Draupadi Disrobing Episode- An Allegory of Vak

Continued from “Mahabharata: Draupadi’s Single Garment, and Disrobing in Dice Game Sabha" …

In the previous part – written about 4 years back – I discussed on one improbability concerning the word uttaraiiya in the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode taking cue from Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya and Satya Chaitanya who have effectively shown that Draupadi-Disrobing Episode is an interpolation. In this part, I will discuss and show that the Original narrative of the Dice-Game Sabhaa was one leading to verbal war between Draupadi on one hand, and Karna-Duryodhana-Duhshaasana on the other – in which Draupadi was insulted, ridiculed and humiliated, but there was neither any attempted Disrobing or Disrobing save incidental manhandling.

Draupadi’s plight is frequently mentioned as pariklishta – that need not mean “molested”, but connotes “much vexed or troubled, pained, harassed, afflicted” as well.

The other narratives relating to her humiliation are open narratives in the sense that for every narrative that such and such happened, we have counter narrative in Mahaabhaarata itself that such and such did not happen. To clarify: whether Draupadi was dragged by hair by Duhshaasana is an open narrative because we have the Alternative Narrative that she was dragged to the Sabhaa by a Praatikaamii. Just as we have reasons to believe that Duhshaasana and the Praatikaamii who dragged her to the Sabhaa were one and the same person, there is equal reasons to believe that they were different persons. Again, whether Draupadi was dragged to the Sabhaa by Duhshaasana/Praatikaamii is itself an open narrative because we have the Alternative Narrative that she herself went to the Sabhaa to bail out her husbands from bondage.

While the fact that Draupadi was menstruating at that time is supported by all other Alternative Narratives, we do have an Alternative Narrative that the Performance of menstruation was suggested to her by none other than Yudhishthira. This suggests that Draupad? as ekavastraa adhoniivii rodamaanaa rajasvalaa is actually her Performance (her Vaac-Sarasvati role) and Draupadi was not actually menstruating; or even if she had been menstruating, she deliberately used that vulnerability as means of empowerment to salvage the Pandavas; and here again she resembles Vak as Mahaanagnyaa of the Samhita texts – that I will come back to discuss in details.

In narrative construction of Mahabharata (and also in search of historicity), I prefer the Alternative Narratives because the Dominant Narratives – dragged by hair to Sabhaa, by Duhshaasana/Praatikaamii, menstruation, endless garments appearing et al. are too weighed down by textual contradictions and improbabilities, other than the obvious Supernatural overweight of the garment event. The Kuru-Pandava conflict is basically a political narrative, therefore, following the Dice-Game episode, there is bound to have been much rumour, hearsay and Political Propaganda over the episode. I suggest, Ugrashrava Sauti or later genius poet/s introduced the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode to kill two birds with one hit – to sanction the “Popular Perception”, and to represent What-Actually-Happened with allegory that is more dramatic. Patriarchy has not changed over the ages. Even today, forced nudity of woman before Gaze is considered to be her ultimate humiliation. Therefore, even if Draupadi had not been disrobed, many people outside the Dice-Game Sabha were surely imagining a molested and nude Draupadi, either to highlight the oppression of Kuru Patriarchy over woman, or to fantasize Draupadi under the pretext of sympathizing with her. Either way, whether to castigate and denounce victimization of woman at the hand of oppressive Patriarchy, or to sympathize with her by highlighting her plight and even in artistic expression of such sympathy, imagining the forced nudity of woman becomes all important to this hypocritic and internally-Kama-oppressed-Kama-starved Patriarchy. By the way, Patriarchy has nothing to do with Gender – it is a Power-System by itself. Therefore, Patriarchy is not man, biologically male or masculine alone, but woman, biologically female and the feminine too. A queen forcefully disrobed in open Sabha can be the most satisfactory fantasy of her envious Woman–female counterparts and less privileged (whether real or self-perceived) counterparts!

Now, we cannot simultaneously eat the cake from two ends. If we believe that Mahabharata is indeed Itihasa History, then that Itihasa History must be rational and human history sans Supernatural. However, whether these incidents happened or not, whether the Disrobing Episode is an interpolation or not, the presence of the narratives in Mahabharata-Text as its part and parcel is a Textual Reality. Therefore, though we may label them interpolation, or narratives of Political Propaganda, we cannot deny them their place in the overall scheme of Present Mahabharata Text. Rather, we have to think: Why did the later poet/s think of weaving such narratives in Mahabharata?

In this article, I will discuss how all those narratives taken together and culminating in the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode are allegorical extension of verbal war between Draupadi's paanditya and Kuuta-Buddhi on one hand and Karna-Duryodhana-Duhshaasana trio on the other; and I suggest, if we carefully study the episode, the allegory of Vak-narrative is still detectable – as I shall presently show.

I have been discussing elsewhere in the article “Draupadi – the Lost Sarasvati” that Draupadi is Vaac-Sarasvatii’s archetype; and even though she is explicitly hailed as Shri, that is supportive and not counteractive to her being Vaac-Sarasvatii’s archetype.

In this article, other than discussing how the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode is an allegory on Vak, I shall also show how the later poets, second only to Vyaasa, have weaved the Vedic Vaac-Sarasvati narratives in Mahabharata thus, perhaps in earnestness to make the ‘Vedaan Pancamaan’ (1.57.74) a true successor of the Vedas in tradition.

