Panchkanya : Women of Substance - 3

Panchali is fully conscious of her beauty and its power, for she uses it in getting her way with Bhima in Virata’s kitchen (Virata Parva20) and with Krishna in turning the peace-embassy into a declaration of war (Udyoga Parva 82). The captivating pose she strikes when alone in Kamyaka forest, which enchants Jayadratha is a telling instance of this. Leaning against a kadamba tree, holding on to a branch with an upraised hand, her upper garment displaced, she flashes like lightning against clouds or like the flame of a lamp quivering in the night-breeze.[[1]] Lovely as Sita left alone in the wilderness, no Ravana would have succeeded in spiriting Draupadi away. When Jayadratha seizes her, she repulses him so hard that he falls to the ground! Retaining full control of her faculties, she mounts his chariot on finding him bent on forcing her, calmly asking the family priest to report to her husbands. No Sita-like lamentation here, nor shrill outcries for succour! As her husbands close up on Jayadratha, she taunts him with an elaborate description of the prowess of each and the inevitable trouncing that will follow.  

The manner in which Draupadi manipulates Bhima to destroy Kichaka is a fascinating lesson in the art and craft of sexual power. She does not turn to Arjuna, knowing him to be a true disciple of Yudhishthira as seen in the dice-game. Then Bhima alone had roared out his outrage. Now she seeks him out in the dark of the night. Finding him asleep in the kitchen, she snuggles up to him like a woman aroused, as a wild she-crane presses close to its mate and a three-year old cow in season rubs against a bull. She twines herself round Bhima as a creeper entwines a massive shala tree on Gomati’s banks, as a lioness clasps the sleeping king of beasts in a dense forest, as a she-elephant embraces a huge tusker. As Bhima awakens in her arms, Draupadi administers the coup-de-grace by addressing him in dulcet vina-like tones pitched at the gandhara note, the third in the octave. To rouse his anger, she narrates all her misfortunes, even how she, a princess, has now to carry water for the queen’s toilet and particularly mentions how she swoons when he wrestles with wild beasts, giving rise to barbed comments from maids. Finally, in an ineffable feminine touch she extends her palms to him, chapped with grinding unguents for the queen. His reaction is all that she had planned for so consummately:

“Wolf-waisted foe-crushing Bhima covered 
His face with the 
Delicate, chapped hands of his wife, 
And burst into tears.” (Virata Parva, 20.30)

Kichaka’s death is sealed. When Kichaka has been pounded to death, instead of hiding in safety she recklessly flaunts the corpse before his kin, revelling in her revenge. They abduct her and she has again to be saved by Bhima from being burnt to death.   

Earlier, in the dice-game Yajnaseni shocks everyone by challenging the Kuru elders’ very concept of dharma in a crisis where the modern woman would collapse in hysterics. Instead of meekly obeying her husband’s summons, she sends back a query which none can answer: How could Yudhishthira, having lost himself, stake her at all? She has a brilliant mind, is utterly “one-in-herself” and does not hesitate in berating the Kuru elders for countenancing wickedness. As Karna directs her to be dragged away to the servants’ quarters, she cries out to her silent husbands. 

Finding no response, with quicksilver presence of mind she seizes upon a social ritual to wrest some moments of respite from pillaging hands. Her speech drips with sarcasm. The elders whom she ceremoniously salutes, deliberately using the word “duty,” have remained silent in the face of Vidura’s exhortation to do their duty and protect the royal daughter-in- law.[[1]] Look at her choice of words:

“One duty remains, which 
I must now do. Dragged 
by this mighty hero, 
I nearly forgot. I 
was so confused. 
Sirs, I bow to all of you, all my elders 
and superiors. Forgive me for 
not doing so earlier. 
It was not all my fault, 
gentlemen of the sabha.” (Sabha Parva, 67.30)

