.
It was probably after the birth of his son that Drona felt the need of wealth and when he heard that Rama Jamadagnya i.e. Parshurama is giving away all his wealth to Brahmins, he went to him. But before he could reach, Parshurama had given away all his wealth and he gives all his arrows and swords to Drona with all the secrets concerning their use. (Buitenen 1973: 268) 
Though Drona acquired divine weapons, his need of wealth was not satisfied. With hope he goes to his old friend Draupada, who is a king now and asks him if he recognizes him. Intoxicated with power and wealth the king insults him. Making mockery of his poverty, he rudely says,
“I was friends with you, ……because it served my purpose” (ibid)
Insulted, Drona goes to Hastinpur. Impressed by his skill, Bhishma appoints him as a teacher to the Kauravas and the Pandavas. (Buitenen 1973: 269)
 The Downfall- Drona’s downfall started, when he allowed the desire of material comfort for his son to spring in his heart. He himself lived a life of poverty for a long time without compromising his self respect and dignity. But he could not digest that his son Ashwatthama is not getting basic comfort.  It is a weakness of a man who loves his family that he may put up with a life of suffering and deprivation but it is difficult to see your loved ones suffering. May be because of this that many religious philosophies advocates the life of celibacy and renunciation? Wife, husband and children strengthen our bond with the world and make the spiritual progress difficult. Out of this bounds which is called ‘Maya’ i.e. illusion, man commits many sins. It is difficult to break free from this. Janeshwara, the 13th century Maharashtrian saint says,
                         “Je Vajrapasoni kathin, durdhar ati darun,
                           tayahuni asadharan he snehnaval”  (‘Jnaneshwari’ 1.99)      
 [Arjuna says, “My heart is as strong and hard as the ‘Vajra’( the weapon of Indra), but these bounds of attachments are stronger than that]
     Out of these bounds of attachments, Drona desired comfort for his son even at the cost of compromising his self respect and dignity. He went to the Panchala king Drupada with the hope of material gains. His hope was not fulfilled and he was badly insulted. His attachment to his son generated the desire for prosperity in his mind. But when this desire was not fulfilled and he was insulted, he became angry and revengeful. Bhagavad Gita says,
                         “Kamat Krodho bhijayate
                           Krodhad bhavati sammoh
                           Sammohat smritivibhramah
                         Smritibhramasad buddhinaso” (2. 62-63)
        (Anger is inherent in the desire. From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence)  
    Due to the anger, Drona lost the memory of the true nature of a ‘Brahmin’. He was burning with the desire of revenge. The desire of revenge is unsuitable for a ‘Brahmin’ . ‘Bhagavad Gita’ says,
                          “Samo damas tapas saucam
                            Ksantir arjavam eva ca
                            Jnanam vijnanam astikyam
                           Brahmakarma svabhavajam” (18.42)
(Serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, forbearance and uprightness, wisdom, knowledge and faith in religion, these are the duties of the Brahmin, born of his nature)
Drona did not display these qualities expected from a Brahmin.
However, the most repulsive act of Dronacharya was the demand of the thumb of Eklavya. (Buitenen 1973: 282). The episode is indicative of the dislike and contempt that the Aryans had for the native aborigines. The Kshatriya Arjuna and his Brahmin master could not tolerate that one aborigine should be able to challenge the position of superiority of Arjuna in archery.
Drona was bent upon making use of Arjuna to take revenge on Draupada and in return he promised to make Arjuna the best archer. It was an alliance of convenience and Drona did not hesitate to sacrifice the innocent and devoted Nishada and make Arjuna’s future secure.
The revenge- The desire of burning revenge in the heart of Drona had brought many evils in future. He accepted service in the royal court of Kaurava and became indebted to them. Here he lost his independence. A teacher who is directly obliged to the guardians of the pupils allows his spirit and soul to be corrupted. The Rishis who stayed in their own ‘Ashramas’ had freedom to select their own pupils depending on their qualities. Out of the obligations to Bhishma, who appointed him as teacher, he was forced to give knowledge and training to the evil minded sons of Dritrashtra and also to fight the war on their side although he knew that, this is a side of ‘Adharma’.
      As a teacher he had failed on many occasions. He failed to put a check on the ‘Rajoguna’ and ‘Tamoguna’ of the children of Dritrashtra.  How can he put a check on them when he had no control over his own ‘Rajoguna’? Now, even though he was leaving in comfort under the patronage of the Kurus, he did not forgive king Draupada. He was only waiting for the right time. Here, we see that the desire of revenge arising out of the ‘Rajoguna’ overpowered the ‘Satvaguna’ of a learned Brahmin. At the end of the completion of the training, he asked his pupils to defeat Drupada. He also accompanies them when they attack Panchala. The king Drupada was defeated and brought before Drona. (Buitenen 1973: 282)
When Draupada was brought before Drona with his pride broken and treasure looted, Drona seems to paying him back with interest. His spirit of revenge is obvious as he says,
“I laid waste your kingdom with vehemence, and now I have laid waste your city. And now that you are alive but in your enemy’s power, an old friend, who needs him?” (ibid)
He laughs aloud and says mockingly that Brahmins are not vindictive. Patronizingly he gives back half of the kingdom of Panchala to him and asks him now if he recognizes his friend as he is also a king now. (ibid)
 Drona sending his pupils to take revenge on his behalf also indicates his cunningness. Probably he did not wanted to come forward and risk his reputation. Drona returned Drupada’s half kingdom but kept half to himself. This was one more transgression of the ‘Dharma’ of a Brahmin teacher. To rule a kingdom was a duty of a Kshatriya and as a Brahmin teacher, Drona should have remained engaged in the pursuit of knowledge. But here Drona was trying to do both the things at the same time. He continued to be the teacher of the Kaurava and the Pandava and at the same time did not leave his share of the Panchala kingdom. He gave southern part of Panchala to king Drupada and kept northern part to himself, thus creating the source of constant irritation to Drupada. The neighboring kingdoms ruled over by those who had insulted each other created further conflict. The text describes the mind set of Drupada,
“Drupada, brooding on his feud with Drona, did not find peace; nor did he see how to vanquish him with baronial power…………Waiting for the birth of a son, the king bore his grudge” (ibid 283) 
The counter revenge- It was out of this anger, insult and fear that Drupada acquired the son, Dhrishtadhumaya during the ‘Yagya’. (ibid 316-319). As the sacrifice was conducted with the intention of revenge, the fruit that came in the form of two children i.e. Dhrishtadhumaya and Draupadi brought lot of destruction. A divine voice foretells this.
