Why did Bhishma and other elders stay silent when Draupadi was being disrobed?

by Chaitanya CharanJanuary 2, 2020

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Transcriber: Dr Suresh Gupta

0Edited by: Sharan Shetty

Question: Why did Bhishma and other elders stay silent when Draupadi was being disrobed?

Answer: Bhishma, Drona and other elders did not stay silent; they opposed, but they did not oppose forcefully enough. There is a contextual reason and a transcendental reason for the silence of Bhishma which we will discuss ahead. Draupadi was an honourable princess who later became the queen of Emperor Yudhishthira and to dishonour such a lady by dragging her by the hair, into an assembly full of people was a horrendous act. The Pandavas had lost everything in the gambling match including themselves and their wife Draupadi. Duryodhana, who was goaded by Dushasana, Karna and Shakuni wanted to dishonour Pandavas in every possible way and that is how the heinous act of disrobing Draupadi was carried out. At that time, Draupadi tried holding on to a technicality and said that if Yudhishthira has gambled himself first and lost then how could he have gambled me afterwards. Draupadi was trying to salvage the situation to prevent something heinous from happening and so she raised this question before Bhishma and other Kuru elders. Although Bhishma was the eldest among others present in the assembly but actually in terms of political position, Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapur and the father of the Kauravas was the most powerful person. Being a king, he was meant to oppose this disgraceful act but instead he stayed silent due to his greed for the throne and the desire to displace the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra was actually delighted and although normally he concealed his partisanship, on that occasion, his partiality and his sadistic nature did come out.

One of the elders, Vidura, vehemently protested this act but since he did not have any influential political position due to being a step brother born from a maidservant, his protest was put aside. He told various precedents from scripture explaining that when an innocent victim coming to a royal assembly seeking justice, is not provided justice, then the whole assembly, especially those who give decision in that assembly suffer grievously. In this way, he tried to reason based on scripture and morality but Dhritarashtra remained adamantly silent and certainly the disrespectful Duryodhana disregarded Vidura’s words.

When it came to Bhishma, he told Draupadi that the question she has asked is very difficult to answer because at one level a wife always remains connected with her husband (not like a property or a possession but in the sense that she is always under the protection of her husband). Such a situation was unprecedented where a husband has lost himself and then gambled his wife afterwards. Normally, a person would gamble the possession first and oneself at the end as a last measure. It was Yudhishthira’s great esteem for his wife Draupadi that even the thought of gambling her had not entered his mind during the match. When he gambled everyone including himself and lost everything, it was Shakuni who suggested gambling Draupadi. Everybody was horrified to hear this, including Yudhishthira. However, in the desperate aspiration to gain back everything that was lost, Yudhishthira gambled Draupadi.

One of the Kaurava brother, Vikarna, who did not share the evil disposition of the Kauravas, not only objected but also said that the whole match was null and void because Yudhishthira was compelled to gamble. He argued that the gamble was between Duryodhana and Yudhishthira but Shakuni played the dice for Duryodhana which was not correct and since Yudhishthira had already gambled himself before gambling Draupadi so he could not possibly gamble her later. That means, Draupadi should not be considered won by the Kauravas and the whole gambling match should be declared null and void but he was strongly opposed by Karna and the whole assembly went to disruption afterwards.

Externally, Bhishma was caught in niyamagraha which means seeking into the letter of the law while forgetting the spirit. Wife belongs to the husband means that the wife is under the protection of the husband. The woman should not be treated like a chattel and exploited. Protection should be given to those who are weak. In this situation, the spirit of the law of protection was lost in the letter of the law. One of the consistent themes of the Mahabharata is that dharma is guhya (confidential) and it is not easily understandable. This is the contextual reason and along with that, Bhishma and Drona had committed themselves to abide by the rule of the Kuru king because they had affiliated themselves with the Kuru king and that is why they could not oppose directly at that time. That affiliation had come because of the circumstances which is a different issue and because of this, although they voiced their protest, they did not forcefully intervene.

From the transcendental perspective, this whole past-time is enacted to demonstrate the truth that no matter how protected we may be in this world, the outside events can turn in such an unpredictable and unfortunate way that despite having many protectors, one may be rendered defenceless and it reveals that ultimately we have only one protector, that is Krishna. This is the transcendental purpose of this whole past-time and everything, right from Yudhishthira losing his self-mastery and gambling to such a terrible extent, was ultimately part of the Lord’s plan for demonstrating that a woman who had, not one, but five powerful husbands, was yet ravished by a brutish person. She was in a public assembly, in the presence of her five husbands who were her protectors, in front of her elders who were supposed to defend her and yet in such a situation she was reduced to a position of defencelessness and helplessness where finally Krishna protected her and saved her honour. Thus, rather than focusing on the technicality that who behaved in what way and why did they behave like that, we can focus on the transcendental principle that was demonstrated by Krishna from this past-time that although we may make arrangements for having the best protection in this world, still, we should not let ourselves get blinded to the fact that ultimately we have no protector apart from Krishna. Therefore, the helpless and desperate surrender of Draupadi to Krishna and Krishna’s reciprocation is the purpose of this entire past-time.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan

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