(In The Birth of Mahabharata: The Mahakavya of Krishna-Draupadi, I have narrated an alternate reading of Mahabharata in which Draupadi is Vyasa’s central character in Mahabharata, and Vyasa composed Mahabharata with Draupadi at the centre with a mission to oppose Vedic Orthodoxy in all its Avataaras – Political or Academic. This article is textual explanation of the Narrative.)
In this article, I will discuss on these points; and I propose:
Vyasa’s Original Mahabharata had Draupadi at the Centre
Vyasa originally portrayed Draupadi as Vaak-Sarasvati’s Archetype in his Original-Mahabharata.
The tampering with Draupadi's Active and Proactive role necessitated tampering with her Vaak-Sarasvati aspect. It is with this aim that her Shrii-aspect has been highlighted, her Shachi-Indrani aspect has been marginalized, and her Vaak-Sarasvati aspect has almost been done away with.
The tampering of Vyasa’s Original Mahabharata is a parallel process of tampering the Original RgVeda collated, and edited by Vyasa – and analogous to decentering Draupadi, the Original RgVedic Sarasvati who was the Original Indra has been decentered
I will start with the question: why is Draupadi regarded Brhati Shyaamaa? What does Vyasa have in mind?
Draupadi is regarded Brhati Shyaamaa several times; thrice by Kunti (5.88.85a, 135.17-18; 15.23.9a), and once by Yudhisthira (17.3.36). Kunti also calls her Shyaamaa once - Shyaamaa /yoshitaam shreshthaa (17.1.30).
Are Brhati and Shyaamaa used thus two separate words, or is it a phrase – Brhati Shyaamaa?
Except in the case at 17.1.30, Vyasa uses the words together in case of three other women too – Ambikaa, Ambaalikaa (te caapi brhati shyaame niilakuncitamuurdhaje, 1.96.54a) and Hidimbaa (keyam ca Brhati Shyaamaa sukumaarii tavaanagha, 1.139.20a)– the former two Vyasa’s “Niyoga-wives” and the later known as Raakshasii – belonging to a cannibal tribe – and Bhiima’s consort.
So, would we take them as separate words or as a phrase? What could be common among Ambikaa, Ambaalikaa, Hidimbaa and Draupadi?
Commentators, translators, interpreters and scholars have not taken it as phrase, but as separate words; and have taken Brhati to connote large, large-framed, one with good or excellent physique, one with superior limbs and body, Lofty etc.. Haridaas Siddhaantavaagish has taken Brhati as a flower, and Shyaamaa as the colour of that flower in case of Ambikaa and Ambaalikaa.
All interpretations (I am aware of) agree that Brhati refers to Draupadi’s Body – (after all Draupadi is so famous for her Physical Beauty further confirmed by her explicit association with Shrii-Lakshmi) – and none has found anything in the epithet that might refer to her Archetype.
Similar is the case with Shyaamaa. The usual connotation is dark-complexioned - Black or Dark. There is another competitor signifier of Black and Dark - Krishna. Now, Draupadi's other name being Krshnaa – Shyaamaa and Krshnaa become natural synonyms to her dark-complexion. Or, to put it differently: Shyaamaa and Krshnaa become alternate Signifiers by the force of the Signified – Black and Dark.
However, are they really synonymous? If so, why do the Rshi of Chaandogya Upanishad and Bharata Muni in Naatyashaastra not use the word Shyaamaa as such? I will come to that.
Are the four Krishnas in Mahabharata ‘the four Shyam’ too? Among the four Krishnas, Vaasudeva-Krishna is called by both names Krishna and Shyam– but, he acquired that name Shyam in Puranik narrative mostly as Raadhaa’s Shyam; Krishnadvaipaayana Vyasa is Krishna, but he is never called Shyam; Arjuna has Krishna as name, and Shyam as epithet (and Nakula too is Shyam) – though not much used. Like Arjuna, Draupadi has the name Krshnaa and epithet Shyaamaa – though Shyaamaa seems to be her name too considering the frequency. It is commonly found that when a person is frequently addressed by an epithet, the epithet itself transforms into a name, often nickname. [I, (I suppose I am the Everyman here), have an obese childhood-friend. He has maintained unique standard of obesity for the past 40 years. In Bengali, ‘fat’ is ‘Motaa.’ We ‘adoringly’ christened him “Motu” in school – and that became his name, so much so that now his nephew calls him ‘Motu-Kaakaa’ – Motu-Uncle. Similarly, “Kelo” (from Kaalo) is another popular nickname in Bengali.].
Apparently, we cannot say that usual translations and interpretations of Brhati and Shyaamaa as above are entirely wrong. Brhati is derivative of Brhat – and Brhat connotes “lofty, high, tall, great, large, wide, vast, abundant, compact, solid, massy, strong, mighty, full-grown” [i] – and these connotations apply to Draupadi to some extent to the point we ‘popularly’ know her, particularly “lofty” (in the sense of dignity) and “great” and “full-grown.” We may also find Draupadi as “strong” and “mighty” if we remember how she smashed Jayadratha and Kiichaka to the ground when they tried to molest her; or “strong” in the sense of strength of mind and spirit.
