‘Unhappiness, like happiness is ephemeral. Do not allow either to rule your heart’
The story of the Mahabharat is the story of valor, strength, humiliation, and justice. This is what we have grown up hearing. But Ira Mukhoty paints a different, relatable, and mortal painting of the epic through her book – Song of Draupadi.
Unlike any other representation of the epic, the book has no VFX. No stories of gods, goddesses, and demons fill in the pages. Superstitions and stories of spirits, occult and black magic exists; but aren’t those realistic perceptions of the society? It gives a rational perception of the births of 100 children or the Pandavas, thought to be God’s boon or Draupadi, who emerges from the fire. What is most interesting is the narrative focus on the women characters and their actions. Breaking the shackles of a patriarchal narration and presenting a feminist point of view makes Song of Draupadi unforgettable.
Interestingly, each character drowns in their share of sorrows and acts accordingly, adding up to the Great War. Their desire to escape the current situation amounts to decisions that stamp their lives forever. Ganga’s childhood is cut short due to her marriage to King Shantanu. Her tribal customs become a mismatch for the Royal Chambers and she is equally not ready to mother children and yet have many. Unable to bear herself trapped, she abandons her only surviving son to the King and deserts them forever which leaves a deep scar in Devwrat’s soul, making him uncomfortable in the presence of women he meets thereafter. Satyawati, on the other hand, searches for shrewd escapism from her smelly fishermen’s hamlet. Not devoid of ambition either, when she finds King Shantanu besotted by her beauty, she grabs the opportunity to continue the Fisherman’s clan instead of the original Kuru clan.
The Kashi sisters, Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika seem to be the most distressed women in the epic. While Ambika and Ambalika quietly resort to their fate and marry a dying prince; Amba seeks revenge for being turned down by her lover and kidnapped from her own Swayamvar. While Gandhari is tricked into marrying the blind prince and seen as an object that would help Dritarashtra see the world, she seeks revenge by covering up her own eyes forever. Kunti, herself an abandoned child, hides her pre-marital motherhood and abandons her firstborn. She later mothers all five children of Pandu and uses political wit and strategy to maneuver them; the greatest one being sharing Draupadi among the five husbands. Lastly, Draupadi herself burns with the fire of revenge and the inability of her five revered husbands to protect her honor.
The strong decisions taken by the women of the epic influence the acts of the men. While Devwrat disintegrates into a silent spectator in his own Kingdom, Dritarashtra becomes engulfed in fatherly love which makes him truly blind to his sons’ actions. While Yudhishthira abides by laws and principles and refuses to use discretion, Bheema takes terrible vows during Draupadi’s humiliation. Arjuna knows Draupadi’s feelings towards him but never reciprocates in its entirety. Nakul and Sahadev, being the youngest, often find themselves overshadowed by their three brothers.
Song of Draupadi stands on three pillars – finding one’s purpose in life, the stories of castaways, and the sorrows behind the gigantic and egoistic façade of life. While most men in the story have a defined purpose including Drishtadyumna who was to take revenge on Guru Drona, Draupadi never had a defined purpose in life. Her search for life’s purpose is often endless.
The novel is filled with stories of castaways on their own terms. Bheeshma is abandoned by his mother, Satyawati is mocked for being of low caste and a fisherman’s daughter, Gandhari is taken in from the faraway kingdom of Gandhar where Bharat was alien to her and her decision to blindfold herself restricted her involvement in the Kingdom, Amba is turned away, Karn is given up and even Draupadi never receives the love that she feels for Arjun. She also has to endure humiliation and take refuge in the forests and other kingdoms. The Pandavas were born at the hermitage and were never really accepted by their cousins in the Palace.
Moreover, every character, prominent or small, King and princes or Queens and Princesses are ultimately lonely in their lives beyond the façade of royalty. Most women have short-lived marriages. Draupadi is subjected to polygamy. She could not even get to know her sons. Uttara lost her husband within days of marriage. Duryodhan’s insecurity regarding his cousins gives him no peace.
A retrospective tale of the world, Song of Draupadi makes the readers ponder as Duryodhana says to Yudhisthir ‘Which one of us is really the winner? Yudhisthir!‘. While mythology glorifies the Pandavas, this much more practical tale makes one wonder whether all about them is as pure as it is staged. It tells that every man and woman have their own vices, insecurity, desire, and ambition and that is what makes the Epic worldly, to be found in every person’s story. The feminine perspective is also interesting. One can argue that literary works like The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni or The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kane also give a feminine perspective. But they deal with either Draupadi or Satyawati’s perspectives alone, and this narrative clearly specifies that no one perspective is ever correct. Each has its own rationale and impact.
No. of Pages: 287
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Purchased from: Instagram Unhaul