Stung by the bug of arrogance, Duryodhana scoffed at Vidura and protesting against his words, called a messenger. He asked him to bring Draupadi to the court and said, “You need not be afraid of the sons of Pandu. The only one who fears is Vidura. He, however, is not interested in our progress.”
Duryodhana meant that Vidura’s criticism was squarely attributable to the latter’s lack of interest in the welfare of Kauravas.
The command of the king had to be carried out and the messenger had no options. Responding to Duryodhana’s command, he left his court hurriedly and entered the Pandavas palace just as a dog mortally afraid would creep into the cave of a lion. Addressing Draupadi he said:
“Draupadi! Yudhishtira is sitting under the spell of intoxication of the game. Duryodhana has won over you also. You are now a slave of Duryodhana. You have therefore to go over to Dhrutharashtra’s court. I shall take you there and according to Duryodhana’s direction, I will put you on a job befitting slaves.”
Bolt from the blue!
Draupadi had not heard such words even in a dream. Taken aback by the insulting words which came to her like a bolt from the blue, she asked him why he was indulging in such a taunt. “Soota!’ she said, “Which prince on his own volition stakes his own wife and gets on with a game of gambling? My king must have been immersed in the game; otherwise, in order to offer the stake, could he not have anything else?”
“Draupadi!”, said Soota the messenger. “The king bereft of enemies from birth had nothing left to stake and so he staked you and lost. It is only after losing his entire wealth that staked his brothers. After losing the bet he staked himself and lost. After losing himself as a bet, he staked you and lost.”
“Sootaja!” said Draupadi to Duryodhana’s subordinate, ”If that is the position, you get back to the court and ask the gamblers themselves whether Yudhishtira, after staking himself and after becoming Duryodhana’s slave, staked me and lost or whether he staked me before he became his slave. Put this across to my lord and elicit his answer. Thereafter, you may take me to the place.”
The messenger returned to Dhrutharashtra’s court as enjoined by Draupadi and said in the presence of all: “Yudhishtira!” Draupadi desires me to ask you whose lord you were – whether you first staked her and then yourself and lost or whether you staked yourself first to lose and then staked her only thereafter to lose her.”
Yudhishtira did not answer the messenger on the questions raised by Draupadi. He was sitting immobile, bereft of strength and vitality. He could not even say if what he did was right or wrong.
Duryodhana intervened and said, “Soota! Let Draupadi herself come and elicit the answers from Yudhishtira in the presence of all. Let all those who have assembled hear their conversation. Hence go at once and bring Draupadi.”
Although the messenger desired he should obey his master’s command, he did not feel it was proper to bring her to the assembly. Notwithstanding this reaction as directed by Duryodhana, he wended his way to Draupadi and told her, “Panchaali!’ Members of the assembly invite you to come to the place and they want you to address your questions to Yudhishtira in their presence. Now I feel that the Kauravas end is drawing dangerously near, for, whatever the reason, whoever wants you to be taken to the court is the most despicable person. Duryodhana will no doubt not be able to retain the enormous affluence he has acquired.”
“Soota!” said Draupadi disappointed with the design of the Kauravas, “If this is exactly what has been ordained by Brahma as the fateful lot, nobody can prevent it. Sorrow and happiness both ensure to the benefit of the virtuous or the vicious, young or old (scholar or the ignorant). It is not as if that only the virtuous should reap the harvest of happiness or that only the wicked suffer from trials and tribulations. Under some circumstances, the very reverse may happen. But dharma (righteousness) is supreme. If there is adherence to dharma, verily it protects us. Let not such dharma elude the grasp of the Kaurava clan. I urge you to go back to the sabha and against the background of dharma, place my posers to the elite in the palatial hall. I am ready to abide by the award of the righteous, virtuous and the elderly ones.”
In accordance with Draupadi’s instructions, the messenger returned to the assembly hall and repeated Draupadi’s submissions.
All those who had adorned the assembly hall sat silent, with their heads down – probably because they thought by expressing their free will and truth, they would incur the displeasure of Duryodhana.
