Draupadi Abduction, Curious Narratives

of Nrisimha Purana and Jain Mahabharata

Nrsimha Purana narrates a story of Draupadi-abduction not found in Mahabharata (Mbh.) or anywhere else. This Upa-Purana could be of 5th century CE with possible later interpolations.[i] Some of its interesting aspects are: i) the 8th chapter of the text is Yama Gita; two other versions of Yama Gita are found in Vishnu Purana and Agni Purana; [ii] The chapters 36-54 consist of the narratives of Vishnu’s ten Avataras. Chapter 21 and 22 contain the short genealogical lists of the kings of the Surya Vamsha (Solar dynasty) and the Soma Vamsha (Lunar dynasty), the former ending with Buddha, son of Shuddhodana and the latter with Kshemaka, grandson of Udayana; (iii) Chapters 57-61 of this work are also found as an independent work, the Harita Samhita or Laghuharita Smrti.[iii]

Our present concern and subject of discussion is the 33rd chapter which narrates the Draupadi-abduction story, throwing light on Mbh. outside Present Mbh.-Text.

Though I use the phrase ‘Jain Mahabharata’, there exists no single Jain Mbh.-text. The Jain interpretation or idea of Mbh.-Itihasa developed for centuries beginning with Mahavira’s sayings collected in the Jain Suttas, and taking semblance of narrative form in the Shvetambara Jainism canonical text Nayadhammakahao [Skt. Jnatrdharmakatha].

Our present concern is the story of Draupadi-abduction that finds mention in several Jain ‘Mahabharatas’, like the Shvetambara Jain work Nayadhammakahao, Hemacandra’s Trishashtishalakapurushacarita (11th-12th cent. CE) (Chapter-10), Devaprabhasuri’s Pandavacarita (13th cent. CE) (Chapter-8); and then in Digambara Jain works like Punnata Jinasena’s Harivamshapurana (8th cent. CE) (Chapter-54), and Shubhacandra’s Pandavapurana (1552 CE) (Chapter-21).[v]

In any case, stories of abduction of woman and wife are aplenty in Ancient Indian ScripturesVedic Literature, Ramayana and Mahabharata and Puranas. Chronologically setting, the tradition was set by Candra who had abducted Brhaspati’s wife Tara, and produced Budha, the progenitor of Candra Vamsha in the womb of male-turned-female Ila. From Budha and Ila, Pururava was born. The most famous Itihasa of wife-abduction is obviously the Ramayana where Ravana’s abduction of Sita brought about a whole civilizational shift through destruction of Ravana’s Lanka by Dasharathi Rama’s prowess assisted by Lakshmana, Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana and others. Beyond the seas, we have the other famous work - Homer's Iliad of Greece, where Paris elopes with Helen, Menelaus’ wife, an event that results in the War of Troy. The popularity of such narrative with all its tings and subtle dings has been naturally adapted in varied cultural genres – Literature, drama, movie etc. – that continue to appeal us today.

This article aims to provide some outline of the ‘why’ of the appeal, other than bringing to Mbh. discourse the less known and less discussed episodes of Nrsimha Purana and Jain Mbh.

In Ramayana, Sita was abducted twice, just as in Mbh., Draupadi was twice abducted. The narrative of Sita’s abduction by Ravana dominates Ramayana for obvious reasons; however, her abduction by Viradha in Aranyakanda (2-6) is less known and less discussed. Similarly, Draupadi's abduction by Jatasura is less known and less discussed than that by Jayadratha. The Pandavas and Draupadi let off Jayadratha considering his kinship – he being Duhshala’s husband, while Bhima metted out Jatasura a ghastly death. The Bheel Bharata narrative of Draupadi's ravishment by Vasuki Naga may be considered another abduction story, rather abduction of Draupadi from her Self, without dislocation.

One reason behind choosing the two narratives of Nrsimha Purana and Jain Mbh. is to highlight the even less known narratives. Obviously they are outside Mbh., so their authenticity can be questioned; however, for one interested in Mbh. and cultural Itihasa of Bharatavarsha, the variations to Mbh. found outside Present Mbh.-Text, are undoubtedly of great importance if not of equal importance.

In this article, I bring the two narratives under single heading owing to curious links between the two, and not just because of their shared marginal status. If Nrsimha Purana is to glorify Vishnu’s 4th Avatara Nrsimha, the Jain Mbh. narrates how Vishnu’s 8th Avatara Krishna-Vasudeva transformed into Nrsimha once. The other links, as I shall discuss, comes through the perpetual ‘trouble maker’ and ‘conflict monger’ Rshi Narada. Before going into further discussions and exploration of links, let us read the narratives.

