Mahaprasthanika Parva is not Vyasa’s creation. It was added later.
The poet who created the Mahaprasthanika Parva was no mean poet. Lesser than Vyasa, yet second to no other, he never could have wasted a single word without any deep and significant purpose.
When it comes to the narrative of the last journey of the Pandavas and Draupadi, he is perhaps at his best, connecting the ‘fifth veda’ with the Upanishadic philosophy, all the while remaining true to Vyasa’s spirit and the Rig Vedic tradition.
Yudhishthira-bashing is very fashionable nowadays, and is a favourite past-time of many a ‘modern’ mahabharata thinker and writer.
Yudhishthira is often heavily criticized for not turning back when his wife and brothers fall one by one.
Why do we blame Yudhishthira Alone! None of the Pandavas turn back! Not even Bhima! He only asks the reason of Draupadi’s fall, but does not react to Yudhishthira’s answer. We have no clue to be sure whether Bhima is satisfied with the answer or not.
The way the Pandavas set out to die is the most dynamic form of accepting death imaginable! If we find the scheme unpalatable, let us embrace death in our own ways – like dying in old age in Old Age Home, like dying in Private Nursing Home making the doctors rich, like dying by hanging ourselves or swallowing sleeping pills being oppressed by our own sons and daughters – in fact there are plenty of options available for natural and unnatural (or supernatural) death. If we are at liberty to choose from multiple options, why do we envy the Pandavas for their choice?
What do we expect of Yudhishthira? Everytime his wife or brothers fall, he would rush like a sentimental hero of Hindi Film crying ‘hay hay yeh kya ho gaya’ or lamenting on ‘sato janam ka rista?’
Draupadi and the Pandava brothers were not reluctant participants in the last journey. Vaishampayana narrates, the Pandavas and Draupadi set out for their final journey cheerfully –
While one of ‘ordinary’ temperament shrinks at the prospect of uncertainty, it is the ‘harSa’ of the extraordinaire to step forward and embrace the unknown. The ‘harSo’ of the Pandavas is their ‘vIrsukha’ at the prospect of another Uncertain Journey. Their cheerfulness is the Soma. And with this weapon of Soma they seek to fight and win against kAla – Time, for attaining mokSa.
The Pandava-Indras, like the Indra of Rig Veda, knows only to ‘travel onward’ and ‘find the path that leads directly forward’ (RV-10.32.7). It is a journey, in which no imaginary ‘phala’ (result) clouds the mind with false hope of rain, it is a journey, in which ‘karma’ (action) itself is the ‘phala’; it is a journey, in which kriSNa’s great dictum is put into practice -
‘Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana.’
And Yudhishthira was not ‘undemocratic’ in taking that decision of the uncertain journey.
Severely humiliated at the hand of the dasyus of Panchanada, Arjuna returned to Hastinapura and informed Yudhishthira about vyasa’s advice.
Vaishampayana narrates, ‘Having heard the particulars of the great slaughter of the Vrishnis, the Kaurava king set his heart on leaving the world. He addressed Arjuna, saying, O thou of great intelligence, it is Time that cooks every creature (in his cauldron). I think that what has happened is due to the cords of Time (with which he binds us all). It behoveth thee also to see it.
Thus addressed by his brother, the son of Kunti only repeated the word ‘Time, Time!’ and fully endorsed the view of his eldest brother gifted with great intelligence. Ascertaining the resolution of Arjuna, Bhimasena and the twins fully endorsed the words that Arjuna had said (Mahaprashthanik.1).’
It is Arjuna who also resolved to retire, for the other brothers approve only after knowing Arjuna’s opinion - arjunasya.matam.jnaatvaa.
Yudhishthira consulted with his brothers, who ‘fully endorsed the words that Arjuna had said, and they esolved to retire from the world for earning Dharma – pravrajan.dharma.kaamyayaa.
The purpose, why the Pandavas leave Hastinapura is very clear. It is for earning Dharma; not moksa, nor Svarga.
And why would we project our petty selves on Yudhisthira and keep thinking that he has some selfish motive?
True, Yudhishthira does not turn back and moves on - jagaama.anavalokayan. Does that mean he has no feeling for his wife and brother?
