Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: Yagnaseni - The story of draupadi ( by Prativa Ray )

[This book was originally written in Odia by author Prativa Ray. She won the Moorti Devi Award in 1991 for 'Yagnaseni' and was honored with the Jnanpith Award in 2011. This is one of the few books to be written about Draupadi, one of the central female characters of Mahabharata. The author has, by her own admission, included some imaginary episodes in the narration. This review is based on the English translation]

History is replete with many a kings who have had harems full of women. Yet, they have been heaped with liberal praise and their achievements have never been overshadowed by their personal lives. The women on the other hand have never been so fortunate. The moment she takes another man, she is ridiculed in the unkindest terms. But since I read this book with the intention of unraveling the psyche of such a woman, I have tried to retain my objectiveness and have refrained from being judgmental at any point.

When I first picked the book, I wanted a fresh look a Mahabharata, one from a female perspective. Well, these days there is a lot of talk about it and it is touted as one of the reasons for inclusion of women in the boardroom. Now most men would support such a move for the fear of being branded politically incorrect if they choose to look the other way. Some would even say that they would support their spouse should she choose to work. But how many would lend her a helping hand when it comes to domestic chores ? Doing the kids homework ? Not many, I guess. And that is what makes a world of difference. So, the keyword here is 'empathy' and not 'sympathy'. 'Empathy' for Draupadi is what the author is trying to achieve through this book.

I loved the fact that Yagnaseni, meaning one who is born out of the sacrificial flames, is portrayed as a normal woman. She is shown as a carefree young woman who has a crush on Krishna. But circumstances lead to a Swayamvar and she gets betrothed to Arjun, the third Pandav. She is shown as idolizing him and treating him as a hero. She is every bit the shy new bride with stars in hers eyes till she is forced to marry all the five Pandavs due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kunti, her mother in law.

From this point, one sees her as a tormented woman who has to live up to the expectations of five husbands, each of whom is as different from the other as is chalk from cheese. She is shown to possess a soft corner for Arjun, her first husband and her hero whom she does not want to share with Subhadra. Though she is wise and learned, all these qualities take a back seat as she gets on with her domestic duties. At times, I felt that the five Pandavs are portrayed as being too conceited.

The author meanders into controversial territory with Draupadi's fascination with Karna. The latter is shown to nurture a grudge after being turned down at the Swayanvar. The few interactions between the two are beautifully narrated and are among the memorable parts of the book. Despite Karna's thinly veiled hatred, Yagnaseni seems to be attracted towards him.Though it seems jarring, it has to be viewed it in the light of Karna being an equal of Arjun ( as Krishna quotes in the later part of the book ). Maybe one should suspend one's rationality by a few degrees while reading this book and consider everything to be a part of Krishna ( who actually holds the Universe within himself ) and his scheme.

The book ends with a journey to heaven that Yagnaseni undertakes with her five husbands. But sadly it ends with her fall on the golden dust of the Himalayas. It is attributed to the negative thoughts in her mind. At this point, none of her husbands come to her rescue. Though it seems cruel, it has to be viewed in the light of one's accumulated Karma and the resulting ramifications.

Overall it is a good book but one that has deep spiritual connotations. It took me more than a month to get over with it as one tends to read a chapter, mull over it and then go back and read it all over again.

Buy it online @ Amazon .

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