  The story of birth of Dhrishtadhumaya in ‘Yagya’ might have been a mythologized version. Actually he might have been specially trained to match the might of Drona. As he was born to kill Drona, he killed him violating the code of war. This had created deep hatred in the mind of Ashwatthama, who did not hesitate to kill Dhrishtadhumaya and other members of the Pandava’s army in the night when they were asleep. It was Drona’s adaptation of the ‘Dharma’ of Kshatriya that Ashwatthama also got sucked up in this whirlwind of violence and counter violence. He feels sad about this and in ‘Saiptikparva’ of the ‘Mahabharata’ says,
“I have been born in the brahmana linage that is greatly revered. However, because of misfortune, I am engaged in the dharma of kshatriyas” (Debroy, Volume 8, 2013:12)      
Dronacharya’s continuation to stay at Hastinapur even after having kingdom of his own also seems to be a part of his strategic move, as he can count on the support of the house of Hastinapur in case of attack by Drupada and Dhrishtadhumaya. This had further trapped him in a situation from where it became difficult to escape and he was obliged to fight for the Kauravas.
Conclusion- Drona had discarded his austerity for the sake of the comfort of his son. He has not shown forbearance in his dealing with king Drupada nor had he shown uprightness in asking the thumb of Eklavya. He also forgot the ‘Dharma’ of a Brahmin teacher and assuming the role of a warrior killed many in the battle.
Though life is complex, probably the epic is trying to give us a message that forgiveness is better. The spirit of revenge causes lot of hurt to oneself and to others as well. It makes you almost insane.  Ashwatthama was bent upon killing the sleeping Pandavas and their armies. When Kripa tries to dissuade him from this unethical act, he replies,
“I wish to kill the Panchalas, while they sleep in the night. I do not care whether I am born as worm or an insect” (Debroy, Volume 8, 2013:17)
The sport coaches in India are given ‘Dronacharya’ award. I am not sure if we should continue to project him as an ideal coach or should we rethink about renaming the award?
Buitenen van J.A.B., ‘The Mahabharata, Volume 1. The Book of the Beginning’, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1973.
Debroy B., ‘The Mahabharata, Volume 8’, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2013.                          
Radhakrishnan S. ‘The Bhagavadgita’, HarperCollins, New Delhi, 2004. 

Sakhre N. ‘Sarth Sri Janeshwari’, Sarthi Prakashan, Pune, 2001. 

What the Indian tradition expect from the elders? Bhishma’s self denial in the Mahabharata

Abstract- Indian epic, the Mahabharata is believed to have taken written form from 400 B.C. to 400 A.D. Though stories and legends that had found place in the epic were in circulation much before that. As the stories and the legends in the epic had gone through long process of transformations, it has achieved a kind of timelessness and acquired eternal relevance for the human life. Probably that is the reason that even though the text is more than two thousand five years old, it’s attraction refuses to die down. As the epic was not composed by one person, it has become more representative of the opinions coming from the different segments of the society.
As the epic had developed over centuries, the characters have gathered mass along with its growth. The qualities that the poets and bards felt noble were attributed to the characters that were projected as ideals. Bhishma, the grandfather of the epic appears to be personification of different values. The prominent virtues of Bhishma’s character are celibacy and self-sacrifice, signifying that these are the qualities expected from the elders.
This paper explores the portrayal of Bhishma in the epic and tries to analyze the expectations of the traditional Indian society from their elders. It also questions that by expecting the elders to be self-sacrificing and self-denying, are we not doing injustice to them?
Key words- Brahmacharya (celibacy), Successor, Vow, Conflict, Futile.
Who is the hero of the Mahabharata? It is difficult to point out at one particular character, but Bhishma, the grand old man of the epic, can be one of the contestants. Brahmacharya (celibacy) and self denial are eulogized in Indian tradition and we find the personification of these virtues in Bhishma. As epic have a profound influence on the Indian mind and plays an important role in conditioning the young minds it is imperative to take a critical look at the portrayal of Bhishma’s character as he is often projected as an ideal to be followed. 