When Indra appears before Yudhishthira ‘causing the firmament and the Earth to be filled by a loud sound’, and asked Yudhishthira to ascend his chariot, he says he would not go to Svarga without his brothers and wife – na.vinaa.bhraatRbhih.svargam.icche.gantum.sura.iizvara. In fact, having seen his brothers and wife’s fall - patitaan.dsrtyvaa, Yudhishthira is full of grief – zoka.samtaptah.
Why is this part of the narrative overlooked while judging Yudhishthira as a cold egotist?
If we still doubt Yudhishthira’s feelings for his wife, we may do well to remember that the entire Svargarohana journey parallels and contrasts with another journey the Pandavas had earlier undertaken with Draupadi, when Arjuna had been to Svarga to fetch weapons.
Once while trekking in some region of the upper Himalayas, Draupadi was so fatigued that she fell down ‘like a twisted creeper.’ Yudhishthira, Bhima and Sahadeva immediately rushed to help her. They frequently touched Draupadi with their soothing palms and fanned cool breezes surcharged with particles of water. Draupadi felt ease, and gradually regained her senses. The Pandavas placed her on deer-skin and caused her to take rest. ‘And taking her feet of red soles, bearing auspicious marks, the twins began to press them gently with their hands, scarred by the bow-string.’
The entire narrative shows the Pandavas’ deep love for Draupadi. What is more, husbands touch the feet of the wife implying Draupadi’s ‘equal status’ in the ‘pandava purusa.’
So, when during Svargarohana, Yudhishthira does not turn back – or rather, the poet portrays him as ‘indifferent’ - that must have some purpose.
The ‘Pandava Purusa’
Together, the Pandavas and Draupadi represent an integrated ‘purusa’ – for convenience we may say ‘pandava purusa’ –a ‘micro’ of the Rig Vedic ‘purusa’ (Rig-Veda – 10.90).
The last journey of Draupadi and the Pandavas is not their individual journey– it is a collective journey- a journey of the pandava purusa, represented as a physical journey, but in actuality a journey into the Self in search of the atma that dwells in the heart.
The myth of the Pandava-Draupadi’s origin is masterfully interwoven in this narrative, or it might be otherwise, that this narrative – with its ‘cryptic’ Upanishadic message - acted as a ‘creative flash’ to some other later poet/s to enable him/them develop the story of Pandava-Draupadi’s supernatural origin.
At the onset – apprehending that someone somewhere might detect stench of patriarchy and gender-bias in the word puruSa - we might do well to remember that ‘purusa’ in Rig Veda has nothing to do with gender, or patriarchy …or even phallus. Vyasa’s words suffice –
In the present author’s view, the myth of Yudhishthira’s Svargarohana is an allegorical narrative of pandava purusa’s final journey to moksa - for merging into the Rig Vedic purusa; - from another point of view - the ‘fifth veda’ returning to its origin thus!
The Pandavas and Draupadi are different organs of the pandava purusa – in imitation of the four Varnas emanating from the Rig Vedic purusa.
In the purusa sukta - ‘The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya; from his feet the Sudra was produced (RV 10.90.12)’.
The Rig Vedic purusa finds many mentions in the mahabharata, particularly in the Shanti-Parva, differing sometimes only regarding the origin of Vaishya.
For example, in Section-48 it is said, Vaisyas are born of the purusa’s stomach and thighs, and in Section-319, Vaishyas are said to be born of the purusa’s navel.
Merging the Rig Vedic purusa and the Mahabharata purusa, we get –
Mouth – Brahmana
Arms – Kshatriya
Thighs, Stomach, Navel – Vaishya
Feet - Shuudra
The Varna is not however, human monopoly.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad gives an interesting categorization of the Gods according to their Varnas as follows –
Kshatriyas: Indra, Varuna, the moon, Rudra, Parjanya, Yama, Death, and Isana
Vaisya: the Vasus, Rudras, Adityas, Visvadevas and Maruts.
Among the mythical God-fathers of the Pandavas, we find here Indra and Yama as of Kshatriya Varna and Marut of Vaishya Varna.\
The next Mantra regards Dharma as the controller of the Kshatriya.
