After narrating Prahlada’s episode in which he gave an answer fearlessly even at the risk of staking his son’s life, Vidura returned to Draupadi’s vital question.
“Hey, Kings!” he said, “At least after hearing this episode, I hope you will break your silence and provide an answer to Draupadi’s question as per tenets of dharma. You may think over among yourselves.”
Despite Vidura’s frequent appeals, not a single king among those present spoke a word about it. Only Karna, intoxicated as he was, spoke:
“Dusshaasana!” he said, “Take this slave at once to the royal chambers.”
Dusshaasana got up started dragging Draupadi who was crying in the midst of the assembled kings and in front of the Pandavas. The thapasvini’s head was bent with shame and was literally shuddering with thoughts of the wicked Dusshaasana.
With great difficulty, Draupadi resisted Dusshaasana’s pull and force and addressed the Kuru kings:
“The moment I saw you here,” she said, “I could not fulfill my primary duty of offering salutations to you, only because my being dragged like this by the able-bodied Dusshaasana and I have been disillusioned, I bow in humility to all the great Kurus here. This was my foremost duty. This lapse of not saluting you at the right moment is therefore not attributable to me.”
As she was making these submissions, Dusshaasana dragged her violently. Draupadi fell down. Not deserving of the miserable plight she was in, she said to them in a loud voice and sorrowing tone:
“Alas! I had been brought to this royal court hall only at the time of my wedding. Thereafter, I have never been seen by anyone. But such a one has been dragged sacrilegiously to this place. In my palatial chambers, I was not exposed even to the sun or wind. The sons of Pandu would not have tolerated even a semblance of the force of Vayu on me but like a beast of burden or worse than that, I have been dragged to this assembly and the Pandavas are keeping quiet. For one meriting the description of a daughter-in-law or a daughter or at any rate not deserving of this, cruel punishment, Dusshaasana has been relentlessly pulling and pushing me and the great elders of the Kuru clan have been sitting silently here. I should only think that the abnormal vicissitudes of time are the responsible factors. For, despite being born in an exalted family and in spite of being a Pativrata, I have been dragged to this great assembly and without cause. Whither dharma of these kings who have earned fame as champions of dharma and followers of truth?”
“In the past” asserted Draupadi, “I have heard that as a rule, rulers would not bring for any reasons a righteous woman, wedded to the code of dharma to the royal assembly. This sanatana dharma does not seem to figure in the minds of these Kuru kings. Or else, what propriety they would have of dragging to this august assembly one who is the consort of Pandavas.One who is a younger sister Dhrishtadyumna and an associate of Vasudeva?”
“O Kuru Kings! I am Yudhishtira’s holy wife and like him I am born in the kshatriya class. Therefore, tell me definitely whether I am a slave or not. I shall willingly accept your decision and act accordingly. This wicked one who has brought infamy to the reputation of Kurus has been dragging me here and there every moment and torturing me. I cannot bear this suffering for long. Hence I expect your answer to my question whether I have been won over or not, I shall gladly accept your verdict whether it is favourable or unfavourable.”
Bhishma responds again
Draupadi’s appeal drew Bhishma to respond again.
“Kalyani!” said Bhishma, “as I have already told you, dharma is a very subtle one. Sometimes, even the jnanis (enlightened ones) who are great and highly knowledgeable will not be able to spell out precisely and firmly answer to dharmic questions. Moreover, in the present world, one who speaks with might on one’s side will be looked upon as acceptable by all. A weak one’s correct knowledge of dharma and exposition of the subtleties will not be respected by others. This is the order of the day.”
Bhishma’s reply was reminiscent of his known aversion to dilution of values and declining days of which Karna and Duryodhana stood out prominently as architects of the new order that was raging and that was razing time-honoured values to the ground.
“If you want to know my opinion”, continued Bhishma, “your question is full of problems, riddles and subtleties. I am therefore unable to assert anything as the ultimate in truth. But one thing is certain. The Kuru kings are deluding themselves more and more everyday by considerations of niggardliness, desire and attachment. Their end therefore is drawing near. Draupadi! Whatever is the clan you have joined as the daughter-in-law, those belonging to it will not forsake dharma and act in spite of their heinous condition. Accordingly, despite the fact that you have been behaving here with restraint and respect for righteous tenets and concern for truth is commensurate with your greatness. Even the physically aged ones and intellectually mature ones like Drona and other elders are sitting here with their heads bent as if hit by a wave of death. Therefore, it would be futile to expect any answer from them too. Under these circumstances, the only one who is capable of providing an answer as per rules of dharma, according to me, will be Yudhishtira alone. It would thus be proper for you to elicit an answer from Dharmaraja himself.”
Like a bird that makes intermittent sounds, Draupadi’s questions addressed to the kings present and her cries for precise answer brought forth nothing from them. Mortally afraid of Duryodhana, they chose to remain silent. Duryodhana who found the proceedings to his liking, especially the members’ observance of silence and non-involvement, filled his ego. Sporting a broad smile and overcome by a false pride of having achieved something to humiliate Draupadi and by his innate prejudice against the Pandavas, he addressed Draupadi in a tone and tenor that could taunt the righteous among those present.
“Draupadi!, he said, “The answer to the question you are seeking depends on your husbands alone, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva are capable of expressing an opinion. Let them provide an answer to your question. These four husbands of yours are at liberty to say that Yudhishtira is not their lord and make him a liar. Then you forthwith become free. You will gain redemption from the slavery too. Alternatively, let the great Yudhishtira professing dharmic outlook declare that he is not your lord. Following his verdict, you may join us or stay with him. The rulers who have assembled here have been thrown into an ocean of sadness that is yours. They are just keeping themselves afloat and none of them is interested in sitting here watching your predicament. Pure-hearted as they are, in the face of the misfortune of your spouses, they are retreating without being able to arrive at any decision whatsoever.”