Draupadi’s Humiliation as a Reason for War
& Why You Never Have the Right to the Results of Any Action
In Book II Krishna has explained to Arjuna that as a warrior (Kshatriya) it is his duty (Dharma) to take action against evil and to fight for the protection of what is righteous and good. In the eras before the Kali Yuga the warriors were dedicated to the protection of truth, especially from from evil rulers. The Kshatriyas were men of wisdom and integrity who were dedicated to more than personal gain, mercenary wars, and corporate greed.
Draupadi’s humiliation as a reason for war
Draupadi (pronounced Dra-ow-pah-dee) is the wife of the five Pandavas. Initially Arjuna alone won her, but when he returned home to introduce his new wife to his mother Kunti (pronounced Khoon-tee), there was a misunderstanding. Kunti did not see Draupadi and when Arjuna announced that he had brought 'Alms’ to their mother, Kunti replied as she always did that Arjuna must share whatever he had gotten with his brothers. In those days what you said was your ‘word’ and so because Kunti had spoken this, the fiery Draupadi became the wife of all five Pandavas.
As the son of Dharma, it was Yudhisthira’s destiny to become the wisest and most just of all kings, but he had much to learn. A fondness of gambling, the necessity to keep his word and respond to all challenges, and as some have suggested, perhaps the desire to take Duryodhana's wealth from him, led the inexperienced Yudhisthira into a game of dice in which he was unfairly matched. Duryodhana chose an expert to play for him - Shakuni, the crafty ever-conspiring brother of his mother Gandhari.
Yudhisthira loses his entire kingdom, all his wealth and in what can only be described as mind-boggling foolery, bets his brothers and wife Draupadi as if they were his possessions to wager.
The accomplished gambler, slick Shakuni says to the green young Yudhisthira: ‘O king, one who is intoxicated falls into a pit and remains there ... gamesters in the excitement of play utter such ravings as they would never do in their waking moments or in their dreams’ (M.N. Dutt). We thus understand that Yudhisthira has yet to master his compulsions.
Dragged by the hair and disrobed ...
Draupadi once laughed at Duryodhana, and so having won her at dice, the shameless incorrigible son of the blind Dhritarashtra calls for Draupadi to be dragged into the gambling hall. With her usual intelligence and quick temper, the proud and beautiful Draupadi asks the hapless servant who has been sent for her to go back and ask Yudhisthira who he lost first, himself or her? It is a profound query.
Apparently Yudhisthira has no answer for this caustic riddle and sits as one ‘demented and deprived of reason’ (M.N.Dutt). To make matters worse, Draupadi is ‘in her season’ and therefore only wearing one cloth, so she is not dressed modestly for a hall full of deranged gambling males.
The servant is reluctant to force her, so Duryodhana enlists his brother the dastardly Dushasana to go fetch the girl forcibly. Realizing her immediate fate, Draupadi escapes into a room filled with the king’s ladies; but the now angry Dushasana runs after her and grabs her by her long lovely wavy hair and drags her away. Draupadi pleads with the blackguard, telling him that she is in her season, but the brother of Duryodhana only replies without pity that she is now their slave.
Although she was praying, Draupadi’s anger was rising and as she was dragged before that perfidious assembly, she cast looks upon her husbands that inflamed them. If looks could kill, the Pandavas would have dropped dead at the power that shot from her glance ‘full of modesty and anger.’
Karna, the son of the sun god who had thrown his lot with Duryodhana, gets into the degrading frenzy of wickedness and suggests that Draupadi is unchaste because she has five husbands. Since the Pandavas have lost everything to the dice game, why should they not also hand over their clothes and Draupadi too. The five brothers in an icy silence of disgrace and dishonor take off their upper garments. The heinous Dushasana then began to forcibly pull at ‘the cloth of Draupadi.’ In her torment, feeling that she was losing her mind, she prays to Krishna. The text says that Krishna was deeply moved and from kindness and compassion came there and ‘covered her with many excellent cloths.’
This obscene and terrible event is one of many perpetrated by Duryodhana which culminate and erupt in the battle at Kurukshetra. Many questions of morality are raised by Draupadi’s humiliation, for example why did Bhishma sit by and do nothing? However Draupadi’s humiliation does offer one very legitimate reason why Arjuna must fight: If the warrior cast, the Kshatriyas, do not protect their women and fight for their safety, then what will happen to all women? The plight of women throughout the Kali Yuga exemplifies the fate of women who are left unprotected by righteous warriors.
Talking in the chariot, positioned in between the two standing armies waiting for battle, Krishna has advised his friend that there is no sin incurred in the performance of action that conforms with Dharma, meaning Arjuna’s duty as a warrior. This knowledge is from the ancient system of Samkhya and the sage Kapila 500 BC. Krishna now teaches his friend the Yoga of Wisdom and Knowledge, which has the power to liberate him from the great danger (mahato-bhayat) of bondage (bandham), that results from attachment to action - Karma. (II.39)
The Kashmir Saivite Abhinavagupta comments on how action binds us in the temporal illusory hologram: The soul is bound by the subtle form of ‘impressions (vasana) of past deeds’ which remain in the mind. (II.40) My interpretation of this is that our thoughts, which generate our actions, create frequencies that build up as electromagnetic fields around the subtle body and create future tendencies. We become what we think and do.