Of course, Draupadi as “strong and mighty” is not often remembered, and our intellectuals and artists are so busy disrobing her that they would not portray her as smashing Jayadratha and Kiichaka to the ground.
And here is a curious cultural similarity! Like Draupadi, we have also forgotten another “strong and mighty” Woman – Vaach-Sarasvati of RgVeda. [ii]
Draupadi and Sarasvati – both are Krshnaa, and associated with Black (Krishna), again both are Brhati – and that only show that Draupadi is indeed Vaach-Sarasvati’s archetype; and to the remarkable and tremendous significance of this, I will come back soon.
Well, I am not keen to launch any Conspiracy Theory; however, even at the face, doesn’t it appear like some sort of Cultural Conspiracy? It is precisely to address this point that I am writing this article.
Coming back to Brhati Shyaamaa, I would suggest, the usual literal translations of either Brhati or Shyaamaa with reference to Draupadi do not suffice (except lofty, strong and mighty – and I will discuss why), because Brhati brings in several other rich associations that cannot be overlooked if we read Mahabharata in context – the context of the words as used in Mahabharata, as well as the context of Mahabharata itself in Ancient Indian Literature.
First of all, as I mentioned, Vyasa has used the epithet Brhati Shyaamaa only about three other women – Vicitraviirya’s wives Ambikaa and Ambaalikaa, and Bhiima’s ‘wife’ Hidimbaa. There is certainly some exclusivity about the epithet.
Ambikaa and Ambaalikaa are certainly two of the most important characters – they mothered Dhrtaraashtra and Paandu in Vyasa’s seed in Niyoga custom – so, in a way, they are the MOTHER of Mahabharata-Itihaasa next to Vyasa’s mother Satyavatii. If this is their important role – there is another frequently overlooked. Ambikaa and Ambaalikaa’s consent to the Niyoga (though with seemingly reluctance) marks the end of Bharadvaaja Angiraa bloodline in Kuru Vamsha and begins the Vashishtha bloodline. One surely remembers that the Puuru Vamsha has been in reality Bharadvaaja Angiraa blood because Duhshanta-Shakuntalaa’s son Bhaarata gave away his throne to Bharadvaaja’s son Bhumanyu. Vyasa-Vashishthas’s entry in Kuru Vamsha ends that bloodline. That entry, to consider from a mundane point of view, is Political. It was needed to end the Bharadvaaja Angiraa hegemony in Vedic Culture and Civilization. I will come to that.
Why Hidimbaa? No doubt she too is a very important character. And if we try to imagine her as Raakshasii the way comic books, fairy tales, cinema and T.V serials portray Raakshasii, she is Brhati indeed. However, her importance lies elsewhere – frequently overlooked by scholars and Mahabharata-lovers. Her bold approach to Bhiima and confession of Kaama for him, her independent-mindedness, her going against her own culture and rules of convention, her “live-together” with Bhiima sanctioned by Kunti and Yudhisthira, her protecting the Pandavas and Kunti during their post-Vaaranaavata Forest Exile – all these make her remarkable. It is befitting that she should later gain Devii-status (- she is worshipped in Himaacal Pradesh). But her most important role lies in her “live-together” with Bhiima. By sanctioning this, Kunti and Yudhisthira violated all Dharmashaastrik norms – by allowing a younger brother to produce child before the eldest brother’s marriage outside a Vedic marriage tie; and Kunti is even remarkable in accepting Ghatotkacha as the eldest of the next-generation Pandavas. What scholars and Mahabharata-lovers overlook is that, Ghatotkacha too is in fact Kaaniina-Putra – like Vyasa and Karna – because Bhiima could not have married her, an Raakshasii, as per Dharmashaastrik norms. Hidimbaa marks the Dharmavyatikramii role of Pandavas – that is soon to be followed by another Dharmavyatikramii role – the polyandrous marriage with Draupadi.
What I suggest is: the Brhati Shyaamaa characters – Ambikaa, Ambaalikaa and Hidimbaa – are involved in some sort of revolutionary acts in standard of then Vedic Orthodoxy. Doesn’t it point to the role of Brhati Shyaamaa Draupadi too?
More so because exclusive exclusivity is reserved for Draupadi!
Kunti regards Draupadi - sarvadharmavisheshajnaam (5.135.11a), sarvadharmopacaayinii (5.135.15a), and then says Brhati Shyaamaa /striidharminii kshatradharmarataa sadaa (17-18). So, we have to understand Brhati Shyaamaa in context with Dharma and Kshaatradharma, and particularly sarvadharmavisheshajnaam – ‘specialist in all Dharma’ – these are words not used about any other character in Mahabharata. Another time Kunti says, Shyaamaa /yoshitaam shreshthaa (17.1.30) – that is, Shyaamaa Draupadi is best among women, and here, in context, Shyaamaa does not seem to connote merely Black or Dark. And when Yudhisthira tells about Draupadi- Brhati Shyaamaa buddhisattvagunaanvitaa/ yoshitaam shreshthaa (17.3.36) – that contains all the ‘Key-words’ of Mahabharata-philosophy – Buddhi, Sattva – Sattva Guna – therefore, Brhati Shyaamaa is bound to be something more.