Thus Dharma being higher to all is Brahmana and also ‘super-Kshatriya’, and Dharma is also Agni (BU-1.4.5).The Purusha-Sukta also implies the same – ‘Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vayu from his breath (RV-10.90.13).’ So, Indra and Vayu have also Brahmana nature.
It is clear from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that Dharma and Yama are not same; Dharma is Brahmana, while Yama is Kshatriya.
The Asvini Kumaras – fathers of Nakula-Sahadeva are not mentioned here, however, that ‘missing link’ is to be found in the Mahabharata, where Bhisma classifies the Devas into four Varnas with the Asvins as Sudras.
The Asvins are also Pusan – the earth – for earth evolved from the puruSa’s feet (RV-10.90.14). Mundaka Upanishad also states ‘(It is He) from whose two feet emerged the earth (2.1.4).’ And Agni is also the Agni of the stomach, therefore having vaisya guna.
Merging the Rig Vedic purusa and the Mahabharata purusa and the Brihadaranyaka categorization, we get –
Mouth – Brahmana – Dharma/Agni/Indra/Vayu
Arms – Kshatriya – Dharma/Indra
Thighs, Stomach, Navel, Breath – Vaishya – Vayu/Agni
Feet – Shuudra – Pusan/Asvins
Clearly we get all the God-fathers of the Pandavas, with overlapping guna, and we may conceive the pandavas as organs of pandava purusa corresponding to their God-fathers and dominant guna.
In Section-294 of Shanti-Parva it is stated – ‘The Brahmana shines by self restraint; the Kshatriya by victory; the Vaisya by wealth; while the Sudra always shines in glory through cleverness in serving (the three other orders). The ‘shine’ of guna in each of the pandavas is roughly – and not within any rigid guna-frame – identifiable in this description.
Needless to mention, varna as represented in the Rig Veda and here has nothing to do with ‘class hierarchy’ in the Marxist sense, or ‘caste’ (– having its ‘seed’ in varna no doubt, yet having the courtesy of evolving into a fruit totally lacking the soul of the ‘seed’).
No one can ever be sure whether the Rig Vedic purusa is ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’, i.e. whether he is standing or lying. The first case creates an apparent hierarchy, the second, brings all varna at par!
Nakula-Sahadeva’s being the ‘feet’ of the pandava purusa is certainly not derogatory, for Vyasa says that visnu dwells in the feet of living creatures.
On this basis, the Pandavas may be conceived as different organs of the ‘pandava purusa’, and their function in the pandava purusa may ‘roughly’ be conceived thus (which, hopefully, any careful Mahabharata reader would agree with) –
a) Yudhishthira – Brahmana – The mouth – Dharma/Agni/Indra/Vayu - Mouthpiece and face of the Pandavas
b) Arjuna – Kshatriya – The arms – Dharma/Indra - Protector
c) Bhima – Vaishya – The thigh, navel, stomach, breath – Vayu/Agni – Main support
d) Nakula and Sahadeva – Shudra – The feet – Pusan/Asvins - Service
Where is Draupadi, then, in this scheme of her ‘pati’s in the pandava purusa?
In Rig Veda Indra is called ‘pati’ (for example in RV-1.9.4). But, does ‘pati’ mean ‘male lord’?
That may be the ‘common’ meaning assorted to ‘pati’, but the word also connotes ‘owner, possessor, lord, ruler, sovereign’ – which have nothing to do with gender.
In Mahabharata Gautama-Ahalya’s son Chirakarin says –
So, ‘pati’ is ‘pati’ because one protects, the ‘function’ being more important than the gender, and the ‘function’ justifying the ‘designation.’
To Draupadi, a wife too has the role of ‘pati’ in respect to her husband – ‘The husband also should be protected by the wife (CE-4.20.27).’ Well, we might consider Draupadi the first feminist, until we look at Rig Veda, where Goddesses including Indrani are invoked to protect, implying Goddesses are also ‘pati’.
Not only a married man merits the title ‘pati’, it connotes ruler and sovereign i.e. rastra pati.
In Mahabharatan days, a woman becoming rastra pati was normal. After the war Vyasa tells Yudhishthira ‘Install on their thrones the daughters of those that have no sons (KMG-Shaanti-33).’
