How is Draupadi’s polygamy be justified especially when the Pandavas have to sometimes see her as a wife and at other times as sister-in-law?

by May 14, 2014

Answer Podcast

Transcription by– Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: How is Draupadi polygamy be justified especially when the five pandavas would alternatively be her husband’s and then the man to whom she was treating as a husband would after some period be treated as her brother in law. This can be an example for immorality in society?

Answer: Not necessarily that will be an example for immorality because the Mahabharata itself makes it very clear that this is an exception.

When Drupada hear this that five pandavas are going to marry, Drupada strongly objects to it. The Mahabharata describes that initially when the swayamvar takes place it is expected that Arjuna who won the swayamvar will take Draupadi as his wife. But when they go back Arjuna is always conscious that Yudhister is the eldest brother. So he thinks that among the five who is the oldest he should marry first. Yudhister says no. You won her, you should marry her. As they were discussing like this they take her to their home and then Arjuna says what I brought for you. Kunti is in anxiety because she is always worried. May be they will be detected or especially now they have come to a kingdom where even Duryodhana is there. Kaurvas is also there. She is apprehensive that they may be detected. So in her anxiety she is so happy that they have come back and just see what alms we have brought. So whatever you have brought share it and take it together. She is so happy that they are all safe. Just an expression of relief and there is a normal blessing she give, share it. One of greatest joys in life is to see that five pandavas are friendly and united. So share it. Then they all are horrified. Completely silent on hearing. Kunti turns. She is doing some prayers and just saw, Draupadi is brought. Then she realized what has happened. She is also horrified. Kunti is shocked. They all become very grave.

Kunti says that especially when I am giving a solemn blessing or a solemn statement like this l have never spoken lie.Yudhister says that yes, what you have spoken the truth of it should be maintained. Other Pandavas started looking each other. How is it possible they start thinking? Yudhister says my mind never contemplates sin and yet my mind is contemplating this it doesn’t feel any ________ about it. So I am sure there must be some higher plan involved in this. Then eventually Drupada come and he wants to find out who is the shooter who has won Draupadi. Eventually they detect that they are the Pandavas.

They invite him back to the palace. They arrange a feast for them. Then the plan is revealed that all five have to marry. Drupada is shocked. He said this is unpecedented. Then he said no actually this is not unprecedented. They give two examples, in the Bhagvatam there is example of Prachetas. The ten Prachetas marry one women. Another example they give of Jara. She also marry several men. There are example but they are certainly not a standard. At that time Vyas Dev comes over there and then Vyas Dev explains the past life history of Draupadi.

Draupadi was an unwed damsel in the previous life and to get a husband she perform austerities to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva appeared in front of her. She was so eager for a husband that she says please, bless me with a husband. Bless me with a husband. Bless me with a husband. Bless me with a husband. Bless me with a husband. She says five times. Therefore Lord Shiva said that you’ll have five husbands and she desire certain qualities in her husbands. Then Lord Shiva says your husbands will have those qualities.

Then Vyas Dev said that what Mahadev has ordained that has to come true. So we can see here there is a clear understanding that this is a exception and that is both Yudhister and Kunti considered it also and eventually take her back. Drupada is opposed to it and after Vyas Dev sanction and Vyas Dev describes that Mahadev itself has ordained it, therefore the exception is made clear and the reason for the exception is also made clear.

Now with respect to specifics of their relationship the plan that is made is made by Narada Muni. Narada Muni comes and meet to Pandavas when they have settled in Indraprastha and he told the story of two demons ________ who were brothers and they were like one souls and two bodies. They have done tapasya to Brahamaji and won a benediction that nobody in the universe will be able to kill them except the other one. They thought this is guarantee for immortality because they will never fight each other. They were terrorizing the world. So Brahamaji at that time created a apsara, Tilotama. She is so attractive that as soon as they say each other she will be my wife and your sister in law. Saying that they get fighting-fighting and they kill each other. So Narada Muni said that this is what can happen and therefore you should have clear plan, who will ________ and how it will be. Then he says that you divid it. For a particular period you treat her as a wife. Yudhister first. He will be the eldest. He will do that.

It’s also described in Mahabharata that by the arrangement of Vyas Dev and Mahadev when Draupadi married five pandavas, actually she married five times. By the arrangement of the Lord, by the arrangement of Mahadev and Vyas Dev everytime her virginity was restored. So there is a lot involved in this which is not there in normal marriages happening over here. There is no way that the Mahabharata in any way sort of sanctions this as a standard example to follow. The Mahabharata gives multiple reasons, circumstances and analysis by which it makes clear it’s an exception, a justified exception. It’s not something which is to be emulated again and again.

Further regarding the moralities of the relationship it is possible for say a man to see a women as a sister-in-law at one time and then as a wife and again a sister-in-law. It seems quite difficult. But then we have to also understand that they were living in a different culture at that time. So there is also a ritual of niyog. Niyog means that if for some reason a particular man could not beget a child in his wife and dynasty has to go on then that man could call some other man. Often they will call generally some relative. Devarena sutotapatte. So one will call a devar to beget a child.

But the point is that it is understood that this is not done for pleasure. It is done simply for begetting a child. Normally it is done in a sanctified way that both of them unite for the purpose of begetting. There are social practices which we may find objectionable by todays values because our way of thinking is different. Brahma Vaivarta purana says that devarena sutotapattim is forbidden in Kaliyuga because this is not possible for people in today’s minds to conceive of. It’s not that people everybody in the past is pure hearted. Dharma, artha, kama, moksha is a part of the relationship, is a part of human life, no doubt. But there is a balance between dharma, artha and kama. For the pandavas we see that Arjuna was so virtuous that even when Urvashi offered herself, Arjuna said no to her and then later on Virat offered his daughter Uttra. Arjuna again said no. He said I have treated her like a student and she has confided to me like a father figure. Let us not muddy the relationship. If I cannot be her father I will be her father-in-law. Let her marry with my son. That’s how Uttra is married to Abhimanyu. Therefore, if we look at the whole Mahabharata, the character of the individuals over there is exceptional and because the character is exceptional so they were able to manage this.

It is also described that the whole concept of polygamy that is little difficult for us to conceive even for a one man having many wives. Still there is many complexities involve in that. How is it exactly that to be done. There is some way it was managed. Same way this is exception. It was managed. It is very clear that not meant to be standard. Off course this exception was sanctioned ________ Mahabharata because the people involved who are the five pandavas who himself virtuous and they are having exceptional moral character. So that’s why if somebody uses it as a license for immorality or if somebody decries it as providing a license for immorality then that person is having a selective vision of Mahabharata where one doesn’t see all the contextualization that is done on this particular activity.

Thank you.

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