1. Vak and Karna opposition, and Vaagrasa

That the relationship between Draupadi and Karna is one of continuous opposition is a well-observed fact. However, we miss the Vak significance in this opposition. Karna is literally ‘Ear’; and Draupadi as Vak is the Tongue. This is an opposition of the Ear and Tongue. The tangible part of Vak, that is speech, has no value unless Ear receives it with attention and respect; and again, Ear is futile if it merely listens to Vak, but cannot penetrate the Surface Layer which is the ‘garment.’ Vak has four layers – the ‘visible’/audible part is the Surface Layer, while there is Three Hidden Layers of Self. In a mystic Rk, the Rshi says: “If all speech could be divided into four equal parts, the wise will replace three parts with silence (1.164.45)” Shatapatha Braahmana states: Vak is Nirukta and humans “speak intelligibly only one fourth part” (4:1:3:16), while the three other parts are “deposited in secret” and “move not.” (4:1:3:17)

Why Ugrashrava Sauti and Vaishampayana stress on understanding Nirukta in understanding Mahabharata is understandable from this. What they actually say is: “Understand Vak, and you will understand Mahaabhaarata.” Understanding Vak is therefore, also understanding Silence and the interplay of Vak (Speech, Words, and Language) and Silence in Mahaabhaarata. (See – “Mahabharata: Draupadi, Body Language, Eyes, and Vyasa’s Poetry”)

So, what is Karna’s deficit? Like Duryodhana, his deficit is the Feminine. (See- “Dharma-Yuddha, Duryodhana's Raajadharma and deficit of the 'Feminine'”) Karna is like the man who “hath hearing but hath never heard Vak” (tvah shrnvan nashrnotyenaam, RV- 10.71.4); he speaks too much, and has only cursory access to the Silence, the mysterious and mystic dimensions of Vak.

In the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode in Sabhaa Parvan, Karna himself does not try to disrobe Draupadi, but leaves the matter to Duhshaasana’s ‘Hand.’ Who is Duhshaasana? Duhshaasana etymologically suggests ‘misrule’ (Duh + Shashana)- both internal (Self) and external governance; therefore, dispossessed of Vak. His forceful treatment of Vak is the very nature of ‘misrule.’ He personifies “Bad Governance”, therefore, not fit for Raajadharma. As we shall see, understanding Vak is essential in Raajadharma.

Hidden in Silence, is Vak’s Essence- that the Rshi of Aitareya Aranyaka calls Vaagrasa

“… Vaagrasa, the essence of speech. When a man reciting or speaking in an assembly does not please, let him say this verse: 'May the queen of all speech, who is covered, as it were, by the lips, surrounded by teeth, as if by spears, who is a thunderbolt, help me to speak well.' This is the vagrasa, the essence of speech.” (

“Speaking in an assembly” becomes unpleasant without Vaagrasa. Karna does not participate in any physical action, but speaks and incites action through speech. If he is Vak (Speech, Words, and Language) here, he is opposed to Vak-Draupadi. As we shall see, Vak without Vaagrasa is Nirrti-aspect of Vak, and Karna represents Nirrti. We shall also see, how Nirrti has deeper connection with Dice Game.

Attempt to disrobe Draupadi ends in failure. It has to be so. Neither futile Ear (Karna) nor Misrule can ever see the essence of Vak – the Vaagrasa. Draupadi is Vak-Rasa, whom Duhshaasana, Duryodhana and Karna cannot uncover.

Draupadi's dress that Duhshaasana grabs, really transforms into “spear” and “thunderbolt” for him; first, in Bhima’s promise to tear open his heart (which has again Vak and Indra association), and later in Kurukshetra. As we shall see, the epithet Vajra applies to Draupadi at multiple levels; in RgVeda, Vajra is Arjuna and Vaac-Sarasvati.

The miracle in the Draupadi-Disrobing episode, in short, is as follows –

“Then Duhshaasana, O king, forcibly tore off Draupadi's garment in the middle of the Sabhaa, and began to undress her. But whenever one of Draupadi's garments was removed, O king, another garment like it repeatedly appeared (tadruupam aparam vastram praaduraasiid anekashah)” 2.61.40-41) (trans. Hiltebeitel)

Hiltebeitel’s “forcibly tore off” is an exaggerated and imaginative translation driven by his insistence on the veracity of Draupadi-Disrobing; whereas, draupadyaa vasanam balaat merely connotes that Duhshaasana exerted force on Draupadi's dress.

KMG translates: “Then Dussasana, O king, forcibly seizing Draupadi's attire before the eyes of all, began to drag it off her person.”

Now, samaakshipya connotes “dhrtvaa” – taking hold of or seizing or grabbed; and vyapakrashtum connotes “nagniikaranaayaakrsha harttum” – pulling robbing for making nude (Haridaas Siddhaantavaagish), that is, Duhshaasana’s intention is guessed; it is not “forcibly tore off” (Hiltebeitel) or “began to drag it off her person” (KMG). There is visible and actual difference between intending to disrobe and disrobing, though not in terms of Indian Penal Code.

When Duhshaasana drags her to the Sabhaa he tells her that whether she is attired in one piece cloth or naked does not matter (ekaambaraa vaapy atha vaa vivastraa, 27a), and since she has been won in Dice Game, she has to live like Daasii serving Kaama (daasiishu kaamash ca yathopajosham, 2.60.27c). Duhshaasana’s Vaac is explicitly regarded as - parushaany apriyaani; Vaacyaany uvaacaamadhuraani caiva, 2.60.46c). It is Nirrti or Vak in its anti-Vak form as opposed to Vaac.