1. Draupadi abduction in Nrsimha Purana

Despite all available stories aplenty, the story of Nrsimha Purana stands out with its manifold twists and turns within a short span of narration - in a chapter of 85 SHlokas to be specific – in sahasranikacarita part (Chapter-33) where Suta narrates the tale of Pandava descendant (of Parikshita), Sahasranika to his audience. In Suta’s narrative, Rshi Markandeya, who is Kalpa survivor according to Puranas, narrates the Itihasa of Draupadi-abduction to King Sahasranika.

Markandeya’s presence is interesting and provides another link to Mbh. where just after the episode of Jayadratha’s failed abduction of Draupadi and her rescue, Markandeya narrates the entire Ramayana to Pandavas and Draupadi responding to Yudhishthira’s query. Yudhishthira lamented: “But the disgrace of this ravishment of our wife during our hours of carelessness, hath stained us, to be sure.” (3.257.8) Then he asked Markandeya: “Is there anyone who is more unfortunate than I am? Hath thou ever seen or heard of such a one before?” (10)

Let us note: the Ramayana-within-Mbh. is thus directly linked to Draupadi's abduction.

The Nrsimha Purana narrative, in brief, is as follows:

Once, during their post-Dice Game Forest Exile days, the Pandavas and Draupadi, in couse of their wandering, reached a holy place after trekking over thorny and rubble-ridden ways. As bad luck would have it, they had just missed Maharshi Narada who had been there.

Here, Narada is not physically present; however, his absence has much to do with the unfolding of subsequent events. Yudhishthira needed a guide to the holy place because he had missed Narada. When Yudhishthira was thinking of having a hermit guide to the place, a hermit and a Brahmin came there. In reality, these two were two Danavas astonishingly skillful in acting. The one in guise of hermit was Bahuroma who already had his eyes on Draupadi. The other in Brahmin-guise was Sthulashira.

Bahuroma, with Rudraksha rosary on fingers, Kamandalu beside him, and sitting on Kusha grass pretended to recite Vedic hymns and meditate. As anticipated by Bahuroma, the Pandavas and Draupadi chanced upon him as they were walking in the forest near the Narmada bank. Yudhishthira and Pandavas were duped by his appearance, saluted him and requested him to say regarding the most mysterious holy places located in the adjacent area.

However, before Yudhishthira could complete his request, Sthulashira appeared there in guise. Sthulashira pretended to be a victimized Brahmin who had been physically assaulted (slapped) and looted of all he had including his cot, Chakshamala and Kamandalu by a wicked Danava.

The Pandavas fell in a hustle, and lighting fire, they immediately followed Sthulashira leaving Draupadi behind. They went quite far before suspecting foul play. Arjuna immediately turned back to take care of Draupadi.

Yudhishthira prayed to Surya and Gods to reveal the truth pledging his truthfulness, great deeds and bonafide speech. A Daiva-Vani then revealed to him the truth that Sthulashira was actually a Danava intent on playing tricks with them.

Sthulashira tried to flee but Bhima blew his fist on his head. Unable to flee, Sthulashira too became furious and hit Bhima. A fierce fight ensued. Finally, Bhima could break his skull.

Arjuna reached the hermitage but found neither Bahuroma nor Draupadi. He then climbed on a tree and saw that Bahuroma was running fast with Draupadi on his shoulders. This reminds of Draupadi's abduction by Jatasura and Sita’s abduction by Viradha. Arjuna further saw frightened Draupadi wailing and calling out their names loud.

Arjuna immediately rushed to them shouting war-cry, and by the force of his rush, felled many trees. In Mbh., such strength and feat is often ascribed to Bhima, for example, when Bhima was escaping with Kunti and brothers from the burning palace of lac in Varanavata.

Bahuroma realized that he could not outrun Arjuna with Draupadi on his shoulder, and so he dropped Draupadi and ran as fast as he could. Arjuna continued the chase and caught him.

Now comes a unique twist to the tale …

As soon as Bahuroma fell on the ground, he assumed the appearance of Vishnu with four hands armed with Shankhya, Cakra and Gada.

Arjuna was surprised. He saluted the Caturbhuja, and asked humbly: “God, why have you spread your illusion here? 0 god. I salute you and apologize for whatever I have done wrong under the deceit of your own illusion. O Jagannath, all this have been done due to ignorance. I therefore, ask for your apology. How is a man expected to have such consciousness as to recognize you in the changed form?”

Bahuroma disclosed his actual identity and said that he was not Vishnu. He said that it was the account of his previous deeds, which had turned him into Vishnu’s form.

Then on Arjuna’s query on his past deeds, Bahuroma narrated the tale of his previous births. By that time, the other Pandavas and Draupadi had arrived there.

Bahuroma narrated that in his previous birth he was King Jayadhvaja of the Candra clan (Soma Vamsha). He used to concentrate on the worship of god Narayana, and regularly swept and cleaned Narayana’s temple. He used to light Dipaka (lamp) at night at the temple.

