Dharma And Women In The Mahabharata

1306 words - 5 pages

When Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, is brought before the court of elders and

humiliated by the Kauravas, a violation of dharma occurs that is ultimately remediated

with the killings of Duryodhana and Duhsasana by Bhīma. In the Mahabharata- a Hindu

epic-the preservation of a woman’s sanctity is non-negotiable, and any violators of that

principle are bound to face dire consequences. Although whether or not the legitimacy of

Duryodhana winning Draupadi (and consequentially his ownership of her) is supported

by dharma is unclear, it’s irrelevant: his befouling of her feminine purity blatantly goes

against dharma, thereby sealing his fate.

Dharma, having no exact translation in English, can sometimes be difficult to

define. It is a divinely prescribed path of action for any given living being, with each

being’s dharma differing from others and many parts of dharma being determined by

social class (xviii). For example, despite the many atrocities that Duryodhana commits on

the battlefield and elsewhere, he is still granted entrance into heaven “by following the

Ksatriya dharma, a king who was never afraid even when the danger was great” (p. 780).

However, this does not mean that individual dharmas are exclusive to one

another. There are a few actions that are universally adharmic such as brahmanicide

and, most relevantly, the desecration of a woman’s sanctity. The former is evidenced by

Indra’s killing of the Brahman demon Vritra in the tenth section of the Udyoga Parva

(Book Five). “All beings [are] much pleased” with this seemingly dharmic action of

Indra slaying his evil foe, but it doesn’t matter: because Vritra was a Brahmin, Indra

seriously violates dharma and is “overpowered by the sin of brahmanicide” (Book V,

Section X). Although what dharma is may not always be clear, the reactions and actions

of gods such as Yama and Krishna are seen as the manifestation of dharma and good

indicators for judging an action as dharmic and adharmic. Once dharma is violated

through adharmic action, it is thrown out of balance and eventually corrected (xx).

Krishna’s actions in scenes revolving around this controversy, along with indicators

within the text reveal that a universal dharma is violated and subsequently remediated

apropos to Draupadi’s treatment.

A close reading of the text supports the sanctity of Draupadi’s femininity.

Yudhisthira describes her as having “kindliness and perfect beauty…of such consummate

virtue” (2.59, 34), and when she is wagered “a cry of horror from the elders of the court”

(2.59, 38), indicating that her being put in a position of vulnerability is abominable. In

particular, though, Draupadi’s hair is symbolic of her purity: it’s described as being “long

and jet-black [and] wavy” (2.60, 22). This description provides clear imagery with

powerful significance: the descriptors of long length, bold color, and natural style

indicate a state of non-interference. The...

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