Draupadi's laments:

“O wretch! O thou of cruel deeds, drag me not so. Uncover me not so (maa maam vivastraam krdhi maa vikaarshiih) (2.60.30a)

In RgVeda Rk-1.164.7, Vaac-Cow wears Suurya’s vesture. Therefore, Suurya-Karna – (whose vesture Vaac wears) - should have protected Draupadi. Instead Karna-Suurya comments on her polyandrous nature and suggests her disrobing:

“Or, if thou thinkest that bringing her hither attired in a single piece of cloth, is an action of impropriety, listen to certain excellent reasons I will give. O son of the Kuru race, the gods have ordained only one husband for one woman. This Draupadi, however, hath many husbands. Therefore, certain it is that she is an unchaste woman. To bring her, therefore, into this assembly attired though she be in one piece of cloth--even to uncover her is not at all an act that may cause surprise (ekaambaradharatvam vaapy atha vaapi vivastrataa) (2.61.36).”

Karna suggests: “Take off the robes of the Pandavas as also the attire of Draupadi (paandavaanaam ca vaasaamsi draupadyaash caapy upaahara, 2.61.38c).” Karna-Suurya thus cuts himself off from his own source – the all pervading Vak; and this symbolic cutting off foreshadows his future beheading. Head, we know, is where Vak is in action – the Brain, the mouth, the Jihvaa (Tongue– Sarasvati resides) in particular.

The Rk 1.164.7 works in another way. It is only after Draupadi has expressed apprehension of disrobing to Duhshaasana that Karna says so; as if Karna’s Head yields the Milk (Buddhi or thought) drawn by Vaac-Draupadi herself. And “Then Dussasana, forcibly seizing Draupadi's attire … (2.61.40).”

Draupadi regarded as Naathavatii Anaathavat (2.60.24c) has double meaning. Anaatha suggests Protectorless-helpless just as it might mean “One who has no Lord” (implying no fixed Lord or Free) – like Vaac, an affinity shared by Shri and thus identifying Shri with Vak. This is significant that Draupadi is Vak despite being explicitly hailed as Shri.

Suurya’s ‘vesture’ is the Rashmii – Sun Rays – which is identified with Namuci. In Mahabharata, terrified by Indra, Namuci enters sunrays (9.42.29) [i]. Indeed Karna himself is hailed as Namuci’s archetype (e.g. 8.65.19c), and Duryodhana too is Namuci’s archetype. [ii] We shall see how this archetype works, and Sarasvati’s role in aiding Indra in killing Namuci – a narrative in which Sarasvati, blood, menstruation all come together.

Namuci means one who does not liberate and gives delight – and here, Karna is in that role. In RgVeda, Namuci is called Daasa (RV- 5.30.7-8; 6.20.6; 10.73.7). That takes an ironical turn in Karna’s life because he wanted to transform Draupadi into Daasii.

In RgVeda, Namuci is “war-loving” (makhasyum, 7), and “He came from Manyu and remained in houses” (manyoriyaaya harmyeshu tasthau, RV- 10.73.10). Duryodhana is identified with Manyu too, and Karna indeed stayed in his house.

Now, let us come to the point why I say that all that happened in the Dice-Game Sabhaa was a verbal war between Draupadi and Karna-Kurus.

In response to Bhima’s Vow-Vaac, Arjuna promises that on the fourteenth year from this day, “The earth shall drink the blood of Duryodhana, and Karna, and the wicked Sakuni, and Dussasana that maketh the fourth” (2.68.30-31)

Arjuna regards Karna as “malicious and jealous and harsh-speeched and vain (asuuyitaaram vaktaaram prasrashtaaram duraatmanaam, 2.68.32) as he promises to kill Karna as directed by Bhima (Bhimasena niyogaat, 32c) and as an action agreeable to Bhima (arjunah pratijaaniite Bhimasya priyakaamyayaa, 33a).

Had Draupadi-Disrobing happened, Arjuna could not have omitted that. To Arjuna, Karna’s crime is his ill-speech – misuse of Vaac.

During the climactic Arjuna Karna duel, to incite Arjuna, Krshna mentions again and again Karna’s praise of Draupadi's Physical Beauty. He speaks of Karna’s cruel words to her (parusham vacah, 8.51.77a), but never does he mention Draupadi-disrobing, staking, or her menstruation. Krshna quotes Karna as addressing Draupadi as ‘gentle speaker’ (mitabhaashini, 78c). This throws light on Draupadi's role in the Sabhaa – she has been countering the Kurus’ harsh speeches with the opposite and true mode of Vak.

Had the Draupadi-Disrobing really occurred, surely Krshna could not have been downplaying that at this crucial moment. Who would have known better than Krshna and Arjuna about what really happened in the Dice-Game Sabhaa?