It is a “mighty hero” who is dragging his menstruating sister-in-law, clad in a single cloth, by her hair. She has “nearly forgot” her duty, while the elders are wholly oblivious of theirs despite being reminded by a servant-maid’s son. It is surely not her fault that she is being outraged, and certainly it is not she who is “so confused” but rather the Kuru elders of whom Bhishma says,

“Our elders, learned in dharma, 
Drona and others, sit 
Here with lowered eyes like dead men 
with life-breaths gone.” (ibid, 69.20)

Yajnaseni succeeds in winning back freedom for her enslaved husbands. Karna pays her a remarkable tribute, saying that none of the world’s renowned beautiful women have accomplished such a feat: like a boat she has rescued her husbands who were drowning in a sea of sorrows (Sabha 72.1-3). 

With striking dignity she refuses to take the third boon Dhritarashtra offers, because with her husbands free and in possession of their weapons, she does not need a boon from anyone. No twenty first century feminist can surpass her in being in charge of herself. Can we even imagine any woman having to suffering attempted disrobing with her husbands sitting mute; then facing abduction in the forest and having to countenance her husband forgiving the abductor; be molested again in court and be admonished by her husband for making a scene; then be carried off to be burnt alive; thereafter, when war is imminent, witness her husbands asking Krishna to sue for peace; and finally find all her kith and kin and her sons slain-- and still remain sane?  

An illuminating contrast can be seen in Shaivya, wife of Harishchandra.[[1]] She does not utter a word when Vishvamitra drives her out of her kingdom, be-labouring her with a stick because she is too exhausted to move swiftly (VII. 29). She herself suggests to Harishchandra that since she has fulfilled her function by presenting him with a son, he should sell her to pay Vishvamitra what he requires (VIII. 30-31). When the Brahmana to whom she is sold drags her by the hair, she remains silent (VIII. 56). This is precisely the conduct of a sati who utterly wipes out her own self and lives only in, through and for her husband. The kanya’s personality, on the other hand, blazes forth quite independent of her spouse and her offspring. She seeks to fulfil herself regardless of social and family norms. Thus, Draupadi does not rest till the revenge for which her father had invoked her manifestation is complete and the insult she suffered has been wiped out in blood. Through the thirteen years of exile, she never allows her husbands and her sakha to forget how she was outraged and they were deceitfully deprived of their kingdom. When she finds all her husbands, except Sahadeva, in favour of suing for peace, she brings to bear all her feminine charm to turn the course of events inexorably towards war. Pouring out a litany of her injuries, she takes up her serpent-like thick glossy hair and with tearful eyes urges Krishna to recall these tresses when he sues for peace. Sobbing, she declares that her five sons led by Abhimanyu and her old father and brothers will avenge her if her husbands will not. Krishna’s response is all that she has been aiming at:

“Consider those you disfavor 
As already dead!… 
The Himavant hills may move, the 
Earth shatter 
In a hundred pieces, heaven collapse; 
My promise stands… 
You will see your enemies killed.” (Udyoga Parva, 82.45, 48)

The course of the epic is determined by the dark five and Kunti, of whom three arekanyas: Gandhakali, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, Vasudeva Krishna, Yajnaseni, Arjuna, Kunti. The first three are further linked by the black waters of the Yamuna, while Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi are prototypes of one another. 

Draupadi is the only instance we come across in epic mythology of a sati becoming akanya. The Southern recension of the epic states that in an earlier birth as Nalayani (also named Indrasena) she was married to Maudgalya, an irascible sage afflicted with leprosy. She was so utterly devoted to her abusive husband that when a finger of his dropped into their meal, she took it out and calmly ate the rice without revulsion. Pleased by this, Maudgalya offered her a boon, and she asked him to make love to her in five lovely forms. As she was insatiable, Maudgalya got fed up and reverted to ascesis. When she remonstrated and insisted that he continue their love-life, he cursed her to be reborn and have five husbands to satisfy her lust. Thereupon she practised severe penance and pleased Shiva, obtaining the boon of regaining virginity after being with each husband.[[1]] Thus, by asserting her womanhood and refusing to accept a life of blind subservience to her husband, Nalayani the sati was transformed into Yajnaseni the kanya

