By Nirooshitha Sethuram, Yogaratna
Graphics by Sheralee (Shambhavi) Hancherow
Yes, the only Kaurava brother who protested was Vikarna. He couldn’t bear Draupadi’s suffering. He addressed the assembly saying, “Honored royal members, why are you being so silent? I am compelled to speak because you all are being silent. Even though I am young and very much a novice compared to your experiences and wisdom, I am unable to bear what’s been happening here. Yudhishthira was deceitfully pulled into this gambling game and tricked into staking Draupadi. She doesn’t belong only to him and, after losing himself, Yudhishthira doesn’t have any right to stake her. As Uncle Shakuni was the first to mention her name, influencing Yudhishthira to stake Draupadi was in the first place against the rules of the game, as it’s not allowed for the opponents to suggest what to stake. So, considering all these mishaps I believe Draupadi was not won righteously by the Kauravas.”
Hearing the young Vikarna speak, there was a lot of commotion in the crowd. All started praising Vikarna. Some said that righteousness has been spoken. But then Karna stood up and spoke to Vikarna, pointing out his inexperience in royal matters, and how Vikarna was being a traitor to his own family. Karna, along with Duryodhana, mocked Draupadi, calling her a common woman.
Due to his animosity towards the Pandavas and Draupadi, Karna found this to be a golden opportunity to disgrace them all. He could never forget the insult at of Draupadi’s swayamvara, where he was called the son of a charioteer. Draupadi herself refused to marry Karna even if he had been successful in performing the qualifying act.
Because of all this, he suggested to strip all the five brothers of their royal garments in front of audience. The Pandavas were forced to strip their clothing, thus disgraced in front of the court. Determined to adhere to dharma at all times, the Pandavas subjected themselves to this insult. Wanting to dishonor Draupadi at all costs, Karna suggested including her as well, to be stripped in the court in front of all. Hearing this with cheerfulness Duryodhana ordered Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi.
All the elders, including Grandsire Bhishma, Chief Minister Vidura and Guru Drona, protested and wanted Duryodhana to stop this evil act. Dhritarashtra was an exception, but he kept silent. As Duryodhana didn’t seem to care about the elder’s words, they turned to Dhritarashtra to command his son to abide by morality, since they knew Duryodhana would listen only to his father. Dhritarashtra continued his silence, as he saw his son happy. Plus they were winning back the kingdom, so he ignored the gravity of the act being performed by his son.
As his father was silent, Duryodhana was even more encouraged. He again gave the sign to Dushasana to fulfil his command. Dushasana got up at once and went to Draupadi. He held the open end of her saree (robe) and began to pull on it hard, intending to disrobe her in the presence of all witnessing this horrifying scene. With tears filling her eyes Draupadi looked at everyone for help while clutching her saree in desperation, but none dared come to her rescue. She pleaded again and again, continuing to do her best to hold on to the saree.
In the end, knowing what she was doing was not going to help her, she decided to invoke Divine intervention. In despair, she let go of her robe, put her hands up in the air in supplication. With deep devotion, she surrendered her body, mind and soul fully to Krishna to save her honor.
Krishna had been watching what was happening in the court of Hastinapura through his inner vision, but as no one requested his help, he didn’t intervene. So Krishna, who was waiting for her appeal, at once responded. Through his Divine powers, he made a miracle take place.
How strange, as soon as the first saree ended, Dushasana found another joined to it, and another, and then another. The sarees never stopped appearing. Dushasana continued to pull on her saree, but it unwound in a never-ending stream. Finally, Dushasana fell on the floor exhausted, with no more strength to pull the saree.
The entire floor was covered with mounds of cloth, but Draupadi was still clothed as before, chanting to the Lord in ecstasy. She proved that no one is ever as helpless as they think they are, if they have devotion to the Lord.
Nature itself showed its fury in a terrible storm with thunder and lightning, with which the howling of wolves, brays of donkeys and screech of vultures were heard. Along with these terrible omens, a voice from the heavens thundered a threat to destroy Dushasana with lightning. Terrified, Dushasana fled the hall.