Krishna assures Arjuna that even the smallest beginning in the practice of Yoga will give good results, and what is gained by the efforts of a sincere heart will not be lost (II.41); even though, from my own experience, we may slip now and then back into a less than conscious state.
The etymology of the word Yoga is yoke (yuktas) meaning coupling or more profoundly, union. It’s common usage which would have been readily understood in that time, was the yoke pin used to join the oxen together to pull the ox cart. The yoke pin attached the yoke, a wooden harness, to the pole that was built into the cart. Thus when we practice the Yoga of Wisdom, we yoke our consciousness to the God within. You can’t drive the ox cart without the yoke pin - just as Arjuna, who personifies all mankind, needs Krishna to guide his chariot through the battlefield of life.
The tendency of man to commandeer and pervert wisdom for his own selfish needs permeates written history. When religions are turned into elaborate and specialized rituals, they degenerate and lose their cosmic consciousness (Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers).
Writing itself is a symptom of the Kali Yuga. Vyasa, the poet-author of the Bhagavad Gita in the great epic the Mahabharata, saw that in his own time ‘religion had decayed into ritual’ (Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair) for in the next few verses (II.42-46) Krishna proceeds into a refreshing perspective of those unenlightened ones who use ritual to achieve their worldly desires. Just as Christ threw the money lenders out of the temple, you get the impression that in speaking through Krishna, Vyasa is a radical thinker. (The Betrayal of Krishna)
As we might wryly observe the hypocrisy and failings of any priesthood in our own time, Krishna seems to enjoy pointing out to Arjuna that there are those who, caught up in the flowery words (puspitam vacam) of the Vedas, profess that there is nothing else. Filled with their own desire for heaven, they are ‘addicted’, as Winthrop Sergeant translates the Sanskrit, to the various rites.
Such addiction and attachment to realizing only their desires for pleasure and power would not permit the practice of meditation to birth a discerning intellect that is necessary to achieve a frequency of consciousness which resonates with primordial truth (II.45). Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair feels that the poet Vyasa was ‘unambiguous and forthright here in his rejection of scripture and revelation.’
The Vedas as a whole are devoted to rites and duties (Madhusudana Sarasvati), the business of life; and they are intensely condensed metaphysical mysteries, which in my understanding are intended to be meditated on and followed as labyrinths of thought. The higher your consciousness is, the deeper will be you understanding, as the quantum oriented translation of the Rig Veda by Shyam Ghosh illustrates.
However according to Krishna, the practice of the Vedic rites - or in my view any other forms of religious ritual - for the purpose of achieving heaven, and hoping for pleasure and power in this life and the next, will not lead to liberation.
The Vedas concern is the three gunas - sattva, rajas, and tamas - and as these qualities are binding, Krishna counsels Arjuna to become free of them (II.45-48). In the philosophy of Samkhya there are two poles of manifestation (Rene Guenon): Purusha, which is the Soul or Consciousness; and Prakriti, which is Nature or matter. Prakriti consists of the three gunas and the the creative force known as Maya, which is also perceived as illusion in that Prakriti’s Maya generates the hologram by perpetually creating states of balance and imbalance between the three gunas.
Sattva is serenity and harmony; rajas is restlessness and activity; and tamas is inertia. Those of you who are even a little familiar with astrology can understand the three gunas in terms of cardinal (rajas), mutable (sattva) and fixed (tamas). Astrology is the science of time and our birth charts are maps or blueprints of our holograms and the energies that comprise them. We are each a sort of pulsating whirlwind of the three gunas shifting and realigning, expressing order and chaos as we move through the days of our lives.
It is in the sattvic state that we are able to receive and understand the highest and deepest wisdom. I have vividly experienced this in my own pursuit of truth. One day I can be in a state of receptive evenness that allows me to understand a verse in the Gita clearly. But if, say I watch TV or allow myself to become angry or fearful, I can again attempt to read the verse and have no access to its inner meaning whatsoever!
You see, God is always here in the Heart waiting. It is us, meaning our consciousness that continually flies off somewhere, anywhere, following the latest illusion, a bit of fantasy-cake; or sits stewing in a mood of dejection, accusing God of not being near. It’s us - it’s all up to us to tune our consciousness into the higher frequencies and that takes plain old fashioned roll-up your sleeves and get-on-with-it work.
These verses about the appropriate usefulness of the Vedas are not, according to Abhinavagupta, to be seen as Krishna’s rejection of the Vedas. Rather he is revealing the age old secret that when one becomes indifferent to the endless fluctuations of the three gunas which produce the ever occurring polarity of pleasure and pain (sukha-duhkha), then one is no longer bound. (II.46)
I am tempted here to make an analogy, and while some might see it as superficial, I know this is something we have all experienced. If we are lucky, we fall in love - ah, sweet love - and often this love does not last. Perhaps the person rejects us or turns out to be less than perfect, and it hurts! The pain we suffer is indeed deep, and we imagine that we will go on and on throughout our whole life with this terrible crushing feeling of heartbreak that intrudes on our every waking moment. And yet, one day, for no apparent reason, it’s gone and we can let go.