According to the Brahmavaivarta Purana (4.116.22-23), she is the reincarnation of the shadow-Sita who, in turn, was Vedavati reborn after molestation at Ravana’s hands, and would become the Lakshmi of the Indras in Svarga. As far back as in 1887 the great Bengali litterateur Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay[[1]] drew an illuminating distinction between Sita and Draupadi, noting that while the former is chiefly a wife in whom the softer feminine qualities are expressed, the latter is pre-eminently a tremendously forceful queen in whom woman’s steel will, pride and brilliant intellect are most evident, a befitting consort indeed of mighty Bhimasena. He also pointed out that Draupadi represents woman’s selflessness in performing all household duties flawlessly but detachedly. In her he sees exemplified the Gita’s prescription for controlling the senses by the higher self. 

Since a wife is supposed to present her husband with a son, she gives one to each of the Pandavas, but no more, and in that exemplifies the conquest over the senses, as in the case of Kunti. Once this duty is over, there is no sexual relationship between her and the Pandavas. That is why, despite having five husbands, Draupadi is the acme of chastity. Akin to sakha Krishna, lotus-like she is fully of this world of senses, yet never immersed in it. The bloom of her unique personality spreads its fragrance far and wide, soaring above the worldly mire in which it is rooted. 

Ultimately, the fact that Draupadi stands quite apart from her five husbands is brought tellingly home when not one of them— not even Sahadeva of whom she took care with maternal solicitude, nor her favourite Arjuna— tarries by her side when she falls and lies dying on the Himalayan slopes, nathavati anathavat [[1]] (husbanded, yet unprotected). That is when we realise that this remarkable “virgin” never asked anything for herself. Born unwanted, thrust abruptly into a polyandrous marriage, she seems to have had a profound awareness of being an instrument in bringing about the extinction of an effete epoch so that a new age could take birth. And being so aware, Yajnaseni offered up her entire being as a flaming sacrifice in that holocaust of which Krishna was the presiding deity. This feature of transcending the lower self, of becoming an instrument of a higher design is what seems to constitute a common trait in these ever-to-be-remembered maidens. Remembering them daily, learning from them how to sublimate our petty ego to reach the higher self, we transcend sin. 

These maidens provide a parallel to the three forms of the ancient Arcadian goddess, Hera: maiden, fulfilled woman and woman of sorrows. Hera, too, would emerge from her bath in the spring Kanathos as virgin anew. As Hera is also her daughter Hebe and Demeter is also Kore-Persephone, so is Satyavati also Kunti and Kunti also Draupadi. Like Demeter-Nemesis and the “awful” Persephone queen of Hades who arouses both admiration and fear, Draupadi is Krishna, the dark goddess, the virgin Vira-Shakti whose cult still exists in south India, a manifestation of the goddess Kali, supping full of horrors on the battlefield at night, the primal uncontrolled, chaotic persona of Prakriti.[[1]]

Draupadi, like the Kore Helen, appears with the skiey announcement that she will be the destruction of warriors. Draupadi, like Demeter and Helen, is always subjected to violence: her svayamvara ends in strife; a fivefold marriage is imposed upon her; she is outraged in the royal court twice over; Jayadratha and Kichaka attempt to rape her; the Upakichakas seek to burn her alive. Like vengeful Demeter Erinys and like Helen, Draupadi seems to attract rape and to wreak vengeance thereafter. Again, like the vengeful Amba, whose suicide in flames represents the inner anguish consuming her, and who takes rebirth to exact blood-price for her outraged femininity by causing Bhishma’s death on the battlefield, Draupadi is also veritably a virgin goddess of war like Artemis and Athene. 