Draupadi's own words should be conclusive statement to what actually happened. We find Draupadi telling Krshna –

“…how could one like me, the wife of Pritha's sons, the sister of Dhrishtadyumna, and the friend of thee, be dragged to the assembly! Alas, during my season, stained with blood, with but a single cloth on, trembling all over, and weeping, I was dragged to the court of the Kurus! Beholding me, stained with blood in the presence of those kings in the assembly, the wicked sons of Dhritarashtra laughed at me! (3.13.53-55)”

Further Draupadi says – “Deprived of their kingdom by deception, the Pandavas were made bondsmen and I myself was dragged to the assembly while in my season, and having only a single cloth on!” (3.13.68) [iii]

And further – “The foremost of women and devoted to my husbands, even I, O Krishna, was seized by hair, O slayer of Madhu, in the sight of the Pandavas, each of whom is like an Indra himself!” (3.13.108) [iv]

Draupadi’s prolonged lamentation mentions no aid of Krshna at that time or even the event of disrobing!

This is fresh memory of Draupadi; whereas, Bhima recollects the episode after 14 years. Yet, our scholars tend to do Flat Treatment of characters’ speeches without discriminating Space-Time and Context. Needless to say, such Flat Treatment is absurd because no character is Static or Flat Character; and with time, a character’s memory grows with age; so that, the more a character grows, the more the past becomes constructed and created.

Draupadi particularly remembers Karna’s sarcastic laughter – “My grief at Karna's ridicule is incapable of being assuaged!” (na hi me shaamyate duhkham karno yat praahasat tadaa, 3.13.113c). It is obvious what actually happened in the Dice-Game Sabhaa – violation of Vak.

2. Draupadi's Garments and the Miracle

When Duhshaasana drags Draupadi's Vastra, the miracle happens: “the illustrious Dharma, remaining unseen, covered her with excellent clothes of many hues. And, O monarch as the attire of Draupadi was being dragged, after one was taken off, another of the same kind, appeared covering her. And thus did it continue till many clothes were seen. And, O exalted on, owing to the protection of Dharma, hundreds upon hundreds of robes of many hues came off Draupadi's person.” (2.61.41) [v]

That Dharma provides the dress to cover up Draupadi is significant; Dharma has to take the protective role because Dharma cannot allow Vaac’s exposure to public gaze.

The miracle (adbhutatamam) prompts a deep uproar of many many voices (tato halahalaashabdas tatraasiid ghoranisvanah, 42a). And the kings present in that assembly began to applaud Draupadi and censure the son of Dhritarashtra (2.61.42d*554-555_1) [vi]

The dhig dhig is VaagDanda. The Ghoraa sound reminds none other than Sarasvati’s Ghoraa (terrible) aspect (RV- 6.61.7a). But, what are the garments? How do they appear?

Hiltebeitel reads the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode as metaphor for Earth’s replenishing herself with ‘garments’. Earth is there no doubt, and I would add, Earth – Prthivii – is identified with Vaac; Vaac is this World - vaag evaayam loko (e.g. Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad-1.5.4). “The earth is the body of that organ of speech, and this fire is its luminous organ. And as far as the organ of speech extends, so far extends the earth and so far does this fire (tasyai vaacah prthivii shariiram | jyotiiruupam ayam agnih | tad yaavaty eva Vaac taavatii prthivii taavaan ayam agnih || BrhUp_1,5.11). The Vaac and Prthivii association is further confirmed through the common Metaphor Cow.

I suggest, it is not necessary here to take ‘garments’ literally. The RgVeda clearly enlightens us on the Vak-significance of garment. The Rshi’s Hymn (Vak) clothes Agni as with robe (vastreneva vaasayaa manmanaa shucim, RV- 1.140.1c). The Rshi compares his “newest eulogy” (Vak) to Agni with “well-dressed matron” (jaayevapatya ushatii suvaasaah, RV- 10.91.13cd). In another Rk, the Rshi compares his Songs (Vak) with skillfully weaved garments (tanvaathe dhiyovashtraapaseva, RV- 10.106.1ab). In Yajurveda (5.6.6.a), Chanda (Metres) has the significance of Cloth – “The metres are holy power …verily clothing himself with the metres he approaches the fire, to prevent injury to himself.”

The dresses appearing on Draupadi's body are actually allegory of her multi-coloured Vak (Speech, Words, and Language) – the expression of her paanditya.

Further, Agni’s rays are “garment.” The Rshi says – “Agni, far-spreading with conspicuous lustre, hath compassed Night with whitely shining garments” (RV- 10.3.3). Agni is “clothed in glory” (shriyam vasaano, RV- 2.10.1c) – literally “clothed in Shrii” – clearly reminding of Draupadi-Shrii. Agni is clothed in Light (rushad vasaanah, RV- 4.5.15c). Draupadi, we know, is Teja’s self according to Dhrtaraashtra (yajnasenasya duhitaa teja eva tu kevalam, 3.228.9c). Even the blind man can see flashes of Agni! The garments appearing on Draupadi's body are actually allegory of her Teja.

And Draupadi remains like pure Soma – “The immortal green-tinted Soma, newly bathed or purified, puts on an uncleaned brightly shining vesture that is never harmed” [vii] (amrktena rushataa vaasasaa hariramartyo nirnijaanah pari vyata, RV- 9.69.5ab)

I would suggest, the Draupadi-Disrobing scene as allegory of Vaac is inspired by Diirghatamaa’s Rk: “She (Vaac) with her shrilling cries hath humbled mortal man, and, turned to lightning hath stripped off her covering robe.” (RV- 1.164.29) [viii]

Anyone would point out that Draupadi does not strip off her covering robe; so, how comes the analogy? After all, Duhshaasana tried to strip her.