Having known Duryodhana’s mind, the righteous Yudhishtira called his confidant and sent a message to Draupadi to the effect that she would do well to go over to the sabha and appear in tears before Dhrutharashtra (her father-in-law) even if she was passing through a menstrual cycle and even if clad improperly, so that the whole assembly of visitors might register in their mind their righteous indignation and protest against wicked Duryodhana, son of king Dhrutharashtra.
The intelligent messenger left immediately and delivered the confidential message to Draupadi.
The Pandavas, however, were at their wit’s end as to the future course of action. They were prisoners of the bonds of dharma. They had to control their sorrow and swallow their difficulty.
The turning point
Duryodhana’s joy knew no bounds at seeing the sorrowing state of the pitiable Pandavas. “Soota!’ he commanded the messenger, “Nobody will give you the answer. It is for Draupadi to go over here and question the Kauravas. Hence, go at once and drag her to this place.”
The messenger was on the horns of a dilemma. True! He had to obey the command of his master. There was no other alternative. But was he capable of facing the wrath of Draupadi for any such intransigence? He weighed the two factors and soon became a picture of dismay. Not mindful of the punishment in store for him at the hands of Duryodhana, and not caring to respond but pretending he had not heard him, he stood before the august assembly with folded hands and asked Duryodhana, “What should I tell Draupadi?”
The messenger’s difficulty brought only hysterical laugh on Duryodhana. With an air of arrogance, he called Dusshasana and said:
“Dushaasana! This dull-headed messenger is in jitters because of Bheema. Therefore, you yourself go to Draupadi and forcibly drag her to this place. Do you think that Pandavas can do anything to you when they have been captured by us?”
The tragic turn
In obedience to the elder brother’s command, Dusshasana, with blood-shot eyes, got up and went to Pandavas’ residence where the princess sat immersed in worry.
“Come, come Draupadi! You have been won over by us. Keep your shyness aside and meet the King of Kings, Duryodhana. One with lotus-petalled eyes! Get ready to serve us as we are the beacon-light of the Kaurava clan. We have got you strictly in accordance with the rules of the game of gambling. Quite righteously you have become our possession.
Taken aback by the indecent expressions of Dusshaasana, Draupadi covered her sorrow-stricken face with both her hands and ran crying towards old Dhrutharashtra’s royal chambers to save her prestige, to escape from the clutches of the wicked Dusshaasana.
The enraged Dusshaasana ran behind her making wild gesticulations, caught hold of her long, black, dishevelled curly hairs and stopped her.
At this stage, Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata, found the going very unhappy and he exclaims:-
Yae Raajasuya-avabhruthe jalena
Mahaakrathow mantraputena siktaaha;
Tae Panavaanaam paribhuya veeryam
Balaat –pramrishtaa Dhrutarashtrajena
(Sabha Parva, Ch. 67-Sl: 30)
“Alas! The wicked Dusshaasana is standing there firmly grasping Draupadi’s beautiful hair which were rendered pure and sacred with the most holy waters brought from different corners to the melody of Vedic hymns as part of Rajasuya Yaga and unmindful of the bravery of the victorious Pandavas.”
Clasping the long hair of Draupadi firmly, Dusshaasana dragged her literally like a beast from the vicinity of Dhrustharashtra’s royal chambers to the court-hall where all had gathered. Although she had very able body-guards and protectors who were invincible, Dusshaasana pulled her to the place just as he would have dragged a helpless damsel in distress. Like a plant in a banana plantation smashed by a fierce and stormy gale, Draupadi’s delicate frame was shaken and shattered.
However, she managed to address Dusshaasana in a weak and low tone, “You blockhead! It is not at all proper for you to drag me like this. Don’t drag me to the assembly now especially at a time when I am passing through my menstrual period and when I am clad only in a sari.”
How could one divorced from decency hear Draupadi’s helpless cry? Dusshaasana continued to drag her by the lock of hairs.