A common feature these maidens share is “motherlessness.” The births of Ahalya, Satyavati and Draupadi are unnatural, none having a mother. We know nothing of Tara’s mother. Mandodari’s mother is Hema, who remains just a name. The motherless Gandhakali and Pritha, as adolescents, are left by their foster-fathers to the mercies of two eccentric sages and become unwed mothers with no option but to discard their first born. Pritha’s mother is never mentioned even when she is given away by her father. As Kunti, she finds no foster-mother either and her only succour is an old midwife. If Draupadi had hoped to find her missing mother in her mother-in-law, she is tragically deceived as Kunti thrusts her into a polyandrous marriage that exposes her to salacious gossip reaching a horrendous climax in Karna calling her a public woman whose being clothed or naked is immaterial. As if that were not enough, Kunti urges her to take special care of her fifth husband, Sahadeva, as a mother! No other woman has had to face this peculiar predicament of dealing with five husbands now as spouse, then as elder or younger brother-in-law (to be treated like a father or as a son respectively) in an unending cycle. 

Simultaneously, we notice that Ahalya, Satyavati and Draupadi are not known for maternal qualities. Ahalya’s son abandons her and lives comfortably in Janaka’s court, expressing relief that she is finally acceptable in society following Rama’s visit. Valmiki has not a word to say about the mother-son relationship between Ahalya and Shatananda. Vyasa is abandoned by both parents and attributes his survival to chance. Draupadi’s five sons are mere names and are not even nurtured by her. She sends them to Panchala and follows her husbands into exile to ensure that the wounds of injustice and insult inflicted upon them remain ever fresh. Indeed, scholars, beginning with Bankimchandra over a hundred years ago, have questioned the very fact of her maternity since, unlike the other Pandava progeny (Ghatotkacha, Abhimanyu, Babhruvahana) the five sons are nothing more than names and might have been interpolated. The Draupadi Cult specifically states that her sons were not products of coitus but were born from drops of blood that fell when, in her terrifying Kali form, her nails pierced Bhima’s hand.[[1]] 

These kanyas remain quintessentially virgins and, except for Kunti, hardly ever assume the persona of mother. In this, as in much else of her flaming character, Draupadi reminds us of the ancestress of the Kuru clan, Devayani, wilful, assertive of her demands, her father’s darling, with no mention of her mother, soliciting Kacha, virtually hijacking Yayati into marriage, flouncing off in fury to get her father curse Yayati with senility, and showing no evidence of any maternal role beyond producing a couple of sons. Indeed, the similarity goes deeper. In the Maitrayani and Taittiriya Samhitas, Devayani is the name of the fire-altar. Yajnaseni gets her name from having been born from this altar. 

This feature of being rejected-and-rejecting-in-turn that is a recurring leit motif with thekanya is not just of antiquary interest. It recurs in one of the most significant explorations of the Bengali woman’s struggle to step into the modern age by experimenting with new ways of motherhood: Ashapurna Debi’s trilogy Pratham Pratisruti, Subarnalata and Bakul Katha. The heroine, significantly named Satyabati, is “abandoned” by her father who gives her away in child-marriage at the age of eight. When she gives birth to her son, she simultaneously receives news of her mother’s death. She struggles to educate her children in a new urban milieu of a nuclear family, but her daughter Subarna is also married off at the age of eight. Thereupon Satyabati physically turns away from the wedding, abandoning her daughter on the threshold of motherhood, repeating the desertion she herself had experienced. The pattern repeats itself when Subarna, receiving news of her mother’s death, finds herself unable to think of her own daughter. 

It is a patriarchal society’s tradition of enforced motherlessness that is sought to be challenged at the cost of being regarded as an aberrant mother. Ashapurna Debi questions the traditional concept of motherhood which confines woman to the role of a biological parent with no hand in shaping the future of the girl child. This is precisely what we notice in the case of the five kanyas.[[1]] 

This, again, is where the kanya is distinct from the apsara, the heavenly hetaerae to whom the maternal instinct is foreign. 