The problem becomes resolvable when we see that Draupadi indeed “stripped off her covering robe” in the sense of uncovering her Vak (Speech, Words, and Language), that is by unleashing her Vaac in the form of VaagDanda and paanditya and appearing before the Kuru Sabhaa. We shall see, how in Braahmana Texts, Vak is either the epitome of Female Sexuality or even Mahaanagnyaa. The idea of semi-clad ekavastraa Draupadi is an allegory of Mahaanagnyaa Vak – that I will discuss later.

It is the power of Draupadi's oratory and eloquence that ultimately forces Dhrtaraashtra to realease the Paandavas from slavery. Draupadi is indeed Vaac – the Eloquent Dame in the SabhaaVaac is “like a courtly, eloquent dame (na yoshaa sabhaavatii vidathyeva sam Vaac, RV- 1.167.3).” And this Vak-aspect is also her ?achi-aspect (Sachi also connotes Eloquence – marking Vak-aspect) that fits with her role as Indra-Pandavas' wife (see- Why Draupadi is Sachi-Indrani?)

In this light, Draupadi in menstruation – Rtu – is an allegory of Vaac’s being in Rta-form. Duhshaasana or Maladministration (= devoid of Vaac) drags her to the open Sabhaa and try to strip her. This is to expose Vaac in her Nude form – that is, the entire Vaac – before people. However, Duhshaasana fails because only one-fourth part of Vaac is available to Human Being – and her three-fourth is hidden, therefore, they cannot be exposed. Maladministration cannot stand before Rta – thus, Draupadi in her Rtu triumphs. This is the allegorical meaning Draupadi's “menstruation.”

After all, Vaac exposes herself only to the one she loves, and therefore, ‘failure’ to disrobe Draupadi is the allegory of impossibility of disrobing Vaac.

In the Mahabharata narrative, Karna cannot marry Draupadi because Draupadi rejects him for being Suuta. We know, this narrative too – like the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode – does not hold good because while the Southern Mahabharata explicitly narrates Karna’s failure in Drupada’s archery contest, the Northern Mahabharata despite the narrative of Draupadi rejecting him has enough clues that Karna indeed failed in the archery contest.

However, just like the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode, Draupadi's rejecting Karna has a poetic purpose too – and that, I suggest, is Vak-allegory.

Suuta, other than the Varna significance, primarily means “a chariot driver, an attendant on a king.” Not being entitled to be King, means, Karna cannot be Indra; and Indra, we know, is not only heavenly King but also Ideal King on Earth. That again means, Karna lacks the capability to gain Vak; because Vaac-Sarasvati is Indra’s consort and sometimes Vak is Indra’s own self. Both Vak and Sarasvati have been compared to Chariot; therefore, as Suuta, Karna merely drives the Chariot for the King, but cannot be the owner himself. Karna can neither own Vak-Draupadi through marriage and taste Vaagrasa, nor can he see the Essence of Vak (Vaagrasa) – Draupadi's nude form - by disrobing her.

3. Draupadi's Hair

Dragging by the Hair gains significance in the light of Shatapatha Braahmana ( that in Yajna, Hair is Chanda – “the hairs are the metres (lomatashcandaamsi).” As a sidelight, we may re-interpret Vyaasa’s Shishya Lomaharshana (literally, one who causes thrill in hair causing hair-raising) as the one who has mastery over Metres to the extent he can effect Harsha. Hair represents Rk and Saamaan (Shatapatha Braahmana- Draupadi's hairs represent both. That it was touched by Duhshaasana suggests profanation of Rk and Saamaan by ‘mal-administration’ (= Duhshaasana).

While the Paandavas set out for exile, Dhaumya sings Saamaan in seeking Kuru-destruction; it is his way of seeking restoration of Balance.

In Braahmana Texts, the Deva-Asura conflicet has been interpreted as Battle of Metres (Chanda). Therefore, the Kuru-Pandava and Karna-Draupadi conflict in Dice-Game Sabha which was actually a Battle of Vak can be read further as an allegory of Battle of Metres (Chanda). Vyasa’s Chhanda-composition of Mahabharata is inspired by that Chhanda – Chhanda-Vak inspiring Chhanda-Vak.

4. Why Draupadi calls Govinda for rescue and Krshna’s coming on Foot

Draupadi prays to Krshna and Arjuna for protection (krshnam ca jishnum ca harim naram ca; traanaaya vikrosha nayaami hi tvaam, 2.60.26c). Two names are of Krshna, and two others – Jishnu and Nara –are of Arjuna; however, Nara might also be Indra.

In recension, when the attire of Draupadi is being thus dragged, she prays: “O Govinda, O thou who dwellest in Dwaraka, O Krishna, O thou who art fond of cow-herdesses (govinda dvaarakaavaasin krshna gopiijanapriya, 2.61.40d*543_2).”

The address to Krshna as Govinda and regarding him Gopiijanapriya is significant. Etymologically, Govinda is ‘Lord of Cow’ – Go + Indha (> Indra > Inda: Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad-4.2.2); alternatively, as Samjaya explains: shaashvatatvaad anantash ca govindo vedanaad gavaam (5.68.13c) - Govinda from his knowledge of speech of every kind; that is, Govinda means “one who knows (vid) the Cow (Vaac)” – “Lord of Vak.” Thus Draupadi's calling Govinda is actually her invoking Vak.