Jayadhvaja’s Purohita was one Vitihotra. One day, Vitihotra was surprised to see the King himself sweeping the temple. He requested the King to narrate the fruits of such action. Now, like Bahuroma, his previous incarnation Jayadhvaja was also Jatismara. Jayadhvaja now narrated to Vitihotra the story of his previous birth.

In his previous birth, Bahuroma-Jayadhvaja was a Brahmin named Raivata. Raivata was an immoral and characterless Brahmin in all sense though he enjoyed enormous power as Purohita of numerous villages. He used to criticize others; he was cruel and used to sell illicit and prohibited things. His relations had abandoned him owing to his involvement in many forbidden deeds. He was a heinous evil-doer and always had envy of Brahmins. He was interested in the others’ wives and his passions were to snatch others money. He drew sadistic pleasure from killing creatures and made it his hobby. To sip wine daily was his routine.

One day he took some Brahmins' wives by force and wishing to rape them, he brought them to a deserted Nrsimha Vishnu temple. He was sure that since the temple was devoid of worship, nobody would come that way.

In order to satisfy his lust, he cleaned a little portion of the floor and lighted a lamp so that he could have voyeuristic pleasure too while having sex.

However, as soon as he had lighted the lamp and was readying for coition, some city guards suddenly entered there and assuming him a spy of the enemy, knocked him down and slaughtered him with a blow of the sword.

Despite all his evil deeds, the very act of cleaning the floor and lighting the lamp had cleansed him of all sins, so that as soon as he died, an aircraft (Vimana) descended with messengers from Vishnu, and took him to heaven while Gandharvas pleased him with their composed psalm and songs.

Raivata thus got a divine complexion, enjoyed the divine pleasures more than one hundred Kalpas. After that, because of his deed, he took rebirth as King Jayadhvaja. Since as Jayadhvaja he pursued a religious mode of life, lighting lamps, sweeping and cleaning Vishnu’s temple by his own hand, he again entered into heaven and went to Rudraloka.

One day, while Narada was moving from Rudraloka to Brahmaloka, he did not salute him deliberately and started laughing at him. Narada, annoyed, cursed him - "O king, be a monster." Jayadhvaja pleased him and begged for pardon. Narada then

diluted the curse with his words that he would be absolved from evil at the convent near the bank of Reva when Draupadi would be abducted by him, and Yudhishthira would be reaching in order to protect him from Arjuna’s attack.

So, it is on the terms set by Narada that Bahuroma had abducted Draupadi. We cannot thus deny Narada’s direct role in Draupadi-abduction. We may now also interpret Narada’s absence from the holy spot as deliberate so that his diluted curse-script is acted out: “Maharshi Narada had come at that place earlier to them and returned to his other destination.” (33.17)

Bahuroma (Jayadhvaja-Raivata) thus explained how he had again turned into Vishnu-form. Soon Garuda arrived, and Bahuroma departed for Vaikuntha Dham. Only Yudhishthira could see this phenomenon.

Narrating this tale, Suta said to his listeners that on Markandeya’s words, King Sahasranika of the Pandu Vamsha again tended to worship of Narayana. Suta summed up saying that Narayana provides his devotees with emancipation engaged deliberately or innocently.

2. Draupadi-abduction in Jain Mahabharata

In the Jain narratives, Draupadi was abducted by Paiimanabha [Skt. Padmanabha], the king of Amarakanka, on account of the mischief of Narada. Let us read in brief the Padmanabha story as narrated in Trishashtishalakapurushacarita (8.10.1).[vi]

One day Narada went to Draupadi’s house in course of his wanderings. Draupadi did not properly honour Narada because she felt that Narada lacked self-control. Narada did not take it well and left the place angry and hostile thinking of how to make her suffer in future. He knew that would be impossible in Bharatavarsha because Krishna protected her.

So, Narada went to Dhatakikhanda,[vii] the continent presided over by Vishnu Kapila – a different Vishnu than that of Bharatavarsha. To distinguish the two Vishnus, I would henceforth mention them as Vishnu Kapila and Vishnu Krishna.

In Dhatakikhanda, Narada met Padmanabha in Amarakanka city in Campa country. Padmanabha, the servitor of Vishnu Kapila, welcomed Narada and took him to his harem. He boasted that there were no such women elsewhere.

Narada understood that his purpose of humiliating Draupadi would be served by Padmanabha. So, to instigate him, Narada said: “Why are you pleased by these women, like a frog in a well, king? In the city Hastinapura in Bharata in Jambudvipa there is the chief-queen of the Pandavas, Draupadi, the abode of beauty. Compared with her, all these are mere slave-girls.” With these words, Rshi Narada flew up and went elsewhere.

Padmanabha’s fantasy flared up – reminding one of Kichaka in Mbh. or Vasuki in Bheel Bharata. Wishing to have Draupadi, Padmanabha undertook penance and called a Deva, a former friend, living in Patala. The Deva became visible and asked, “What can I do for you?” Padmanabha said: “Bring Draupadi here and give her to me.” The Deva said: “Draupadi wishes no one except the Pandavas. But I shall bring her at your insistence.”

