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Trembling before the Sabha with her head still held high while her husbands' heads hung low, she had said “I am still the daughter of King Drupada, sister of Drishtyadumna, and Sakhi of the Yadava prince Krishna”.
At dawn as the first rays of the sun were quickening the arrival of day with the pristine Mount Meru in sight the five men walked ahead in to the landscape of snow and rocks the last part of their journey to Swargalok the blessed heaven, the abode of the gods. While it was only her body which felt heavy, her legs weak, her breath hoary and still struggling she fell onto the earth.
She was now on the edge of the unknown abyss of death she thought amidst the blinding pain pulsating through her body, the quickening of her heartbeat for there was still life in her, that life the whole of which she had devoted to these five men who had now left her in a hurry without so much as glancing back. What must Sita the wife of Lord Rama have felt when she was abandoned near the ashram of Sage Valmiki whilst still in her pregnancy.
“Why has she fallen brother?”, the man muscular built second in line asked the eldest brother ahead of them all. “Bhima, she was partial towards Arjuna while being married to five men.” And the five men hurried on silently and the one called Arjuna was not heard and nor was it known that he had looked behind.
This was not the first time that men had passed a sentence on her and perhaps this would not be the last that men would on women for only they had the power to do so .
“Divide the alms that you have brought amongst yourselves”. That was the day she the princess of Panchala had followed that handsome Brahmin youth otherwise known as Arjuna to his abode in the potters colony for hours before in her Swayamvar or what they called a self-choice ceremony he had hit the revolving fish’s eye by merely glancing at its reflection.
Alms and she? she was really confused and then for the first time she heard the voice of her husband loud and clear the man she was enamoured with, whom she had garlanded in the presence of the lot of the Kshatiryas , “I cannot commit a sin by being the first to marry ahead of my eldest Yudhisthira and the middle brother Bhīma”, he said.
And thus was declared that she should be the consort of all the five brothers. And when her father the King Drupada of Panchala had protested, he was merely acquainted with the rule amongst the brothers to enjoy any jewel they won equally.
Yes that is what she was an accolade, a jewel or a piece of alms. Yet who could deny how marrying her had changed the Pandava’s fate overnight. It had shaken the corridors of power in the Kuru Court for when Dhritarashtra the blind King had thought better to settle for a compromise, his son Duryodhana, the enemy of her husbands had not the courage to protest. They who had till then been wandering mendicants were now dearly invited and given half of the kingdom even if that was the part of the wilderness.
The queen of Indraprastha she was unfailing in her duties of wife, queen, and daughter in law; the common wife who prevented the brothers from falling apart in dissent.
And one day she heard Yudhisthira had staked everything his wealth, kingdom, his brothers, himself and of course her the queen, the Sri of the Kingdom and lost. And before she had realised that to the Kurus she the symbol of her husband’s prosperity was now of their disempowerment nothing more, the vulgar hands of Dushasana dragged her into the Sabha by her hair in a single piece of cloth still menstruating rajashvala.
Trembling before the Sabha with her head still held high while her husbands’ heads hung low, she had said “I am still the sister of the son of Yagnasena, and Sakhi of the Yadava prince Krishna.”
Perhaps this frightened the blind King Dhritarashtra at the folly of his sons, and he had granted her the boons that day to free her husbands their kingdom and its wealth.
Even then at the end of long twelve years in exile which she would rather forget, when in Matsya the lustful lecherous Keechaka had forcibly grasped her and kicked her in the open court, nothing had changed. Yudhishtira still looked calm. “The wives of brave men endure, Sairindhri, in order to attain heaven.” Beyond this he had said nothing more. And Arjuna! he spoke of unknown sorrows, a stranger to her in the palace .
How strange that the more she tried to be the dutiful wife the Pativrata the more her husbands married other women. Arjuna married Subhadra and Chitrangada. Bhima married Balandhara and Kali. And then even Sahadeva married Vijaya, Nakula married Karunemati, and lastly Yudhisthira married Devika of Shibi.
And who would dare dictate them or prevent them from being partial to any one of them? For even though she loved Subhadra, how Arjuna specially favoured her amongst his wives! The more she tried to preserve her chastity, the more indifferent they became to her plight and to her pleas of protection. And the more she worked hard to be the queen, the more clearly it was evident that even if alive, her sons would not inherit the throne.
She was truly the nathavati anathavat without husbands and sons. And Arjuna the formidable archer? The twangs of his Gandiva were neither heard when she was dragged and disrobed, nor when she was kicked in the court of Matsya. Not even when her sons were slaughtered.
Was this indifference termed manly, befitting a heroic warrior? Or was it the lot of women to suffer the vagaries of fate as the elder women of the antahpura would say? She had accepted it as fate for what else but the ravages of time could find the wife of the Pandavas whose sons were slaughtered in sleep, and Gandhari the mother of the Kauravas whose hundred sons were dead, wailing in each other’s arms at the end of the war in Kurukshetra?
Now she did not care anymore this judgement which none but the Dharma King Yudhisthira had passed on her. The cold snow had numbed the fire in her but the spirit in her was not dead. Sita had entered the earth, that earth often ravaged and broken with thorns and stones, yet also soft of grass and flowers as though it were heaven.
For her too the earth would be the last and final abode; what need was there of heaven?
Author’s Note: Reference: The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa , Ganguli, K.M. (Tr.) Available at Amazon India and also here.
Image source: YouTube
Tapti Bose is interested in writing on issues that concern women particularly women's legal studies and women's literature. read more...
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