Then again, Brhati Shyaamaa should be read in context with all other eulogistic words that Draupadi merits –manasvinii (1.175.8a); dharmaarthakushalaa dharmacaarinii (Vidura, 2.69.9); dharmacaariniim (Samjaya: 2.72.6c); sarvadharmajnaam paribhuuya yashasviniim (Dhrtaraashtra: 2.72.13c); priyaa ca darshaniiyaa ca panditaa ca pativrataa (3.28.2a); teja eva tu kevalam (Dhrtaraashtra: 3.228.9c); sarvadharmopacaayinii (Kunti: 5.135.15a); raajnaa dharmajnaa dharmadarshinii (12.14.4c).
One easily notes, Draupadi is constantly associated with the word Dharma and Purushaarthas – her adeptness in Arthashaastra clearly stated (dharmaarthakushalaa dharmacaarinii), and adeptness in Kaamashaastra implied with ‘modesty’ (sarvadharmavisheshajnaam … sarvadharmopacaayinii). More than that, she is constantly remembered as one with exceptional Vidyaa, Buddhi and Prajnaa – and all these attributes remind of one RgVedic Devii – Devii Vaach-Sarasvati. And I would remind readers again that both Draupadi and Sarasvati are Krshnaa and associated with Black (Krishna).
With this introduction, it is now time to answer: Why is Draupadi regarded as Brhati Shyaamaa? To try to explore into Vyasa’s “oceanic mind”, let us then ask first: what is or who is Brhati? And after that, we will explore what or who is Shyaamaa?
1. Brhati Chanda (Metre) and Mystic Number “36” and "18"
First, some primary idea from evergreen Monier-Williams. Brhati is –
1) The name of a Vedic metre of 36 (originally, 8+ 8+12+8) syllables or (later) any metre containing 36 syllables
2) A symbolical expression for the number “36” (- as in SHrautasuutras)
3) A part of the body between the breast and backbone (- as in Sushruta) – the space containing the Heart
Every careful Mahabharata-reader knows, the Mystic Number “36” is a very important one in Mahabharata, other than the all important ‘almighty’ "8" (which I will discuss in details separately). As we have noted, Brhati as “36” contains three verse-lines of "8", or taking it as symbolic of “36”, its half "18" is another Mystic Number of great importance in Mahabharata.
Mahabharata written in 18 parvans, the Kurukshetra War fought for 18 days by 18 Akshauhinii, Giita with 18 adhyaayas – are all these 18 accidental? I say – NO.
I suggest, the Mystic Number "18" is actually connected with the Mystic Number “36”. There is of course some other significance of "18". Krishna says to Arjuna that the attribute of Sattva Guna consists of "18" Gunas (12.328.13) – and we have seen, Draupadi represents Sattva Guna. Considering the Kaala-Time discourse in Mahabharata, the "18" parvans of Mbh. may represent the "18" Nimeshas that are the basic units of one Day and Night (Manu Samhitaa – 1.64).
Nimesha should ring a bell. The setting of Mahabharata is Naimishaaranya – “the twinkling of the eye”-forest [iii] – and here we get not only Nimesha of Kaala-Time, but also another valuable Symbol – the Eye. Interestingly, in Nimesha, we get both Brhati and Shyaamaa. I will come to that.
In Mundaka Upanishada (2.7), Boat is the Metaphor for 18 Karmas or Sacrifices. This perhaps gives us a hint why Sauti transforms Vyasa’s Original 100 parvan Mahabharata into 18 Parvans, and throws light on the metaphoric significance of Satyavati’s (Vyasa’s mother) being a Boatman in her earlier life. We should also remember that Draupadi is compared with Boat more times than any other character. Kaalii-Satyavatii and Shyam-Krshnaa Draupadi are thus connected through Boat/Ship Imagery too – other than being 2 of the Pancha-Kanyaas.
Pancavimsha Brahmana (23.12.2) states: “The Gods were afraid of death; they resorted to Prajaapati. He gave them the immortality through this eighteen-day-rite.” That is another potential hint why Mahabharata has 18 Parvan and why the Yuddha-Yajna at Kurukshetra lasted for 18 days. Finally, Deva-Asura dichotomy is finally resolved, and all characters gain immortality at the 18th Parvan.
Sometimes, Goddess Kaalii is portrayed with 18 arms; scholars who like to imagine Draupadi as Kaalii, may find another significant "18" here – Draupadi as "18" armed Kaalii dominating the "18" parvans and destroying 18 Akshauhinii in 18 days. If this is tempting, equally tempting should be the fact that Sarasvati is portrayed as a warrior-Devii of Pralaya in Shaandilya Upanishad and with "8" arms in the ‘Buddhist’ Suutra of Golden Light. This Sarasvati, I suggest, is the Original Sarasvati of RgVeda. I will come to that.
The Mystic Number “36” comes back again and again … Shamtanu rules for 36 years, Yudhisthira rules for 36 years … Yaadava Destruction happens after 36 years of Kurukshetra War (- and Yudhisthira regards Draupadi as Brhati Shyaamaa after 36 years) … Bhiishma tells Yudhisthira/Pandavas that royal conduct involves "36 virtues [Gunas] related to 36 other virtues; accomplishing those virtues [Gunan]…” (12.71.2). We also get to know of 36 Janapadas – (13,008.028d@001A_0336 tayaa hataa janapadaas tadaa shattrimshato nrpa) long before 16 Mahaajanapadas (- and this "16" again is "8"+"8").