Urvashi makes this amply clear to King Kukutstha when he reproaches her for deserting their daughter: “O King, my body does not change when offspring are born and true to my nature as a courtesan, I do not rear children I give birth to.”[[1]] 

The same characteristic is seen in Menaka abandoning her new-born daughter Shakuntala. 

The theme of loss is common to the kanya. Ahalya has no parents, loses both husband and son and is a social outcast; Kunti loses her parents and then her husband twice over (once to Madri and then when he dies in Madri’s arms); Satyavati loses husband and both royal sons. Seeing her great grandchildren at each other’s throats, she realises, “the green years of the earth are gone” (Adi Parva, 128.6) and leaves for the forest so as not to witness the suicide of her race (ibid. 128.9). Vyasa tells us nothing of her end. Mandodari loses husband, sons, kinsmen. Tara loses her husband. Both have to marry their younger brothers-in-law who are responsible for their husbands’ deaths. Draupadi finds her five husbands discarding her repeatedly: each takes at least one more wife; she never gets Arjuna to herself for he marries Ulupi, Chitrangada and has Subhadra as his favourite; Yudhishthira pledges her like chattel at dice; and, finally, they leave her to die alone on the roadside like a pauper, utterly rikta, drained in every sense. In her long poem “Kurukshetra”, Amreeta Syam conveys the angst of Panchali, born unasked for by her father, bereft of brothers and sons and her beloved sakha Krishna:

“Draupadi has five husbands — but she has none — 
She had five sons — and was never a mother… 
The Pandavas have given Draupadi… 
No joy, no sense of victory 
No honour as wife 
No respect as mother — 
Only the status of a Queen… 
But they have all gone 
And I’m left with a lifeless jewel 
And an empty crown… 
my baffled motherhood 
Wrings its hands and strives to weep.”[[1]]

Among the five it is Ahalya who remains unique because of the nature of her daring and its consequence. She is the only one whose transgression becomes known and is therefore punished for having done what she wanted to. Because of her unflinching acceptance of the sentence, Vishvamitra and Valmiki both glorify her.

Chandra Rajan, another sensitive poetess of today, catches these nuances:

“Gautama cursed his impotence and raged… 
she stood petrified 
in stony silence 
withdrawn into the secret cave 
of her inviolate inner self… 
she had her shelter 
within, perfect, inviolate 
in the one-ness of spirit 
with rock rain and wind 
with flowing tree 
and ripening fruit 
and seed that falls silently 
in its time 
into the rich dark earth.”[[1]]

None of these maidens breaks down in the face of personal tragedy. Each continues to live out her life with head held high. This is another characteristic that sets thekanya apart from other women. 

There is an aspect of exploitation that we notice about the kanya. Sugriva hides behind Tara and uses her to calm the raging Lakshmana. Kunti is used by Kuntibhoja to please Durvasa. Draupadi is used first by Drupada to take revenge on Drona by securing the alliance of the Pandavas and then by Kunti and the Pandavas to win their kingdom thrice over (first through marriage; then in the first dice game when she wins them their freedom; finally as their incessant goad on the path to victory).[[1]] 

Unknown to her, even sakha Krishna throws her in as the ultimate temptation in Karna’s way when seeking to win him over to the Pandavas before the war, assuring that Draupadi will come to him in the sixth part of the day, shashthe ca tam tatha kale draupadyupagamisyati (Udyoga Parva, 134.16). 

