Thursday, November 25, 2010
( 4 ) Differences in Characterisation :
(a) Draupadi: Whereas in literary-written Bharathas Draupadi belongs to a prestigeous Kshatriya clan, the oral narratives depict her as either an incarnation of Shakti or as a spirit / demon born to destroy the warring classes.
Birth: In all the three oral Bharatha-narratives, Draupadi is of unknown parentage; she is found wandering in a jungle by the Pandavas and then she is brought home, with the promise that they will marry her. But in the literary Bharathas, she comes out of fire when the king Drupada conducts a yagnya; and she is brought up as a proud Kshatriya woman.
To the tribes and communities beyond the hierarchical Varnashrama system, the caste-clan of a person does not mean much. Hence, even though Draupadi becomes the queen of the kings of Indraprastha, they can show her as a person of unknown origins. But the literary narratives, which implicitly accept and endorse the vaidic social hierarchy, have to show Draupadi as one belonging to a reputed family of the Kshatriya caste.
Morality: There is a curious incident regarding Draupadi in Bhil Bharath (“ Draupadi Aur Vasuki”). Once, when Draupadi is asleep and her hair is being combed by the maids, a single hair comes off. The frightened maids throw it out through the window and it breaks the earth and falls on Vasuki, the king of the netherworld. He sees the golden strand of hair, gets enamoured of the woman whose hair it is, and, searching for her, comes to Draupadi’s palace . He sees there Draupadi in the company of Arjuna, ties Arjuna to a pillar, and forces himself on Draupadi. When this incident gets repeated, Draupadi asks for Karna’s help and he defeats Vasuki and saves Draupadi.
There is a similar incident in a literary work called Turanga Bharatha, with one difference: while Vasuki’s victim is Draupadi in BB, it is Bhanumati in TB. 14 What do this incident and change in the victim imply?
To a tribe like the Bhils, unaware of the hierarchical Varnashrama system , both the Kauravas and Pandavas are the same; they are just rivals for power. For the same reason, they show Karna as a brave warrior, coming to the help of Draupadi. But the Varnashrama ideology that has created Turanga Bharatha, differentiates between the Kauravas and Pandavas as good and wicked people. The ideology also accepts the idea of Draupadi being one of the five Pativratas. Hence, it cannot show Draupadi, the Pandava-queen and a noble pativrata, as being a victim of rape. But Bhanumati is the wife of the wicked king Suyodhana; and hence she can be molested by Vasuki.
Spirit of Destruction: Whereas in the literary Bharathas Draupadi is a great woman of extremely strong will power seeking revenge, in the oral Bharatha-narratives she is either a demon born to destroy the Pandavas (BB) or the goddess of destruction born to destroy the Kauravas and all other such evil persons. How do we interpret this difference?
Alf Hiltebeitel, in his Rethinking India’s Oral and Classical Epics, relates Draupadi of the Mahabharatha to both the ‘Draupadi Cult’ to be found in certain parts of India and the concept of ‘Devi’ or the ‘all powerful mother goddess’ to be found in Indian oral epics. 15 He concludes that we have to accept “ the notion of an ‘underground’ pan-Indian folk Mahabharatha … as a way of thinking about what might relate the Draupadi cult and the Pandav Lilas to historical contexts.” (p. 299)
It is clear that at some point of time, the Shakta cult influenced most of the tribes and communities living away from towns and cities and that the portrayal of Draupadi as a ‘Spirit of Destruction’ is the result of such influence. In this context, what Shaila Mayaram has to say is interesting. She discusses another tribal / oral narrative, Pandu ka Karaa, in which she finds an equation between ‘Durga’ and Draupadi, and she says: “ Pandavas realize very soon that Devi Daropadi is going to be the cause of their death. They refer to Draupadi as ‘the Death in the form of a queen.’ However, the same Draupadi is the spirit of creation also; and she symbolizes both the Earth and its fertility.” 16
Karna: Next to Draupadi, the most distinguishing character in the oral Bharatha-narratives is Karna. All the post-Vyasa Bharathas picture Karna as a tragic figure. In fact, the first Kannada epic poet,
, declares in his Vikramarjuna Vijaya ( an epic which has Arjuna as its hero and which equates Arjuna with the poet’s patron-king) thus: “ If you wish to remember anybody (in his Bharatha), remember Karna, the man of truth.” 17 The reason why Karna becomes a tragic character in literary works is because of the ideology of the Varnashrama system, which distinguishes between ‘high’ and ‘low’ castes. Karna, though born of an illustrious Kshatriya family as a brother to the Pandavas, he grows as the son of a ‘low caste’ boatman; and because of his supposed ‘lowly birth,’ he is discriminated against everywhere – by his Guru Parashurama, by Kaurava elders like Bhishma and Drona. He never gets the recognition he deserves. Thus, Karna is seen as the sad illustration of an exploitative, hierarchical Varnashrama system; hence sympathy for him in the post-Vyasa Bharatha-narratives. Pampa
But in oral Bharathas, Karna is not a major character at all. He is a brave soldier and he ends up as a commander in the army of Suyodhana. The reason is that the tribes that have created the oral narratives have an entirely different social system and a different world view. In other words, Karna becomes a tragic figure demanding our sympathy and admiration only within the hierarchical Varnashrama system. Outside it, he is just a brave warrior like others.
Man-centered World View:
One of the major incidents that does not find a place in the oral Bharatha-narratives is ‘the burning of Khandavavana.’ In all the literary Bharatha-narratives including Vyasa Bharatha, the ‘Khandavavana dahana’ is described in detail and in a celebratory tone. In order to build a new capital for the Pandavas,
Krishna and Arjuna choose the place where the ‘Khandava’ forest lies. They invite Agni, the god of fire, to eat away the whole forest and Arjuna, with his bow and arrow ready, stands there to see that no bird, insect or creature escapes fire. In fact, the literary narratives describe vividly the way numberless serpents, birds, and beasts die helplessly in the fire. The reason for the celebratory tone is the Man-centered view, expressed very pointedly in Kumaravyasa Bharatha: “ Know that all moving and non-moving beings are born as food for ” 18 This world-view, again, is at the heart of varnashrama system. Man.
But this incident is not found, cannot find, a place in oral Bharatha narratives because the Bhils, the Gondas, the Kudubi-kunkna and such other tribes, whom these narratives belong to, are born in forests; and they grow up loving every tree, plant, bird and beast of the forest. Hence, they cannot even think of burning forests to build cities, even if they are to be the capitals of such noble men as the Pandavas.
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Dr. C.N. Ramachandran
Labels: Indian Folk Epics