Draupadi holding the upper end of the sari firmly with one hand and the trunk portion with the other hand cried, “Madhava! Krishna! O Narayana! O Jishnu!” for help.
This only drew derisive comments from Dusshaasana “Whatever you condition”, he said, “whether in menses or wrapped in single cloth or even bereft of attire, when once you have been won over by us, you have become our possession – a dasi. It is therefore your duty to stay among our group of dasis. Whether the dasis wear anything or bereft of all, is of no consequence as a rule.”
So saying, Dusshaasana brought her dragging to the centre of the beautiful court hall.
Draupadi was a picture of desolation with her dishevelled hairs, with her single piece of sari tending to slip from her body as Dusshaasana continued to pull her violently. Unable to conceal her shame, she grew wild with anger like the rage of angels but managed to appeal to him and said “This fine court hall is adorned by experts knowledgeable in all shastras! There are those who know all the facets of the moral code and those who are kind and endowed with fellow-feeling. Kings who are equal to Indra’s greatness are present. Also those are fit enough to occupy my Guru’s place have assembled here: my Gurus are also present. In front of such a galaxy of eminent people, I just cannot stand this raw deal and in this bad shape.”
Despite Draupadi’s entreaties and appeals, Dusshaasana continued his merciless mission of pulling her by the lock of hair. She was a grim picture of misery. Notwithstanding her intense sorrow, she said to Dusshaasana with a vehement voice:
“Wicked one! Don’t drag me. Do not denude me. My husbands will certainly not excuse you for this inhuman conduct of yours. Even if Indra goes over here with all the devatas for rescue, you will not be able to save yourself.”
Commitment to unparalleled ideals
“The great Dharmaputra (Yudhishtira)”, she said, “is keeping quiet at this moment bound by his commitments to dharma. The doctrine of righteousness is a very subtle one. Only the jnanis (the enlightened ones) are capable of discerning the subtle ramifications of dharma. I cannot forget the preponderance of all virtues and qualities in my husband who is a repository of righteousness and I do not think even for a moment that he has a modicum of blameworthiness nor spell out any mistake on his part.”
Amazing indeed was Draupadi’s individual commitment to ideals of dharma when she brought total composure to herself amidst the tyranny of shameful treatment at the hands of Kauravas, to have said (as explained above):
“Dharme sthitho dharma-suto mahatmaa
Dharmashcha sookshmo nipunopalakshyaha;
Vaachaapi bhartuhu paramaanumaatram-
ichhami dosham na gunaan-visrujya”
(Sabha Parva, Ch.67. Sl.38)
Vyasa’s depression found a new level at what became to the lot of the queen of Pandavas but Draupadi rose to a new Himalayan height in stature and personality in the light of her irreproachable attitude towards Yudhishtira who was virtually responsible for throwing discretion to the winds and for bartering away unbounded energy and prestige and for Draupadi to be shamed publicly and ostensibly as a slave in a wretched captivity. Any right thinking dame in her place and distressing situation would probably have unleashed justifiable ire and acrimonious animadversion and pounced on him for bringing about this agonizing state. On the other hand, she displayed rare tolerance and maturity. Her golden words have no parallel in any history, legend or mythology.