I think that something similar, at least in ‘feeling’ happens in regards to the gunas. After you have had enough repeating experiences, perhaps in 1000s of lifetimes, or maybe you just get old enough and wise enough to have seen it all before, so many times --- it hits you, epiphany style, that something is occurring rather like a machine on automatic. And this realization makes you feel a sort of, dare I say, existential detachment from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ - thank you, Hamlet. You can let go. Suddenly, dizzy with realization, you are aware that you haven’t been in control, and that there are much larger forces at work, forces that you need to understand so you can stop getting swept away by rajas and tamas. You can let go.
You never have the right to the results of any action ...
Now here’s where the conversation begins to get deep in a vein that to my knowledge is rarely if ever followed in western thinking. Krishna tells Arjuna that he has the right to act, but never to the fruits or results of that action. Never! This statement is completely contrary to western dictates and the rules of ambition, which is all about risk only for reward. This concept of ‘detachment’ from results is something very subtle.
When I am struggling to understand metaphysical ideas, I try to take my conscious back into the golden era, the Satya Yuga, and imagine what I might have felt. As an artist I completely understand that the greatest joy for me is the act of creating. I love watching the colors go down on the page, and even after years of developing techniques, the fun is in never quite knowing what’s going to emerge. This is why the stale predictability of ‘ranch art’ or any other commercial form of creativity is so deadly dull. While I enjoy looking at the thing as the result and object of my endeavors, and of course I hope that others will also enjoy it, what really is of value to me and gives me meaning is the Act of Creating - the object is secondary.
So with this in mind, I imagine myself in the early days of this universe, in one of many Satya Yugas, creating. In that golden era whatever thoughts form in my mind appear in the temporal illusory hologram and I have the ability to create endlessly. Therefore my joy - and concomitantly my proximity to the God within me - is based in the Act of Creation and not in the object created. Attachment to the object created draws me away from my closeness to the within and binds me into the temporal illusory hologram I myself have generated. This is what I think Krishna is pointing to when he says that we never have the right to the results of your actions. Becoming attached to these ‘fruits’ is a symptom of you losing your proximity to your own internal God-within consciousness.
In Samkhya, the key to liberation (Apavarga) is to realize with all of your being that you are not Prakriti’s gunas, meaning you are not the fluctuating whirlwind of your small personality identity-self which only reflects the DNA of the body you currently inhabit. You are Purusha, the eternal Soul, ATMA. This realization comes to you like a shock of lightning, and in Abhinavagupta's Kashmir Saivism it is said that you are ‘astonished’ that the God within is even able to cloak Its true nature of omniscient power with Maya.
Maya has to be powerful, so powerful that it can delude; that’s why it is so hard to Remember who you are. We, as bits of God, created this power to trick our consciousness into Forgetting its true essence so that we might enjoy the adventure of the Cycles of Time. God created the gunas and only your choice to align your consciousness with the God within you can liberate you from the deluding illusion.
The realization of your true identity will allow you to begin to learn to use the gunas to play in the world harmlessly, and eventually helpfully, to accomplish what is actually meaningful. You will now and again slip and fall back into the old repeating patterns, but as time passes and if you maintain your determination, you will Become closer and closer to what Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair terms the ‘partnership’ with God. You can emerge from the chaos and confusion of petty self-interest and greed, which has no lasting value and never fulfills. You begin to understand that true meaning, lasting fulfillment, and the Real freedom you have sought all of your life abide within.
In Satya P. Agarwal’s translation of the Gita, he says that our ancestors, and by this I assume he means the Vedic Seers, never intended us to spend our lives in meditation; it becomes a form of escapism. The experience of partnership, as the feeling of Oneness with God, will open you to a clarity of intellect, wisdom, and vision you could never have previously imagined. Enlightenment will fire your courage to work for the well-being of the world (lokasamgraha).
Book II, Verse 50: Yoga is skill in Action.
.. २- ५०
yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam 2.50
‘God will not create history for him [Arjuna], but can teach him Yoga which is the skill in action that can divinise history. History will never be redeemed if man does not enter into the partnership with God with all his being.’
The Betrayal of Krishna - Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair
‘RGVEDA for the Layman’
Translated with Commentary by Shyam Ghosh
Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.; 2002, New Delhi
Samkhya Karika of Isvara Krsna
Translated by Swami Virupakshananda
Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1995; Mylapore, Madras
The Gita for the Twenty-First Century
Satya P. Agarwal
New Age Books, 2003; New Delhi
Part 1: Our Miasma of Amnesia & the Apavarga of SAMKHYA
Part 2: Apavarga of SAMKHYA, the Door to Liberation
The man of yoga, knowing the truth, knows that while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, speaking, eliminating, grasping, opening and closing his eyes, he does in fact nothing, as he realizes that it is only the senses operating on their subjects.
Bhagavad Gita 278-9