Vyasa’s Veda Rshi-Brahmin Family Conflict and Draupadi's Polyandry by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay SignUp
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Vyasa’s Veda Rshi-Brahmin Family Conflict
and Draupadi's Polyandry
by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay Bookmark and Share

In the previous part “Draupadi Pandava Consensual Polyandry”, I have discussed mostly on the personal dimensions of the Pandavas and Draupadi’s polyandrous marriage, and that it is a consensual polyandry, and nothing like Patriarchy’s victimization of Draupadi. In another article “Pandava Draupadi Marriage - Coded Message on Rajadharma and Ideal Governance”, I have discussed how the polyandrous marriage may be read as an allegory on Rajadharma.

Mahabharata (Mbh.) being Mahakavya, allegorical reading of every narrative is viable possibility. Similarly, Mbh. being a Political Itihasa, every event has a Political Dimension too. In this part, I will discuss why Yudhishthira and Vyasa want the polyandrous marriage, and what other impersonal reasons motivate Kunti, Pandavas, Draupadi, and Drupada to accept it.

Indeed, some people really seem to be in hot water with Draupadi's polyandrous marriage more than she has actually been, reminding of a Bengali idiom – Mayer Theke Masir Darad Beshi. In recent times, in social media (e.g. Facebook, particularly in so-called and puerile “Fan-Page Groups”)), ‘mainstream’ media, and in popular cultural depictions (mostly T.V serials), I have seen a revisionist trend to the extent that either Draupadi is modeled after Sita as a docile rather domesticated wife (and by the way, this imagined Sita-model is itself problematic because Sita has never been a weak and “husband’s slave” character, but a strong Evolutionary Woman; See - Ramayana: Sita’s Valour of Tongue), or there is attempted Out-Vyasa-ing Vyasa to suggest that Draupadi was married to Yudhishthira alone. This is quite a Post-Truth symptom; if you do not like something, if something does not suit your agenda, (pretend to) delete it! The farcical part of this revisionist approach in most cases is that, those troubled souls ill at ease with Draupadi's polyandry are however, well at ease with Pandavas’s (or men’s, in general) Polygyny.

At the onset, without any references to Religious Scriptures or scholars, we can say from Common Sense from a pure humanistic point of view that, if Polygyny has been there, Polyandry must have been there, if Polygyny is the rule, Polyandry must be the rule, if Polygyny is prohibited, Polyandry must be prohibited, and vice versa.

Coming to Draupadi's polyandrous marriage, before beginning discussion, let us note –

1. Draupadi's polyandry is the only explicitly treated and celebrated case of its kind in Mbh.

2. Other than that, there are some references of polyandrous marriage of past [stated by Yudhishthira to Drupada, as in case of Jatilaa and Vrkshi. There is also case of Yayati’s daughter Madhavi married to Galava. She lives with various kings and Vishvamitra and produces children. This is not a typical polyandrous marriage, though a polyandrous relation, or successive ‘live-together’ with marriage tie intact, if we may choose to call it so]

3. Other than that, there are circumstantial evidences of prevalence of Polyandry in some parts of then Bharatavarsha. For example, when Draupadi in guise of Sairandhri tells queen Sudeshna that she is married to five Gandharvas, Sudeshna does not raise a brow nor any body questions her (See - Ekavastraa Draupadi, Performance, Politics and Mahaanagnyaa Vaak). Even Kicaka who would later try to molest her and lose his life to Bhima, does not call her character and morality in question despite Sairandhri’s declared Polyandry. This suggests, Polyandry is not unknown at least in Matsya kingdom. As a sidelight, Kicaka is “exceptional”, because earlier we see Karna calling Draupadi a bandhaki for her polyandrous marriage. Karna’s statement that women love to be in polyandrous relation may also be taken as another circumstantial evidence of prevalence of Polyandry in some parts of Anga, at least.And if not, then Karna’s generalized misogyny ironically applies to his own wives’ desire for polyandrous relation too [i]. Let us register here Rshi Dirghatama’s connection with Anga. I will come to that.

4. Ancient references of Polyandry are in Rgveda. The Rgvedic cases are mostly all of Gods, not humans, yet, considering that Gods are models of Human Mind, and humanized to reflect human society, we have to agree that Polyandry was common and accepted in Ancient Bharatavarsha by ‘some people’ and some Rshi Families at least, though not an everywhere phenomenon. And if Polyandry of Gods is sanctioned in Vedas, and if one believes Pandavas and Draupadi as God-incarnates, then certainly there is nothing to object about the polyandrous marriage per se. As per Dominant Narrative in Mbh., Drupada is convinced by this logic after Vyasa narrates tales of Pandavas and Draupadi’s previous birth.