After her observations about Yudhishtira, the noble dame in distress said to Dusshaasana again:
“Wicked as you are, you have brought me away from my monthly cycle dragging to this sabha. There is no doubt whatsoever that this is absolutely a misdeed. But what is very amazing is that no one sitting here is raising the critical voice of protest. The conclusion that becomes inescapable is that this is acceptable to all sitting in this great hall”,
“Fie on their wretched thought if that is so! The heritage of righteousness of the Bharata clan has been destroyed today. The right thinking kshatriyas’s moral fibre has collapsed in like manner. Otherwise, sitting as they are here in this sabha watching the intransigence of dharma by Kauravas, they would not have remained silent witnesses to transgressions of the code of prestige. Every great warrior like Bhishma and Drona also appears to be widowed of the power of vitality. Even the wise Mahatma Vidura and Maharaja Dhrutharashtra both look bereft of their sense of discretion. Or else, having been eye-witnesses to this misdeed, they could not have sat silent here.” Draupadi cried but her cry was one in wilderness. Who in the gathering had the courage to face Duryodhana and express anything against him? The five Pandavas were caught in a treacherous quick-sand by commitment to word of mouth over a game that left a confused state of blundering perplexity. Physically they were pioneers of slavery – having lost even themselves after a poor performance in an unworthy endeavor. Draupadi saw the Pandavas breathing heavily like hissing serpents bound by the efficacy of mantras. When they saw her eyes literally asking for help, their anger virtually doubled. With the loss of kingdom, coffers and various items of wealth, they were not overcome by sorrow or ire so much but when their eyes met Draupadi’s, it fanned the fire of their anger and indignation like ghee poured into agni-kunda increasing the flame of the manifold. And with it their sorrow too aggravated.
Karna pleased with sadistic treatment
Just as the helpless Pandavas were watching Draupadi, the cruel Dushaasana caught hold of the lock of hair above the forehead and shouted, “Hey, dasi! Hey, dasi!” and made indecent gestures with his hand laughing wildly.
What was, however, amazing was that Dusshaasana’s sadistic treatment of Draupadi brought great delight to Karna. Throwing decorum to the winds he laughed loudly in approbation and said, “Bhale! Sadhu”, calculated to congratulate Dusshaasana for the vicarious joy that Dusshaasana provided to Karna by his brutal treatment of Draupadi. For Karna, it appeared to settle a score and probably he felt he had paid back Draupadi in her own coin as in the swayamvara mantap organized by Drupada she had prevented him from entering the contest and spurned him as an ineligible competitor and suitor. He felt elated at the ill-treatment meted out to Draupadi. He reveled at the opportunity he got to fulfill his revenge.
Shakuni’s second fiddle
Shakuni, the arch designer of the show, played second fiddle to Karna’s vulgar display of delight by clapping his hands. In the huge assembly, barring the triumvirate of Karna, Shakuni and Duryodhana, nobody liked what Dusshaasana did. All the rest were groaning within themselves at Draupadi’s miserable condition.
Bhishma, who was watching the proceedings with a heavy heart attempted to answer Draupadi’s questions:
“Subhage!” he tried to pacify her. “Righteousness is a very subtle phenomenon. And accordingly, I am unable to answer your question. To the poser whether one has right to stake others after one has staked oneself and lost, I can only say this. One has no right to stake other things but when it comes to the question of one’s lawful wife, a little rethinking is necessary, because, despite the personal loss in a gambling encounter, one continues to retain one’s special relationship with the spouse. The reasons are obvious. Yudhishtira can sacrifice the whole world and its vast wealth but never give up righteousness. This is one of certainty and truth. Be that as it may, he himself has stated that he has lost you as the stake in the game and that he has been won over by Shakuni. He has conceded defeat accordingly. In the light of this, I am incapable of sitting in judgment over the righteousness or unrighteousness of staking you after losing himself in the bet.”
“In the game of dice” continued Bhishma, “Shakuni is second to none. That Yudhishtira was no match for Shakuni is very well known to all of us. Moreover, Shakuni has played a deceptive game but Yudhishtira himself is not prepared to say that he became a victim of Shakuni’s machinations to lose the game. On his own free will and volition, Yudhishtira went on offering various things to stake and lose. He was also admitting defeat. It would therefore be difficult to say that what Dharmaraja did was opposed to principles of dharma. Under these circumstances, I am certainly unable to give a decision with precision and exactitude.”
It is a slave entitled to stake something of others? Does a person who has become a slave have no control or right over his wife? This was the biggest doubt and mark of interrogation. Could Yudhishtira, wedded to dharma, have indulged in adharma? There is an intervening question in this principle of dharma that a person cannot lose anything in a deceitful game and that he has to satisfy himself that he is not walking into a den of foxes when staking others or their properties. When Dharmaraja himself was not prepared to say that Shakuni fooled him in the game, what is there for others to say? This indeed was Bhishma’s line of thinking. Prompted by these dual and rival considerations of right and wrong, Bhishma declared that it was not possible for him to decide one way or the other with absolute certainty.