Bhishma’s series of sacrifices starts when he is quite young. The epic makes him to sacrifice the pleasure of youth, so that his father, King Shantanu can marry youthful Satyavati, who is also ‘Gandhavati’ i.e. the sweet smelling one. Shantanu, in his old age gets infatuated with Satyavati and proposes to marry her. But her father puts a condition that it will be her son who will succeed Shantanu and not Devavrata (that was the original name of Bhishma), who was the son of Shantanu and Ganga. Shantanu did not agree, but he keeps pinning for Satyavati. When Devavrata, gets a hint about it, he voluntarily renounces his right over the throne of Hastinapur as successor. But Satyvati’s father, who cleverly wants to make the life of his daughter and her sons secure, further takes an advantage of the emotional state of Devavarata and furtherer extracts promises from him that he will not marry to avoid any conflict between his sons and sons of Satyavati. He also promises that he will protect whoever sits on the throne of Hastinapur. The text describes that when he takes these pledges, sound ‘Bhishma’ is echoed from the sky and flowers are showered. (Pandeya, Adi Parva 100:98) Bhishma means terrible. The sound symbolizing that this kind of sacrifices are rare! He is refereed as Bhishma hereafter. Here the epic in the beginning itself makes Bhishma a fatherly figure. The role of father and son is reversed. Instead of aged father, who had already tested the pleasures of life and who is usually expected to make sacrifices to ensure the happiness of children, it was young Devavrata who was made to sacrifice the pleasures of life so that his father can marry again. Thus the old age seems to be superimposed on Bhishma when he was quite young and he continues on the same path throughout his long life. He continues to arrange marriages of the male members of his family like he had done for his own father. He goes on fighting for protecting the throne of Hastinapur till the very end of his life.
Bishma is praised and hailed for his sacrifices through the epic. His acts of denial of sensual pleasure to himself and voluntarily relinquishing the right to succeed to the throne of Hastinapur are reflective of the traditional value system in Indian tradition, where ‘Brahmacharya’ i.e. celibacy and ‘Aparigraha’ i.e. not being possessive is considered as high virtues. But his Brahmacharya and Aparigraha was not for some grater spiritual gain but it was done for providing pleasure to somebody. Iravati Karve says about him,
The bachelor who had no children of his own, spent his whole life in caring for other people’s children. Right up to the last, he remained entangled” (Karve,p.12)
Though Bhishma’s voluntarily relinquishing the throne is highly eulogized, but by doing that he had deprived the people of his kingdom of his capable leadership and that to for satisfying the lust of his aged father. His promise to Satyavati’s father that he will protect anybody who sits on the throne of Hastinapur also binds him to throne and he think that he can not escape even though he knew that the he is siding with the evil by fighting the war for Duryodhana. (Rukmani, p.148) Duryodhana knowing Bhishma’s nature also counted on his support and went ahead with the preparation of war. Gautam Chatterjee writes,
“….Duryodhana closed all avenues of peace, knowing that Bhisma would accept the role of commander-in-chief. Armed with this assurance, he thought he needed no counsel of peace. For victory was guaranteed to be his, by virtue of the fact that Bhisma could not be defeated” (Rukmani, p.155)
Though serving faithfully Bhishma did not asserts himself at the right time in the court and thus  creates a political vacuum, which was filled by Shakuni, Karna and Duryodhana. He was more concerned with honoring the exact words of promise that he made to Satyavati’s father rather than the spirit in which he made them. (Rukmani, p.152)  
Chatterjee argues that Bhishma’s adhering to his promise had in fact defeated the purpose for which the promise was made i.e. protection of throne. He knew beforehand that the Pandavas protected by Krishna will not be defeated, but was not able to convince this to Duryodhana. Duryodhana as stated prepared for war counting on the support of Bhishma and this finally brought destruction of the Kuru clan. (Rukmani, p.158)
Thus Bhishma’s silence and helplessness that he imposed upon himself during the different acts of transgressions by Duryodhana slowly brought the destruction of the very clan that he was pledged to protect. Bhishma confesses his helplessness just before the war when he says,
“Arthasya puruso daso”(Bhismaparvan 41.36)
(Man is slave to wealth)                                                            
Bhishma’s responsibility of match making seems to land him in trouble and also create trouble for others. Uninvited, he storms into the ‘Swyamvara’ of the Kashi princes and after defeating many kings and princes assembled there forcibly carry the three princes to be married to  his half-brother Vichitrvirya. (Buitenen, The Book of the Beginning, 96)
In the next generation he ensures that Gandhari, the Princess of Gandhara, who had got the boon of hundred sons is married to blind Dhritrashtra. (Buitenen, The Book of the Beginning, 103).He also arranges that sickly Pandu marries two princes Kunti and Madri. (Buitenen, The Book of the Beginning, 105)
Thus as an elder he is always anxious that the young men of his family should marry at the right time and the linage should continue. In his anxiety to ensure their marriages, he many times commits transgressions which badly affect number of lives. Like his abduction of Amba, the Kashi princess spoils her plan of marriage with her lover Salva. Even though Bhishma allows her to leave after she expresses her love for Salva, Salva refuses to accept her as she was won by Bhishma after defeating him. She goes back to Bhishma, requesting him to marry her, but he refuses to break his vow of celibacy and sends her back. Thus rejected, she nurtures a deep rooted hatred for him and finally becomes a cause of his fall. Similarly the indicators also hints that Gandhari was also deceived and she was not aware that she is going to be married to the blind prince. Kunti and youthful Madri were married to impotent Pandu. Thus in his anxiety to ensure that the male members of his family should marry and produce progenies, he spoiled the lives of number of women. It was his blind attachment to his notion of duty, which prevented him from respecting the rights of others when it clashed with the interests of his family members. But probably he learned some lesson from the Amba episode and after this he did not venture into misadventure of abducting princess to be married to the male members of his family, probably he was growing mature with age and though it better to use other means than show of power to have the work done. Like princess Madri was purchased by paying bride prize.