5. The Atharva Veda nuptial hymn speaks of multiple husbands to a wife, pointing to social existence of Polyandry. Yet, its commonality is not explicit. I will be coming back to these. In Aitareya Brahmana (iii.23), Rc is imagined as Woman, and Saman as Man. ‘Pairing’ being important in ritual, it is said three Rks are commensurate with one Saman, and with three Rks a Saman is chanted; therefore, Polygyny is justified practice but not polyandry – “Therefore one husband has many wives, but not one woman at once many husbands.” Offering to Surya is suggested for ‘pairing’; and a man pair with multiple wives by offering to Surya before all of them – “Even if there are many wives as it were, one husband is a pair with them” (iii.48).We may assume, Polyandry was losing practice by the time of Aitareya Brahmana – 800 BCE. However, it is equally true that Mahidasa Aitareya’s view cannot be taken as universal view. And his view against Polyandry certainly proves existence of the custom in his time.

6. Even if Draupadi's polyandrous marriage is the only explicit case of Polyandry in Mbh., we find none (except Karna’s later outlash, which is rather a case of frustrated Kama because Karna failed to win Draupadi in Svayamvara) objecting to it, and the marriage is well accepted in society and by common people and Brahmanas and Kshatriyas. Many persons at different times speak against the Pandavas, but none castigates them or Draupadi for the polyandry. This is yet again a strong circumstantial evidence of prevalence of polyandrous marriage though not “voiced” in Culture, and suppressed in Culture. I would rather question here: why the suppression! That none has to say anything against the polyandrous marriage may again be taken as a strong point for counter argument whether the polyandrous marriage happened at all. That is the beauty of Mbh. that Mbh. would remain a perennial fountain of debates and discourses thus.

7. Despite counter arguments, if any, Draupadi is traditionally hailed as one of the Panca-Kanyas deserving worship [ii]; this indeed is one strong evidence of acceptability of Polyandry, rather Woman's Evolutionary Psychology in Bharatiya Tradition and Culture. The significant point is: despite polyandrous marriage, Draupadi is Kanya. Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya has beautifully explained this in his Panca-Kanyas series. However, we have another explanation in Dharmashastras. Menstruation is considered sacred and capable of washing away all “sins” of a woman. For example, Bauddhayana Dharmasutra ( says – For month by month their temporary uncleanness removes their sins (masi.masi rajo hy asam duritany /apakarshati). Similarly, Vashishtha Dharmasutra says “A woman is purified by her menstruation (rajasa shudhyate nari, 3.58)”, “month by month menstruation takes away her sins (masi masi Rajasuya hi asam dushkrtani apakarshati, 5.5; 28.4b)”, “women possess an unequalled means of purification; they never become foul (saved by menstruation) [striyas pavitram atulam na etas dushyanti karhi.cit, 28.4a).” Even Manu Samhita says that a woman’s mental impurity is removed by her menstruation (5.108). Obviously, such Liberality is not possible in age of Dharmashastras (600- 200 BCE), unless sexuality liberty of women has been accepted and/or Polyandry too has been accepted in some parts of Bharatavarsha or by certain Schools of Thoughts, at least.

8. A woman married at same time to more than one man is polyandry, and a man married to more than one woman is Polygyny; how about polyandry and Polygyny merging in one Body? Indeed our Bharatiya identity has such complexity at the root. Ila was both mother and father to Pururava whose descendant was Bharata Dauhshanti (Aitareya Brahmana -39.9) from whom our country and civilization gains her name. Ila mothered and fathered children, that is, as She, she was wife to Budha and as He, he was husband of woman. Similar is case with Bhangashvana (13.12) who fathers children and then mothers children. Polygynyandry? Polyandrygyny?

9. Polyandry has survived in different pockets of India, and mostly among people whom the Mainstream has always labeled as “Tribals.” But who are these Tribals? In fact, Tribals are the most indigenous populace of Bharatavarsha. Most of them have been here since long before the Indus Valley Civilization or Vedic Civilization was born. Polyandry has been found among people in Kinnaur Region, a part of Himachal, Jaunsar-Bawar region in Northern India, Tibetans, Bhotias, Kanets of Kulu valley, people of state of Bashahr, Thakkars and Megs of Kashmir, Gonds of Central Provinces, Todas and Kurumbas of Nilgiris, Kallars of Madurai, Tolkolans of Malabar, Ishavans, Kaniyans and Kammalans of Cochin, Muduvas of Travancore and of Nairs, Paharis, agrarian societies in Malwa region of Punjab, Khasa of Dehra Dun; and among the Gallong and Memba of Arunachal Pradesh, the Mala Madessar, the Mavilan, Karvazhi, Pulaya, Muthuvan, and Mannan in Kerala and among the Kota. Well, it covers entire Bharatavarsha.

This data shows that there is nothing to be shocked with Polyandry in Indian Civilization because it has been prevalent among Tribals and Dravidian. The Dravidian and Munda are considered as having preceded, as substrate languages, the introduction of Vedic Sanskrit (Witzel 1999). Thus, Vedic Civilization has nothing to do with things like Purity or Pure Race. Through analyses of the names of tribes and individuals from the RV, scholars have shown that extensive acculturations took place between the Vedic clans and the indigenous South Asian peoples, and the period of this acculturation can be framed between ca. 1700-1000 BCE (Mahadevan). Witzel (1999) notes some three hundred words from one or more unknown language(s), especially one working with prefixes. This shows, the Present Rgveda Text is nothing about “Pure” Sanskrit. The acculturation and Munda-Dravidian influence in Rgveda proves that Polyandry and Woman’s multiple sexual relations (not just by Niyoga-Pratha) and Sexual Liberty has been well recognized in our tradition; thus, Draupadi's polyandrous marriage has been nothing exceptional.