In Rig Veda, another epithet of Indra is ‘purandara’- commonly understood as destroyer of city. If the so-called ‘Aryan Invasion’ theorists find justification in that epithet, let them have their share of ‘harsa’ and bottled-Soma for the sake of democracy, but ‘pura’ in Rig Veda is a metaphor for the human body in micro, and this is explained by none other than Vyasa. If ‘pura’ also means nagara or city, then the conception is that of an extended body; pura as human body is micro, and pura as city is macro – so to say. Then rastra is a macro of the macro.
No wonder, ‘vas’ i.e. dwelling in a city and dwelling in a dress i.e. wearing clothes, both have the same root ‘vas.’
In Vyasa’s philosophy, rastra pati may or may not be a woman, but the ‘lord’ of ‘pura’ is no ‘lord’ but ‘lady’! He calls ‘buddhi’ the ‘svamini’ of the pura called body, implying that true ‘buddhi’ or intellect is a feminine principle. In other words, without connection of heart, true buddhi is not possible.
In Rig Veda, waking up of intelligence is compared to a lover waking up a sleeping lover. Love and Sexuality is an awakener, and so is intelligence. This intelligence is not dry cerebrality, but springs from heart. In this sense it is feminine.
In Upanishadic philosophy heart is central.
Thus, Draupadi being the heart of the Pandavas is actually the ‘Indra’ of the Indras, the ‘svamini’ of the integrated ‘pura’ of pandava purusa. As the wife of Pandava-Indras, she is Sachi-Indrani, no doubt, but as the integrating and unifying Shakti of pandava purusa, she is also Indra – I repeat – Indra!
If Draupadi as ‘Indra’ sounds odd, that is owing to our patriarchaly programmed ear, because the Rishis of Rig Veda conceived Indra as an ‘ideal’, and never merely as a male deity – a point missed by many a scholar and Indologists.
At least thrice in Rig Veda Indra’s feminine aspect is praised.
In RV-8.1.6, Pragatha Kanva, Medhatithi Kanva, and Medhyatithi Kanva prays thus -
‘O Indra, thou art more to me than sire or niggard brother is.
Thou and my mother, O Good Lord, appear alike, to give me wealth abundantly.’
In RV-8.87.11, Krsna Angiras, Dyumnika Vasistha, and Priyamedha Angiras prays for Indra’s blessings invoking thus -
‘O Generous Lord Indra! You are the father, and you are the mother.’
In RV- In 8.62.9 Indra is compared to a ‘loving woman.’
There is even a clearer pronouncement that Indra is female, reminding us of Vyasa’s pronouncement -
In RV-7.85.3 Indra is called ‘devirindram’ – clearly stating that Indra is Devi – a woman. According to one Rig Vedic myth, Indra once became ‘Mena’ – a daughter of King Vrsanashca.
Draupadi is thus the ‘pati’ of her ‘patis’, Indra of the Indras and svAmini of the ‘svAmi’s. In brief, the pandavas can only be the integrated pandava purusa because of Draupadi. She is thus the ‘center’ of the Pandava wheel – which brings us to another unique possibility! Vyasa’s Ur-Mahabharata might have been Draupadi-centric, and the later poets, perhaps, having Vaishyampayana as their foremost, tampered with to mould Mahabharata with dominant patriarchal symptoms, thereby relegating Draupadi’s role to the periphery!
Though the prospect does not merit much scope to be discussed in the present article, our subsequent exploration to seek the significance of the fall of Draupadi will inevitably light up the validity of the prospect.
Fall of Draupadi
Draupadi is the first to fall - ‘As those mighty ones were proceeding quickly, all rapt in Yoga, Yajnaseni, falling of from Yoga, dropped down on the Earth -
In the entire CE Mahabharata, this is the only use of the phrase ‘bhrasta.yogaa.’
Bhima cannot accept that Draupadi, who never transgressed dharma - ‘na.adharmaz.caritah’ should fall! He asks Yudhishthira, ‘O scorcher of foes, this princess never did any sinful act. Tell us what the cause is for which Krisna has fallen down on the Earth!’
Yudhishthira replies, ‘O best of men, though we were all equal unto her she had great partiality for Dhananjaya. She obtains the fruit of that conduct today, O best of men.’
