A common answer to this is – well she asked for it!
|Maharani Draupadi - Raja Ravi Varma|
A typical response to a complicated question, which was the need of the hour (read ‘plot’ of the epic) as seen by author. But there is an elaborate myth behind it, which by itself, is the cause of Draupadi giving in to five husbands, but has deeper meaning.
But first the myth.
Once upon a time, there lived a sage Maudgalya, who was married to Nalayani. For some strange and unexplained reason, the sage decided to test his wife. He developed a debilitating disease (supposedly leprosy) due to which he remained diseased and unable to do anything and would get angry for no reason. In all this, Nalayani took great care of her husband and would bear all his tantrums. Nalayani would always eat after the sage had partaken his food from the same plate and the leftovers left by him. Once when the sage was having his food, one of his fingers fell in the food. True to her habit, she took the finger out of the food and ate the food as if nothing had happened. The sage was impressed but was still not done.
One day, he expressed his desire to have sex with another woman, who sold sex for gold. Nalayani sold her gold chain and bundled him in a basket and carried him on her head through the market place, much to the amusement and taunts of the onlookers. After, he was done, to avoid the comments which might be hurting her husband, she was hurrying back home. In the hurry, she did not notice a learned sage hanging from the tree for some crime and brushed her husband against him. In anger, the sage cursed her that by dawn next day, she would lose her husband and become a widow.
When Nalayani reached home, she was angry. She let her husband to rest for the night and cried out loud for the gods to hear that if she had been chaste and if she had never failed in her duties towards her husband, and if the sages curse be true, that she would lose her husband at dawn, then let the power of her chastity not let the sun to rise. Then she went about with her work.
The next day at dawn Lord Indra noticed that the Sun was not at the horizon. He went out in search to find the Sun hiding behind a mountain, trying to curtail his rays from spreading. On being asked, the Sun said that he did not have the power to go against the chastity of a woman, and he was restricted by the words of Nalayani. To cut short the story, the gods approached the sage who was hanging and got him to withdraw his curse and thus Nalayani’s husband was saved from death.
Nalayani’s husband, sage Maudgalya was also impressed and came back to his young self and asked his wife Nalayani to ask for any boon she desired. Nalayani then asked that the sage take five different forms and enjoy her. For many years the two enjoyed sexual pleasures, but Nalayani could just not have enough. A time came when the sage had had enough and decided to go to the forest. But Nalayani was not agreeable to the idea of a life without sex and wanted to know, how she could live without him (or sex). Sage Maudgalya was angry at this insatiable lust and cursed her, that since she has not had enough, in her next life she can continue the same with five husbands.
Saying so, Maudgalya retired to the forest and Nalayani too went to the forest and did penance to appease Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva appeared to her and asked her to seek a boon. Nalayani asked for a husband, but in her anxiety, she asked for the same boon five times and Shiva accepted it every time she said so. Later when Nalayani realised it, she was worried, that wouldn’t the world see this as odd, since she had never heard about a woman having more than one husband and that too all together? Lord Shiva assured her that it is not unheard of, and anyways, it’s a boon from him so the world would not see this as odd. Later, Nalayani was born to Drupad and as we all know, Draupadi was married to the five brothers, the Pandavs.
While the subject of polyandry is a matter we will delve in, next time, the myth of Nalayani and Maudgalya seem to have a larger relevance. Besides the fact that it goes on to become the ‘cause’ of Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavs in the form of a justification, it probably also had another larger objective. The uncomplaining and the dutiful service rendered by a wife to her husband, no matter how he was and what his demands be, is the case in point here. Such stories were used to reinforce the sense of service a society expected from a wife. Her ordeals were eulogized as something that elevated her to a status, where she could stop the order of nature. Her chastity could stop the Sun from rising and have gods intervene if need be. If that by itself was not good enough, then she could end up with a life of abundant sex! The former was the said advantage and the latter was the unsaid advantage of remaining true to ones husband and a life of servitude towards him, no matter how he was.
I guess the patriarchy of its times, had its own ways of controlling their women, this being one of them – what say you?
The above myth is told by Sage Vyasya to Drupad and his son Drishtidyumna when they wanted to know as to why Draupadi had to marry five brothers. This is the background that is used to justify, an otherwise ‘innocent’ remark by Kunti that the brothers should share what they got.
More about this next time. Keep reading....