That said, I find, Draupadi's polyandry is only the tip of an iceberg, but a very important tip to guide us to the deep of Vedic Itihasa. In short, we can appreciate Draupadi's polyandry and its purpose only with some idea on the background of Vedic Culture prevalent in Mbh. times.

And thinking of where I start from and where to go and end up, I find, the Four Krishnas are in fact intrinsically linked even in this marriage too, and that, the ultimate direction of the present discussion would lead to show that (sounding strange, I am sure, at this point)–

1) Vyasa’s role and Vasudeva-Krishna’s role in Mbh. are in fact two sides of the same coin

2) Vyasa’s collation-collection-editing Vedas and Kurukshetra War are two sides of same coin

3) If Kurukshetra War involves primarily Kshatriya vs Kshatriya conflict and tangible Brahmana vs. Kshatriya conflict, Vyasa’s dealing with Vedas involves Brahmana vs Brahmana conflict too

4) Vyasa’s collecting and editing Vedas which has the significance of search for “The Lost Vedas” and rediscovery of “The Lost Vac-Sarasvati”, and Draupadi's polyandrous marriage are two sides of the same coin (See also - Draupadi, the Brhati Shyaamaa, the Lost Sarasvati)

5) Vyasa’s composing Mbh and Draupadi's polyandrous marriage are two sides of the same coin

6) Vyasa’s idea and ideology of Shri, and Draupadi's polyandrous marriage are two sides …

7) Vyasa’s philosophy of Dharma (including Rajadharma and Stridharma), and Draupadi's polyandrous marriage are two sides of the same coin (this, and point-6 also discussed in - “Pandava Draupadi Marriage - Coded Message on Rajadharma and Ideal Governance”)

8) Vyasa’s philosophy of Power and Draupadi's polyandrous marriage are two sides ….

In short, Draupadi's polyandry is so intrinsically linked with the themes of Dharma and Kurukshetra War that Mbh. has no existence without Draupadi and the polyandry.

With this ‘brief’, I now start with an understanding of Present Rgveda Text, to show how “Veda Politics” goads Vyasa to his reformist Veda-editing Academic Project, and how it connects with his Social Reform project, an essential part of which is the polyandrous marriage.

1. Vedas and the Present Rgveda Text, not quite the same, and Brahmin rivalry in view
Vedas are eternal in the sense that it contains Human Wisdom relevant to all ages; but when we are speaking of Text, it implies Human Agency, Language, and therefore, Social Construction. In short, Vedas in original sense and Vedic Text are not the same; the former is the essence and the philosophic content, the latter is a social document expressed in language. It is the same difference between Poetry in the Poet’s mind and the Poem (expressed in language). The latter symbolizing the first is as venerated as the former, as should be, however, social and cultural problems like dogmatism and fundamentalism arise when the symbolic value of the latter is not understood, or when the latter is considered the former, or when the latter is considered the Actual. As a sort of disclaimer, I would say, this does not apply to Vedas only, but to every religious text on earth be it the Bible, Qur’an or Tripitaka, and to every literature on earth, that has been, is, and would be. In terms of Vedas, that means, the Rks and Suktas are the Language side, while the Truth contained (to be understood and realized through language) is Actual Vedas. The Rks become Vedas themselves, when they are uttered appropriately and with realization, not otherwise; that is, one reading Rks without realization reads dry Language only.

Discussing on Vedas, we have to make another distinction between Vedas and Present Rgveda Text. A reading of the Present Rgveda Text reveals that there are references to Ancient Vedas and/or ‘OtherVedas. However, they are not there in the Present Text. The inevitable conclusion is of the prospect of “The Lost Vedas”. How could this happen?

To understand that, let us look briefly into the evolution of the Present Rgveda Text. According to Michael Witzel, the RV was composed until c. 1200 B.C. (could also be around 1800 BCE depending on discovery of iron and drying up of Sarasvati River coinciding at that time) and he dates its redaction sometime in the BrahmanaText period. Thus, the Present Rgveda is an edited version of about 800 BCE in which there has been new inclusions of hymns as also exclusions, “the redaction only selected from various already existing collections”, as is to be expected in any collation-collection-editing, and it is exactly not the one that Krishnadvaipayana Vyasa collated-collected-edited. Thus there are three steps of evolution of Present Rgveda Text -

1. Composition by Rshis expressing Truth revealed to them – anywhere between 1500-3000 BCE or even earlier according to Max Muller (our Western Indologists always insist on the lower end)

2. Vyasa’s collation-collection-editing in Mbh. period – 1400 to 1200 BCE (or about 1800 BCE) [Witzel opines, “Towards the end of the “RV period” members of the Kuru tribe assembled the ancient Rcs and ordered them in a thoughtfully arranged collection that comes close to our present RV.” The Indian Tradition believes it is “Vyasa” instead of “members of Kuru tribe.”]