The Shatapath Brahmana further clarifies another equation marking the Kaala-Time connection with Brhati and Mystic Number “36”:
Year = Brhati Chanda = 12 Full Moon + 12 eight days (of the fortnight of waning moon) + 12 New Moon = 36 = 36 syllables of Brhati (Shatapath Brahmana-6:4:2:10).
With all these ideas about Brhati, and how the Mystic Numbers "18" and “36” are interwoven in Mahabharata’s Form-and-Content, does it seem that the Brhati of Brhati-Draupadi could be a description of her Body only?
2. Brhati: Vyasa and Draupadi's Life-Story
If Vyasa was a traditionalist and was proud of his own Vashishtha-heritage, isn’t it natural that he would have fascination for Brhati – the Chanda that made Vashishtha the Vashishtha?
In Aitareya Aranyaka (184.108.40.206-2), Vashishtha has special connection with Brhati, in that he took his name on knowing and understanding how “as a thousand of Brhati verses become perfect.”
Vyasa also becomes the true Vashishtha in understanding Brhati-Draupadi!
Vyasa-Vashishtha’s understanding of Brhati is also his ‘under-standing’ Vicitraviirya’s Brhati Shyaamaa wives – and fathering Vidura, Dhrtaraashtra, and Paandu.
Would anyone disagree that Draupadi appeared as personified-Danda to the Kauravas? With keen VaagDanda she goaded her husbands to war, and it is her Danda that smashes Duryodhana’s Thigh and splits Duhshaasana’s chest and beheads Karna’s head that could think of and abuse her as bandhakii and suggest her Vastraharana.
In Pancavimsha Brahmana, Brhati is Vajra or Danda (7.8.10). By means of the Brhati, Indra hurled his Vajra on Vrtra (brhataa vaa indro vrtraaya vajram praaharat, PB 8.8.9).
Brhati-Draupadi is thus the Vajra-Danda “hurled” by Indra-Pandavas that devastated the Kshatriyas at Kurukshetra. And considering the Vashishtha and Indra affinity [iv], Brhati-Draupadi is also Vyasa’s Vajra-Danda “hurled” on corrupt Kshatriyas to effect Bhuubhaaraharana.
The Panditaa Draupadi has a discourse on Danda that is similar to the other 3 Krishnas’ speak on Danda. In a way, the Ideology of Danda unifies the four Krishnas. And let us remember that Danda is not just punishment, but Good Governance. That is why it is the most essential core in Raajadharma. (Kautilya’s Arthashaastra elaborates this later).
Wouldn’t we agree that if Yudhisthira could reach Svarga it is owing to Draupadi's merit? When she fell first, Yudhisthira did not turn back, and later reaching Svarga, he burst out into tears for Draupadi.
Brhati’s greatness among Chandas is evident from the fact that Gaayatrii, Trishtubha, and Jagatii cannot take the Gods to Svarga; but Anushtup takes them nearly to Svarga (anushtubham praayunjata tayaalpakaadi na vyaapnuvams). However, Brhati is an immortal metre that leads to the World of Devas (Aitareya Aranyaka – 220.127.116.11).
Indeed! During Svargaarohana, Draupadi trailed the Pandavas; but sacrificing herself and dying first, she indeed leads them to the World of Devas because she reaches Svarga first. (See for my take on the Upanishadik significance of Svargaarohana episode - Draupadi and Pandava Purusha Upanishidic Significance and Yudhishthira's Svargrarohana: Why he insists on taking the dog to Svarga).
In Svarga, Yudhisthira asks Draupadi a question (athainaam sahasaa raajaa prashtum aicchad Yudhisthirah, 18.4.8a), but does not get any answer. [v]
That is to be so. Brhati is the world of Svarga (9.1. 29). Yudhisthira is IN Svarga; how can he know all about Brhati-Svarga? Brhati surpassed Indra through one of its manifestations (Pancavimsha Brahmana-- 12.13.1). Brhati-Draupadi surpasses Indra-Yudhisthira. How would he get an answer?
Brhati thus contains Anushtup and exceeds it.
I have mentioned that the Shatapath Brahmana relates Brhati with Kaala-Time (6:4:2:10) – and through Kaala we get Black-Dark again. This should not lead us equating Kaala and Kaalii because in Mahabharata Kaala appears as both Male and Female personifications at the time of Yaadava Destruction, but these figures are not explicitly identified with Kaalii.
Scholars who argue that Draupadi is Kaalii have already noted this Kaala-Time aspect in Draupadi. However, if Brhati suggests Kaala-Time, and Sarasvati is Krshnaa, why do we need Kaalii in the picture? Besides, Brhati-Draupadi is related to Kaala-Time in another way – through her name Krshnaa. In Bharata Muni’s Naatyashaastra, Krshnaa represents Bhayaanaka Rasa and the deity is Kaala-Deva (6.42-43).