Then the Deva flew to Hastinapura, found Draupadi and gave her a sleeping-charm. As Draupadi was in deep sleep at night, the Deva kidnaped her, and handed her over to Padma.

Draupadi, awakened there and was terrified to find herself at a new unknown place. At first she thought, “Is this a dream or sorcery?” Padmanabha arrived and said: “Do not fear, doe-eyed lady. I had you brought here. Enjoy pleasures with me. This is the city Amarakanka in continent Dhatakikhanda. I am the King Padmanabha. I wish to become your husband.”

Draupadi quickly grasped the situation and said: “If none of my people come after a month, I shall do as you say.” The delaying tactics is a great survival strategy as found in other narratives too, like in Shachi-Nahusha-Indra narrative with Shachi playing similar tactics to thwart Nahusha’s advances; or, Draupadi buying time with Jayadratha with niceties to give time to Pandavas to return and save her.

Padmanabha, like Nahusha, fell into the trap with the complacency that “It is impossible for men living in Jambudvipa to come here.” Draupadi, hoping to be rescued, said, “I, made husbandless, shall not enjoy pleasures till the end of a month.”

Here in Bharatavarsha, the Pandavas, made a thorough search everywhere - in water, on land, in forests - when they did not see Draupadi in the house at dawn. When they failed, Kunti told the matter to Krishna.

While Krishna was still bewildered about the sudden matter, Narada appeared to see the trouble caused by himself. Asked by Vishnu whether he had seen Draupadi anywhere, Narada said that he had been to Amarakanka in Dhatakikhanda and had seen Draupadi in the house of King Padma. With this much information, quite characteristically, he flew up and vanished.

Krishna broke the news to Pandavas, and they wondered how they would cross the violent ocean. Krishna, seated on the shore, propitiated Susthita, the lord of Lavanoda Ocean. [viii] When the Deva appeared, Krishna requested him to make arrangements so that Draupadi could be rescued quickly. Krishna’s propitiating the ocean is an echo of Rama doing the same in Ramayana to cross the ocean to Lanka to rescue Sita.

The Deva said that Draupadi had been abducted by another Deva and promised to defeat Padmanabha and bring her back. However, Krishna only wanted unobstructed path over the water for six chariots of the Pandavas and his.

When Susthita complied, Krishna and the Pandavas crossed the ocean easily and went to Amarakanka. Krishna sent Daruka as emissary to Padmanabha with the message to release Draupadi. But Padmanabha thought that Vasudeva of Bharatavarsha of Jambudvipa could not wield power in Dhatakikhanda. So, Padmanabha sent back Daruka with the message trivializing Krishna that he considered Krishna only as ordinary as the sixth of Pandavas.

Krishna prepared for battle and asked the Pandavas whether they would fight or let him fight on their behalf. The Pandavas said they would. However, as the war began, the Pandavas were no match for Padmanabha and were easily defeated by Padmanabha and his army. The Pandavas, their pride broken, went to Krishna and prayed him to do what was suitable.

Now Krishna set out for battle. At the sound of his Pancajanya Shankhya, one third of Padmanabha’s army broke rank and fled. At the twang of his Sharnga dhanu, another one third broke like a weak rope. Padmanabha fled from the battle-field and entered Amarakanka at once with the remaining one-third, and kept himself locked behind the iron gates.

Krishna got down from the chariot and transformed himself into Nrsimha – man-lion, blazing in anger like Krtanta, with mouth wide open with terrifying fangs. The Nrsimha roared, stamped with his feet, and the heart of his enemies trembled along with the earth. Walls shook, temples collapsed, and houses fell apart. Some hid in caves: some entered water; some in the city fell in a faint from fear of the man-lion.

Trembling with fear, Padmanabha took refuge of Draupadi and begged her pardon. Draupadi told him to go to Krishna donning women’s clothes and placing her before him. This again reminds of Jayadratha, whom Draupadi pardoned after he had accepted himself as Yudhishthira’s slave.

Padmanabha followed her order, went to Krishna and bowed. Krishna pardoned him, and then reached Draupadi to the Pandavas.

In the meantime, Vishnu Kapila had heard the sound of Pancajanya SHankhya from his assembly in Purnabhadraka and asked the Blessed Tirthakrt, Munisuvrata, [ix] whose conch it could be. The Arhat replied that it was Vishnu Krishna’s. Vishnu Kapila was surprised how there could be two Vishnus. Then the Arhat narrated the event of Draupadi's abduction.

Vishnu Kapila wanted to meet Vishnu Krishna, but the Arhat said ‘never the twain shall meet’ because just as there can be neither second Arhat nor Cakravartin in one place, similarly a Vishnu who has come for a reason cannot meet another.

