DRAUPADI: Vintage Stuff in a Tainted Bottle

By Kavita Chhibber

Pictures :Soham Patel

"Draupadi has five husbands - but she has none -
She had five sons - and was never a mother Ö
The pandavas have given Draupadi Ö 
No joy, no sense of victory 
No honor as wife
No respect as mother -
Only the status of a Queen Ö
But they all have gone
And I'm left with a lifeless jewel
And an empty crown Ö
My baffled motherhood
Wrings its hands and strives to weep".
From the poem"Kurukshetra", 
written by Amreeta Syam.

She was a proud and strong willed woman who faced atrocities and rejection all her life, and died tragically all alone. Deserted by the Pandavas, loved only by her Sakha(friend) Lord Krishna, Draupadi was brought to life by film star Hema Maliniís Natya Vihar Kalakendra.

A ballet depicting the life of Draupadi, was staged on October 8th at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center. The sold out show was sponsored by the Georgia Association of Physicians of Indian Association, to raise funds for meeting healthcare needs of the underprivileged in India through free clinics and hospitals.

Draupadi had many names-Panchali, Parsaati, Krishnaa, Yojanagandha to name a few.. She was also called Yagnyaseni because she was born after a yagya was performed emerging through the holy fire a full grown woman of fiery beauty and intelligence-iron willed, strong and unforgiving, but also kind and generous. She suffered pain and humiliation but did not cow down and instead, destroyed those who caused her suffering. Draupadiís five husbands took more than one wife, and while Draupadi adored Arjuna, his favourite was Krishnaís sister Subhadra. There are few women in Hindu mythology who were strong enough to take on men and say it like it is. Draupadi was one of them- indeed the first true feminist. 

Draupadi and Lord Krishna shared a very special relationship-sakha and sakhi. Some interpretations insist the relationship was platonic, though Hema Malini shows that Krishna rejects Draupadi kindly and offers Arjuna as the alternative. And yet through all the tribulations in her life, it was Krishna who came to her rescue.
The first key scene depicted in the ballet was the Swayambara scene with Draupadi refusing to accept Karna as a suitor and his anger which became one of the causes of the attack on her virtue later. Arjuna wins Draupadiís hand and the Princess who has lived a pampered life ends up walking miles to go to her new home. When Kunti (mother of Pandavas) asks the Pandavas to share whatever it is they brought, Draupadi is offended, and even more so when Yudhishtra acquiesces and Arjuna remains silent. Hema Malini through the audio visuals on the screen , focused on the humiliation of a very indignant Draupadi, who feels that in truth Yuddhistra desired her and it was his lust and not filial duty that made him agree to his motherís order. She was also angry that the valorous Arjuna kept quiet. What kind of a man is he who cannot protect his wifeís chastity, she asks. Krishna while acknowledging that it was Arjuna who was Draupadiís true husband, asserts that nevertheless it was important for her to be the wife of all five so that her beauty and other qualities do not arouse jealousy and disunity among the brothers. It was very crucial that they stay united. To which Draupadi retorts, why splinter my chastity and ďstativaĒ to unite the brothers? 
In ancient India, women occupied a very important position.- "Shakti" means "power" and "strength". All male power comes from the feminine and Draupadi was the epitome of that feminine power. 
The ballet then went on to the crucial dice playing scene where Yudhistra lost everything including Draupadi whom he put at stake. Duryodhana who had been insulted by Draupadi had her dragged into the court as the Pandavas bent their heads in shame. Instead of meekly obeying her husband Yudhishthira , she sent back a query which none could answer. She questioned her husband and challenged the legality of the game.
Duryodhan ordered Dusshasana to drag Draupadi by her hair and disrobe her completely. The elders in the court remained silent. Draupadi said angrily, "where righteousness and justice do not exist, it ceases to be a court; it is a gang of robbers". Uncaringly Dusshasana begins to pull at her sari. Draupadi finally turns to Lord Krishna and his grace comes in the form of unending reams of cloth that prevented Draupadi from being uncovered. Draupadi had once given Lord Krishna one small strand from her sari to tie on his injured finger, and Krishna had vowed to repay that kindness some day. He kept his promise by protecting her honor.
Draupadi also takes a vow that she would not oil or tie her hair until she could wash her hair with the blood of Dusshasana, after he was killed. Draupadi then successfully wins freedom for her enslaved husbands. Karna paid her a remarkable tribute, saying none of the world's renowned beauties could have her fire and courage to accomplish something like that. 
In spite of her sacrifices, the loss of all her five sons, the final tragedy of Draupadi comes when she is deserted by her husbands during the mahaprasthana or the journey to heaven through the Himalayan slopes, and dies alone(though some interpretations say Bheema stayed by her side and in her dying moments she realizes with sorrow how she could never respond to Bheemaís unconditional love- so enamored was she by Arjuna). 
The final message from Draupadi was that women need to empower themselves and her soul will never rest in peace as long as women are ostracized or treated disrespectfully.

What was refreshing was the fact that the ballet was presented from Draupadiís point of view. Usually whenever one thinks of the Mahabharata, the story focuses on other characters like Krishna or the Pandavas or even Bhisma pitamah. The emcee of the evening Kannan Chakravarty who is also Hema Maliniís older brother, said that they were very inspired by an Oriya novel Yagyaseni By Pratibha Rai. In it Draupadi recaptures history by recalling the events in her life from her viewpoint as a woman. It was a new angle, and quite appealing. The ballet combined live action and audiovisuals to take the audience through the major milestones in Draupadiís life and to try and fathom what was going on in her mind through all the trials and turbulences in her life and that of the Pandavas. 
What was missing was an animated performance from Hema Malini and other members of the cast. Hema Malini still looks beautiful, but just as in the majority of her films her expressions were wooden, so was it here. The Radha Krishna ballet she brought to the US last year was outstanding but even there it was a young man Raul Dí Souza who overshadowed everyone with his outstanding dancing abilities and persona. Hema Malini was stiff and wooden throughout This one was mediocre fare at its best. The costumes reportedly designed by Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya and well known Bolly wood designer Neeta Lulla lacked luster and beauty in spite of the glitter of the fake jewels.

Reports that the tour did very poorly have come in from different cities. Full marks go to the managing committee from GAPI that included Drs Naresh and Asha Parekh, Dr P.B.Rao, Dr Arvind Gupta, Dr. Bipin Chudgar, Dr Pravin Patel, Dr Manoj Shah, and the hard work and running around by Mustafa Ajmeri. Because of their untiring efforts the show was sold out in Atlanta as compared to Chicago where only 3-400 people showed up in a hall that can host over 2000 people. Also have filtered in reports of Miss Maliniís rude and uncooperative behavior with the organizers nationwide. May be, its time to make a change and bring in people like Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, who are not only gracious but do a tremendous number of performances for charitable causes.

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