The Brhati-Sarasvati connection is marked in RgVeda as Sarasvati is Brhati (I will come to that), and Vaach and Brhati are same. In Atharva Veda (9.2.5a) Kaama is called the Cow, and her daughter is named Vaak and Viraaj by sages (saa te kaama duhitaa dhenur ucyate yaam aahur Vaacham kavayo viraajam). The Viraaj and Brhati connection is evident in Atharva Veda. The Rshi says: Brhati is “calf of Viraaj, giving each wish fulfilment” (vatsah kaamadugho viraajah; AV- 8.9.2c). The connection of Vaach and Viraaj/Viraat and Brhati marks another significance of great import, and I will come to that.
In Mahabharata too, Sarasvati is associated with Kaala-Time – she teaches the mystery of astronomy to sage Gaargya – and taught by Sarasvati, Gaargya acquired knowledge of Time and its course, of the deviations of luminous bodies (in the firmament), and of all auspicious and inauspicious portents (kaalajnaanagatish caiva jyotishaam ca vyatikramah (9.36.15c).” (KMG, Chap-37, Shalya Parvan)
Gaargya composed Gaargya-Jyotisha that contains Yuga Purana. This Purana mentions the Bhuubhaaraharana frame of Mahabharata very briefly, and has almost the same to say about Draupadi’s Life-Purpose.
There is also a curious Sarasvati, Brhati and Suurya (symbol of Kaala-Time) association in a Pancavimsha Brahmana narrative: “By means of the Sarasvati, the Gods propped the sun but she could not sustain it and collapsed; hence it (the Sarasvati) is full of bendings (kubjimatiiva), as it were. Then, they propped it (the sun) by means of the Brhati and, thereupon, she (the Sarasvati) sustained it. Therefore the Brhati is the strongest of the metres, for they had propped the sun with it (PB 25.10.11).” Needles to say, Suurya is symbol of Kaala-Time, and Brhati-Sarasvati’s propping up Suurya suggests her control over Kaala-Time.
Now, kubjimatiiva connotes curves of the female body (like the bends of river; and river is most often Feminine) as much as ‘curves’ of Buddhi – that is, Kuuta-Buddhi. Vyasa’s Kuuta-Shlokas are product of Vyasa’s Kuuta-Buddhi; otherwise he could not have out-witted Ganesha while employing him to write Mahabharata.
I suggest, Brhati-Draupadi in her Political role is this kubjimatiiva Vaak-Sarasvati – actually implying her Kuuta-Buddhi … and this becomes evident when we read the Alternative Narratives of Dice-Game episode, Jayadratha and Kiicaka episode.
Vyasa composes Mahabharata, encoding in Form and Content (Narrative) the numerical significance of Brhati Chanda of “36” syllables (also "18"), and his muse Brhati-Draupadi-Sarasvati props up Mahabharata-Suurya as well as Pandava-Suuryas:
pancabhih suuryasamkaashaih suuryena ca viraajataa /
shatsuuryevaababhau prthvii pandavaih satyavikramaih // (1.55.30)
Brhati is called the Rulership among the Chandas (svaaraajyam chandasaam brhati, Pancavimsha Brahmana-24.6.3). Brhati is the highest metre (brhatyaa brhattvam) (PB 7.4.3). Brhati Chanda is Fortune (Aitareya Aranyaka – 18.104.22.168); Brhati is mahat (Aitareya Aranyaka – 22.214.171.124-2).
Draupadi-Brhati is indeed the “rulership among Chandas” – the chief protagonist among all other women, the Queen among queens; she is “Fortune” – Shrii-Lakshmi; and “mahat.” And her being Queen among queens, takes us back to her Vaach-aspect and Shachi-Indrani-aspect, and back to Vaach-aspect through Shachi-aspect.
3. Brhati and Anushtup
I am aware, the question that will naturally arise here is: if Brhati Chanda (Metre) is so important in Vyasa’s encoding, and if Brhati-Draupadi-Sarasvati is his muse, why is it that Mahabharata is composed predominantly in Anushtup Chanda?
Indeed, as pointed out by John D. Smith [vi], “Over 93% of the verses in the Mahabharata are Anushtup …” and Anushtup, we know, consists of 32 syllables in the pattern 8+8+8+8.
Why Mahabharata is composed predominantly in Anushtup, requires a separate detailed treatment (and that would also mean exploring the Mystic Number "8"), and I will do that. However, in this article, I will confine myself in Brhati only, though showing that one answer to the question lies in understanding Brhati and its relation to Anushtup.
As we have seen, Brhati Chanda (Metre) is obviously connected with Anushtup Chanda through the Mystic Number "8". It is ‘obvious,’ but I am not stating anything new here. It has already been stated by Rshis mystically.
For example, the Rshi of Pancavimsha Brahmana says: “The Gods squeezed the Rasa of four quarters (dishaam rasaan prabrhya). The four quarters as four syllables are added to Anushtup of 32 syllables to form Brhati by means of which Gods reached Svarga.”
And the Rshi of Aitareya Aranyaka says: “Brhati verses turned into Anushtubhs, and therefore out of Praana as connected with Indra, and out of the Brhati (which is Praana), he makes speech, that is Anushtup, as a body.” (Aitareya Aranyaka-126.96.36.199)
Brhati turning into Anushtup – we have an allegory in Mahabharata, when Brhati Draupadi descend into the arena of Svayamvara on the 16th day of the celebration (1.176.16-30) – the number "16" representing Anushtup.