Vishnu Kapila however, followed Vishnu Krishna’s track, and reaching the ocean shore blew his conch with the message that he was Vishnu Kapila who had come, eager to see Vishnu Krishna; so he should turn back. But Vishnu Krishna blew his conch with the sound of distinct words, “We have come far. We must not talk with you.”

Vishnu Kapila returned to the city Kanka (abbreviation of Amarakanka) and charged Padmanabha of his misdeeds. Padmanabha admitted his crime of Draupadi-abduction, and submitted himself to Vishnu Kapila. Vishnu Kapila banished Padmanabha for quarreling with superiors, and installed his son on the throne.

Now follows a unique misunderstanding between Krishna and Pandavas and their relationship fell apart. Krishna wanted to bid goodbye to Susthita and told the Pandavas to prepare in the meantime to cross Ganga. But the Pandavas embarked on the ship and crossed Ganga without Krishna. They wanted to test Krishna’s strength. They waited on the other side anchoring the ship there, and did not send it back for Krishna.

When Krishna reached the Ganga bank, he did not find the Pandavas or any boat waiting for him. So he swam across the Ganga taking the chariot with its horses on one arm. Midstream, Krishna felt tired, but without doubting the Pandavas he thought that the Pandavas were so powerful that they had swam the Ganga without a ship.

Seeing his benevolent and simple mind, Ganga made her water shallow to make Krishna’s swimming across her easy. Reaching the other side, he found the Pandavas and asked them how they had crossed. When he learnt the truth, he got angry with the Pandavas for putting him inconsiderably to test despite seeing his feats with Padmanabha.

Angry Krishna crushed the Pandavas’ chariots with an iron-staff. The place came to be known as Rathamardana where a city sprung later. Then Krishna banished the Pandavas; and returned to Dvaraka.

The Pandavas returned to their own city and confessed everything to Kunti. Kunti went to Dvaraka and said to Krishna: “Banished by you, where can my sons stay? In this half of Bharata, there is no land which is not yours.”

Krishna did not entirely pardon the Pandavas. He told Kunti that the Pandavas should found a new city, Pandumathura (modern Madura in South India) on the shore of the Southern Ocean, and dwell there abdicating their present rule.

When Kunti returned to Pandavas and told them Krishna’s commands, the Pandavas acted accordingly and went to the Pandu-district, purified by the ocean’s waves. Krishna installed Parikshita, grandson of his sister Subhadra, son of Abhimanyu, as king in Hastinapura.

The Pandavas and Draupadi and Krishna never met again.

3. Draupadi abduction by Jatasura

Draupadi was abducted by Jayadratha (3.248-256) - that is a well-known story. It happened after the Jatasura episode. The Pandavas and Draupadi spared Jayadratha’s life and let him go after Bhima, with an ardhacandra arrow, had shaved his head leaving five tufts of hair on his head, (3.256.9) and after Jayadratha admitted himself Yudhishthira’s slave. (18)

Soon after the Jayadratha episode, Yudhishthira and Pandavas met Rshi Markandeya. The Nrsimha Purana narrative has Markandeya narrating the Draupadi-abduction episode to Pandavas’ descendant Sahasranika.

During post-Dice Game Forest Exile, while Arjuna was away to the Himalayas, Jatasura Rakshasa remained in company of Pandavas in the guise of a Brahmana. His object was to possess the Pandavas’ weapons and ravish Draupadi. Without knowing his nature, Yudhishthira maintained him. One day, seeing an opportune moment – that Bhima was away for hunting, Lomasha and his disciples were away for bathing and collecting flowers, and Ghatotkaca and his followers were not near – Jatasura carried off Yudhishthira, Nakula-Sahadeva and Draupadi. Sahadeva, extricated himself with exertion, and snatching the sword named Kaushika from the grasp of the enemy, he began to call Bhimasena.

Yudhishthira tried to reason with Jatasura and talked long – obviously in an attempt to keep him busy. He even said, “And if thou beest really evil-disposed and devoid of all virtue, do thou render us back our weapons and ravish Draupadi after fight. But if through stupidity thou must do this deed, then in the world thou wilt only reap demerit and infamy O Rakshasa, by doing violence to this female of the human race, thou hast drunk poison, after having shaken the vessel.'”

Yudhishthira also pressed Jatasura thus diminishing his speed, and assured Nakula and Draupadi. Sahadeva also addressed Jatasura in similar veins, “If the sun sets to-day, the Rakshasa living yet, O Bharata, I will not any more say that I am a Kshatriya. Ho! Ho! Rakshasa. say! I am Pandu's son, Sahadeva. Either, after having killed me, carry off this lady, or being slain, lie senseless here.”

Soon Bhima appeared mace in hand. Fired with wrath, Bhima told Jatasura that he had earlier guessed his motive seeing him scrutiny their weapons, but as he had no apprehension of him, so he had not slain him at that time; besides Jatasura had been their guest though in guise of Brahmana, took delight in pleasing the Pandavas and Draupadi, and had not done any wrong.