Iravati Karve tries to give voice to the sufferings of these women as she says,
“How all these women must have suffered! How they must have cursed Bhishma! He alone was responsible for their humiliation. Bhishma was the active leader of the Kuru clan, the one who wielded the authority. In his zeal to perpetuate his house, he had humiliated and disgraced these royal women” (Karve, p.14)
Karve also says that he did not deliberately humiliated these women, but due to his obsession to serve his family, he became indifferent to women, as it is obvious form his refusal to intervene at the time of Draupadi’s humiliation in the Sabha Parva.(Karve, p.17). Has this indifferent to women had arisen because he denied himself the love of a woman and permanently sealed his heart for them? Is the absence of tender love in his life made him insensitive to women?
Bhishma’s blind submission to throne makes him liable to be used on number of occasions. Though Vichitrvirya was to be married, it was Bhishma who was sent by Satyavati to abduct the princess. The gallantry and bravery of the step son was used so that the useless prince can have wives and no wonder that Vichitrvirya dies due to excessive indulgence. (Buitenen, The Book of the Beginning, 96)
His adherence to his oath of celibacy creates conflict with Amba once and it also leads to the situation when the linage was about to become extinct. When Vichitravirya dies issueless, Satyavati asks Bhishma to produce sons on the widows of Vichitrvirya. According to the prevailing practice of ‘Niyoga’, dead husband’s brother is allowed to produce a son on the sonless widow. But he refuses to break his vow of celibacy and finally Vyasa was called for the same purpose. (Buitenen, The Book of the Beginning, 99)
Vyasa is another grandfatherly figure in the epic, who also suffers from the anxiety of protecting the linage. When Gandhari gives birth to a ball of flesh and throws it away, Vyasa intervenes. He asks the ball to be brought, cut into hundred and one pieces and from them the children springs up.
Bhisma’s promise about protecting whoever sits on the throne of the Hastinapur, also seems to be creating lot of complications. In spite of the repeated injustice done to the Pandavas like attempt of burning them, Draupadi’s humiliation and Duryodhana’s refusal to return part of kingdom to the Pandavas, he appears to be helpless. He could not stand for justice. Though he tries to prevent the war, he finally becomes commander-in-chief of Kaurava’s army and mercilessly kills large number of soldiers. (Pandeya, Bhishmaparva)  Here his Kshatriya ego seems to be dominating him and he takes pride in killing the enemy. The philosophy of pre-destination and limitations of human will is also reflected in the epic when Bhishma in spite of all his gallantry and wisdom appears to be just a pawn in the hands of the destiny.
Finally Bhishma probably realizes the futility of his life and understands that due to his blind adherence to the throne of Hastinpur, he had become an obstacle in the victory of the Pandavas and tells them the way by which he can be removed from the scene.
    He loved the Pandavas, but felt duty bound to serve Duryodhana and finally achieved nothing positive. The futility of his life is captured by poet Dinkar when he says,
        “ Pyar Pandavopar manse, kauravoki seva tanse,
          Sadh payega kaun kam is bikhari hui lagan se”( Dinkar, P. 50)
(Love for the Pandavas and the service for the Kauravas, what can be achieved by this divided loyalty)
On the death bed also the epic makes the grand old man to deliver the long sermon on morality which are titled as Shanti Parva and Anushasan Parva.
Iravati Karve says that Bhishma’s participation in the war was his last effort to prevent the destruction of his own clan. During the first ten days of war, when he was the commander-in-chief, no major warrior from the Pandava’s side was killed. But his efforts did not bear fruit. She says that his whole life has been a fruitless sacrifice and those last ten days were climax of futility and sacrifice. (Karve p.8) 
The epic denies pleasure of life to Bhsihma, but he is bound by duty to the throne of Hastinapur and can not renounce the world go to forest. Is it a personification of the philosophy that an ideal person, even if he remains in the world should not be attached to the pleasure. But Bhishma seem to have remained attached, not for enjoyment, but for serving. Did his situation conditioned him to take pleasure in serving?
Karve writes that when a man set out to sacrifice himself and do good to others, he can become completely ruthless in carrying out his objectives. Her following observation, gives an indication of how Bhishma’s apparently good actions can ultimately harm the people,
“The injustice done by idealists, patriots, saints and crusaders are far greater than those done by the worst tyrants” (Karve, p.17)
Though little far fetched, it have a point. We do come across the people who might have definitely done certain good things for the society, but they then go into the mould that they can do no wrong and do not introspect.   
Mythologization of Bhishma’s birth also have a message. The seven Vasus (Demigods) stole the cow of sage Vashistha and they were cursed by the sage that they will be born on the earth. Out of seven Vasus, Dyaus, was the one who actually stole the cow and was cursed to have long life on the earth. The other six Vasus who only assisted him were allowed to leave their mortal body soon. These seven Vasus were born to Shantanu and Ganga. Six brothers were drowned by Ganga immediately after their birth. But Devavrata was compelled to stay for very long years due to his sin. (Buitenen, The Book of the Beginning,93)
Probably the epic wants to convey the message that the earth is not a very pleasant place and those who are sinner had to stay on the earth. Bhishma indeed had a long and apparently very painful life. Epic deprives him the pleasures of life, makes him to sacrifice and finally all his linage was almost wiped out in front of his eyes, when he was lying on the death bed, the bed of arrows. He protected the throne for long, but finally it was won over by his own grandnephews i.e. the Pandavas by killing other branch of grandnephews, the Kauravas. The lineage that he protected and extended by forcibly carrying away the princess and buying them for marrying to sick, blind and impotent princes of his family was ruined to dust. What the hidden message the epic tries to give? Is it trying to say that blinded by the love of your family if you violet somebody’s rights like Bhishma had done in case of Amba and  Gandhari, it will finally led to destruction. The things might come back to you with vengeance.