3. Present Rgveda Text – collation-collection-editing about 800 BCE – 700 BCE.

4. This Redaction and the final ordering are by Shakalya in Padapatha in ‘late Brahmana period’

That Present Rgveda Text is a late edition can be understood from design, or method –

1. The 1stMandala and the 10th Mandala both have 191 hymns each, as if they are the two covers of a Book, containing the Family Books of Mandala-2 to Mandala-8, and the exclusive Soma-hymn collections of Mandala-9. In all probability, the Step-2 (collation-collection-editing by Vyasa), saw a collection of "8" Mandalas only. [Witzel, Mahadevan, Talageri agree on this]

2. If Madhuchandasa Vaishvamitra inaugurates the Ten Mandala Samhita (RV 1.1-10), Aghamarshana Madhuchandasa ends it (RV 10.190). Mahadevan notes, that the 10.191 is a benediction litany for the samana “unity” (10.191.1-4; samana repeated and invoked eight times at 10.191.3-4). This "8", in my opinion, is a Mystic Number of great significance (See -Mahabharata Krishna Gita In Rig Veda Mandala "8")

3. Despite greatness of all Rshis and Rshi Families, the contributions of Rshis in the Present Text is not equal. In terms of percentage, it is as follows (- I quote here Talageri’s statistics):

Bharatas – 19 hymns = 1.85%
Angirasas - 345 hymns = 33.56%
Vashishthas - 139 hymns = 13.52%
Grtsamadas – 39 hymns = 3.79% (Grtsamadas call themselves Kevala-Bhrgus)
Kashyapas - 46 hymns = 4.47%
Vishvamitras – 97 hymns = 9.43%
Bhrgus - 46 hymns = 4.47%
Agastyas – 35 hymns = 3.40%
Atris – 96 hymns = 9.34%
Kanvas – 91 hymns = 8.85% (Kanvas call themselves Kevala-Angiras)
(Considering Grtsamadas as Bhrgus, the Bhrgu hymns increase in number, but considering Kanvas as Angiras, the Angiras-hymns dominate more.)

In Rgveda there are "8" Gotra-pravarttaka Rshis – Vashishtha, Kashyapa, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni (Bhrgu), Bharadvaja, Atri and Agastya – known as the eight pravarar?s?is – who are also the composers of Vedas. In Mbh., Parashara marks “4” Gotras - Angira, Kashyapa, Vashishthas and Bhrgu – as original Gotras and originators of other Gotras (Mbh. 12.285.17).

However, as we can see in above picture, the contribution of Major Gotra-pravarttaka Rshis is not same. The Angiras are the dominant Rshi family. They have two Mandalas – Family Books 4 & 6 – as exclusively to themselves. They are composers of 345 Suktas and 3619 Rks. In comparison, the Bhrgus have 46 Suktas and 473 Rks to their credit. However, the Bhrgus, and not the Angiras, are the real initiators of the two main ritual systems, which dominate the Rgveda: the Agni Ritual and the Soma Ritual. That would naturally prompt the question: why are Bhrgu hymns less in number? Mbh., the Present Text, let us remember, is a Bhrguized Text.

We may raise the same question from another perspective. Since the Saptarshis are hailed as Brahma’s sons, why is it that some Rshi-families have more composition than others? Why is it that some Rshi-families dominate while some others are so marginalized? If the Seven Rshis are at par, then the Vedas certainly would not have revealed to them selectively!

There are hymns in Rgveda that have been composed jointly by members of different families; and there are also hymns composed by Rshis whose family is unidentifiable. To add to the complexity, there are Gotras – the name of which is claimed by more than one Rshi-family. For example, Agneya Gotra can be both Bharadvaja-Angiras and Kashyapa; and Surya-Gotra can be both Bharadvaja-Angiras and Vishvamitra.

The importance of Soma in Rgveda needs no explanation. Some scholars even regard Rgveda as basically a Soma-book. Though Kashyapas have only 4.47% of total hymns, out of all hymns to Soma, they have 70.60% compositions. The Bhrgus are next with 32.14% of Soma-hymns.

The Vedic verses are revelations of truth. Therefore, as I said, it cannot be believed that Truth has been revealing herself to select Rshis and Rshi Families only. So, how do we explain the picture? The reason is, I would say, Human Psyche, and the very glaring fact that Human Beings are basically Political Beings. So, even if the ancient Rshis were above and beyond any parochial human drama, we cannot expect that Liberality from all of their progenies and descendants, many of whom were using Rshi Family names to promote their own Poetry and pass them as Vedas. It is the fate everywhere and has happened to all religions and prophets of the world. What I intend to say is: while ancient Rshis composed verses orally as Spontaneous Overflow of Powerful Feelings or as “man speaking to men” or deliberately to teach and convey Message, or to express Truth revealed to them, not all of their revelations could find place in rituals and memory as part of social culture. The reason of this marginalization and obscuration are –

1. Rendered so by non-usage [- “usage” implies, someone learns that and brings to society; the Rshis composed orally, so the ‘someone’ who learns and disseminates is an important factor]

2. Being non-patronized by Ruling Class, later Kshatriyas [- the disseminated oral composition of a Rshi would be lost in memory unless favoured in religious and social rituals that surely needed the sanction of Power and those in Power]

3. Brahmin rivalry [- the religious and social rituals cold not happen without Brahmins; so, their preferences over this Sukta over that matter much. Witzel (1997) notes, “We must suppose rivalry between various groups of priests which resulted in double or multiple collections of hymns (in SV, AV) in cases where several groups were contending for the monopoly of arranging and carrying out certain rituals and their texts.”