Now, vedanaad gavaam – also means “possessed of knowledge” and “feeling pain for or compassion” for Cows – a common metaphor for Vak and Prthivii. Krshna’s mission – Bhuubhaaraharana! (See– “Mahabharata: The Holy Cow and Cow-Imagery )

Once Krshna himself says: “When in days of yore the Earth became submerged in the waters and lost to the view, I found her out and raised her from the depths of the Ocean. For this reason the deities adore me by the name of Govinda.” (12.330.5) [ix]

In Harivamsha, Indra tells Krshna:

aham kilendro devaanaam tvam gavaam indrataam gatah /
govinda iti lokaas tvaam stoshyanti bhuvi shaashvatam //
HV_62.43 //

Now, “Lord of Cow” or Herdsman is symbol of both kingship and Dharma. In Gopatha Braahmana, Dharma is Shepherd of Prajaa (dharmo hainam gupto gopaayati) – clearly presaging the Christian Metaphor of Christ as Shepherd – and Dharma here causes “better state, the better fortune or condition” of the Prajaa (GopB 1.2.4j-k).

The King is Herdsman – Lord of Kine (gopatim gavaam); it is the mark of Sovereign Ruler (viraajam) (1). The King’s Lord is “Lord of Speech” (vaacas pate); and with his power, the King treads over the Head of his rivals who speak from beneath his Feet “as frogs from out the water croak” (RV- 10.166). [x] Ideal King is like Shepherd (Brhaspati: Mbh. 12.68.13).

Indeed Bhima treads over Duryodhana’s head after breaking his thighs – and Thigh symbolizes Anushtup Chanda according to Shatapatha Braahmana. Duryodhana wanted Draupadi to sit on this Thigh; and Anushtup Chanda Vak-Draupadi causes it to break.

The RgVedic Rshi says: “The person who rejects a wise friend (advisor) is not only the one who lacks grace in speech, but who fails to hear what is good for him. He is the one who does not find the path chosen by successful people.” (RV- 10.71.6)

We will see later how Karna rejects Krshna’s good advice. Indeed, Karna’s Head is also ‘headstrong’ that is finally beheaded.

In another RgVedic verse, Suurya (with Vak), in his benign aspect, is called Herdsman:

“I saw the Herdsman, him who never resteth, approaching and departing on his pathways. He, clothed in gathered and diffusive splendour, clothes (with light) the (four) quarters of heaven and the intermediate spaces; he continually travels within the worlds or he constantly revolves in the midst of the worlds.” (RV- 10.177.3) [xi]

Let us try to understand this Rk which I consider very significant in understanding the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode.

The Rshi imagines Suurya as Patamga (Bird) whom the Kavi observes in ocean’s inmost depth (samudre antah kavayo vi cakshate, 1c); the Wise/knower of Veda seeks the Foot of his Rays (mariiciinaampadamichanti vedhasah, RV- 10.177.1c). This is the image of the sun rising from the ocean, and the Foot of the Rays touching Earth after Sunrise.

The Patamga (Suurya) bears Vaac in his mind/spirit (patamgo vaacam manasaa bibharti, 2a) – that is, Vaac first appears within Suurya. This Vaac is yet unmanifest. The Gandharva in the womb pronounces it thereafter (taam gandharvo 'vadad garbheantah, RV- 10.177.2c), that is, the unmanifest Vaac is already there, and only after the Gandharva-Self (- the Self, capable of manifesting Vaac through human expression) takes birth in the Womb, it is capable of pronouncing it. The unmanifest Vaac becomes manifest through Gandharva-Self. The sages seek the Foot of Rta (Truth) of this radiant manifest Vaac and through such seeking wants to ‘drink’ it (taam dyotamaanaam svaryam maniishaam rtasya padekavayo ni paanti, 2cd); that is, the Rta of Vaac expressed as Kaavya can be drunk through the Foot. Obviously, “Foot” here is a pun and metaphor, not be taken literally.

The Rshi identifies Patamga (Suurya) with Unmanifest Vaac because both cannot be ‘seen’ (literally, one cannot look directly at the Suurya in midheaven). Just like the Sun Rays can be felt, the Rshi feels the Unmanifest Vaac, and seeks her Foot – that is, he wants to manifest and express Vaac through Pada (Foot) of Kaavya.

With this vision, the Rshi now sees the Suurya-Self of Vaac in which the Suurya and Vaac become one intergrated vision. The Suurya-Vaac now appears to him as Herdsman – just as the Suurya travels, Vaac too pervades the World - Vaac declares “I extend o'er all existing creatures, and touch even yonder heaven (Dyaus) with my forehead (topmost part of the body)- tato vi tishthe bhuvanaanu vishvotaamuum dyaamvarshmanopa sprshaami //(RV- 10.125.7)

At RV- 10.177, the Herdsman (Suurya-Vaac combined aspect) is “clothed in gathered and diffusive splendour” and/or he “clothes (with light) the (four) quarters of heaven and the intermediate spaces “– just like the Sun Rays assumes different colours during the Sun’s travels, Vaac too assumes different ‘colours’ – tones, meanings, sounds etc. The Herdsman thus becomes the symbol of not only the combined aspect of Vaac-Suurya but also of the Wise-one who knows this.

Krshna – Govinda – is the Herdsman. When Draupadi calls him in distress - she actually seeks the combined benign aspect of Suurya-Vaac – both manifest and unmanifest – as opposed to malign Suurya-Karna’s Nirrti-Vak. I will discuss on Nirrti later.