Mahabharata is thus Brhati in Essence, and Vyasa composes it in Anushtup to form the Body, that is, the Form of the Mahabharata-Mahaakaavya. The Form also symbolically codes the Content because Brhati is connected with Praana and Indra.
If Draupadi is Brhati, we get here the allegory of her connection with Praana (Bhiima = son of Vaayu; in Mahabharata and Upanishads, Praana is one form of Vaayu and also identified with Vaayu), and Pandavas (= Indra incarnates or Indra’s Amshas).
4. Brhati Vaach and Mystic Number "8"
Now, let us see how Brhati-Draupadi with her Vaach-Sarasvati-aspect is connected with the Mystic Number "8" – the number so important in both Brhati Chanda and Anushtup Chanda.
Vaag herself and knower of Vaag – both represent the Mystic Number "8". Vaag is the 8th Rshi and the "8" because she has communication with Vedas - vaag ashtamii brahmanaa samvidaaneti (Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad-2.2.3).
The Rshi wonders: “What sage hath learned the metres' application? Who hath gained Vak, the spirit's aim and object? Which ministering priest is called eighth Hero? Who then hath tracked the two Bay Steeds of Indra?
kashchandasaam yogamaa veda dhiirah ko dhishnyaam pratiVaacham papaada /
kam rtvijaamashtamam shuuramaahurhariiindrasya ni cikaaya kah svit (RV- 10.114.9)
In other words, Knowledge of Chanda is called Chanda-Yoga; one who knows application of Chanda gains Vaak and is the true Dhiira regarded as the 8th Hero having mastery over Kaala, and Progress (RV- 10.114.9).
Vyasa’s composition of Mahabharata in dominantly Anushtup Chanda with "8" syllables in each line is thus a tribute to Brhati-Draupadi – or we may say, Vyasa embodies his composition with Brhati-Draupadi – or we may say, Anushtup Chanda is Vyasa’s Coded Message that his central character is Brhati-Draupadi.
5. Brhati-Draupadi in the title and alternative names of Mahabharata
I mentioned that Brhati is mahat (Aitareya Aranyaka – 188.8.131.52-2).
The element “Mahaa” in Mahabharata is same as ‘mahat,’ and ‘mahat’ is not different from ‘Brhat’. No, I am not creating this equation; Monier-Williams says that, but more importantly Bhiishma has said that – “Brhat, Brahma, and Mahat all bear the same sense (brhad brahma mahac ceti shabdaah paryaayavaachakaah, 12.323.2a).”
In other words, the Mahaa in Mahabharata might refer to Brhati-Draupadi; so, the title Mahabharata actually would come to mean: Mahaa+Bhaarata = Brhat+Bhaarata = Brhati+Bhaarata = “Draupadi-Bhaarata”.
If this sounds strained, I would bolster my argument with the following:
The Original title of Mahabharata is Jaya. We usually take Jaya to mean ‘victory,’ or name of Arjuna. Jaya is also the name of a narrative that Kunti narrated to inspire the Pandavas into war. How can we be sure that the Mahabharata’s title Jaya was not from this Jaya? Together with this, I would add that Jaya is name of one Vashishtha-Gotra. So, Vyasa might be singing the glory of his ancestors too through the title. Again, with this, I would add that Jayaa is one of the "8" names of Shrii-Lakshmi – and Draupadi being Shrii-Lakshmi, (noticing that ‘almighty’ "8" is here again), is in the title Jaya. Who knows that Vyasa’s Original Mahaakaavya was not named Jayaa instead of Jaya? At least, I believe that it was originally Jayaa and some later poet “forgot” the feminine “a”!
One epithet of Mahabharata is Kaarshnam Vedam (1.1.205, 1.56.17). Which ‘Krishna’ does this Kaarshneyaah refer to? Usually we think, the ‘Krishna’ here refers to Vyasa because it is his Veda after all. However, Kaarshneyaah may also refer to any of the four Krishnas and that includes Draupadi too. Our age-old Brain-Programming indeed makes it difficult to concede that Krshnaa-Draupadi too might be the Kaarshnam here; whereas, the only other prominent mention of the word kaarshneyaah (in possessive case - Krishna/Krshnaa’s) in the whole of Mahabharata is about Draupadi – in the mention of her Five Sons:
drshyanta ete kaarshneyaah panca pancaacalaa iva /
vyavasthitaa yotsyamaanaah sarve 'rjunasamaa yudhi // (8.31.66)
If by Kaarshnam Vedam, Vyasa indeed wanted to mean his own Veda or Vaasudeva-Krishna’s Veda, why is that in the whole of Mahabharata, there is no prominent mention of Kaarshnam or Kaarshneyaah to suggest the other three (Male)-“Krishna’s”?
With this I would add, ‘Krishna’ may be a male name, but in essence ‘Krishna’ is Feminine. This has great significance in understanding Mahabharata and Draupadi's role – and I will come back to that.