The above picture has universality – it has been the condition that Vyasa of Mbh. finds, and it has been the condition that the “unknown Vyasa” finds in 800 BCE. However, since the later redaction gives us the Present Rgveda Text with disproportionate Rshi contributions, we may infer, what Vyasa does (at about 1400- 1200 BCE) is undone in 800 BCE.

It is human tendency to bring things back to square one once the impact of a Reform Movement wanes. We have seen that in the consequences of the Bengal/Indian Renaissance, French Revolution and Russian Revolution. In other words, Liberality-Orthodoxy-Liberality-Orthodoxy – is the inevitable oscillation of Human History. Now, to understand Vyasa’s effort, his Reform Movement, we must first turn attention to Arjuna’s great grandson, Janamejaya,and his take on the polyandrous marriage, who has the ‘status’ of confirmed historicity to even Western Pandits.

2. Janamejaya, inVedas and Mahabharata, and his curiosity on Draupadi's sexual life
Studying the Itihasa of Rgveda and Mbh., we find several parallel points rather concurrent points in the evolution of Vedas to Present Rgveda Text and the ‘Vedan Pancaman’ Mbh.

1. (a) Vyasa’s Original composition Bharata (or, extended form of Jaya) transforms into Mbh. during Janamejaya Pariksi?ta’s reign, when Janamejaya listens to Vaishampayana’s rendering during the recess of Sarpasattra. It is Janamejaya-Vaishampayana interactive narration, further reported by interactive narration of Ugrashrava Sauti and SHaunaka and Rshis of Naimisharanya, and finally all reported by an anonymous poet that we know as our Present Mbh.-Text. In short, the Mbh. we have today is in fact ‘sponsored’ by Janamejaya Pariksi?ta, Arjuna’s great grandson.

(b) Coming to Itihasa of Rgveda, “the new Kuru dynasty of Parikshita, living in the Holy Land of Kurukshetra, unified most of the Rgvedic tribes, brought the poets and priests together in the common enterprise of collecting their texts and of ‘reforming’ the ritual.” (Witzel 1997: 265)

2. (a) In Mbh., Janamejaya Pariksi?ta is the most powerful political figure of his time. The Kurukshetra War already decided that. That he expanded Yudhishthira’s (and Parikshita’s) empire is evident from his holding the Sarpasattra in Takshashila. Janamejaya finally spared the Nagas and stops the Sarpasattra owing to intervention of Astika. He then returned to Hastinapura (tatas takshashilayah sa punar ayad gajahvayam, 18.5.29c).

(b) Itihasa of Rgveda: Parikshita’s reign sees many political, social, economical, linguistic and religious changes including political replacement of the fifty-odd Rgvedic (sub-)tribes by the new “super-tribe” of the Kuru and slightly later, by their eastern counterpart, the Pancåla.” (Witzel 1997). Janamejaya Pariksi?ta’s military feat is attested by Aitareya Brahmana (39.7).

3. (a) Mbh. rediscovers two important Rgvedic themes – Dharma and Bhakti – which are rather marginalized in Present Rgveda. The themes of Dharma and Bhakti have been emphasized by Vyasa, which are Liberal and Humanistic concepts and ideology, and are backed by Liberal Varna System (that is, fluidity in Varna).  Yet, the Present Mbh. Text shows that there is advocacy for Orthodox Varna System too, which betrays tampering of Mbh. by Orthodoxy. This second phase must have started after Janamejaya’s time and continued. The very Sarpasattra may be read as genocide of Nagas pointing to emerging Orthodoxy; yet, Janamejaya’s abandoning that project also suggests his acceptance of coexistence with Nagas, pointing to his Liberality. Orthodoxy is often regarded by many scholars as Brahmanism or Brahmanical Dharma. I do not agree with the term, and prefer to call it Orthodoxy, because Brahmana represents an ideology, not rigid Varna, nor Caste, the degenerated menace still haunting us.

(b) Coming to Itihasa of Vedic Culture, “The Kuru realm became the center of Brahmanical culture, with Kuruketra as the traditional heartland of Brahmanical orthopraxy.” (Witzel 1997).

As I said, Brahmanical is misnomer. Even in Present Rgveda Text, we find Naga Rshis.

4. (a) Vyasa is not only composer of Mbh., collector and collator of Vedas, he is the biological forefather of Kuru-Pandavas and Janamejaya (See -Pandava Birth-Mystery Reconsidered: Vidura’s Nephews, Pandu’s Biological Sons). Vyasa is already Puru-Kuru, that is, Bharata

i) As son of Satyavati who is Uparicara Vasu’s daughter
ii) As Satyavati’s Kanina-Putra by the same logic that Karna is Pandu’s son

(b) Regarding the first collation-collection-editing of Rgveda, Witzel (1997) notes: “It was only under the Kurus that as much traditional verse material as possible was included: not only the Saman-like hymns in book 9 but also that of the ‘Atharvavedic’ spells in book 10, and that of stanzas accompanying some major rites of passage (marriage, death).” This implies a master brain. Now, as per RV 10.95.17, Pururava identifies himself with Vashishtha. Therefore, Vyasa’s entry into Kuru Vamsha through Niyoga-Pratha is actually “re-entry.”