Krshna rushes on Foot to help, and Dharma provides her the dress – the Rta covering the Rtu; implying, Draupadi now gains Vaac to argue out her case.

Draupadi, the Cow, now wears the vesture of Herdsman-Suurya – implying how her Vaac would be. Krshna’s Foot implies, Draupadi would now drink Vaac-Water through her paanditya. Her drinking water also suggests that Karna-Suurya (also Arka=Water; Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad) will be deprived of Water (that is, Karna would be defeated before her paanditya) – also foreshadowing his promise not to wash his Feet with water until he kills Arjuna; but is himself beheaded.

Another Rk 1.164.7 gives us insight into the connection of Head, Vaac, Cow and Foot.

“Let him who knoweth presently declare it, this lovely Bird's securely founded station (iha braviitu ya iimanga vedaasya vaamasya nihitam padam veh). Forth from his head the Cows draw milk, and, wearing his vesture, with their foot have drunk the water (shiirshnah kshiiram duhrate gaavo asya vavrim vasaanaa udakam padaapuh).”

The Bird here is Suurya. Suurya – “the flying bird” (Patamga) bears Vaac within his spirit (patamgo vaacam manasaa bibharti). The two words used here - udaka and pada – both have additional metric connotation other than their usual meaning. The RgVedic Rshi is literally playing with Metres (Chanda).

When Intellect is stirred, Vaac wears Suurya’s vesture (elsewhere, Sarasvati, gains strength from Brhatii Chanda and props up Suurya) and drink Water with their Feet. Water is nourishment and Praana – and Water is also birth-place/home of Vaac. The Pada (Foot) of Vaac if properly applied is capable of ‘drinking’ Praana – that is, Praana is infused in the Poetry or Speech. (In a Braahmana Text, Praana enters through Feet)

Why the Shepherd Govinda does not protect Draupadi directly, we have an answer in Vidura. In Udyoga Parvan, Vidura tells Dhrtaraashtra:

“The gods do not protect men, taking up clubs in their hands after the manner of herdsmen; unto those, however, they wish to protect, they grant intelligence.”  (5.35.33) [xii]

Though Draupadi prays, she gains Buddhi to protect herself. Karna’s comparing her with Boat is also appropriate from this point, because Boat is one metaphor for Buddhi. In Mbh. Boat is Dharma (17c); Veda and Jnaana (vedayajnaplavena ca, 12.227.14c); Jnaana, Prajnaa, Dhiira, and Buddhi (12.228.1-2); Dhrti (12.309.16c); Dharma (12.309.17c); Jnaana (jnaanam plava, 12.313.23a); Buddhi, by which one can Cross the River of Life (buddhinaavaa nadiim taret, 12.316.39c) etc.

We remember, Draupadi is brhatii shyaamaa buddhisattvagunaanvitaa/ yoshitaam shreshthaa (Yudhishthira: 17.3.36) – and all these Gunas are Vaac-Sarasvati aspects.

Dharma’s providing her garment is actually the Shepherd’s providing her dress. The Shepherd is the combined aspect of Suurya and Vaac. Since Krshna cannot be physically present in the Kuru Sabhaa, the poet maintains the reality; he sends Dharma instead – the hidden form of Krshna; actually it is Draupadi's Svadharma.

Indeed, in Gopatha Braahmana, Dharma is Shepherd of Prajaa and Dharma here causes “better state, the better fortune or condition” of the Prajaa (GopB 1.2.4jk)

As if to emphasize the Vaac-connection, the poet says how Krshna comes – with specific mention of Foot: “And leaving his seat, the benevolent one from compassion, arrived there on foot (tyaktvaa shayyaasanam padbhyaam krpaaluh krpayaabhyagaat, 2.61.40d*543_11).” It is a literal impossibility, but great poetic possibility.

Krshna’s running on Foot to protect Draupadi has the significance of Metre from another point. In one Mythical Narrative, Krshna is Naaraayana’s Hair (1.189.31e).” The “Hair”-Krshna thus comes to protect Draupadi's “Hair” – that Vak, this Vak!

In Pancavimsha Braahmana (6.9.22), the chandas fetched Soma, and Gandharva Vishvaavasu stole it from them and entered into the water. Then Vishnu spied it in the water. Doubting whether it is real Soma, he poked it with his foot and from it (from the Soma thus poked) when drops effused, he announced that Yajna has come to existence. Vishnu’s Foot is thus associated with birth of Soma.

Krshna’s coming on Foot to poke the Kuru Sabhaa to save the Soma-Vamshii Putra-Badhu marks the appearance into existence of Yajna – the Rana-Yajna in this case.

In another Rk on Vak, the Rshi says that Sakhaa Vishnu and Dyaus make room for Vaac so that she appears as Vajra (sakhe vishno vitaram vi kramasva dyaurdehi lokam vajraaya vishkabhe), and together they slay Vrtra and free the Rivers and let them flow at Indra’s command (RV- 8.100.12).

Sakhaa Vishnu (Krshna) indeed makes room for Vak-Draupadi's flourishing as Vajra – because Krshna does not intervene directly. Bhiishma and Karna are the two Dyaus-archetypes in the Sabhaa. Bhiishma has already made room for her by refusing to intervene – that is by his Silence, which is actually invocation of the hidden powers of Vak. And Karna-Dyaus is Silenced.