Everyone present stood with amazement, failing to understand who saved Draupadi’s chastity so surreptitiously. But wicked Duryodhana was beyond any possibility of change. He patted his thigh and commanded Draupadi to come and sit on it. He was taking revenge on her by insulting her in every way possible, yet unable to understand the grave injustice he was performing.
Hearing this, Bhima couldn’t stay silent anymore. With fury, he thundered loudly and said, “Duryodhana, I take a vow at this moment to break the thigh that you invited Draupadi to sit on. I shall break it with my mace in a battle. As for your brother, the cruel Dushasana, I shall tear open his chest and drink the blood that comes out. And I shall wash Draupadi’s hair with the same blood.”
Draupadi, with anger, swore her hair would remain loose to remind everyone of her shame. She would tie it up only after Bhima had avenged the disgrace she had been subjected to. The other Pandava brothers motivated by Bhima made vows of revenge known to everyone.
Bhima’s vow brought terror to all who were hearing it. Especially to Dhritarashtra who was horrified. The miracle of the saree, the voice from the heavens threatening Dushasana, and now this dreadful vow of Bhima frightened him to death. Realizing that his sons were going to be punished in an unimaginable way, the weak Dhritarashtra decided the only way out of this misery would be to release the Pandavas out of Duryodhana’s slavery and to return to Yudhishthira all that he lost in the game.
He called Draupadi to his side and begged her to forgive his sons for what they had done. He gave Draupadi two boons for her to choose. She told Dhritarashtra that the first boon would be that her husbands needed to be freed and with the second she needed to be freed. But she continued and said that the vow not to tie up her hair would not be withdrawn.
Dhritarashtra then called upon Yudhishthira, returning all that Yudhishthira lost in the game of dice. However, Yudhishthira and his brothers didn’t feel right about the way they got their lost belongings back. They left the hall.
Duryodhana, Shakuni, Karna and the Kaurava brothers, except Vikarna, were very angry with Dhritarashtra’s decision. As Duryodhana was afraid of the Pandava’s revenge, he got upset with his father for letting this opportunity slip from their hands. He insisted that they should recall Yudhishthira for another game.
As everyone knew, Dhritarashtra believed that the crown was passed on to his brother Pandu unfairly. After Pandu’s death, he was made the guardian of the kingdom, although he was blind. Thus he felt the crown belonged to him and should be passed to his own son, Duryodhana. So, as usual, his son persuaded him once again, this time to request Yudhishthira to play another game of dice.
This time it was decided that the loser would go into exile for 12 years, then live in disguise untraced for one year. If they were discovered in the 13th year, then the 12-year exile would begin again. Yudhishthira was addicted to gambling and he had decided not to oppose his relatives, so once again he foolishly fell for the trap all over again. Everyone tried their level best to discourage Yudhishthira, so he would not repeat the same mistake. But Yudhishthira hastily agreed, insisting he would not go against the principles of dharma and disobey his elders.
Yudhishthira did not know that Shakuni used charmed dice. The Pandava king was defeated yet again. There were no words to describe Duryodhana’s joy. He was sure he will be able find the Pandavas in the 13th year, to send them into exile for the next 12 years, and on and on.
After Yudhishthira lost the game, the Pandavas, disgraced and resentful, prepared for their period of exile. Yudhishthira assured them that they will be back after the incognito year to reclaim all they lost in the gambling. Bhima cried out loud, promising to kill Duryodhana once they returned. Arjuna also took a vow to avenge Draupadi’s insult by punishing those who stood in silence without helping her and Nakula and Sahadeva joined in with their vows as well.
Their mother Kunti was too weak to face the hardships of exile, even for a day. But she refused to stay in the palace where Duryodhana lived. So Vidura kindly took her to his home. Draupadi’s five sons, by the five Pandava brothers, were sent to their grandparents at Panchala. Arjuna’s wife Subhadra and son Abhimanyu departed for Dwaraka to stay in the care of Krishna.
The Pandavas left the city followed by weeping citizens and well-wishers who didn’t want anything to do with Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra. Yudhishthira was able to pursue the people to return home once they reached the suburbs of the city.
More to come…