1969, 1970. I was in primary school reading some Indian comics that had turned up in the class. I think they had been given away or distributed freely for some reason. I remember a couple who were an unusual bluish/greyish color and wondered why some people looked like that. Later on I got to know that the male was Krishna, that he was dark or black complexioned, and that was they way it was portrayed. I have always wondered whether in real life they were actually that blue/grey colour, or it was some kind of visual euphemism around India's complexion prejudices I got to learn about, a substitute for a complexion ranging from grey to ebony. The comics were about the Pandavas and the Mahabharata, and I remember some fights involving clubs, Duryodhana's injury, Bhima's super strength and the way he mashed up King Kichak. I developed an interest in the Gita and got to read more of the Mahabharata, and that is when I got to know that Draupadi was also called Krishna as she was dark-complexioned. She was the female of the odd coloured couple in the comic. I got to know about more about her story and kind of developed a soft spot for her. After developing an interest in Indian philosophy and religion and studying it in some depth, I got to wonder why India's complexion prejudices seemed stronger than their desire to portray some of their revered saints and Gods appropriately. The prejudice is stronger than their respect. How dare they adopt such an attitude towards my Draupadi? If that is the way she was then she looked no different from my sister and some other school girl friends I fancied.
Fast forward to 2013. I go searching for images of Draupadi and I come across the sculpture at Deogarh. After looking at it for a while the thought came to me - "this woman is pure hotness - no wonder so many men lost their senses around her", which is a rather irreverent thought given that some Indians revere her as a saint and goddess. The Gupta era sculptors didn't have to capture her physical appeal so powerfully and eloquently so offended parties must know who to blame. A good thing some people put up a few temple sculptures before Mughal influences led Indian women to radically change their attire.
A Study in the Expression of the Essence of Her Personality
It is amazing to see how the sculptors managed to capture the essence of her being and the nature of her relationship with her husbands so well.
She is sturdily built, stocky, broad hipped, but well proportioned, projecting the sense of the power of her form. None o the skinniness in contemporary fashion. She is very curvy and wide hipped, her hips rise up and the height of her belly button above the shadow between her thighs is suggestive of a pelvic basin that is not only high but also wide, well up to the task of incubating a child. Her body is well up to the task of supporting five husbands under the difficult circumstances of a nomadic exile.
Sexual Confidence Without Diffidence
She is well aware of her charms and easily flaunts them without false modesty or diffidence. The manner she places her hand on her thigh and the way it appears to point to the V-shape of shadow between her thighs, with her thumb drawing down the beads around her hips is very suggestive. She manages to virtually point to the centre of her sexuality without immodesty although she is standing with her husbands. That takes some doing. There is a great deal of confidence about her sexuality that is not Indian by contemporary standards.
Disdainful and Aloof yet Dutiful
The ambivalent nature of her relationships with her husbands is captured very well. In the first place she is open as the stance of her right leg and thigh indicates. She does not and will not conceal her regal sensuousness to the whole world, and by extension to all men, and yet the right leg appears to be oriented in their direction.
Her left leg rises away from then and yet her left hip and her right breast are oriented towards them, yet at the very top her shoulder is raised against them, and her right elbow is also pushed out as a barrier against them, yet again her right hand is on her thigh as though to indicate "although I stand by my five husbands, with my personal sovereignty and opulence, I still stand independently as an attractive and worthy suitor to all other men". Then again there is the sense of opulence created by the sash around her arms, going to the ground, much like the ermine gown of an European ruler. She is the only one with her sash wrapped in that manner, making her stand out from the others, accentuating essential independence and stature even though in their midst.
The Story Behind Her Aloofness
The Pandavas got involved in a gambling contest with their half-brothers which resulted in their going into exile with their mother. During their exile Arjuna won a contest set up by Draupadi's father to find a suitable husband for her. An accidental statement by their mother asking Arjuna to share what they had brought resulted in them having to share her as their wife. When they returned from exile the Pandavas got involved a gambling contest with their half brothers in which they lost all their possessions. After losing all their possessions they wagered her,and lost her too, which resulted in the half-brother who won humiliating her by trying to strip her of her clothing, which a prayer to Krishna protected her from. She successfully argued before their grandfather that she wasn't their possession to give away, that they were her husbands rather than she being their wife as it was she who chose Arjuna for her husband. All their possessions were returned, but the foolish Pandavas managed to get talked into another gambling contest again, in which losing meant going into exile with out their possessions. And they lost.
You can understand why she is posed in that manner. Their folly was unforgivable yet being the dutiful wife she was, she chose to stand by them and support them throughout their travails.
The pot in her hand was a boon from the Sun god to Yudishthira called the Akshaya Patra. It had the power to supply as much food for as many people as was needed until the hostess ate her fill, after which it would supply no more till the next day. The pot itself expresses a dutiful nature in which she had to wait until everyone finished before she could serve herself. As the brothers were sometimes accompanied by sages and their retinue, and also had to entertain guests on occasion that took some doing. She was the epitome of selfless service by a wife.
Having All Her Husbands to Her Right
One notable aspect of the sculpture is the fact that all the Pandavas are positioned on her right, leaving her alone at one side of the sculpture, when as the lone female you would expect her husbands to stand around her protectively. It doesn't seem to make sense unless you are aware that in some Hindu traditions there is a significance to having the husband posed at the right side of the wife.
In effect each husband stands individually as a husband to her, as though the sole husband, as though they are all unrelated. Then as a band of brothers asked to share her by their mother she stands as a wife to them all. Then taken as unit, ie the group of brothers combined as a single unified male, she stands as the wife to that male as well. The sculptor manages to capture all these aspects very well.
Draupadi being Polyandrous by Choice, Orientation and Ability, Rather Than Accident or Circumstance
When one sees her husbands arraigned to her right like that one has to wonder whether on a deep level having five husbands was a privilege, a prerogative, an anachronism expressed outside its proper time, in the wrong culture, or one in transition. Here was a woman, the most desirable woman in the world, who had been granted the additional boon of having her virginity restored after every session with a husband. She owned them, even if they had to wait five years for their turn at her close affections. The brothers other than Arjuna could have had the option not to share, yet when they took additional wives they still remained with her. Yudhishthira cleverly reduced his turn to four years buy invoking a rule that required anyone who deliberately or accidentally intruded into the private apartment of the incumbent brother to go into celibate exile for 12 years.
The execution of the sculpture seems to subject that in those times or in the not too distant past such arrangements existed. In contemporary times there are some communities where such arrangements exist. In some African tribes for instance it is the prerogative of some noblewomen to have different partners in recognized relations, a kind of serial polygamy for the sake of having different fathers for their children.
We are all aware of the usual media story about some African American women with 12 children by 8 different men, usually on welfare. We refuse to accept that in such instances it is a choice, and there were and probably still are women with such families who are not on welfare, and raise the children to adulthood on menial jobs without any support. The welfare aspect comes in when employment prospects are scanty and child welfare laws require such women to stay at home and rear the children, at the state's expense if necessary.
The fathers of such children have the option of laying with single women without children, or women with fewer children. The women also have the option of terminating the pregnancies, but even with knowledge of the sacrifices and hardships involved in raising children, still carry the children to full term and go on to raise them into adulthood. I suspect that such men would rather deposit their seed with a woman with a proven track record of raising children. At the end of the day they are happy to do it. It is desire made manifest, or as some might put it - God's will, as Draupadi's relationship with the Pandavas was. Who knows how things would have turned out if they did not go into exile the second time.