5. Karna’s acknowledgement – Draupadi-Boat

After Draupadi rescues the Paandavas from Dice Game disaster, Karna praises Draupadi for “becoming as a boat unto the sons of Pandu who were sinking in a boatless ocean of distress, (and) hath brought them in safety to the shore (2.64.3)” [xiii]. Later Krshna too compares Draupadi with Boat: “Krishna, however, having repaired to the hall at that time made everything right, for like a vessel in the sea, she rescued the Paandavas as also herself, from that gathering ocean (of misfortunes)!” (5.29.35) [xiv]

Boat/Ship Imagery is a very important one in the Vedas, Vedic Literature and in Mahabharata. Among manay of its metaphoric significance, one is Vak. The Rshi compares Sweet speech (suvaca) as hymn to boat going through water (sindhaaviva prerayamnaavamarkaih) (RV- 10.116.9). The Rshi imagines his hymns to be ships that can bear Ashvins “to the hither shore” (RV- 1.46.7); imagines to stir Indra with his hymns as a boat stirs a river (RV- 8.85.11). The Rshi imagines his hymns to be ship that enables Yajna go forward (RV- 10.101.2).

Karna’s acknowledgment – after all he is no ordinary villain and is a magnanimous hero in situations – is actually an acknowledgment of Draupadi's Vak-aspect, her paanditya, as also his own defeat; and for us, it is a pointer to the fact that the Draupadi-Disrobing Episode is in fact an allegory of Vak.

To be continued …

[i] 09,042.029a namucir vaasavaad bhiitah suuryarashmim samaavishat  09,042.029c tenendrah sakhyam akarot samayam cedam abraviit
[ii] Duryodhana has deep connection with Namuci; his philosophy on God is similar to Namuci. Duryodhana says: There is only one Controller, no second. He controlleth even the child that is in the mother's womb. I am controlled by Him. Like water that always floweth in a downward course, I am acting precisely in the way in which He is directing me. 02,057.008a ekah shaastaa na dvitiiyo 'sti shaastaa; garbhe shayaanam purusham shaasti shaastaa/ 02,057.008c tenaanushishtah pravanaad ivaambho; yathaa niyukto 'smi tathaa vahaami. Namuci utters same philosophy with very minor difference: 12,219.008a ekah shaastaa na dvitiiyo 'sti shaastaa; garbhe shayaanam purusham shaasti shaastaa/ 12,219.008c tenaanushishtah pravanaad ivodakam; yathaa niyukto 'smi tathaa vahaami
[iii] adharmena hrtam raajyam sarve daasaah krtaas tathaa / sabhaayaam parikrshtaaham ekavastraa rajasvalaa //
[iv] kacagraham anupraaptaa saasmi krshna varaa satii / pancaanaam indrakalpaanaam prekshataam madhusuudana //
[v] aakrshyamaane vasane draupadyaas tu vishaam pate / tadruupam aparam vastram praaduraasiid anekashah // (2.61.41) naanaaraagaviraagaani vasanaany atha vai prabho / praadurbhavanti shatasho dharmasya paripaalanaat // (2.61.41d*553_1-2)
[vi] shashamsur Draupadim tatra kutsanto dhrtaraashtrajam (2.61.42d*554_1) dhig dhig ity ashivaam vaacam utsrjan kauravam prati (2.61.42d*555_1)
[vii] I have combined here the translation of Griffith and Saayana-Wilson.
[viii] ayam sa shinkte yena gaurabhiivrtaa mimaati maayum dhvasanaavadhi shritaa / saa cittibhirni hi cakaara martyam vidyud bhavantii prati vavrimauhata (RV- 1.164.29)
[ix] nashtaam ca dharaniim puurvam avindam vai guhaagataam / govinda iti maam devaa vaagbhih samabhitushtuvuh // (12.330.5)
[x] yogakshemam va aadaayaaham bhuuyaasamuttama aa vo muurdhaanamakramiim / adhaspadaan ma ud vadata manduukaa ivodakaanmanduukaa udakaadiva (RV- 10.166)
[xi] apashyam gopaamanipadyamaanamaa ca paraa ca pathibhishcarantam / sa sadhriiciih sa vishuuciirvasaana aa variivartibhuvaneshvantah // (RV- 10.177.3)
[xii] na devaa yashtim aadaaya rakshanti pashupaalavat / yam tu rakshitum icchanti buddhyaa samvibhajanti tam // (5.35.33)
[xiii] aplave 'mbhasi magnaanaam apratishthe nimajjataam/ paancaalii paanduputraanaam naur eshaa paaragaabhavat
[xiv] krshnaa tv etat karma cakaara shuddham; sudushkaram tad dhi sabhaam sametya / yena krcchraat paandavaan ujjahaara; tathaatmaanam naur iva saagaraughaat //


More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

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Comment Epics have always been interpreted too literally. Gambling game is a metaphor for staking all. Draupadi could not have been molested because haran is related to divine not snatching of clothes. Gross body mind have always been metaphorically referred to as clothes for the soul. Even Mirabai bhajan is about colouring her chunari. She sings ' shyam piya mori rang de chunariya'. There are records of Kauravas doing tapas, Karna being chakravarti. Calling an Arya tapasvi a villian would be oxymoron.

S. Parivraj
25-Mar-2020 17:58 PM

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