Yudhishthira’s reply may raise (and indeed, it does raise!) quite a hue and cry. Some so-called feminists do shout, ‘yes, we knew, that would be so; what else can be expected of a hypocrite!’
However, we cannot be content with such clichéd shallow outburst, and would rather believe that the Poet/s imagine/s Draupadi’s fall first as a metaphysical allegory of the first duty of a yogi – the pandava purusa here - seeking moksa.
The metaphysical significance of Draupadi’s fall would be understood in the light of an allegorical narrative of the quarrel of the senses in Brihadaranyaka Upanishada -
“Prajapati projected the organs. These, on being projected, quarreled with one another. The organ of speech took a vow, ‘I will go on speaking’. The eye: ‘I will see’. The ear: ‘I will hear’. And so did the other organs according to their functions. Death captured them in the form of fatigue – it overtook the, and having overtaken them it controlled them. Therefore the organ of speech invariably gets tired, and so do the eye and the ear. But death did not overtake this vital force in the body. (Br.U-1.5.21)”
In this narrative, ‘the organ of speech’ (vak) gets tired first.
I propose, the poet has this allegory in mind while creating the narrative of the fall of Draupadi and the Pandava brothers. Draupadi being ‘vak’ is fatigued first.
Now, why would we regard Draupadi as ‘vak’?
As we have mentioned earlier, Draupadi is Indra of the Pandava-Indras, and as such she is the ruler of the rulers – the heart of pandava rastra. In Rig Veda, Goddess ‘vak’ says ‘aham rastri’ (RV-10.125.3).
This is not, however, the only reason, why Draupadi is vak.
True to Puranic tradition, most heroes and heroines of Mahabharata have somehow been associated with God aspects, and Draupadi too has her pretty share in that. In order to understand how the Brihadaranyaka allegory is worked out in Mahaprasthanika Parva, and how Draupadi is ‘vak’, let us now seek in our humble way to gain a glimpse into the great poets’ minds creating the brilliant allegory, how the various Goddess-aspects manifest in Draupadi in the eyes of later poets. We would also see, then, that all of Draupadi’s Goddess aspects have metaphysical relevance to why she is the first to fall.
In Mahabharata Draupadi is called incarnate of Shri-Lakshmi. Draupadi is also called incarnate of Sachi-Indrani.
Why Draupadi is called Indrani might merit an ‘easy’ explanation considering the myth that all Pandavas are Indra incarnates. Draupadi as Indrani is the appropriate wife of Pandava-Indras, but that is certainly not an adequate explanation why she is called Indrani, and indeed there are other parallels of Indrani and Draupadi.
As I have noted earlier, Draupadi-Indrani is ‘pati’ of her husbands. In Rig Veda, Goddesses Indrani is protector (RV-1.22.11-12).’ In Yajur Veda, Indrani is the ‘deity of the arrow’ and ‘she sharpens his arrow (2.2.8).’ Draupadi, indeed, is sharpener of Pandava ‘arrows.’
The Rig Vedic hymn 10.86 is a unique ‘dramatic monologue’ in Sachi’s persona.
In this Rik, ‘subaho’ means ‘having strong or handsome arms’; ‘svangure’ means ‘handsome-fingered’; ‘prthusto’ means ‘having a broad tuft of hair’; ‘prthujaghane’ means ‘broad hips’.
The description applies well to Draupadi, particularly the epithet ‘subaho’ - an epithet often used with male virility - indicating Draupadi’s physical strength and combat-skill.
In fact, ‘subaho’ also represents Kshatriya-Varna as Kashatriya is said to have originated from Purusha’s arms. That Draupadi was ‘subaho’ - Jayadratha and Kichaka would certainly testify to that from their first-hand experience!
With reference to this Sukta, E. Washburn Hopkins observes – ‘(Indra’s) wife is the most lascivious of women.’
It is not an accident then that Vatsayana – in his Kamasutra - names one position of intercourse ‘Indrani’ (Kamasutra-2.6.7). And it is perhaps not another accident that from ancient times, Panchala (Draupadi’s nation) was the centre of Kamashashtra study – a fact endorsed by our old good Vatsayana again.
