Mahābhārata – Episode 49 – Draupadī’s Lament to Bhīmasena

This article is part 49 of 50 in the series Mahābhārata

Draupadī told Bhīma, “What is that which ails the wife of Yudhiṣṭhira? Knowing only too well all my sorrows, why do you ask me again? That Prātikāmi addressed me as ‘Hey maid-servant!” and dragged me to the court – even now I’m boiling with rage when I think about it. Putting up with such shame and sorrow, which other daughter of a king but for me would continue to be alive? When we lived in the forest, I was attacked by that wretched Saindhava. And here, Kīcaka kicked me in the presence of that evil king. Experiencing such difficulties, what is the use of staying alive? That evil general harasses me on a daily basis. In the face of these constant troubles, experiencing such humiliation and sorrow, my heart is on the verge of shattering into pieces. No amount of censure to your elder brother will suffice for having hurled me into this deplorable state. Which gambler will fritter away his entire royal treasury and land up in a forest with nothing? Even if he gambled every day for several years, with the wager being thousands of gold coins, or grand clothes, or chariots, or horses, all that wealth would not have been exhausted. Having lost such enormous wealth, that man is now sitting silent, dazed. A man who once was surrounded by a retinue of servants, worshipped by ascetics, feeding hundreds and thousands of guests day and night, generously giving away gifts and grants, and offering support and shelter to the blind and the crippled, has been now reduced to the sorry state of being a mere courtier in the court of the Matsya king. Who would not be overcome by sorrow looking at his pitiable state? There is yet another thing that fills my heart with sadness – and don’t get enraged that I’m saying this; but such is the pain in my depths of my belly! In the presence of Queen Sudeṣṇa, when you engage in combat with a tiger or a bull or a lion, my heart flutters and I tremble with anxiety. Seeing that, one day she told the women who were near her, ‘Perhaps because they both live in the same place, this Sairandhri trembles with anxiety and concern every time that cook engages in combat. She is also good-looking and so is he. They are a great match too; after all, it’s a woman’s heart – one can never predict the way it goes!’ I was enraged. Looking at that, her suspicions were aroused. And the terrible sorrow I felt because of this – I can hardly tell you in words. The cause for all this is Yudhiṣṭhira; what is the purpose of continuing to live amidst such humiliation, pain, and sorrow? Should I go and see Arjuna? A warrior who can singlehandedly defeat even the Devas on the battlefield is now teaching dance to Virāṭa’s daughters! The hero who offered the entire Khāṇḍava forest as an āhuti (offering) and satiated the lord of yajña has reached the harem and is like a raging fire that has been hurled into a well. A man who drove fear into the hearts of his enemies has put on a disguise that invites the disdain of everyone. A warrior whose clarion call of victory would evoke fright in his enemies and send a shiver down their spine is now regaling girls with his music. The head, resplendent like the sun, which should have been adorned by a crown, now has long plaits and evokes disgust. One who was decorated by divine weapons is now decorated with earrings. He who was giving orders to thousands of kings has been forced to disguise himself as a eunuch and spends his time serving young girls. That warrior whose chariot would resound with a frightful din that made the entire earth tremble, that younger brother of yours, has a long plait, earrings, and conch-shell bangles and when I see him, my heart is completely crushed. When he is seated amidst all the women of the harem, playing a musical instrument, and Virāṭa enters the inner quarters, that sight wrings my heart. My body shrinks and skin turns pale when I see Sahadeva grazing cows, like a huge bull amidst them. What is the mistake that he did for him to suffer thus? Your mother is so fond of him; there was not a single day when she did not praise him. When we set out to the forest, she specifically told me, ‘Sahadeva is of wonderful character, upright, soft-spoken, delicate; I have great affection for him; when you are in the forest, day and night, look after him carefully.’ He is grazing cows and at night, falls asleep on a bed made from cowhide; seeing him spend his days in this manner, should I continue to live? And Nakula – one who is renowned for his beautiful form, his prowess with weapons, and his intelligence, is managing the stables in Virāṭa’s kingdom! Looking at all this, how can I ever be at peace, Bhīma? Hundreds of such troubles have arisen because of Yudhiṣṭhira. Looking at all of you experiencing this pain, I am getting crushed. And isn’t it the grace of this great gambler that I am forced to work as a sairandhri to Queen Sudeṣṇa? Being a royal princess, I have been reduced to this pitiable condition – just look at me state! Victory and defeat are not permanent, they are both subject to the sceptre of Time; knowing this reality, I am waiting patiently for the period of your ascent and rejuvenation. What brings victory can also bring defeat, generous philanthropists can become desperate beggars, and killers can get killed – thus I have heard. Nothing is too difficult for fate, nothing is impossible; thinking thus, I am eagerly awaiting good times. Water, where it once stood, it will come back to that level again and rest there. Being the daughter of Drupada and the wife of the Pāṇḍavas, having been subject to such a terrible plight, would anyone else even retain the desire to live? You are aware about the sort of luxury in which I lived in the past, with all comforts and peace. Such a person is now a slave. I believe that this is all the game of fate. One who had never massaged anyone except Kuntī is now making sandalwood paste for others. Look at my hands, Bhīmasena! See how they have hardened, like wood! I, who was never afraid of Kuntī or any of you, is now constantly in fear as one of the ordinary servants in Virāṭa’s land; will the king say something to me at some point, has the sandalwood paste been prepared properly or no, will he be happy with my work or not – all these things drive fear into my heart.”

Having uttered these words, she looked at Bhīmasena with tears flowing down her cheeks, and heaving a sigh, she placed her head on his chest. She said, “Bhīmasena, I must have committed a lot of sin in my childhood or my earlier lives; if not, why am I still alive when I should have died long back?” and wept. Bhīmasena took her hands, which were swollen and calloused, and placed it on his cheeks; although a great warrior, he too burst into tears. Those copious tears washed the hands of Draupadī. Drowned in deep sorrow, he spoke after a protracted silence. “Your hands have reddened and become calloused in such a manner that it has laid waste to the strength of my arms and Arjuna’s great Gāṇḍīva! I would have engaged in combat even in Virāṭa’s presence. But Dharmarāja made a signal with his eyes and came in the way. Having understood that, I stayed still. Having lost our kingdom, not having killed Duryodhana-Karṇa-Śakuni as yet; not having severed that wicked Duśśāsana’s head, making it into a plaything; and living thus is akin to having a spear in my heart! What to do? You are learned; don’t let go of dharma; abandon your anger. If Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira learns about this attack on your honour, he will give up his life. It’s the same with Dhanañjaya, as well as the twins; and if they depart from this world, I cannot live. Haven’t you heard the stories about Sukanyā, Indrasenā, Sītā, Lopāmudrā, and others? They were all beautiful damsels renowned for their integrity and fidelity; however difficult the times, they supported their husbands. O noble woman, you too are endowed with similar qualities. Therefore I ask you to tolerate it for a bit longer; it's not a long time; there are only fifteen days remaining; at the end of the thirteenth year, you will once again become queen!”

To be continued…

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He is currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. He research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is an author, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Hindu scriptures, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.