Soon Bhima and Jatasura readied for fight. Jatasura said he would offer oblations of Bhima’s blood to slain Rakshasas – Baka and Hidimba. A dreadful wrestling ensued between them. They uprooted trees, struck each other, shouting and roaring like two masses of clouds. Finally Bhima dealt a blow on the neck of the Rakshasa. Jatasura almost fainted. Bhima then lifted the exhausted Jatasura with his two arms, and dashed him with force on the ground, and smashed all his limbs. And striking him with his elbow, Bhima then severed Jatasura’s head from his body.

We do not know where the Nrsimha Purana poet places the Bahuroma episode in Mbh. chronology - before, after or in-between the Jatasura and Jayadratha episodes.

4. Understanding Draupadi-abduction narratives

Listening to the Draupadi-abduction narratives of Nrsimha Purana and Jain Mbh., some reader might definitely wonder why Draupadi is such a popular character for abduction. It seems that every culture has added to their repertoire of wife-abduction narrative at the cost of Draupadi. Why is Draupadi the perpetual symbol of woman in distress? Why is she always portrayed as objectified male lust?

One reason is obviously her polyandrous marriage, and the discomfort every religious sects and successive generation nourished about it, knowingly or unknowingly. In Mbh., Karna called Draupadi a whore because of her polyandrous marriage. In my opinion, the same Karna-psychology has worked in creating the Draupadi-abduction narratives outside Mbh. To this, one might add the Buddhist Kunala Jataka (No. 536) narrative where Draupadi is depicted having illicit love affair with a hump-backed servant. Such narratives concerning Sita are unthinkable. Draupadi, polyandrous, has been an easy target.

By a curious irony, the abduction narratives apparently depicting Draupadi as a victimized woman actually victimize her, mostly for glorifying Vishnu at her cost. In Mbh., in the Draupadi-Disrobing episode, Krishna is generally believed to have saved Draupadi, supplying her with endless dress; whereas, Mbh. explicitly mentions that Dharma saved her.

Even in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, a treatise on the Dharma of Kama, sex and sexuality, Draupadi has to be Vatsyayana’s example for the evil effects of Kama-slave mentality. Vatsyayana states explicitly that Kicaka was destroyed because he was Kamavashagah or Kama-sick for Draupad?. (1.2.36)

Krishna as Draupadi's Sakha and savior is firmly imprinted in cultural memory – be it owing to misreading or over-reading of Mbh., or be it Puranik memory. For example, in Narada Purana, in one eulogy to Krishna, Krishna is hailed as (412) one who keeps up the word of Draupadi, (413) the remover of the fear from Durvasa, and (414) one who arrived immediately after being remembered by Pancali.

It is as if Draupadi's duty has been to fall in trouble and Krishna’s duty has been to rescue her. The Jain Mbh. follows that module, while the Nrsimha Purana narrative is an exception to that because here there is no Krishna.

To judge the Nrsimha Purana narrative, one would surely find several loose threads in the narrative. As we analyze the narrative, we find that Draupadi is almost a non-entity in the narrative though all events pivot on her. She has been portrayed as a type character, very flat, voiceless, rather like a doll whom Pandavas could leave behind and whom Bahuroma could abduct easily. Apparently, the Puranik poet has absolute misreading of Draupadi's character, and has not done his Mahabharata-homework well; or perhaps as a typical male poet, he chose not to portray Draupadi's exceptional qualities as found in Mbh.

The Pandavas are portrayed as gullible characters who cannot distinguish guised Brahmana from the real one. Since the narrative is chronologically placed after the Dice Game, one might wonder why the Pandavas would not learn their lessons.

Yudhishthira’s prayer to Bhanu or Surya is curious. The Pandavas needed divine help to know the truth and could not detect the truth with their own intelligence. This portrayal of Pandavas is very Jain in nature as evident in the Padmanabha narrative where the Pandavas are not even named separately, but as a group. There is Surya-stava by Yudhishthira in Mbh., and our poet must have remembered that too.

While in Mbh., it is mostly Bhima who bails out Draupadi – (in Jatasura and Kicaka episodes alone, and in Jayadratha episode jointly with Arjuna)- the Nrsimha Purana poet is clearly pro-Arjuna. He glorifies Arjuna over other Pandavas also evident in the brief narration of Mbh. elsewhere in the Purana. For example, he says that Arjuna defeated and slaughtered the great warriors like, Bhishma, Drona, Krpa, Shalya, Karna etc. with the co-operation of Bhima etc. and enthroned his eldest brother Yudhisthira as per law.

The Nrsimha Purana narrative uses the terms Danava and Daitya for Bahuroma and Sthulashira. It is an interesting departure from ‘Asura’ or ‘Rakshasa.’