In my opinion, Vyasa’s final collation-collection-editing of Vedas was complete after end of Kurukshetra War and was given final shape by his disciples during Janamejaya’s time. We have the information that Vyasa completed his Bharata after his three sons had ascended heaven, that is, Vyasa’s Bharata was completed after Dhrtarashtra’s death, quite some time after the Kurukshetra War. Thus, Vyasa’s collation-collection-editing of four Vedas and composition of Bharata share a common time frame.

I noted, that the later (second?) collation-collection-editing of Present Rgveda Text happens during 800 -700 BCE according to Witzel. Now, according to Keith, “the earliest epic must date from the eighth to sixth centuries BC and be contemporaneous with the Brahmanas and Aranyakas, though of course, in the case of both Mahabharata and Ramayana extensive additions have been made by priestly hands in the two or three centuries before the Christian era.”[iii]

So, the PresentRgveda Text and Present Mbh. Text also share a common time frame.

Since we are discussing Janamejaya, it would be relevant here to note Janamejaya’s reaction to Draupadi's polyandrous marriage. “Curiosity” is an important theme in Mbh. It is mostly considered a Feminine matter, but Janamejaya has his share too. General male psyche is averse to ‘sharing’ a single beautiful woman with four others, be it brothers. So, Draupadi is of eternal interest. But let us note what Janamejaya wants to know -

“How did their wife Draupadi obey them all (katham tan anvavartata, 2c)? How is it also that no dissensions arose amongst those (nabhidyanta parasparam, 3c) illustrious rulers of men, all attached to one wife, viz., Krishna? O thou of the wealth of asceticism, I wish to hear everything in detail (shrotum icchamy aham sarvam vistarena, 4a) regarding the behaviour towards one another of those rulers of men after their union with Krshna (tesham ceshtitam anyonyam yuktanam krishnaya taya, 4c).” (1.200.2-4)

KMG translates puritanically. But Janamejaya’s question katham tan anvavartata actually means – “How they (the brothers) ascended or entered her after one another?”

What is evident here: Janamejaya betrays a typical male psyche in his sexual curiosity, but he does not question the polyandrous marriage, nor does he express surprise. We may thus, safely assume prevalence of Polyandry during his time too though not followed widely.

The relevant point here is: Janamejaya attests Draupadi's Polyandry without discomfort. [iv]

3. Orthodoxy, Patriarchy, Liberality and Rshi-Brahmin Family rivalry
We have noted the involvement of Brahmana rivalry, conflict and Politics both inter and intra Rshi-Brahmin Families in the making of the Present Rgveda Text. This is the common fate of every Religion. Buddha’s words, Christ’s words and Mohammad’s words and teachings have been similarly collated-collected-edited to give us the Dhammapada, Bible and Qur’an respectively. “The Lost Vedas” is common prospect to every Religion on Earth.

We have no clue to the preceding “Vyasas” (or redactors, taking ‘Vyasa’ as a generic name) that preserved the Family Books of Present Rgveda Text, but those “Vyasas” must have been there, otherwise the Family Books would have been lost in memory. From the mundane Self-Centriclogic of “family preserving the family” (gene, the gene), it would seem, Bharadvajas preserved Bharadvaja Samhita, Vashishtha the Vashishtha Samhita and so on; that is, it is expected that a responsible family member would try to preserve the works of his forefathers, however, this generalization does not hold good always, because in Present Rgveda Text we find works of Rshis have been preserved by other Rshi Families too, and there are joint compositions too. In fact, the Present Rgveda Text shows it all – Orthodoxy, Patriarchy, and Liberality.

We may mark the Liberal Rshis and compositions thus even by Common Sense

a) Rshis admitting Rshis of other families or Schools of Thoughts in their Family Books, i.e Rshis composing jointly with Rshis of other families or Schools of Thoughts
b) Rshis who are revered by the Five Races originated by Yadu, Turvasu, Puru, Druhyu and Anu
c) Rshis praying the welfare of all the Five Races – Yadus, Turvasus, Purus, Druhyus and Anu [The Present Rgveda Text is a document of the Puru-Bharatas, and other Four Races are marginalized or obscured; this has a Political Dimension]
d) Rshis revering Rshis of other Rshi Families or Schools of Thoughts
e) Rshis singing glory of ‘lesser’ Gods or ‘lesser’ known Gods; this has the significance of recognizing Other Cultures or Sub-Cultures that are usually marginalized by Mainstream
f) Rshis giving more importance to Human than to Gods, or Rshis praying on behalf of Human
g) Rshis saying that all Rshi Families are equally great
h) Rshis breaking the boundary of their own family and acknowledging other Rshis of other Rshi Families as their ‘fathers’
i) Rshis ‘deconstructing’ the supremacy of a ‘powerful God’
j) Rshis seeing no distinction between man and woman, Gender and Sex
k) Rshis who are lovers of Nature and view man as a creation of Nature
l) Rshis who are highly poetic and conveys High Philosophy through poetry
m) Rshis who are impartial to Aryas and Dasyus and Dasas (Vedic and non-Vedic), who think that God is impartial to Aryas, Dasyus and Dasas

The listed points are not exhaustive. Liberality in Essence is not different from Humanism; so, whatever ideas beneficial to Humanity are evoked by the term Humanism is Liberal.