About the mythologization of Bhishma’s birth i.e. his being a cursed demi-god and born to Ganga, and his slavish submission to the throne of Hastinapur, Sadashiv Dange have a postulation that probably his mother was of obscure origin and to bring sanctity to  his character his birth was mythologized. It was this complex of being born to obscure mother which had probably affected his behavior, when he could not take stand against the injustice, nor did he thought he is entitled to rule and sit on the throne, but sought satisfaction only by serving the throne as he felt indebted. (Dange p.94)
Gautam Chatterjee says about his submissive behavior,
“……, the arrogantly rude Duryodhana was often able to bring Bhishma into submission merely by reminding him that Bhishma had partaken the salt of the house of Kuru” (Rukmani, p.153)
Conclusion- Bhishma’s life is full of many contrasts. In spite of being ‘Brahmcahri’, (celibate) he was attached to the kingdom. Not for the sake of personal enjoyment, but to serve it. He never sat on the throne, but always wielded the power. It was only when Duryodhana had grown up that his authority has diminished considerably.
 Person who lives life like an average mortal are checked easily, as they are aware of their own limitations. But people, who become larger than life, like living legends, are in a position to do greater harm not only by wrong action but by inaction as well. As Bhishma’s inaction during the episode of Draupadi’s ‘Vastraharan’ shows. By not taking strong stand against the policies of Duryodhana, Bhishma stands partly responsible for the war and destruction. Unreasonable devotion to our own perception of duty can sometimes turn into an evil. Bhagavad Gita says,
                           “Yad-yad acharti sresthas
                            tad-tad eve taro janah
                            sa yet parmanam kurute
                           lokas tad anuvartate”                          
(Whatsoever a great man does, the same is done by others as well. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows.) (‘ Bhagavd Gita’ S. Radhakrishnan P.140.)

 By trying to understand the characters in the epics we can understand the peculiarities of the human behavior around us. Who had not seen capable people exploited by flattering their ego?
About Bhishma’s inability to take a resolute stand against injustice and lessons that can be learned from it, Chatterjee writes,
“……the Mahabharata war could have been avoided, if only Bhisma had acted more carefully and forcefully, at different junctures. His inability to come to grips with his dilemmas became instrumental in changing the course of history……….But then again, had he been able to resolve them, there would have been no epic and no lesson to be learned by successive generations” ((Rukmani, p.162)

1.      Buitenen J.A.B. van, ‘The Mahabharata, the book of the Beginning’, The University of Chicago Press, 1973.
2.      Buitenen J.A.B. van, ‘The Mahabharata, The Book of Virata, The Book of the Effort’, The University of Chicago Press, 1978.
3.      Dange S.A. ‘Myths from the Mahabharata, Vol.3’, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2002.
4.      Dinkar Ramdhari Singh ‘Kurushetra’ Rajpal and Sons, Delhi, India, 2003.
5.      Karve Irawati, ‘Yuganta The end of an epoch’, Orient Blackswan, Hydrabad, 2008.
6.      Pandeya R.S.‘Srimanmaharashi Vedvayasapranit Mahabharata’ (Hindi) (In six parts), Gitapress, Gorakhpur.
7.      Rukmani T.S. ‘The Mahabharata: What is not here is nowhere else’, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 2005.
8.      S. Radhakrishnan, “The Bhagavadgita” HarperCollins, New Delhi, 2004.

9.      The Mahabharata (Critical Edition), Ed.- Sukthankar and Karmarkar, BORI, Pune, 1944-60. 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Beyond Polyandry; Exploring Draupadi’s ‘Desires’ in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s ‘The Palace of Illusion’

Beyond Polyandry; Exploring Draupadi’s ‘Desires’ in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s ‘The Palace of Illusion’
Mahabharata is a fascinating story. It continues to inspire the creative writing. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, who teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, USA explores the mind of epical heroine Draupadi through her retelling of the epic, ‘The Palace of Illusion’ (Picador, 2008).
Divakaruni’s Draupadi struggles between her desires for Karna and her duty towards her five husbands. Divakaruni also adds another element in the story by giving romantic twist to the relation between Draupadi and Krishna. So Divakaruni’s Draupadi is having altogether seven men occupying space in her life! Karna, Krishna and five husbands!
Yudhishthira’s excessive goodness irritates her, she confesses of exploiting Bhima, as she does not love him as he loves her. She finds Arjuna irresistible and long for his love. She is not able to control her heart which do not obey her but fantasize about Karna, the mortal enemy of Arjuna. She finds Krishna very close, yet enigmatic.
It is fascinating to read how Draupadi negotiate the call for duty towards her husbands and the pull of her heart which pulls in different directions.
Key words- Swyamvara, complex, exploits, revenge, humiliation.
In the introductory note, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni writes that she was unsatisfied by the portrayal of women in the Mahabharata. This foretells the agenda that she had in her mind. She further says that if she ever writes a book, she would place the women in the forefront of the action. No wonder that in this novel ‘Panchaali’s Mahabharata, The Palace of Illusion’, Draupadi occupies a centre stage with all humanly virtues and vices. In the popularly accepted version of the Mahabharata Draupadi leads a desexualised existence. Divakaruni departs from this and explores the hidden recesses of Draupadi’s mind.
Krishna is introduced very early in Draupadi’s life by Divakaruni. He was portrayed as being friend of King Draupad, Draupadi’s father. Since childhood Draupadi is being portrayed as fascinated by Krishna.