But if we read between Bhishma’s carefully worded answers to Draupadi’s vital questions, it would appear from his words that there was self incriminating evidence of error on the part of Yudhishtira and that the latter was blameworthy in a way. Bhishma’s words are suggestive of a reproachful conduct or objectionable involvement on the part of the repository of dharma, namely, Dharmaraja.
Draupadi rejects Bhishma’s suggestion
The element of a reproachful participation and personal stigma associated with Yudhishtira as suggested by Bhishma was, however, rejected by Draupadi.
The paragon of virtue, Draupadi, referring to Yudhishtira said to Bhishma, “The king came to take part in the game on being invited and not his own. He had no great experience of the game of dice but was made to play with Shakuni who is an expert but a cunning one and a rank gambler. In such a situation, for one who is a king, offering something as stake was inevitable. So how can you say that Dharmaraja exercised his free will and volition, staked many things and lost?”
“Dharmaraja,” continued Draupadi, “an elderly one among both Kauravas and Pandavas, was cajoled and hoodwinked into playing by wicked gamblers and was defeated. Certainly, he did not know Shakuni’s evil intentions. He staked himself and lost the game. When he lost himself and became subservient to someone else, how did he stake an extraneous object with full knowledge of the fact that there remained nothing whatsoever?”
Draupadi’s contention was that Dharmaraja was treacherously persuaded into staking all he had as normally he would never stake himself. Her conviction was not without force as the king resolved to stake Draupadi only after Shakuni suggested the wicked idea to him. In fact he reminded Yudhishtira after he lost himself in the bet that all was not lost and Draupadi was the last vestige of recovering his imperial glory and the whole lot of wealth. Dharmaraja, eager to win back all that he had lost, staked Draupadi, driven as he was to a state of total desperation. It was a ‘do or die’ decision.
Addressing the dignitaries present, Draupadi said:
“In the hall, there are many parents of helpless women like me. Fathers-in-law are also present. I want them to ponder over within themselves and tell me what they would have done if their daughters or daughters-in-law had been subjected to this miserable condition that has befallen me.
Her words evoked sorrow and sympathy but none responded. Only her fits of cry made her look at the Pandavas who seemed impoverished and were sitting helpless. This drew more derisive comments from the uncultured Dusshaasana; his expressions were very painful to hear. Besides with the hold he had on her lock of hair, he was pulling her here and there, indulging in wild laughter all the time. As a result, the sari on her shoulders tended to slip frequently. Draupadi did not deserve this inhuman punishment and as ill-luck would have it all these were taking place in front of great dignitaries known for their righteousness, like an unfoldment from a leaf full of fateful writing.
Vrukodara (Bheema) who was watching the fierce and revolting scene, looked at Yudhishtira. His sorrow knew no bounds, eyes were red and lips quivering, he appeared to be a personification of anger.
“Brother!”, he said to Yudhishtira, “in the abode of a gambler, there will be many prostitutes. Even these women under his control are not subjected to any stake, obviously because of his kindness towards them. You do not have even that.”
“Our enemies”, continued Bheema, “have won in a gambling spree the heaps of gems and jewels, cavalcade of horses and elephants, armory of weapons of war, the kingdoms we had won, and above all you and all of us. But none of these provoked me beyond limits. For, you are our lord. But you staked Draupadi. I cannot forgive you for this singular deed. I look upon it as an act of grave indiscretion. Certainly this unimpeachable dame does not deserve this distressing punishment. As a result of what can be attributed to you, she is today subjected to severe torture at the hands of these sinful people. For this solitary reason, flames of my anger towards you have been fanned, I will burn your hands that indulged in gambling.”
“Sahadeva!” he turned aside and cried, “go at once and bring the fire.”