Another epithet of Mahabharata is ‘Vedaan Pancamaan’ (1.57.74). We usually take it to mean the Fifth Veda – because we believe that it comes after the 4 Vedas and contains the essence of the 4 Vedas. The fact, however, is that originally there were 3 Vedas – it is mentioned in Mahabharata as well as in Kautilya’s Arthashaastra (Trayii-Vedas) – so, Fifth Veda does not seem to mean ‘the 1 after the 4’. This has evidence in Mahabharata. In a Mythical Narrative of the birth of Pandavas, SHakra-Indra tells Shiva that he would take birth as Pancam (5th) of the Pandavas:
etac chrutvaa vajrapaanir vacas tu; devashreshtham punar evedam aaha /
viiryenaaham purusham kaaryahetor; dadyaam eshaam pancamam matprasuutam // (1.189.28)
We know, Arjuna is the 3rd Pandavas – so, Pancam cannot certainly mean here ‘youngest’ or ‘the 1 after the 4.’ What does it mean then? Surely, Pancam therefore, cannot simply mean Fifth; or, it must have other significances too.
Going by Arjuna’s character and role in Mahabharata, we may take Pancam as the “Best” or in the sense of Excellence. Incidentally, Vashishthas also means the “Best.” Well, just as Vedaan Pancamaan is an improvement on the four Vedas, Pancam-Arjuna must mean excellence – Arjuna is the best of the Pandavas.
However, Pancam has several other significances – and though varied apparently – all the significances are metaphors for each other at some Deep Layer.
In Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad, the 5th born is Dharma; therefore, “5” might be the symbol of Dharma – Kshatrasya Kshatram Dharma (Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad- 1.4.14). So, Vedaan Pancamaan might mean “Dharma-Veda”. We have seen that Draupadi is constantly associated with Dharma and she is kshatradharmarataa sadaa (Kunti: 5.88.85a, 135.17-18).
I would suggest, Pancam might refer to Draupadi from various perspectives –
i) She hails from Paancaala – the land of “5” – and her name Paancaalii bears that “5”
ii) She is wife of “5” brothers [for which Karna calls her bandhakii – the woman who has relation with “5” men – and earlier Kunti too uses the word in same sense - naatash caturtham prasavam aapatsv api vadanty uta / atah param caarinii syaat pancame bandhakii bhavet // (1.114.65)]
iii) Pancam or “5” has Feminine significance and connotation. In Brahmana Text narratives, the Devas took possession of Vaagdevii and deprived the Asuras of her. One passage in Panchavimsha Brahmana (21.13. 2) narrates: “The Gods and the Asuras strove together but could not gain a definite victory. They said: ' Let us gain the definite victory by a pairing of the word.’” The Asuras could not find a matching word to ‘Five’ and were defeated - pratyavindan panceti devaa abruvan naasuraa avindams tato devaa abhavan paraasuraah. In other words, the Asuras despite being physically stronger had “Vaak-deficit.” The Asuras lacking “5” means they lack the Feminine – that Vaach symbolizes.
“5” symbolizing Feminine is also Transcultural and is the symbol of Aphrodite/Venus – the Great Feminine. The planet Venus traces a perfect pentacle across the ecliptic sky every four years. Venus and her pentacle became symbols of perfection, beauty, and the cyclic qualities of sexual love. As a tribute to the magic of Venus, the Greeks used her four-year cycle to organize their Olympiads. So, “5” represents perfection of Feminine in the Western World; and Venus symbolizes that. [vii]
Together with this I would add that in the two ‘Mahabharata-Briefs’ (one by Ugrashravaa Sauti and one by Vaishampaayana), Draupadi finds most mention as ‘Krshnaa’. If the other 3 male-Krishnas were more important to Vyasa while he was composing Mahabharata, why would it be that?
What I suggest is: among the four Krishnas of Mahabharata, Draupadi is the only “Krishna” whom we find in the title and all the alternative titles of Mahabharata. This is one strong evidence to me that Vyasa originally composed Mahabharata with Krshnaa-Draupadi at the centre, and she was decentered by later poets, just as Sarasvati was decentered from RgVeda by later collators who tampered with Vyasa’s collation (I will treat this in details in a separate article).
6. Draupadi's Archetype: Krshnaa-Draupadi is Krshnaa-Sarasvati!
As I have discussed above, Draupadi's life-story is a parallel to all mystic sayings on Brhati Chanda (Metre) - and that clearly establishes her as Vaach-Sarasvati’s Archetype, as well as answers the question why she is hailed as Brhati. This will be further evident when we see how Draupadi is Vaach’s archetype. I will come to that.
Why is she then called Shrii-Lakshmi? Or, at times identified with Shachi-Indrani? (See my take on this aspect - Why Draupadi is Sachi-Indrani) What about her destructive aspect for which scholars and many Folk Mahabharata identify her with Kaalii ? The though-line is: Krshnaa = Black/Dark = Kaalii; Destructive Draupadi with disheveled hair = Kaalii.
We certainly cannot deny the Folk Mahabharata its place of importance in Mahabharata-tradition. However, Kaalii is a later Goddess mostly of late Puranas. Considering that the Present Mahabharata knows Kaalii, or at least a Female like Kaalii as personification of Kaala-Time, we therefore, need to examine the relation and affinity of Vaach-Sarasvati with Shrii-Lakshmi, Shachi and Kaalii; and as we shall see, these goddesses are only part aspects of Sarasvati. (Sadly, none of the scholars I am aware of, has explored this dimension in her – while this has been glaring in the face for hundreds of years)
I have mentioned the Pancavimsha Brahmana Narrative (25.10.11) in which Sarasvati props up Suurya after she gains additional strength with Brhati.