Draupadi here carries some complex for being dark complexioned. But it was Krishna, who was even darker than Draupadi, raises her self confidence and motivates her not to treat her complexion as disadvantage, but to believe it to be of advantages. He says,
“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself” (Divakaruni, p.9)
Krishna’s different exploits like his lifting of Govardhan, his abduction of Rukmini and his charming his way into the hearts of sixteen thousand women fascinates Draupadi, but it was unfathomable depth of Krishna’s personality that fascinates her most as she admits,
“I was fascinated by Krishna because I could not decipher him” (Divakaruni,p.11)
The fascination of young girl for charming personality of Krishna is described in her own words.
“......I adored the way he laughed.....I often forgot that he was much older than me. He had been friend of my father’s......he was genuinely fond of my brother; but I had the impression that it was I whom he really came to see. He called me by a special name, the female form of his own; Krishnaa. It had two meanings; the dark one, or the one whose attraction can’t be resisted. Even after he returned to Dwarka, the notes of his flute lingered in the walls of our cheerless quarters” (Divakaruni, p.12)
Krishna as a scheming chameleon also plays an important role to bring about a match between Draupadi and Arjuna. His motive is political. He says that Arjuna, the greatest archer marrying Draupadi will be a great victory for the Panchala, because Arjuna as a son-in-law will not fight with against Draupad. Draupadi who was dreaming about love in marriage feels that her mouth is filled with the ashes as she is nothing but a worm dangled at the end of a fishing pole. (Divakaruni, p.57). 
Through this disappointment and heartbreaks Draupadi seems to be growing up. Reflecting upon the power play behind her Swyamvara, Draupadi learns how to wear the armour of caution so that no one could reach past to break her heart. (Divakaruni, p.59) 
Krishna throughout the novel plays the role of friend, philosopher and guide to Draupadi. At the time of ‘Rajsuya Yagya’, Shishupala attempts to kill Krishna. He rushes at Krishna with a drawn out sword and Druapadi feels that if Krishna is not there in her life, nothing mattered. Nor her husbands, nor her brother, nor even Karna! (Divakaruni, p.165)
Krishna kills Shishupala and with tribulation Draupadi opens her heart to him and says,
“When I thought you had died. I wanted to die too” (Divakaruni, p.166)
But the spiritual aspect of their bond is revealed immediately. Draupadi says,
“Krishna gazed into my eyes. Was it love I saw in his face? If so it was different in kind from all the loves I know or perhaps the loves I’d known had been something different, and this alone was love. It reached past my body, my thoughts, my shaking heart, into some parts of me that I hadn’t known existed” (Divakaruni, p.166)
Shikhandi, who was Draupadi’s brother, is also brought in the narration, though born as a girl, he turns herself into a man by austerity. He/she gives a valuable lesson to Draupadi when he says,
“Wait for a man to avenge your honour, and you’ll wait forever” (Divakaruni, p.49)
As Shikhandi had been both man and woman. He is aware of the relative strength and weaknesses of both the sexes. He/she advises Draupadi,
“....the power of a man is like a bull’s charge, while the power of a woman moves aslant, like a serpent seeking its prey. Know the particular properties of your power unless you use it correctly, it won’t get you what you want” (Divakaruni, p.52)
Draupadi seems to remember the advice throughout the life. Knowing that Bhima, the most powerful and most straightforward among the Pandavas is devoted to her. She takes her revenge on her perpetuaters through him. She allows him to fulfil her demands. Which Bhima always cherish to do. It was Bhima who fights with Yakashas for the Saugandha flowers for her. He kills Kichaka, who molested her. It was he who punishes Jayadratha, who tried to kidnap her. He tears open the chest of Dussasana, drinks his blood and ties the hair of Draupadi with his hands stained with the blood. It was he who breaks the thighs of Duryodhana and punishes him for his offensive gesture to Draupadi. Divakaruni’s Draupadi admits that she do not love Bhima as much Bhima loved her and she in fact used Bhima. During the period of exile, Draupadi do not let the fire of revenge cool down. She keeps provoking Bhima now and then as she says,
“....recognizing Bheem’s weakness, I took advantage of it. I wept more loudly when he was around, knowing it would make him rail against Yudhishthira” (Divakaruni, p.213)
Drupadi admits that she took love and used it as a balm to sooth her ego. She says that going against the laws of righteous war, Bhima will kill her tormenters at Kurushetra, not for victory or glory, but for her sake. Bhima and Krishna at the end admits that it was for Draupadi’s  sake that they have resorted to unethical practices during the war.
Divakaruni introduces a character called Sorceress, who teaches many skills to Draupadi. She teaches her how to seduce a man, an important job a women should do to sustain her marriage. She also teaches her how to cook delicious food, how to cure illness, when to speak and when to remain silent. How to sleep comfortably on floor. In a way the Sorceress prepares Draupadi for different roles. Role of a queen, role of a wife of five men as well as a difficult life of exile in the forest. She also gives her a practical advice about the illusion called ‘love’ as she says,
“Love comes like lightning and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you will spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have”( Divakaruni, p.63)
The Sorceress also advises Draupadi to forget about love and be satisfied with pleasure and duty.
For portraying flourishing of romance between Karna and Draupadi, Divakaruni introduces many episodes. Draupadi before her ‘Swyamvara’ sees many portraits of the prospective suitors. While seeing the portrait of Kaurava princes Duryodhana and Dusasana, she notices Karna also painted in the portrait. She was immediately drawn towards him, especially towards his eyes filled with ancient sadness. She finds herself strongly pulled into those eyes. She feels that she no longer needs to see Arjuna’s portrait. But as Karna was making his way into her imagination, Krishna intervenes and stops the growth of tender feeling. He scolds the artist for showing picture of Karna to Draupadi as Karna was not a prince. He also belittles Karna by saying that his kingdom is a gift and Karna is just a son of a chariot driver.
