Five Angry Women is an attempt to look at certain events in the Mahabharata from the standpoint of some of its central female characters, all brides of the Bharatas – Gandhari, Satyavati, Ambika, Kunti and Draupadi. These women are all angry – angry with their men, angry at what they have been subjected to by them, and their anger bursts out in torrents in these monologues.
I am least known by my own name. People call me Yajnaseni, Draupadi, Panchali, Parshati…but I am Krishnaa, the dark princess born to my father through the blessings of the sacrificial fire, along with my twin, Dhrishtadyumna. Born-of-fire, they called me and I had lived with fire inside me till the day I chose a youth for my man.
Fate forced me to garland and accept for a husband the man whose hands had dealt the greatest blow of disgrace to my father: Prince Arjuna.
But of course, I did not know who he was then. I had lost my heart to that adorable brahmin youth whose archery seemed pure magic as he shot down the target set up to put the greatest masters to test and stood defending my father as scores of kshatriya princes thirsted for his blood for humiliating them by giving his daughter away to a Brahmin and advanced on him.
I had irrevocably fallen in love with the proud bearing of that body, the perfect handsomeness of those sinewy limbs, the fearless look of a conqueror in those eyes. Did I pose to wonder how a Brahmin could ever possess what is rare even among the best of kshatriyas? I do not remember so.
Seeing him standing with the bow raised in his hand, with an arrow set on it, I had remembered my sworn enemy, Prince Arjuna of the Bharatas. It was he who had tied my father with ropes and thrown him at the feet of his master, Acharya Drona. And from the day I was old enough to know what humiliation was, every breath I had taken had only one purpose: avenge my father’s ignominy.
I was declared veeryashulka, a bride to be won by courage, on my own insistence. Cursed to be born as I was a woman, I wanted a man who would have my revenge on my behalf.
Crushed by the blow when I realized who that archer brahmin youth to whom I had given myself really was, I bowed before the inevitable. I mercilessly snubbed out the fire I was born with, the fire I grew up with, the fire my days and nights were filled with, and vowed to be an ideal wife to my husband.
But before the flowers of the garland I had put round his neck had faded, I was shocked to learn that fate had not finished with me – a monstrosity the like of which had fallen on no other Aryan princess awaited me in the humble hut of a pot-maker to which my master and his brothers took me.
Ah Fate, sweet Fate! You made me one of the great satis of this land. And how did you do that? By making me the wife of five brothers!
I was to be the common wife of the five Pandava princes.
Of course they had a beautiful arrangement. So that the brothers did not quarrel over me among themselves, I was to be wife to them by turns!
The Pandava princes were willing to go to any extent in such matters, but they would not go against a sentence spoken by their mother, albeit inadvertently! After all, they belong to the family of Prince Bheeshma who vowed to protect the throne of the Bharatas to his last breath and yet would not break his other vow not to marry even when the very line of the Bharatas faced extinction.
Protecting the letter of the vow gives you great honor – and the spirit of it can go where it pleased. The common people, and the common-minded among the so-called nobles, appreciate adamancy highly. Adamancy, not understanding. Of course, adamancy should wear the mask of adherence to truth.
Have you ever heard of five princes sharing a wife? Maybe, such things are practiced among the uncivilized. But among the Aryans? Among princes? Among the members of the most respected royal family in Aryavarta? The Pandavas would do that but they would not fall so low as to go against a word spoken inadvertently by their mother.
It is perhaps all right with them – after all, they were men. But what about me, a woman, who has to make her own body available to different men so that they may have their pleasure with it, so that they may use her body for begetting children for themselves? Don’t her feelings at being subjected to this gruesome ordeal matter at all? Is she not a person, not a human being? Doesn’t a woman have any right over her own body? Is she just a thing to be used?
But of course, strange, unbelievable things have always happened in the Bharata family. It was one of the ancestors of the Bharatas, Emperor Yayati, who had exchanged his old age with the youth of one of his sons so that the father may continue to satiate his unappeased lust. It was this same emperor who gave away his daughter – Madhavi was her name – to be sold to the highest bidding king for sexual use in exchange for a few hundred horses. Eventually one after the other she had to be sold to three kings and then, when even with that the required number of horses could not be obtained, to a rishi. It was also in the same line that King Dushyanta refused to recognize the wife he had wedded according to the customs of Gandharva and called her foul names as she stood before him claiming to be accepted by him. Didn’t King Nahusha lust for Shachi, wife of Indra, not being content with Indra’s throne and the pleasure of all the apsaras of his court? Didn’t Emperor Shantanu who in his old age lusted for a fisher girl in her early bloom of youth belong to the same family? And wasn’t it in the same family that princes Dhritarashtra and Pandu were produced by niyoga? And was a single one of my five husbands the son of his father?