Then we have Narada. Narada is RgVedic RshI, and he is revered in Buddhism and Jainism too; however, he has been transformed to an archetypal trouble-maker and conflict monger in Puranas, and in Buddhist and Jain mythology. But even this has a deeper message.

We people know at heart that if conflict is the essence of drama, then drama is the essence of life. Our whole life is a series of conflicts – be it the fight of our immunity system against a virus (presently, COVID19), against nature, environment, fellow human beings, imaginary past and future, and other species. If so, then conflict must be accepted as past and parcel of life. Yet, one social drama is to pretend that conflict has absolute negative value.

In this context, the role of Narada in creating conflict is to drive home the point that conflict must be accepted in its positive value for growth. Through inducing conflict, through instigations to conflict, Narada thus throws people into challenging situations, giving them the chance to evolve.

In both Nrsimha Purana and Jain Mbh., Narada involves several persons into conflict through Draupadi’s abduction. Bahuroma and Padmanabha – both had been working out Narada’s script. In Mbh., Narada and Vyasa predicted the Kurukshetra War; actually they set the script for Bhubharaharana (De-Burdening the Earth). The Jain poet transforms Mbh. into a no-war matter by using the character of Narada.

Another important message in both the narratives concerns Vishnu. Ishvara is absolute, Ishvara with one name as Vishnu is absolute, Ishvara conceived through Vishnu is absolute – so, in that way, Vishnu or Vishnu-Narayana is absolute. However, characteristic of Vedic and Hindu philosophy, the signifier and signified are different and also One. Vishnu is the signifier who signifies Ishvara-Vishnu; however, Ishvara-Vishnu is the signified whose one signifier is Vishnu among many other signifiers, primarily Shiva. Similarly, Shiva is also the signifier of Ishvara-Shiva, and we may name Ishvara as Ishvara-Shiva or Ishvara-Vishnu or Shiva or Vishnu.

In Puranik narratives, Vishnu is the principle of preservation while Brahma is the principle of creation and Shiva is the principle of destruction. Thus, Vishnu as a Deva principle or the signifier is not absolute. He is relative. He is RgVedic God, and Ramayana Mahabharata and Puranas ascribe to him a birth like human; he is one of the Adityas born in Aditi’s womb. Now, one who is born like human must also die.

In Mbh., in the cosmic scheme, Vishnu’s power is not absolute. A recension adds that there have been hundreds of Chakras like Vishnu’s and Vajras like that of Shakra - na shastrani vahanty ange cakravajrashatany api (13.14.54*85_10), thus Vishnu-Krishna's cakra is not exclusive in the universal scheme. In another narrative involving Mrtyu, Kala, a snake and a Brahmani named Gautami, Mrtyu says, Vishnu is subject to Kala; Kala creates the Gods again and again (13.1.48-49).

The Puranik Kalpa-imagination shows synchronic Vishnus, that is, Vishnu might be born again and die again in different Kalpas in chronology of Kala-Time. The Nrsimha Purana and Jain Mbh. show diachronic Vishnu, that is, Vishnu existing simultaneously in the same timeline.

In Mbh. and Harivamsha, other than Krishna-Vasudeva and Krishna-Vishnu, we have a fake Vishnu – Paundra Vasudeva whom Krishna killed. Bahuroma’s assuming Vishnu-Narayana’s Caturbhuja form reminds of the duplicate Vishnu of Harivamsha – Paundra Vasudeva.

In Nrsimha Purana narrative, there are three Vishnus – the Deva Vishnu in absentia (his presence is felt through Bahuroma), the Krishna-Vishnu in absentia (or present through Arjuna, if we may choose to say; and his presence is felt through Pandavas and Draupadi), and Bahuroma the ‘form-Vishnu.’

Similarly, in the Jain narrative, there are three Vishnus – the Vishnu Krishna of Bharatavarsha, the Vishnu Kapila of Dhatakikhanda, and Padmanabha (one name of Vishnu).

Deva-Vishnu and Krishna-Vishnu do not meet in Nrsimha Purana narrative; similarly, Vishnu Kapila and Vishnu Krishna cannot meet in Jain Mbh. except a momentary communication through conch sound.

The ‘form-Vishnu’ Bahuroma and the ‘name-Vishnu’ Padmanabha – both meet their fate and destiny through the common act of Draupadi-abduction.

Both the poets of Nrsimha Purana and Jain Mbh. ascribe to Draupadi a ‘passive-active’ role. Her part is to be helplessly abducted, yet her Body-Presence decides the fate of others, the males. She becomes the catalyst of rift between Krishna and Pandavas in Jain Mbh., resulting in a political change. Sending Pandavas to distant land, Krishna installs Parikshita on the throne. Similarly, in Nrsimha Purana, Jayadhvaja the Kshatriya is liberated through Draupadi's Body-Presence. Sahasranika the Pandava (Arjuna) descendant or Parikshita’s descendent learns the importance of establishing and maintaining Vishnu temples as part of Rajadharma. The narrative glorifies maintenance of Vishnu temple so much so that it is willing to forgive even sexual crimes, assault on women, rape or attempted rape, and over-inclination to Kama.