This is followed by Kunti urging Karna to enjoy (bhunkshva) Yudhishthira’s Shri(another name for Draupadi) which was acquired by Arjuna (ibid. 135.8). There is an unmistakable harking back to her command to her sons to enjoy (bhunkteti) what they had brought together when Bhima and Arjuna had announced their arrival with Draupadi as alms. No wonder Draupadi laments that she has none to call her own, when even her sakha unhesitatingly uses her as bait! We cannot but agree with Naomi Wolf’s condemnation of masculine culture’s efforts to “punish the slut”, the sexually independent woman who crosses the ambiguous lakshmana-rekha separating “good” from “bad”[[1]]

The kanya, despite having husband and children, remains alone to the last. This is the loneliness at the top that great leaders bear as their cross. The absence of a mother’s nurturing, love, modelling and handing down of tradition leaves the kanya free to experiment, unbound by shackles of taught norms, to mould herself according to her inner light, to express and fulfil her femininity, achieving self-actualisation on her own terms. One is tempted to use a modern cliché to describe her: a woman of substance.[[1]] 

An invaluable insight into what is so very special in being a woman—virgin, wife and mother— is found in what an Abyssinian woman told Frobenius. In her speech we find the reason for our kanyas remaining such an enigma to men throughout the ages: “How can a man know what a woman’s life is?…He is the same before he has sought out a woman for the first time and afterwards. But the day when a woman enjoys her first love cuts her in two…The man spends a night by a woman and goes away. His life and body are always the same…He does not know the difference before love and after love, before motherhood and after motherhood…Only a woman can know that and speak of that. That is why we won’t be told what to do by our husbands. A woman can only do one thing…She must always be as her nature is. She must always be maiden and always be mother. Before every love she is a maiden, after every love she is a mother.”[[1]] We have only to recall the encounters of Surya, Dharma, Vayu, Indra and Pandu with Pritha, of Parashara and Shantanu with Gandhakali, of Draupadi with her husbands, of Ulupi with Arjuna, of Indra with Ahalya, to realise the profundity of this utterance. 

C.G. Jung, while discussing the phenomenon of the maiden describes her “as not altogether human in the usual sense; she is either of unknown or peculiar origin, or she looks strange or undergoes strange experiences.”[[1]] This fits the kanyas as a class. The maiden represents the Anima archetype in man in whose realm the categories of good and bad do not exist: “bodily life as well as psychic life have the impudence to get along much better without conventional morality, and they often remain the healthier for it.”[[1]] So long as a woman is content to be just a man’s woman, she is devoid of individuality, and acts as a willing vessel for masculine projections. On the other hand, the maiden uses the anima of man to gain her natural ends (Bernard Shaw called it the Life Force). Amply do we see in the cases of these maidens that, “The anima lives beyond all categories, and can therefore dispense with blame as well as with praise.”[[1]] The anima is characterised not just by this zest for life, but also by “a secret knowledge, a hidden wisdom… something like a hidden purpose, a superior knowledge of life’ laws”[[1]] which we see in this group of epic women. That is why Shantanu, Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Pandu, the Kaunteyas, Surgriva can never quite come to grips with Satyavati, Kunti, Draupadi and Tara and are ever in awe of them.     

One of the finest instances of the working of anima is found in the Ganga-Shantanu relationship. Ganga is yet another kanya, wedded to both Vishnu and Shiva in their realms and also to the human king of Hastinapura, but utterly independent in everything that she does. On her first appearance, she seats herself on Pratipa’s right thigh and demands that he take her:

“It is improper to refuse a woman in love… 
I am not ugly, she said, 
I do not bring ill fortune, 
No one has cast a slur on me, 
I am not unfit for sexual enjoyment. 
I am celestial, I am beautiful, 
I love you. Take me, my lord.” (Adi Parva, 97. 5, 7)

This is the quintessential kanya that we find also in Devayani soliciting Kacha and Yayati, in Ulupi spiriting Arjuna away and in Urvashi approaching Arjuna. After being turned down, Ganga enchants Pratipa’s son Shantanu, extorting a promise that he will never interfere in anything she does. Behind the puzzle of the heartless sport of drowning her new-born sons lies a deeper meaning that, when understood, divests her of chaotic capriciousness and gives rise to a new cosmos of understanding. That is precisely what Veda Vyasa does, creating a new archetype of meaning, which the spouses of these wondrous maidens fail to achieve.