If Draupadi’s predicament can fill the mind of the readers with rage and righteous indignation, for a husband who was an eye-witness, the provocation caused was no wonder. Inspite of all these considerations, Arjuna felt that for the repository of righteousness, namely, Yudhishtira, Bheema’s words were too harsh and that he did not deserve them.
“Brother!” Arjuna said to Bheema, “you have never spoken this way in the past. Certainly, even your righteous mental frame has been spoiled by these enemies of ours. If you yield yourself to your anger at this critical juncture, you will be fulfilling the bad intentions of our enemies. Never do such a thing. Bhimasena! Whatever the provocation and difficulty, the dharmic path should not be forsaken. Is it proper to go against the direction of one who is a brother, an exponent of dharma and the eldest? The king came here as an invitee to a game of dice. This is in consonance with the reputation of kshatriya (the ruling class). In keeping with the traditional adherence to principles of righteousness among rulers, he has participated in it much against his will. Though he was sure that defeat to him was a foregone conclusion, his unwavering commitment to the cause of dharma prompting him to accord consent to the game is one which will bring us nothing but limitless fame.”
“True, Arjuna!” said Bheema. “Yudhishtira played the game in conformity with rules of righteous conduct amongst kshatriyas. He was forcibly driven to the game by the enemies. He lost everything as a result of Shakuni’s machination. It is because I know these, I have spared his hands up to this moment. Your words of advice at this juncture are also timely. If only he had got into the game of gambling out of mere pangs of suffering from strokes of misfortune, I would have burnt both his hands by now.”
Bheema’s ire seemed to subside temporarily.
Only a brother of Duryodhana called Vikarna who was moved by the sorrowing Pandavas and the crying Draupadi got up from his seat and addressed the gathering:
“Great Kings!” he said, “Draupadi has raised a question and you should give your opinion. If we do not answer her question about our decision, we may be consigned to hell (as per dictates of dharma). Senior members of the Kuru family like Dhrutharashtra and Bhishma, the enlightened Vidura and several others are keeping silent on this issue. And that is the lot with our Vidya Gurus Drona and Kripa. They have not broken their silence. I am unable to understand why they have not responded to her question. I would appeal to all the kings assembled here to banish desire, anger, miserliness and attachment and reply to Draupadi’s question with impartiality. Great Kings! I would ask you to respond freely to the issue raised. Whatever you think is the correct answer. We will be able to examine the general consensus of opinion on the issue.”
With these word, Vikarna was inviting and prevailing frequently upon those who were present in the court hall to provide an answer to Draupadi’s question. But nobody in the hall got up to offer an opinion. They were all tight-lipped. Vikarna could not bear it. He felt very sad and breathing heavily, rubbed his hands and ultimately came to his conclusions.
“Princes! Kings and Kuru brothers!” he said, “Whether you answer Draupadi’s question or not, I shall spell out what I think is the correct one. As you are all aware, drinking, gambling and excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures – these four are sources of sorrow of kings. Attachment to these sources forces a man to stray away from the path of righteousness Loko na maanyate. The world will not respect one involved in these objectionable pursuits presently in this issue. Yudhishtira, son of Pandu, was drawn to one of these four pursuits, namely gambling. Further, prompted by a gambling opponent, he proceeded to stake Draupadi. If it is the argument that even after becoming a slave, the bond of husband and wife continues to remain, then Draupadi is not the wife of Yudhishtira alone; she is equally the wife of the five Pandavas. Moreover, Yudhishtira first having staked himself and lost and having become a slave, he staked Draupadi, prompted by Soubala (Shakuni). If all these issues are closely examined and properly scrutinized, I feel that Yudhishtira had no right to stake Draupadi and consequently Shakuni cannot be deemed to have won Draupadi and she cannot have the label of a slave.”
The moment Vikarna finished his observation, there were stormy scenes in the assembly. A big majority of those present praised Vikarna and endorsed his opinion and proclaimed in approbation. “Correct.” They questioned Shakuni’s stand and protested at his impropriety.