In contrast, Orthodoxy and Patriarchy may be marked with having some symptoms as

a) Rshis who claim they are superior to other Rshis or Rshi Families
b) Rshis who claim they and/or their Rshi Families are exclusively connected with Gods, particularly the ‘powerful’ Gods i.e. Indra and Agni
c) Rshis who claim the supremacy of particular Race or Races over the other Five Races
d) Rshis who openly pray for power, Artha and personal and family benefits
e) Rshis who laud one God as greater than another
f) Rshis who pray less for Human than for self, or family or patrons
g) Rshis who show a patriarchal and parochial bend of mind, discriminates in Gender and Sex, has stereotyped notion regarding Gender and Sex, Aryas, Dasyus and Dasas

The Present Rgveda Text shows symptoms in most Family Books in many Suktas, of what happens to collation-collection-editing of Vedas or Family Books when the collator-collector-editor/s is not Liberal, or is politically motivated, or has Agenda to promote. The situation is, as I have said, is universal, and has happened with Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad too; and thus we find in all Religious Texts similar Orthodoxy, Patriarchy and Liberality side by side.

The Present Rgveda Text, in my opinion, is the picture of “Back to Square One”, of the state that has been before Vyasa’s collation-collection-editing; and the Orthodoxy and Patriarchy here gives us idea of what Vyasa has wanted to do and has done in 1400-1200 BCE that has been undone in 800-700 BCE.

4. Polyandry in Present Rgveda, Yudhishthira’s references, Vyasa’s sanction
Accepting Polyandry needs great Liberality. Let us now have a quick look at the hymns of Present Rgveda Text endorsing Polyandry to see who these Liberal Rshis are.

RV 1.116.17 and 1.119.5 are composed by Kakshivat Dairghatamasa who belongs to the Gotama family (historic branch of Angirasa family). These hymns mention Surya’s daughter Surya as married to both Ashvins. RV 1.167.4-8 is composed by Agastya Maitravaruni. Here Rodasi is married to Maruts. Agastya is hailed as Vashishtha’s elder brother, and he is said to have spread Vedas in peninsular India. According to Mahadevan, Agastya is non-Vedic corpora (of possible totemic origins), and he notes that JaiminiyaBrahmana 2.220 represents Agastyas as outsiders with respect to the Kuru-Pancalas. RV 7.33.11 is composed by Vashishtha Maitravaruni. He needs no introduction, only this much for now that Vyasa is Vashishtha. Here, Urvashi is wife to both Mitra-Varuna. RV 10.85 is composed by Surya Savitri. Here Surya is married to Ashvins, but she is already wooed by Soma, Agni and Gandharva.

While in Present Rgveda Text, Kakshivat Dairghatamasa and Vashishtha Maitravaruni have Family Books, Rshi Agastya is marginalized, obviously the collator-collector-editors of 800 BCE excluded much of his works. Surya Savitri is almost a non-entity. We are again back to the prospect of “The Lost Vedas”, that is, more verses attesting Polyandry is Lost. However, Surya Savitri’s entry in Vedic corpus, like many other Non-Gotra Affiliated Rshis of the 10th Mandala, could not be left out of 800 BCE Present Rgveda Text. I would say, this is owing to Vyasa.

Now, among the Angirasas, the Gotamas are most dominant in Present Rgveda Text. They have 1406 verses from 141 hymns distributed along 5 books, the largest single family collection in the RV (Mahadevan). Polyandry attested by Gotamas mean it had greater acceptance in Vedic society. Let us note that Krpacarya, the Guru of the Hastinapura Bharatas is a Sharadvata Gotama. That, despite his active role in exterminating Pancalas and Draupadi's sons, he is allowed to live and continue as Kula-Guru of Yudhishthira, only proves reverence for the Gautamas. Again, that explains to some extent why Hastinapura Brahmanas have no problem accepting Draupadi's polyandry. And Vashishtha’s attestation explains of course Vyasa’s consent and active role in the polyandrous marriage. Regarding Vyasa, however, there is more; and I will come back to it.

The above data makes clear that we have two Major Rshi Families (Gotama, Vashishtha), one Rshi of unknown origin implying non-mainstream Vedic origin or even Outsider (Surya Savitri) and one famous Rshi Agastya also of non-mainstream family – who attest Polyandry. It is therefore, an almost universal picture of acceptance of Polyandry. However, there is one significant joint.