Krishna was eager to nip in the bud the tender feeling that she might be developing for Karna. But this vehement reaction from Krishna makes Draupadi more curious as she thinks that a man who had the power to perturb Krishna, had to be more than merely a chariot-driver’s son. Draupadi was surprised at Krishna’s outburst and started doubting if he himself wanted to be her suitor. The thought made her uncomfortable. She confesses that she loved Krishna, but not that way. Krisha puts her at ease by saying that he is not going to compete against Arjuna. Later, when Arjuna’s portrait was shown to her, Draupadi finds herself struggling hard to like Arjuna and tries to put away the thought of ancient sad eyes of Karna from her mind. (Divakaruni, p.73)
When Draupadi becomes aware of the circumstances leading to the birth and rejection of Karna by Kunti, she feels pity for both- the son and the mother. Dhrishtdhaumya tries to convince Draupadi that as Karna is cursed and anyone joining him in a bond of matrimony will also be cursed. But each painful detail of Karna’s life binds her more to him.
At ‘Swyamvara’ Draupadi longs to take a look at Karna. Her attraction towards sad, simple and masculine personality of Karna is described in her own words,
“I longed to look into Karna’s face to see if those eyes were indeed as sad as the artist had portrayed, but even I know how improper that would be. I focused on his hands, the wrists, disdainfully bare of ornaments, the powerful battered knuckles” (Divakaruni, p.93)
Later on during the ‘Swayamvara’ which is recasted considerably by Divakaruni, it was Dhrishtdhaumya, who first raises objection to Karna, as being a son of a charioteer, competing for Draupadi’s hand. At this a dual was about to commence between Karna and Dhrishtdhaumya, but here Draupadi steps between two to save her brother and deliberately insults Karna by asking the name of his father. The author describes,
“In the face of that question, Karna was silenced. Defeated, head bent in shame he left the marriage hall. But he never forgot the humiliation of that moment in full sight of all the king of Bharat. And when the time came for him to repay the haughty princess of Panchaal, he did so a hundredfold” (Divakaruni, p.95)
Arjuna, disguised as a Brahmin wins the contest and was garlanded by Draupadi. She follows Arjuna, barefoot on cracked, burning path. She falls, her knees and palms get cuts and Arjuna nurses her. Forcing Karna out of her mind, Draupadi prepares herself to accept Arjuna as her husband. She repeats different virtues of Arjuna like being courteous, noble, brave and handsome and began to believe that he would be a suitable husband for her. She tries to convince herself that she would no longer waste time on regret. She would turn her face to future. She would satisfy herself with duty and if she was lucky love would come. (Divakaruni, p.94)
When Kunti decides that all her five sons should marry her, Draupadi expects that Arjuna should stand up for her and say that she is only committed to him. But Draupadi is disappointed to find that Arjuna do not say anything. When Druapadi’s father, brother and the Pandavas discuss about the feasibility of Draupadi marrying five brothers, their main concern is family honour and tradition. Nobody gives importance to Druapdi’s wish. Draupadi, angry at man’s world, where women’s wishes are not considered as important gets agitated. Her mind again goes back to Karna and she began to think that probably this was her punishment for having treated him so unfairly.
The disagreement between king Draupada and the Pandavas gets settled with the intervention of sage Vyasa. He rules in favour of Draupadi marrying all five brothers. He also makes an arrangement that Draupadi will stay with each brother for a period of one year and every time she goes to the new brother she would be virgin again. (Divakaruni, p.120)
Dai Ma, the elderly maid of Draupadi tries to consol Draupadi that finally she is having freedom that men had for centuries, i.e. having several wives. But Draupadi realizes that her situation is different. Like a man with several wives, she had no choice about choosing with whom to sleep and when. On the other hand she feels that she is like a communal drinking cup and she would be passed from hand to hand whether she wanted it or not.
Neither Draupadi was particularly delighted at the boon of getting her virginity back whenever she goes to a new brother. She feels that it is designed more for her husband’s benefit than her (Divakaruni, p.120). She also adds that it would have been better if Vyasa had given her a boon of forgetting, so that when she went to each brother, she would be free of the memory of the previous one. (Divakaruni, p.120)
Drupadi also feels that she could have fallen in love only with Arjuna among the Pandavas and he should be her first husband. But she becomes aware that he does not quite love her. She feels that had he loved her, it would have become easier for her to forget Karna as she says,
“If he had loved me back. I might have been able to push aside my regrets about Karna and find some semblance of happiness” (Divakaruni, p.121)
Though Arjuna do not stand for Druapdi as he cannot go against his mother and brothers. His frustrated anger is turned towards Draupadi. Though he does not say it openly but Draupadi reads through his reproachful eyes that he blamed Draupadi for this unusual marriage. She realises that now as Arjuna cannot have her alone, he will not have her at all. He will go through the rituals of marriage, but he will keep her heart from her. This was exactly that Kunti wanted. She wanted to maintain the unity among her sons at any cost! And Arjuna getting attached to Druapadi would have threatened the unity of the Pandavas.