Going to the root of the modern problem of insecure marriages, Jung pinpoints the cause as the desymbolized world we live in now in which man struggles to relate to his anima “outside” himself by projecting her on numerous women although, paradoxically, she is the psyche within that he must commune with. That is perhaps the message hidden behind the hint to keep ever fresh the memory of the five maidens so that we become conscious of the anima-projection. 

In this context Nolini Kanta Gupta’s study of these maidens is of importance and tallies quite remarkably with the Jungian insight into the meaning of being a virgin. He points out, “In these five maidens we get a hint or a shade of the truth that woman is not merely sati but predominantly and fundamentally she is shakti.”[[1]] He notes how the epics had to labour at establishing their greatness in the teeth of the prejudice that woman must never be independent, but always be a sati, known for her single- minded devotion to her husband. This he describes as the subjugation of Prakriti to Purusha, typical of the Middle Ages. The most ancient relationship, he says, was the converse: Shiva under the feet of his goddess-consort. In Mahabharata we find confirmation of the freedom enjoyed by women in the past. In the Adi Parva Pandu tells Kunti:

“in the past, women 
were not restricted to the house, 
dependent on family members; 
they moved about freely, 
they enjoyed themselves freely. 
They slept with any men they liked 
from the age of puberty; 
they were unfaithful to their husbands, 
and yet not held sinful… 
the greatest rishis have praised 
this tradition-based custom;… 
the northern Kurus still practise it… 
the new custom is very recent.” (122.4-8)

Pandu narrates the story of Uddalaka explaining to his outraged son Shvetaketu, when his mother is taken away by a Brahmana in their presence,

“This is the Sanatana Dharma. 
All women of the four castes 
are free to have relations 
with any man. And the men, 
well, they are like bulls.” (122.13-14)

The account of Ulupi’s and Urvashi’s behaviour with Arjuna and of Ganga’s with Pratipa are instances of the type of freedom characterising the kanya’s nature. In these kanyas we find the validation of Naomi Wolf’s celebration of women as “sexually powerful magical beings”.[[1]] By the time of Pandu, however, the Aryans settled around Sarasvati-Yamuna had started looking down upon their Northern brethren and even classed them—such as the Madras—with Mlecchas, non-Aryans. Karna lashes back at Shalya criticising the loose morals of Madra women who go as they will with any one they fancy. 

“We moderns also”, continues Nolini Kanta Gupta, “instead of looking upon the five maidens as maidens, have tried with some manipulation to remember them as sati. We cannot easily admit that there was or could be any other standard of woman’s greatness beside chastity… Their souls did neither accept the human idea of that time or thereafter as unique, nor admit the dharma-adharma of human ethics as the absolute provision of life. Their beings were glorified with a greater and higher capacity. Matrimonial sincerity or adultery became irrelevant in that glory… Woman will take resort to man not for chastity but for the touch and manifestation of the gods, to have offspring born under divine influence… a person used to follow the law of one’s own being, one’s own path of truth and establish a freer and wider relation with another.”[[1]] 

At the opening of the new millennium are we too not moving cyclically towards a similar condition where the relationship between a man and a woman is not permanent and exclusive externally, where the sexes mingle freely, expansively, on equal terms, progressing towards fulfilling one’s potential as in the pre-Shvetaketu days? That is why the exhortation to recall the five virgin maidens is so relevant now. The past does, indeed, hold the future in its womb. 

