Thursday, 22 March 2018

How did the Pandavas share Draupadi?

My Answer:
Well, in the present version of the Vyasa Mahabharatha, Narada visits the Pandavas when they are in Indraprastha and narrates the story of how the love of the two mighty brothers, Sunda and Upsunda, for Tilottama led to internal jealousy between the two and leads to their ultimate demise… the two mighty brothers, who were enemies of the Devas, end up killing one another, thereby removing the thorn of the Devas. Narada tells the Pandavas to avoid such jealousy by practicing monoandry within polyandry. He advises one Pandava to live with Draupadi as her husband for one year. During this period of one year, no other Pandava can have a married life with Draupadi. After this period of one year, the next Pandava would live with Draupadi for a year, and so on, till all five Pandavas had their turns. Then, the cycle would repeat.
Now, I personally consider this passage a later addition to the Mahabharatha in a time when polyandry no longer existed in India. During Mahabharathan times, polyandry was very much existent in ancient India. For example, after Draupadi gets married to all five Pandavas, nobody in Hastinapura seems shocked. Rather, Karna says[1]:
It is impossible to create disunion amongst them. They can never be disunited who have all taken to a common wife. Nor can we succeed in estranging Krishna from the Pandavas by any spies of ours. She chose them as her lords when they were in adversity. Will she abandon them now that they are in prosperity? Besides women always like to have many husbands, Krishna hath obtained her wish. She can never be estranged from the Pandavas.
Although the above passage illustrates the sexual frustration of Karna at his inability to win Draupadi over in the Swayamvara, as well as the sexual frustration at his wives’ extramarital tendencies, it can also be interpreted to suggest that society back then (at least in some parts of Northern India), had no problems with polyandry and womens’ sexuality extending beyond the barriers of a single man and marriage. Likewise, when Draupadi goes to Virata during her last year of exile, she says that she has five husbands, and nobody seems to even raise an eyebrow at such a statement of hers, let alone raise a full-fledged morality-based objection. This further corroborates Karna’s speech and suggests that polyandry was not uncommon in Mahabharathan times…
So, the point I am making is that when the practice of polyandry declined and the strict rules of patriarchy intensified, men found it difficult to understand how a woman could willingly have a sexual relationship with many men, simultaneously. In light of historicity, the patriarchal view that women are devoid of sexual desire and only like to adhere with a single man no longer holds. The inability of patriarchy to come to terms with this simple historical fact, led to the addition of passages, such as Narada’s proposal of monoandry within polyandry, to patriarchize Draupadi into a monogamous woman, just like patriarchy’s ideal woman...
After Narada’s proposal, we are given some insight regarding the conjugal life of the Pandavas with Draupadi, in Indraprastha, that casts doubt on Narada’s narrative[2]:
And Krishna became obedient unto all the five sons of Pritha, those lions among men, of immeasurable energy. Like the river Saraswati decked with elephants, which again take pleasure in that stream, Draupadi took great delight in her five heroic husbands and they too took delight in her. And in consequence of the illustrious Pandavas being exceedingly virtuous in their practice, the whole race of Kurus, free from sin, and happy, grew in prosperity.
From this passage, the marital life of the Pandavas and Draupadi is likened to the Saraswati River, that takes pleasure in its elephants (the Pandavas) simultaneously. This metaphor alludes to Draupadi having sex with the Pandavas together and simultaneously (group sex?), instead of the one after another manner that Narada had proposed.
So, the Pandavas did not really share Draupadi, in the truest sense. They all enjoyed her, simultaneously. To draw a comparison, their relation with Draupadi would be like (apologies for the objectification, in advance) five men sitting on a table and all digging their hands into an apple pie and eating as much as they can (all at the same time), instead of the men dividing the apple pie into five parts, and each man eating only their share of the pie…
Footnotes

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