But Draupadi is practical enough to make best of the situation. During her first year of marriage, which she had to spend with Yudhishthira. She spends significant energy in re-educating Yudhishthira about the sexual behaviour. Though having many virtuous qualities, Yudhishthira’s excessive goodness annoys Draupadi and she really wonders if he is really a saint or merely lacking in common sense? And in either of the cases she finds it was most annoying (Divakaruni, p.129)
At Hastinapur, the call for duty towards the Pandavas and  infatuation with Karna pulls her mind in different directions. She says,
“I confess; in spite of the vows I made each day to forget Karna, to be a better wife to the Pandavas. I longed to see him again. Each time I entered a room, I glanced up under my veil...I could not stop myself...hoping he was there” (Divakaruni, p.130)
Draupadi and Karna encounter each others on number of occasion. Drapadi feels disappointed that her magical palace built by Mayasur fails to fascinate Karna. Her infatuation for Karna also makes her feel guilty as she remember the words of the scriptures which says that if a wife desire a man who is not her husband, she is as unfaithful as a woman who sleeps with such a man. (Divakaruni, p.185)
Human life seems to be struggling between two contradictory pulls. One which tries to keep man and woman relationship confined to socially accepted  institution of marriage and the other, which tries to break free and look for opportunities to give vent to the promiscuous tendencies lurking in human mind. The struggle is also reflected in the mind Divakaruni’s Draupadi.
Karna’s instigation that led to the stripping episode of Draupai in the assembly finally led to the resolution from Draupadi’s side that she will now put  Karna away from her mind forever. She says,
“What happened today had stripped away all ambiguities from my heart. Never again would I long for his attention” (Divakaruni, p.194)
Karna’s infatuation for Draupadi is also revelled through a dialogue between Karna and Bhishma, who was lying on the bed of arrows. During this dialogue Karna confesses his infatuation for Draupadi, which Draupadi overhears. When Draupadi hears that Karna finds her irresistible, a part of her mind is satisfied, but at the same time she also feels guilty that she nurtures an unfaithful thought.
When the Pandavas took another wives, Draupadi felt jealous. But she also admits that she did not expect her husbands to remain celibate while they waited for their turn as her spouse. But she is aware of her special position that none of the other wives can take in their lives. As she herself says,
“If they were pearls, I was the gold wire on which they were strung. Alone, they would have scattered, each to his dusty corner. They would have pursued separate interest, deposited their loyalties with different women. But together we formed something precious and unique” (Divakaruni, p.152)
Draupadi realizes that together they are capable of doing what none of them could do alone. Draupadi now sees the reason behind Kunti’s decision of marrying her to all five brothers. Though the Pandavas did not make her heart beat wildly, she committed herself totally to the welfare of the Pandavas.
Even though she accepts the need of the Pandava brothers to have other wives. She uses her anger to keep them in check. On hearing the news of Pandava brother’s marriage to other women, Draupadi displayed her anger like locking herself in a room and throwing expensive objects around. She says that it is never a good idea to let one’s husband grow complacent. Her display of anger ensured that the number of wives remains minimum and it also kept the other wives away from the palace. This had ensured that she remained undisputed mistress of the palace.
However, when Arjuna married Krishna’s sister Subhadra, Druapadi was really shaken. She felt betrayed by Krishna and accuses him of encouraging Subhadra to snatch Arjuna. But Krishna do not pay much attention to her and says that union between Arjuna and Subhadra have a greater design, which is more important than the heartache that Draupadi sufferes.
Though married to five husbands, and infatuated with Karna and Krishna, Drupadi fantasises about a place where men do not exist. She says the if  Swargloka, Brahmloka really exist, a good women would rather choose to go to the Lokas, where men were not allowed. So that finally they will be free from male demands.( Divakaruni, p.155)
The stripping episode changes the relationship of Draupadi with her husbands. She now realises that there are certain things in the lives of her husbands which they value more than her honour. They will avenge her, but when it will bring heroic fame to them. It reinforces her belief that she cannot depend entirely on them.
During the great war, Vyasa gave an unusual sight to Draupadi. With this sight she can watch any corner of the battlefield and also peep into the mind of the participants. She was shocked to see Karna participating in the killing of Abhimanyu. On the day of the final dual between Karna and Arjuna, Draupadi wishes that the sight should be taken from her.
During the dual, when Karna becomes helpless and Arjuna was about to kill him, Draupadi becomes extremely agitated and was willing to forgive the insult that he inflicted on her at the time of disrobing episode. She feels sad that Karna had died with the feeling that Draupadi hated him. But Divakaruni adds additional episode in the novel to lift the guilt from Draupadi’s mind. When Karna’s soul leaves his mortal body, it comes to Draupadi in the form of a glow and grows into great radiance around Draupadi. She realizes that Karna’s spirit knew what she never had been able to tell him.
 After the great war, the Pandavas ruled over Hastinapur for thirty six years. At the end when they received the news of Krishna’s demise, Draupadi feels the world around her is crumbling apart. She hopes that he will suddenly show up and take care of everything that is troubling her.
Krishna’s death prompts the Pandavas to renounce the world and prepares for the final journey. After touring all over the country, the Panadavas along with Draupadi starts their final ascend to the Himalayas: the journey of no return. Drupadi falls first. Bhima asks Yudhishthira, why she, so virtuous and devoted to her husbands should fall? The conversation between Bhima and Yudhishthira reaches dying Draupadi. Yudhishthira says that though she was married to five brothers, she loved one man more than everyone else. When Bhima asks who that was? Yudhishthira pauses while giving answer. During this pause, Draupadi realises that Yudhishthira knew about her longing for Karna. She listens with the heart constricted. She is greatly relieved when Yudhishthira says it was Arjuna that she loved most. Draupadi in her heart knew that Yudhishthira had lied. This was probably a second lie in his life. In this lying he had selected love over truth. Draupadi’s soul leaves the mortal body with the mixed memories of her husbands, Karna and Krishna.

1.      Divakaruni Chitra Banerjee, ‘The Palace of Illusion’, Picador, India, 2008.