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3-Arjun and Draupadee

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3-Arjun and Draupadee

Dwaapar Yug is about to end. The Paandav are in the middle of their Vanavaas, in the deep, dark forest, miles and miles away from Royal Hasthinaapur, the kingdom's capital. Moonlight night, eerie stillness, not a leaf moving, Not an owl hoot, no cicadas or other insects stirring. Arjun, sleepless, restless in body and in spirit, was trying to rest on a bench under a tree some distance from their Parn-shaala home.

He heard a stealthy sound. Arjun turns to its source. Surprise turns to astonishment. His wife Draupadee emerges from the shadow of the eaves, pauses to take a look around in the silver scene in the bright moonlight. She steps out firmly, walks steadily and purposefully into the forest. Bemused, Arjun hesitates. It is two Muhoort after sunset, two more to midnight. The moon is halfway up the coal-black sky sprinkled with a watchful array of silent stars. None of the five fateful fowls of astrology - the "vallooru", the owl, the crow, the rooster, the peacock - are heard, much less seen. No shooting stars rocketed across the horizon. Then where was Draupadee going?

Instinctively, hesitantly, Arjun rose, tiptoed, keeping a safe distance behind. She was barefooted. A cotton wrap-around covered her ample hips; another was knotted tightly around to protect the modesty of her thrusting breasts. Her profuse crows'-wings-like black hair - undone since evil Dushaasan tried to disrobe her in front of the clamorous rabble and royals in Prince Duryodhan's Coronation Hall - swaying with each marching step.

A short distance into the dense thicket of trees, Arjun was surprised to note her black hair turning to gold. He held his breath, mesmerized automatically. Further on, he was taken aback to note her cotton attire had changed to flashing crimson silk, with rich gold borders. Her feet were now clad in strapped gold sandals, sparkling with gems.

Draupadee was on strode towards ever deeper into the dense starkly silent jungle. Did a quick shadow cross the Moon? Arjun was not sure. Nevertheless he shivered, but could not tear his eyes away from the vision in front. Before his startled eyes, a glittering Navaratn-studded crown appeared on her head, sparkling in magic glory. Simultaneously, massive ornaments of solid gold set with diamonds, thick chains, bracelets, anklets manifested themselves around her wrists, upper arms, neck, waist, ankles.

Arjun was confounded. He could not comprehend all this. He felt a fear in his heart he had never felt before. He shuddered involuntarily. By the time he recovered sufficiently to look again, the vibration of temple bells tolling in the far distance reached him. Strangely, steady drum-beats, sounds of blowing of conches, seemed to be approaching. In desperation, he stared at the gruesome visage of his transformed wife. To his terror, she now brandished in a gleaming sword. A richly-engraved round metal shield was strapped to her left fore-arm. When she stamped her feet, there resounded the rich and terrifying clash of ankle-bells of new challenges.

The Moon, he suddenly noticed, was in half-shadow. What he had earlier mistaken for a passing shadow had been something more ominous - the start of a full lunar eclipse. Arjun was catapulted out of his reverie by the sudden echoes of a blood-curdling yell, issuing from the mouth of his wife, who was breathing heavily, almost panting. Not only that. A procession of flaming torches held high was emerging from the path in front, preceded by the throbbing sound of ceremonial Mridang (atype of Indian drum), incessant beating of chomakkalams (heavy gongs), blowing of Naad-Swar (ceremonial long and large trumpets), clanging of cymbals.

There emerged eight red-vestment attired, crowned voluptuous virgins in coronets, carrying an elaborately decorated royal palanquin with silken cushions and other luxurious trappings fit for a reigning queen. A troupe of agile youthful dancers performed a rousing hand-clapping dance to accompaniment of a chorus of songs in praise.

As Arjun cowered in terror behind a convenient tree, the welcoming band of ladies lifted up into the palanquin as Queen Goddess, Draupadee - armed, attired, crowned, burning in blinding splendor. The music and the chanting ever-increasing in intensity and fervor, the palanquin was slowly turned around to face the way it came, and the whole assembly moved forward.

Soon, all too soon to Arjun, the palanquin procession reached a glade. Wonder of wonders. In the centre stood a gold-domed intricately-sculptured temple, blazing bright with the light of thousands of shimmering oil-lamps. Row after row, along the walls in niches, lining the roof under mini-shelters, boldly strung like so many necklaces around two massive pillars standing guard on either side of the temple entrance. The interior was ablaze with standing and pendant lights.

The bearers carried the palanquin into the temple. There, elaborately-dressed senior priestesses assisted Goddess Queen Draupadee to ascend the Golden Throne, the august Sinhaasan (throne) in the centre of the sanctum sanctorum. The traditional Shodopachaar Poojaa (Sixteen Welcoming Rites) was duly performed, followed by vocal and instrumental music. And, finally ritual dances, in which the whole company took part, including Dreaded Draupadee. Arjun had to clap both his hands to his ears to keep out the trance-inducing sounds, and to shut his eyes tight to keep out the blinding lights, while he quaked in terror at sights and sounds unseen and unheard before in his life.

After a long while, the tempo eased, and ceased. Draupade returned to her seat in the sanctum sanctorum. Plaintive, passive dirges, and soothing lullabies and cradle songs (lullaby) were sung, to the plaintive accompaniment of calming flutes. Draupadee then distributed vermilion powder (Kumkum) and flower petals to all present as token of her blessings. She was assisted to the palanquin, and an honor procession set out along the path they had earlier traversed. Draupadee descended, and the palanquin and escort returned.

Now partially recovered, Arjun watched in awe as Draupadee's sword and shield vanished, so progressively did her crown, jewelry and footwear disappear; her hair and clothes returned to what they were when she first started out. She re-entered her residence bare-footed again. Unable to sleep, Arjun sought out his elder brother Bheem the following morning. Together, they traced the jungle path taken by Draupadee the previous night. The path was faint indeed. It did end in a glade, but that was empty and overgrown with weeds, bushes and grass. No traces of any building anywhere, much less an elaborate temple.

Then they consulted eldest brother Dharmaputra. Yudhisthira reminded Arjun of a pilgrimage of atonement Arjun had undertaken with Shree Krishn some time previously to Kaashee (Banaaras). "To whom did you pay your respects at Kaashee to obtain deliverance from the consequences of your Shishu-hatthee (involuntary cremation of a brood of live kittens sleeping in a stack of earthen pots which Arjun placed in kiln and sealed up)?

"To Mother Kaashee Vishaalaakshee." replied Arjun.
"That Devtaa's Beej is present in Draupadee." said Yudhishthir.



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Created by Sushma Gupta On 05/27/04
Modified on 12/01/12