Certain elements in the story may appear random to those who are not acquainted with the ‘Mahabharata’, the epic tale of the struggle and battle between two powerful families over a kingdom, a story which is an important part of the Hindu mythology (mythology or history?).
Translated by Prinsep, James; at the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, 1838. Explanations and definitions are presented as endnotes. Translations and comments are within <angular brackets>.
This is an extract from the journal of Draupadi, real name Krishna. The original is estimated to be several thousands of years old, and what survives is taken from a faithfully rewritten account from a distant descendant of Dhaumya, her family priest.
This is her account of how Duryodhan, the Kuru prince, plotted with the help of his uncle Shakuni to deprive their cousins the Pandavs of their kingdom and their rights, and traces the story of her husband, the pandavas, from the time they lost everything at the gamble, to their time in exile.
The story is at odds with the official version of the Mahabharata, as age and the egos of the learned managed to layer the facts with white lies and half-truths to change it to its present accepted version.
My swayamvar has been organised by father with great fanfare. There was a great show of marital prowess by a princely bunch: Yadavs, Kurus, Kosalas, and Sindhus, even Sakas and Yavanas from faraway lands. The first day has been mostly a dull demonstration of wielding of astras and sastras <melee and ranged weapons> and chariot riding (exciting). There was much clamour of swords striking shields ceremoniously; arrows whistling onto targets and the shrieks and trumpets of horses and elephants. The long drawn event did not really hold my interest too long. I told Kumud(i)to prepare a hot bath for me so that I could get over my sleepiness. For I would need to stay awake for tomorrow’s credential presentation.
Today has been a day that I wish I was never born. I have seen princes and kings present their claims and talk about their capabilities, as if they were the mighty trinity themselves. “I can uproot bael trees with my hands.” “My toenails are more precious than diamonds”. Even: “My linga is mightier than an elephant’s trunk!” Father nearly went purple with rage at that. Only his considerable patience and our age old customs prevented him from throwing out the insufferable foreign prince out. Perhaps only two contenders stood out – The king of Ang, Karn, who is rumoured to be a charioteer’s son, and an inscrutable Brahmin whose arms and visage are most unbrahminlike.
Karn would make a good husband. He’s not good looking, but unlike most others, is capable at arms. Where he lacks in looks, he makes up with his bearing. Perhaps I shall ask Kumud to fuck him in his bedchambers tonight, and tell me how good he is. And he’ll need to be real good to satisfy her.
The other, the Brahmin, is mysterious… I don’t even remember his name. I am willing to bet a precious toenail that there is something more to him.
<Written a few days after her last entry> I’m married! Can’t believe my luck. I have taken five husbands for myself. A motley bunch of brothers, but I can’t wait to check them out. Go slow Krishna, you need to conquer them mind and body.
The final day of the swayamvar had a ridiculous contest of shooting a pole mounted wooden fish in the eye, by looking at its reflection in a pool of water directly below. The idea is convoluted but actually quite easy, if you are a practised archer. Perhaps father saw me doing the same in the practice grounds, and wished to betroth me to a warrior my equal in calibre…
Many self-proclaimed giants and warriors tried that day. Many weren’t even capable of holding a bow properly, their arms wavering and shoulders bending under the weight of the bow. If only the gods had put muscles in arms rather than on mouths, would this land be blessed with true warriors.
Karn was up to the challenge, but I told him that I wouldn’t take him for husband. The proud warrior left the arena fuming. [Comments from the translator: Only later would Draupadi realise how affronted Karn really was, and how it would affect the course of history.] I didn’t really want to do that, but I couldn’t really openly say that Karn was not to my liking. I had my report from Kumud, who said “Your grace, Karn would only live a few weeks, given your stamina, aggression and prowess in the bed. Perhaps if there were four more of him…”
When I hold the bow up, my shoulder is steady, as is my head. The arrow has to fly in a line, from where your eye starts to where the target is. And you see the target, just the target. That’s how the resolute Brahmin ignored all the sniggers and insults from the assembled princes and approached the task at hand. He never even glanced up, and pierced the eye with a smooth draw of the bow and a quick release. There were howls of discontent; princes got up with swords and daggers. No one would however complain, since killing a Brahman attracted severe penalties.
My father looked at me with apprehension. I nodded and accepted the impassive Brahmin as my husband.
Our journey to the forest, to where his brothers and mother were, took three days. I wanted to fuck this introverted and dashing Brahmin with the toned arms on the bullock cart itself, but with a lot of self-control he asked me to wait till we met with the family. That’s when I came to know that he was the famed archer warrior Arjun, son of king Pandu. I also spied my brother Dhrishta following us. The poor fellow is so concerned about me.
I met the Pandav brothers outside their humble dwelling in the forest. They were staying incognito to counter political vengeance from their cousins. Noble of birth, they could not hide their excitement at seeing me up front. Yudhistir with his steely resolve, yet a flush coming to his cheeks… The muscled Bhim, wringing his hands… The smaller twins standing pretty and sweet, barely able to restrain their jumping!
Shortly, Yudhistir led us to the cottage, where my mother in law Pritha, also known as Mata Kunti, sat preparing garlands. Oddly, she was sitting facing away from the door. When Yudhistir entered and said, “Mata, see what we’ve got,” she said (with a smile we couldn’t have seen) “Oh! Then share it amongst yourselves!” Yudhistir was embarrassed and explained the situation of Arjun winning my hand in the Swayamvar. “Oh!” She said, “…but a mother’s words to her children can’t be taken back.” She had a satisfied look on her face as she said that. Today I realised that women themselves are the bane of women in this land. They scheme, plot and fight to gain sway over the men folk. Little do they realise that they are condemning themselves to ignominy in history.
My gurus, Jaya and Upajaya, have not only tutored me in the martial arts, but also in the finer aspects of politics, statesmanship and strategy. I turned this around in my favour. I said “Mata, it will be my honour. I shall today take these five brothers as husbands. They will wed me and I will spend time with them all.” “Draupadi, are you a palace courtesan? You cannot have multiple husbands. It is so deemed in the Vedas(ii)”.
I said, “Mata, the virtuous lady Jatala of the Gowthama race married the seven sages. Marisa, the daughter of the Apsara <Celestial dancer> Pramlocha and Rishi Kandu, was betrothed to the ten Prachet brothers. Her son was the illustrious king Daksh.”
“Once a Rishi’s daughter underwent great penance to gratify the lord Sankar. The God, pleased by her worship, granted her a boon. The chaste maiden repeatedly asked him for a husband with all good qualities. Sankar blessed her, saying that since she has asked five times, she would have five husbands. Thus it is written in the Garud Puran.(iii)”.
I silenced my mother in law and got her to bless (albeit reluctantly) the new bride. Inwardly, I was so excited. I had five brothers as husbands, all of different hues and types. Naughty thoughts played in my mind, as to how I would take each of them.