Chanda, we know, is essential part of Vaach, so, Sarasvati has Brhati-aspect anyway. The Rshi of Pancavimsha Brahmana perhaps created that narrative to emphasize that Brhati is Vaach-Sarasvati’s strongest aspect.
And Draupadi's name Krshnaa establishes her even convincingly as Vaach-Sarasvati’s Archetype. The connection of Sarasvati and Krishna (Black/Dark) is first found in RgVeda though in an oblique way. At RgVeda 7.95.1, Rshi Vashishtha Maitra-Vaarunii regards Sarasvati as their (men’s) sure defense and fort of Iron (eshaa Sarasvati dharunamaayasii puuh). Iron – Aayasa – is called black metal. In Mahabharata, Krishna in explaining the etymology of his name Krishna says, “I cultivate the earth by being Black Iron (Kaarshnaayasa); and, as I am Black in colour, I am Krishna -
krshaami mediniim paartha bhuutvaa kaarshnaayaso mahaan /
krshno varnash ca me yasmaat tasmaat krshno 'ham arjuna // (12.330.14)
The name Krishna is thus associated with Kaarshnaayasam (Iron/Black Metal); and connecting Sarasvati with Kaarshnaayasam (Iron/Black Metal), the RgVedic Rshi actually connects Sarasvati with Black. Now, this Black is not the Negative Black of Tamah Guna or Ignorance; in fact, it is just the opposite. This Black is akin to Shyaamaa of Chaandogya Upanishad – and indeed, Draupadi is Shyaamaa too! I will come to that.
Then we have Krshnaa-Sarasvati in Shaandilya Upanishad. In explaining the sacred syllable OM (AUM), the Rshi Atharvaana states: “The letter ‘M’ has as its visible symbol Sarasvati, an aged woman of black colour riding on a bull, having a trident in her hand (makaaramuurtih krshnaangii vrshabhavaahinii vrddhaa trishuuladhaarinii sarasvati bhavati, 17).”
Here, Sarasvati is not only Krshnaa, her connection with “M” and her appearance as vrddhaa in the sense “old” associates her with Pralaya – the universal dissolution – and Goddess Kaalii is thus actually Sarasvati’s later Archetype. Vrddhaa – however, may also be in the sense of mature and intellectually ripe, that is, Praajna – because Sarasvati is associated with dhii and Prajnaa. Interestingly, in the image of vrshabhavaahinii trishuuladhaarinii (riding on ox and holding trident – Trishuula) – we find Shiva-Maheshvara too.
And of course we have Shatapath Brahmana that mentions another significant connection of Sarasvati and Black by associating Sarasvati with ‘Krishna’ (Black) of the Eye, and Indra with White in the Eye (12:9:1:12).
Gopatha Brahmana mentions Vishnu as Black – and the word used is Krshnaa (vishnudevatyaa krshnaa varnena, GBr_1,1.25q).
Vishnu as Krshnaa, and given Vishnu’s female form as Mohinii – who functions similarly as Vaach and Shachi-Indrani in using her sexuality as Kuuta Upaaya against the Deva-opponents by exploiting their Kaama-attachment for women – and all for the purpose of Devas - Draupadi is the Original Vishnu of Mahabharata born for work of Gods.
The RgVedic Rshi leaves no doubt that we can indeed imagine Brhati-Draupadi as the RgVedic Vaach-Sarasvati’s Archetype. Let us now do some research on RgVeda Vaach-Sarasvati. And after that we shall see again, how Draupadi is Vaach-Sarasvati, and why she is Shyaamaa.
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[i] All connotations noted in this article are from Monier-Williams
[ii] Vaak and Sarasvati are not clearly associated in RgVeda; however, the affinities are quite evident. For example, one such association comes through the Mystic Numbers “7” and "8". Sarasvati has “7” ‘sisters’ (rivers), and Vaak has “7” Chanda (Metres). Consequently, Vak and Sarasvati themselves (herself) become the "8" – a much important Mystic Number, if not the most, in Vedic Dharma and Mahabharata. The identification of Vaak and Sarasvati is explicitly established in Atharva Veda (12th Century BCE) - vaacaa sarasvatyaa (AV- 5.7.5), Mahabharata, Brahmana Texts and Upanishads, and continues through Puranas, Temple Sculptures and to this day. I will therefore, use Vaak and Sarasvatii as alternative names of the same Devii, or mention her as Vaac-Sarasvati.
[iii] See – “Moving along with the Naimisheya Rshis” (Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader's Guide to the Education ofthe Dharma King. University of Chicago Press, 2001)
[iv] In a Mahabharata narrative, Vashishtha causes rain and saves the world – an Indra-role; besides, both Vashishtha and Indra have Tiger-connection.
[v] Alf Hiltebeitel has dealt with this brilliantly in his “Draupadi's Question” though with different approach and missing the significance of Brhat? [Ibid.]
[vi] Smith, John D.. “Winged Words Revisited: Diction and Meaning in Indian Epic.” Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 62, No. 2 (1999), pp. 267-305
[vii] Information from Dan Brown’s The Vinci Code