draupadidisrobed

Published 1st September, 2013 in the Mid-Day

A friend very close to me was very upset after she read an article in a popular weekly where a member of the parliament, a lady, stated that women should not expect Krishna to save them as he did Draupadi, as they are not as spiritually evolved as Draupadi. I found the alleged statement amusing – a rather creative reading of Indian mythology.

Lets revisit the story of Draupadi – a woman with five husbands (the Pandavas), she is wagered and lost in a game of dice. She is dragged out of her chambers violently by the winners (the Kauravas) who plan to disrobe her. She begs for mercy and help. No one comes to her rescue. Then magically, as the cloth she is covered in is being yanked away, it extends on its own. A miracle, thanks to Krishna.

It is easy to see the story as a ‘saviour’ myth: Krishna rescues the helpless Draupadi. It is easy to see this story as a ‘worthiness’ myth: if you are as worthy as Draupadi, Krishna will come and save you. So essentially if no one saves you and if you get raped, it means you are not as worthy as Draupadi. Such creative interpretations are a doubly whammy for a woman is raped – first she is raped, and then she is told that is spiritually unworthy. Such interpretations can be rather distasteful, especially for a rape survivor.

This combination of saviour myth and worthiness myth can be traced to early evangelical activity of many (not all) missionaries and gurus. The modus operandi is to make people feel ashamed of themselves, make them feel inferior and unclean. Then the pastor/guru offers salvation by asking the victim to take refuge in them as they are the sole representatives of the divine saviour.

Reading the story of Krishna in Christian terms is not new. Many people have tried to equate Krishna with Christ. This was popular in the early 20th century as Hindus sought validation from the British rulers. Later, it was used by many Indian gurus to resolve the conflict experienced by their followers in the West who felt they had to choose between Christ (inherited faith) and Krishna (explored faith).

But Christ comes from a linear mythic paradigm, where you have only one life to be saved. Krishna comes from a cyclic mythic paradigm, where you live many times, where you need to understand why you are reborn. So such correlations are rather forced. Each paradigm has its own value and need not be compared with each other.

Krishna’s act of ‘saving’ Draupadi must be correlated with Krishna’s previous lives: as Parashuram he beheads his mother, Renuka, who desires another man and as Ram he rejects his wife, Sita, simply because her reputation is tarnished. All three – Krishna, Parashuram and Ram – are avatars of Vishnu, the preserver. If, as Krishna he saves a woman, as Parashuram he punishes a woman for a mere slip and as Ram he treats a woman unfairly for no fault of hers, why did the sages construct this complex narrative?

Perhaps because the sages saw Renuka, Sita and Draupadi as the Goddess, the earth: humans will try to disrobe her (like Kauravas) or bear mute witness (like Pandavas), punish her (like Parashuram), reject her (like Ram) or try to save her (like Krishna). But what we often forget is that she is quite capable of shrugging her shoulders at the shortcomings of humanity and regenerating herself on her own.