Conspicuous in absence in this list are the Bharadvajas. In discussing Draupadi's polyandrous marriage, this has to be an important information because it explains why Drupada who has been Drona’s father Bharadvaja’s disciple objects to the polyandrous marriage of Draupadi, and even claims that polyandry is not sanctioned by Vedas or that he has nowhere heard of such marriage. Conspicuous in absence is also Kanva, and in Mbh. we find that Narada (a Kanva) frames a rule of rotational monogamy with Draupadi with the polyandrous marriage continuing without sexual polyandry with other brothers but sexual monogamy with her “lord of the year”, whereas before that, the Pandavas and Draupadi have been living for two years in free polyandrous relation. Kanva Narada’s rule is therefore, the ‘middle way’; ‘monogamy’ within Polyandry.

In the light of above references in Present Rgveda Text, it would be interesting to see again Yudhishthira’s case references. Yudhishthira cites two precedences based on his Shruti of Purana – the case of Jatilaa Gautami married to seven Rshis (14), and one Muni’s daughter Varkshi (literally born from tree) married to ten brothers all bearing the same name Pracetas (1.188.14d*1910_1-2). Jatilaa Gautami is not surprising because we have already noted Kakshivat Dairghatamasa Gotama’s RV 1.116.17 and 1.119.5 attesting Polyandry. I would be coming back to Kakshivat Dairghatamasa’s Anga connection and Vaishnava connection in Mbh. Now, who are Pracetas?

Yudhishthira says that Varkshi was married to Pracetas. The other reference of Pracetas is also interesting. Pracetas refer to wise beings in Vedas. Cetas connotes “splendor, consciousness, intelligence, thinking soul, heart, mind.” It is one name of Varuna, and interestingly, one of the ten Pracetas was Valmiki’s father. Valmiki was also known as Prachetas. RV mentions Pracetas many times, and among these, we find the Non-Gotra Affiliated Rshis like Surya Savitri (RV 10.85.17) (yet again!), Manyu Tapasa (10.83.5a), Vasukarna Vasukra (10.66.1a), Gaya Plata (10.63.8) and Lusha Dhanaka (10.36.2a) mentioning Pracetas.

Yudhishthira’s references to Jatilaa Gautami and Varkshi-Pracetas are thus purposeful indicative of his Cosmopolitanism. Mentioning Gautama, Yudhishthira wants to say Drupada that not only does Polyandry is sanctioned by dominant Vedic Rshis, but also that Drupada’s Veda and Veda-knowledge is parochial because he adheres only to the Bharadvaja Samhitas. And by reference to Pracetas, Yudhishthira’s message to Drupada is that, Polyandry is not only sanctioned by renowned Rshi Families but also by Non-Gotra Affiliated Rshis, that is, by ALL. Besides, Pracetas carrying an Abstract significance of Wisdom, Yudhishthira thus appeals to Drupada’s wisdom and invokes him to reject his Text-Book knowledge of Bharadvaja Samhitas. Regarding other significance, I will come back.

[To be continued …]

1) Mahadevan, Thennilapuram P. (2011). The R?shi index of the Vedic Anukramani system and the Pravara lists: Toward a Pre-history of the Brahmanas. Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies (EJVS) Vol. 18, Issue 2, p
2) Talageri, Shrikant g. (2000). The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis. Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi
3) Witzel, Michael. 1995 (2001). “Early Indian history: Linguistic and textual parameters”. In The Indo-Europeans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity. Edited by George Edrosy. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter
4) Witzel, Michael. 1997. The Development of the Vedic Canon and its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu, in “Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts” ed. M. Witzel. Harvard Oriental Series, Opera Minora 2, Cambridge
5) Witzel, Michael. 1998. Early Sanskritization. Origins and Development of the Kuru State. Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies (EJVS), 1-4, 1-26
6) Witzel, Michael. 2001. Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts. Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies (EJVS), 7-3, 1-93

[i] It is then a clear indication that Karna had a troubled relation with his wives. Karna confesses to Krishna that he is Kama-attached to his wives. Now, we can guess the problem. Kama-attachment on one hand (and in contrast Draupadi praises Arjuna’s control over senses), and tremendous misogyny on the other. Add with this Karna’s promise not to wash his feet till Arjuna’s death. The unhygienic promise shows that despite Kama-attachment, Karna was depriving himself and his wives of a balanced conjugal life. Did his wives incline elsewhere for that? Is that the reason of his misogyny and crying hoarse that “Every-Woman” loves Polyandry? I am only raising questions, not saying anything conclusive at the moment.
[ii] Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha /Pancakanya  smaranityam mahapataka nashaka
(Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari: constantly remembering these Kanyas five destroys great failings/sins)
[iii] Keith, A.B. 1909 (reprint 2005).The Aitareya Aranyaka. Eastern Book Linkers. Delhi, India, p 197 fn. 19
[iv] Many scholars, mostly Western, doubt Mbh.’s status as Itihasa. They would question: what proof that the historic Janamejaya Parikshita is indeed Arjuna’s great grandson? I would say, if Janamejaya Parikshita is historic despite his non-mention in Yaskacarya's Nirukta and Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, non-mention in this text or that cannot be conclusive proof against historicity. Besides, if Janamejaya Parikshita is not Arjuna's great grandson, then let our scholars answer who his ancestors are.

More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay
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