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References :

[[i]] P. Bhattacharya: The Secret of the Mahabharata (Parimal Prakashan, Aurangabad, 1984), p. 3.
[[i]] Harivamsha, Vishnu Parva 90.76-77.
[[i]] P. Lal: The Mahabharata (verse-by-verse transcreation) Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1968 ff. All translations are from this version unless otherwise specified. References to the Sanskrit text are to the Aryashastra (Calcutta) edition.
[[i]] M. Esther Harding: Woman’s Mysteries, Rider, 1971, London, p. 103
[[i]] She is of the Dasa race. Bhishma explains in the Anushasana Parva 48.21 that offspring of a Nishada and a Sairandhri (an orphan working as a servant maid) of Magadha are called Madguru or Dasa and their profession is plying ferries, which is precisely what Gandhakali was engaged in.
[[i]] Pradip Bhattacharya: Themes & Structure in the Mahabharata Dasgupta & Co., Calcutta, 1989.
[[i]] Iravati Karve: Yuganta— the end of an era (Deshmukh Prakashan, Bombay, 1969).
[[i]] P. Lal: Introduction to fascicule 19 of Mahabharata (Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1970).
[[i]] A.C. Bose: The Call of the Vedas (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1988, p. 262).
[[i]] In the Bengali tele-serial Draupadi (1999) this is precisely what Draupadi does, brilliantly portrayed by Roopa Ganguli. Also see Dr Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri’s excellent study, Karna Kunti Kaunteya (Ananda, Calcutta, 1998).
[[i]] I am indebted for this insight to Smt. Suprobhat Bhattacharya, MA (Applied Psychology).
[[i]] M. Esther Harding op.cit.
[[i]] ibid. p. 125.
[[i]] ibid. p. 126.
[[i]] Pratibha Ray portrays this at length in her novel Yajnaseni: the story of Draupadi (Rupa, New Delhi, 1995).
[[i]] Alf Hiltebeitel: The Cult of Draupadi, University of Chicago Press, Vol. I, 1988 p. 438.
[[i]] ibid. p. 220, 290.
[[i]] A. Hiltebeitel: The Ritual of Battle, Cornell Univ. Press, 1976, p. 222-4.
[[i]] Vana Parva 264.1.
[[i]] Significantly, it is only Vikarna and a servant-maid’s son who voice their outrage. The epic also says that it was Dharma who protected Draupadi when she was sought to be stripped. Dharma is Vidura’s other name.
[[i]] Markandeya Purana VII-VIII.
[[i]] Vettam Mani: Puranic Encyclopaedia (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1975, p. 549. He does not provide the reference to the source of this story). M.V. Subramaniam: The Mahabharata Story: Vyasa & Variations (Higginbothams, Madras, 1967, p. 46-47).
[[i]] Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay: “Draupadi” in Bibidha Prabandha Part 1, 1887.
[[i]] A term used by Dhritarashtra to describe Draupadi in his lament in the Anukramanika Parva, sloka 157.
[[i]] Hiltebeitel, op.cit. p. 291, Vol. 2, 1991, p. 400.
[[i]] Hiltebeitel op.cit. vol. I, p. 293
[[i]] Indira Chowdhury: “Rethinking Motherhood, Reclaiming a Politics”, Economic & Political Weekly, XXXIII.44, 31.10.1998, pp. WS-47 to 52
[[i]] Kalika Purana, 49.67, Nababharat Publishers, Calcutta, 1384 BS, p.462.
[[i]] Amreeta Syam: Kurukshetra (Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1991, pp. 38-9)
[[i]] Chandra Rajan: Re-visions (Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1987, p. 12)
[[i]] The Bengali tele-serial Draupadi dwells upon this issue.
[[i]] Naomi Wolf, best-selling feminist author and advisor to the American President and Vice-President, in Promiscuities quoted in TIME, 8 November, 1999, p. 25.
[[i]] Barbara Taylor Bradford: A Woman of Substance (Granada, 1980)
[[i]] Quoted in “Kore” in Introduction to a science of mythology, C.G. Jung & C. Kerenyi, Routledge, p.141-2.
[[i]] C.G. Jung: “The Psychological Aspects of the Kore” in ibid. p.222.
[[i]] ibid. p.239.
[[i]] C.G. Jung: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Routledge, p. 28-29.
[[i]] ibid. p. 31.
[[i]] Mother India, June 1995, pp. 439-443.
[[i]] Op.cit. Note 32.
[[i]] ibid.


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