Draupadi’s other famous name krisna, has, as its root ‘kr’ - "to treat by force, commit a rape, violate etc. (MW)’- connoting action-oriented use of power. Her name krisna also sets her at par with the other three Krishnas of Mahabharata, who have never been known to have undergone mid-life crisis with their Sexuality.
In Mahabharata, in the Indra-Indrani-Nahusha Puranic narrative, Indrani uses her sexuality to aid Indra in vanquishing Nahusha (KMG-Shaanti.343). Similarly, Draupadi uses her sexuality to cause Jayadratha’s humiliation so that Jayadratha-Salva matrimonial alliance is spoiled. She also uses her sexuality to destroy Kichaka in Virata Parva. In both these cases, true to the root ‘kr’ in her name, she acted on her own without taking prior approval of her husbands, because she knew they would not accede to her plan.
In the case of Kichaka, she planned with Bhima – like Indra and Indrani planning against Nahusha; and in the other most important case in Kuru Sabha, she tacitly planned with Yudhishthira (both Yudhishthira and Bhima are Indra) to enter the Kuru Sabha in a single dress appearing to be menstruating, and thereafter, demonstrating the power of her vulnerability she forced Dhritarashtra to release her bonded husbands, and at the same time caused alienation of Brahmanas and the people from Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana. That it did not pay ultimately is another matter.
It is the belief of the present author that in Vyasa’s Ur-Mahabharata, Draupadi’s active role in state politics was more pronounced, if not given central importance.
The base of this conviction is Kautilya’s Arthashashtra – a treatise heavily borrowing from Mahabharata by interpretation of narratives, particularly the mythical portions – and also the numerous gems of clues scattered throughout the Mahabharata (as also the various Folk-Mahabharatas) for any ‘willing’ reader to seek, find and decipher.
Let us check out for ourselves some of those clues.
When Draupadi was born it is said about her –
'This dark-complexioned girl will be the first of all women, and she will be the cause of the destruction of many Kshatriyas. This slender-waisted one will, in time, accomplish the purpose of the gods, and along with her many a danger will overtake the Kauravas -
The inclusion of such a sloka is impossible unless Draupadi had a more active role than being in tears and playing the waiting-to-be-rescued victim.
Indrani uses her sexuality for destroying the Power of Lust – an Asuric Power (Well, we are not getting into the topic of Deva-Asura unity and affinity here), and in her action both personal and impersonal motives merge.
Draupadi too does not use her sexuality for mere personal gain, and her personal motive is only a part of her impersonal motive; so the use of her sexuality qualifies as an instrument of danda.
Thus, Draupadi-Indrani is not just Pandava-Indras’ wife, but the power of sexuality, not a mere destructive femme fatale - to speak in modern parlance - but destructive only in respect to those of Asura nature (and may I repeat, I am using the word ‘asura’ in its common connotation of ‘evil.’).
If Draupadi ‘used’ her sexuality for political ends, does it not prick the august balloon of ethics and the showcase model of pativratas of sanatana dharma?
However our ‘modern value’ might be ruffled, we might do good to remember that the ways of the world are different from the ways of the rulers of the world.
Let us not forget Bhisma’s words to Yudhishthira –
‘What in this world a strong man calls morality is regarded as such by others, however otherwise it may really be; but what a weak man calls morality is scarcely regarded as such even if it be the highest morality.’
Let us not forget Vyasa’s words to Kunti –
‘For those that are mighty, everything is becoming. For those that are mighty, everything is pure. For those that are mighty, everything is meritorious. For those that are mighty, everything is their own.'
Finally (for this article only), we may remember Draupadi’s words to Yudhishthira – ‘When the man of intelligence seeth his enemy superior to him in many qualities, he should seek the accomplishment of his purposes by means, of the arts of conciliation and proper appliances. He should also wish evil unto his foe and his banishment. Without speaking of mortal man, if his foe were even the ocean or the hills, he should be guided by such motives. A person by his activity in searching for the holes of his enemies, dischargeth his debt to himself as also to his friends.’
Vatsayana suggests that kama may be used as a ‘kuta’ means to achieve some special end, and not for attachment – the power of Kama is harnessed to launch a ‘war’ or for subjugating some form of power, or as seeking justice through vengeance (Kamasutra-1.5.21).
Continued to : Draupadi and Pandava Purusha