The original episode and the poet's main intention is most definitely to portray the struggle of a woman in a patriarchal society with a rigid concept of 'Dharma'. However while giving respect to the poet's original intentions, we may also view this episode as an allegory and a metaphor. And perhaps the Poet did intend the episode to have a dual meaning.
I thought of a beautiful metaphor of Queen Draupadi as the incarnation of Bhumi Devi (Earth) herself. The legend goes that Krishna was born because Bhumi Devi was fed up with the tyrannical kings inhabiting her and took the form of a cow to plead to Lord Brahma and Vishnu to save her. It is upon this request that Vishnu agreed to incarnate himself as Krishna.
The beauty of the Earth is to be enjoyed and admired but not exploited.
Firstly we shall explore the possible symbolism in the wedding of Draupadi. TheSwayamvara roughly translated to "Bride's self-choice ceremony" itself is controversial. Draupadi rejects Karna just at the moment, he is about to strike the target. This could be interpreted as the partial reflection of solar radiation back into space by Earth. The other meaning is that Earth itself was once a part of the Sun and has become an autonomous entity partly independent of the sun.
If Karna represents the Sun and Solar Radiation, Yudhishtra represents Space-time and Natural Laws. The wedding to the five Pandavas could be symbolized in the following ways:
After she rejected the Sun and moved away she developed her own orbit around the Sun and thereby a place for her in the space time continuum. Hence her wedding to Yudhishtra, the principle of Dharma or "Natural Law" which I interpret here as the Space-time continuum. Dharma, which happens to govern death, also corresponds with time; It is Yama Dharma who decided the beginning and end for all beings including in this case Bhumi Devi herself.
The Wedding to Bheema or Vayu principle is what I interpret as the time when the Earth develops a full-fledged atmosphere, which is one of her greatest protector. Bheema, throughout the Epic is portrayed as the most protective husband of them all. And from a scientific perspective it is very true, it is the atmosphere protects the Earth from harmful radiation.
The Wedding to Arjuna or the Indra principle is the stage of evolution where Planet Earth develops liquid water, the very character that differentiates Earth from other planets. It is also significant here to note that Arjuna derives all his weapons from the Lord Varuna. Draupadi is said to be slightly partial to Arjuna, which could be understandable if we view her as Planet Earth because nearly three fourth of her surface is covered by water.
The first three are sons of Kunti, whom I take the liberty to interpret as Physics or Physical forces.
The Wedding to the Twins Nakula and Sahadeva represents the stage of Earth's evolution where life starts evolving on the planet. The twins are said to be the sons of Ashwinis who are the physicians of the Devas. And Earth without having plant and animal life would surely be a very unhealthy planet.
Nakula , endowed with great beauty surely represents Plant life. It is only the Flora, which render beauty to vast tracts of earth including the Rainforests, Savannahs and the Mountains.
Sahadeva, his twin endowed with intelligence represents Animal life. Only Animal life forms possess a consciousness and intelligence.
These two are the sons of Madri, whom I take the liberty to interpret as Biology or Biological forces.
Despite having these 5 husbands, Draupadi is said to have a lingering for Karna. The role of partial solar radiation in sustaining life and earth's other geological processes cannot be denied. She herself is seething with a fire within at most times. This represents the Earth's core, which is composed of red-hot magma and sustains the life processes on the Earth's crust.
Each one of the five husbands has a very essential role in protecting her.
The Game of Dice
I want to take the poetic liberty to interpret the Game of Dice and the Humiliation of Draupadi as the Destruction and Plunder of Earth and her resources. Since this is not hard science, which we are dealing with, there may be contradictions.
Dritharashtra and Gandhari represent the blind forces of evolution, which eventually produced the Human Race, which I visualize as Suyodhana and his 99 brothers. Suyodhana started out as Suyodhana, the one who uses fair means. For in the beginning Human being was just another animal. But as his greed and jealousy grew, he resented the power of the 5 Pandavas and wanted to control them.
He thus became Duryodhana, the one who uses unfair means. With the aid of Dushasana or wrong means and technology, he starts to humiliate the Pandavas and Draupadi. Dushasana includes technology Humanity currently uses to cheat Dharma or Natural Law. Dushasana includes the Scientific community among Humanity who misuse science to genetically manipulate animals and plants, artificially recover natural water bodies, conduct nuclear tests in oceans and in open air polluting both the oceans and the air, to cite a few examples.
On the other hand, Humanity also has a sane voice, which protests against this inhumane torture of the Planet and the elements. This sane voice is represented by the courageous but vastly less powerful Vikarna. Vikarna includes the ecologists, journalists, social workers and the like.
The vast majority of humanity represented by 97 brothers who can be translated to 97% of humanity are merely silent spectators or are victims themselves of the tyranny of Duryodhana and Dushasana.
Even the Sane voice of humanity is shut down by Karna, who here represents Solar Energy or just Energy which is trapped in the fossil fuels upon which Mankind is reliant. This confidence leads Humanity to shut down Vikarna.
Despite Mankind's humiliation of Planet Earth and her five husbands, they are ever forgiving and retreat and live in peace. Their demand is only for 5 villages, which in modern contexts could be translated as a demand for 5% of the Earth's surface in all continents and zones to be left untouched by human activity. A very fair demand. But the leaders of humanity -Duryodhana refuse to concede even a needle prick of land.
This led the 5 husbands to retaliate.
- Yudishtra gives the red signal that Time has run out for mankind.
- Bheema unleashes Dust storms, Hurricanes, Cyclones and Heat waves.
- Arjuna unleashes Heavy rains, Coastal Flooding as a result of melting Polar ice caps.
- Nakula unleashes Soil erosions as a result of disforestation, crop diseases
- Sahadeva unleashes Pests and Animal diseases and viral pandemics, which transfer from animals to humans.
The tragedy however is not one sided and even the 5 sons of Draupadi are also destroyed indicating the loss of clean atmosphere, permanent pollution of water bodies, loss of plant and animal life.
And Mankind's forces are ultimately defeated. He regrets not having listened to the sane voice within humanity and not conceding 5 villages to the Pandavas. But ultimately he is destroyed. However while the Planet is herself redeemed, the victory is only a shallow one.
The Ascension to Heaven
After the extinction of Mankind, it is time for the Earth or Draupadi too to get destroyed. In the journey through the universe she also falls. The animal life (Sahadeva) is the first to follow her because he is most sensitive. Plant life (Nakula) follows suit very closely. The sons of the Physical forces linger on almost lifelessly but slowly the water (Arjuna) too disappears. Then the protective atmosphere (Bheema) too vanishes. What is left is Space-time (Yudishtra) itself followed faithfully by Dharma or Natural Laws of the Universe.
But he too ultimately gives in to dissolution and a new cycle has to start allover again. Humanity however is ultimately forgiven. But there is definitely no harm in conceding the 5 villages to the Pandavas instead of continuously provoking them. This is another parallel Mahabharata for you, an ecological message for mankind from the timeless poet – Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa – literally the Thinker from the Dark Island.
Isn't it time we listened to his message?