So because of a mother’s words that they must share the alms they had got among themselves, I became a woman to be shared among five brothers. And this despite that the great sage Vyasa himself could not find any argument in support of it except that the gods had decreed it so in my case, that my karma demanded it.
Perhaps there is some truth in what they say: that the daughter of Drupada was born to cause the massacre of the kshatriyas in their multitudes.
Even if this were so, I must say that I must disown any responsibility for it. For I had snubbed off the fire in my heart the day I garlanded the brahmin youth in my swayamvara hall.
If the destiny of millions of men – millions of men who died in the greatest war this land saw – rekindled it, if destiny forced the hands of a star-crossed woman to urge her men to take weapons in self-defence as any human being should do, if it forced her to urge her men to claim what was theirs by right as any kshatriya should do, and to avenge the mortifying ignominies heaped upon their wedded wife as any man should do, she is not to blame for the disastrous outcomes.
At the end of a game of dice that cousins played against cousins, the eldest of my husbands lost his wealth, his kingdom, himself, his brothers and me, his wife. The wicked Duryodhana had played the game with loaded dice.
The beauty of Princess Krishnaa of the Panchalas was fire that set the hearts of countless princes aflame. And among the princes who had thirsted her most lustily were the princes Duryodhana and Dushshasana. Time had come for them to have their revenge. My husbands had lost me to them and they claimed I was their servant, their maid, their slave, their property and they could do with me what they pleased.
I was in that monthly state when women do not meet men but stay in the inner apartments reserved for them and I was wearing but a single piece of cloth. In my utter agony I even spoke of this and begged to be left along but I was dragged mercilessly to the court, to the middle of the assembly hall, Dushshasana pulling me by my lose hair, clothes half slipping out of my body, my naked flesh revealed to the ogling eyes of the assembled princes and elders. Those princes were my husband’s cousins, and those elders were my elders. When I fell on my knees and turned to each and every one of those in power in that assembly, Dushshasana kicked me by his foot, pulled me up and not content with what was revealed, tried to pull every thread that offered cover to my body. He would have his own sister in-law stark naked in the assembly. Not a voice was raised against this most brute act by a single man in that august assembly of the Bharatas.
That fire in my heart, that fire in my soul that I had smothered, was rekindled and it demanded blood. I took a vow. That my loose hair shall be tied again only after it had been bathed in the blood of the man who had dared to do this sinister deed.
Blood flowed like rivers in the fields of Kurukshetra. Blood has to flow when for long strength has refused to stand up against wickedness.
My men had been crushed. They had been crushed by a kind of wickedness they couldn’t deal with because their values had become a load on their shoulders. Reverence for the people who imposed that wickedness on them had rendered them impotent.
Their weakness was the weakness of truth, of honesty, of consideration for others, and truth, honesty and consideration for others should not become weaknesses to anyone. They should become strengths, instead. The weakness of goodness before the vileness of unashamed evil had to be wiped out. And I, as their wife, their sahadharmini, endeavored to do that.
Death danced its naked tandava as never before. Hundreds of thousands perished every day in the eighteen-day war. Brothers killed brothers, fathers killed sons, uncles butchered nephews and nephews slew uncles, masters and disciples did away with each other. And strangers massacred strangers. The wails of mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and children rent the skies.
Are you satisfied now, Krishnaa – they ask me.
It was not I who wanted a war. It was not I who caused the war. Whenever righteousness suffers and unrighteousness arrogantly raises its all-devouring ugly head, the lord incarnates himself on this earth to protect the righteous and destroy the wicked – so said Krishna to my Arjuna in the battlefield.
Blood shall flow whenever evil tramples upon goodness. Blood shall flow whenever evil usurps the throne of goodness. And blood shall flow whenever insolent might brazenly profanes the inviolable sanctity of womanhood.
Blood had to flow in Kurukshetra.