As I have discussed, the Nrsimha Purana narrative and Jain Mbh. narrative of Draupadi-abduction bear interesting affinities. It could be a matter of influence of one on the other; though we have no way to determine that.

So far archaeology is concerned, the temple culture flourished in Bharatavarsha mostly in the 4th-5th century A.D, and particularly under the political and cultural influence of the Guptas. The Guptas promoted synthesis of diverse religious ideologies, so that we find Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other sects coexisting with mutual respect and with mutual intellectual and spiritual enrichment during the Gupta Age, rightly known as Golden Age.

If the Nrsimha Purana narrative glorifies the Temple culture, pointing to the social and political need of establishing and maintaining temples as part of Rajadharma, it also glorifies Ahimsa. Bhima kills Sthulashira no doubt, but Yudhishthira and Arjuna and Draupadi pardon the ‘form-Vishnu’ Bahuroma and out of respect for the ‘form’ or appearance or ‘signifier’, they spare his life and allow him to ascend Svarga. Now, Temple itself is a signifier of Ishvara, thus the messages of respect for Temple and respect for ‘form’ (of Bahuroma) is mutual allegories. ‘Signifier’ has equal status with the ‘Signified’ – a central message of Hinduism.

Similarly, the Jain Mbh. glorifies Ahimsa – Krishna spares Padmanabha, and Draupadi pardons him too and does not ask for his punishment. The rift of Krishna and Pandavas also carry the same message of Ahimsa; by removing the Pandavas, the poet removes the prospect of Kurukshetra War.

Jain Mbh. has of course a more complex relation with Krishna. However, in this article, I have kept my discussion focused on and confined to the Draupadi-abduction narrative only.

More exploration needs to be done of less known and less discussed narratives as above.

End Notes

[i] Hazra, R.C. (1958). Studies in the Upapuranas, Vol. I (Calcutta Sanskrit College Research Series No.II), Calcutta: Sanskrit College, pp.242-3
[ii] Vishnu Purana, Book 3, ch.1-7 and the Agni Purana, Book 3, ch.381
[iii] Hazra, R.C. (1962). The Upapuranas in S. Radhakrishnan ed. The Cultural Heritage of India, Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Vol.II, p.278
[iv] It is the 6th Anga of Jain Canonical Text codified until 5th century CE [Draupadi's biography is in the 16th chapter of Book-1]
[v] Geen, Jonathan. 2001. The Marriage of Draupadi in the Hindu and Jaina Mahabharata. A Thesis... McMaster University
[vi] [Helen M. Johnson. 1931. Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra]
[vii] In Jain cosmology, Dhatakikhanda is the shorter name of Dhatakikhandadvipa, one of the continents (dvipa) of the middle-world (madhyaloka) which is encircled by the ocean named Kalodadhisamudra (or simply Kalodadhi). The middle-world contains innumerable concentric dvipas and, as opposed to the upper-world (adhaloka) and the lower-world (urdhvaloka), is the only world where humans can be born. In Hinduism , Dhatakikhanda is the name of a region ruled over by Dhataka, according to the Varahapurana chapter 74. Dhatakikhanda is located in Purkaradvipa, which is ruled over by Savana, son of Priyavrata, who was a son of Svayambhuva Manu, who was created by Brahma, who was in turn created by Narayana, the unknowable all-pervasive primordial being.
[viii] The Lavanoda Ocean is situated next to Jambudvipa, according to Jain cosmological texts, such as the Tiloyapannatti. Jambudvipa sits at the centre of madhyaloka (‘middle world’) is the most important of all continents. According to Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra (Part-24), “Next, surrounding Jambudvipa, and twice as wide, is the ocean named Lavanoda. It is sunk 1000 yojanas in the ground, and its water increases very gradually in depth for a distance of 95,000 yojanas from both sides…” etc.
[ix] “Now the god Surashreshtha, immersed in an ocean of bliss, completed his life in Pranata. He fell and descended into the womb of Queen Padmavati on the full moon of Shravana, the moon being in Shravana. Then the queen, comfortably asleep, saw the fourteen great dreams, which indicate the birth of a Tirthakat, during the last part of the night. On the eighth day of the dark half of Jyestha, the constellation being Shravana, at the proper time she bore a son, black as a tamala,[1] marked with a tortoise. After the birth-rites had been performed with devotion by the Dikkumaris, the twentieth Arhat was taken to Meru by Bidaujas. The sixty-three Indras gave the birth-bath to the Teacher of the World seated on Shakra’s lap with pure water from the sacred places. Shakra also gave the bath, made a puja, et cetera to the Lord of the World seated on Ishana’s lap and began a hymn of praise.” (Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra, part-5)


More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

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