The Women of Mahabharata
Posted December 28, 2007
For the pleasure of the devotees I am submitting the opening pages of a new play I recently adapted that is being produced by a theatre company in New York City on July 18th and 19th 2008 called, "The Women of Mahabharata."
Originally, it was written to be performed by ISKCON actors and thus, anyone in the devotee community that would like to consider producing and/or directing it may contact me at the email address below. The play has a cast of 5 women and 2 males who must be adept at stage combat which is performed in MIME. It is the only play of it's kind in the world and has never before been performed in ISKCON as yet.
While the NYC production is using Bharat-natyam dancers, the play runs 45 minutes without dancers and is a great preaching tool for Sunday feast crowds and festivals as it is easily accessible to all multi-cultural audiences. Hare Krsna. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The stage is bare denoting a huge, empty battlefield. Mountains can be seen in the distance.
GANDHARI (wife of King Dhrtarashtra. She is blindfolded with a dark cloth)
DRAUPADI (wife of the five Pandava brothers)
QUEEN KUNTI (Lord Krsna's aunt and mother of the five Pandavas)
SATYAVATI (Srila Vyasadeva's mother)
UTTARA (Abhimanyu's wife)
TWO YOUNG MEN (They play two warriors.)
Each of the women is made-up and dressed in various colored saris, jewelry and make-up denoting the period, or they may have dark colored robes.
Time: Close to sunset. One year after the Bharata War.
Place: The field of Kuruksetra, India. 5,000 years ago.
MUSIC, CONCHSHELLS and DRUMS can be heard on AUDIO.
UTTARA quickly walks onto the stage addressing the audience. She begins recounting the death of her husband, Abhimanyu, during the Battle of Kuruksetra. TWO MALE ACTORS stand apart from one another in the background and appear ominous dressed in battle gear.
UTTARA: (Forcefully) The great Bharata War was fought for 18 days on the field of Kuruksetra. Phalanxes of soldiers and kings from all over the earth converged on the battlefield like giant waves in an ocean! Warriors with unimaginable prowess would fight courageously on both sides. The Pandava army far outnumbered the Kauravas and took the western side of the battlefield, facing east. Elephants, steeds, and chariots stood poised, ready to wage war, a war whose outcome would determine if righteousness would prevail in the face of Godlessness. No one knew who would come out victorious. I remember my husband, Abhimanyu saying to me, "Uttara, I am not afraid of anyone in the battle. I will defeat them all." (Pause) He was only sixteen years old.
(She turns, looking at the two male actors who begin doing stage combat in MIME. Her voice builds to a fever pitch. DRUMS continue beating quietly in the background)
UTTARA: (Loudly) On the 13th day of the battle, the son of Subhadra and Arjuna, moved freely on the battlefield, wiping out his enemies like a maddened elephant. Suddenly, Bhisma the great warrior general, showered arrows all around Abhimanyu, cutting his arrows in half. The enemy could not rip into my husband's armor. But Karna shot an arrow into his hand that broke his bow. His horses were killed with a rain of arrows that disabled his chariot. (She speaks in a fever pitch) The enemy surrounded him. He was helpless! Abhimanyu had no chariot and no bow. (Calls out loudly) "Is there no one to help him?" Holding sword and shield he held his enemies at bay. He pulled the wheel off from his chariot and with it, attacked Drona. Arrows were raining all around him! The chariot wheel broke into pieces that scattered everywhere. My husband picked up his mace from the chariot and pounced upon his enemies like a lion attacking its prey. Suddenly Dushasana, Draupadi's brother-in-law, appeared as if from nowhere with mace in hand and confronted Abhimanyu. My husband was already exhausted having fought many an enemy throughout the day. Dushasana struck him with a fatal blow from his mace. (Yells) Abhimanyu! (Silence. Uttara walks over to him and kneels down at his lifeless body. Calmly.) The soul had already left his lovely, young body. (Pause. She stands up) Later, I remembered something Arjuna told me. It was the first day of the battle. (A conchshell is heard off-stage) Krishna drew up his chariot between the two armies. They talked for a very long time. Krishna said, "Those who are wise lament for neither the living, nor the dead. For the soul, there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, everlasting, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." Remembering those words gave me hope. (Pause. Looks at audience.) Soon after, I gave birth to Abhimanyu's son, whom I named, Pariksit. He became emperor of the world. Even his enemies would bow down at his feet. (Sadly) I wish my husband had seen him.
(LIGHTS FADE OUT. ACTORS EXIT.) (MUSIC and FOG COME UP DENOTING A PASSAGE OF TIME.) LIGHTS UP
(Satyavati and Gandhari walk arm in arm, for a dark cloth covers Gandhari's eyes. Satyavati is in mid-conversation. She is very old but her mind is sharp. She tends to ramble when she speaks and walks with a wooden cane.)
SATYAVATI: . . . The fish was caught by the chief of fishermen, who then adopted me as his own daughter, not having children of his own. To make a long story short, it was the great sage, Parasara Muni, who one night created an artificial fog while I rowed him across the Yamuna River. He was so smitten by my beauty even though I smelled like a fish. Ha! Of course I was very young, and quite beautiful then. As you know, because of our mystical union, my son Vyasadeva was born. Parasara said the child would be a portion of Lord Vishnu. I never saw Parasara after that. But by a special boon, my virginity was restored as he had promised me.
GANDHARI: I know your son was a great devotee of the Lord and a visionary. I suspect you have many stories hidden in your heart.
SATYAVATI: Oh, yes. An old woman knows many stories. One day, sometime later, another handsome man came to visit my father, His name was, Shantanu. He was a king and he also was attracted by my beauty and wanted to marry me. (Pause) I finally married King Shantanu soon after. We had two sons named Citrasena and Vichraverya who both died untimely. There were no heirs to the royal throne. I was very sad because I knew that the dynasty would come to an end.
(She and Gandhari stop. At one end of the stage, Draupadi and Queen Kunti stand together looking out over the battlefield, their backs to the audience Draupadi's head is covered with her sari cloth.)
GANDHARI: (Looking about) Why have we stopped?
SATYAVATI: Over there, I see two women.
GANDHARI: (Somewhat distraught) But I thought no one would be here. Anyone we know?
SATYAVATI: I can't tell.
GANDHARI: (Hesitant) Should we leave?
SATYAVATI: Whatever for, dear? Come. We have already arrived.
(As they slowly walk near them, DRAUPADI turns to QUEEN KUNTI.)
DRAUPADI: It is hard to believe this vast field was soaked with the blood of so many warriors, so many women searching amongst the dead for their husbands, brothers and sons. I am quite fortunate that my husbands returned safely, or my tears would have soaked the ground as well.
QUEEN KUNTI: Unlike poor Subhadra. She still laments the loss of her only son, Abhimanyu. Arjuna does also.
DRAUPADI: I remember the day Arjuna left for the battlefield. Krishna was his chariot driver. He told me I should not fear. He said that his bow Gandiva would protect him. I know he would have gladly given up his life for his son.
QUEEN KUNTI: I told you of course about my other son, Karna, who died here also. He was a valiant soul. He did not know I was his mother. That was long ago. When I finally broke my vow and told Arjuna that it was he who killed his half-brother on the battlefield, he felt great remorse (She sees Gandhari and Satyavati approaching) Someone is coming this way.
DRAUPADI: (Turns to look and is somewhat dismayed) It's Gandhari. Why is she here? And who is with her?
QUEEN KUNTI: (Looks) I don't know.
DRAUPADI: I wish she wasn't here.
(They look away. Satyavati and Gandhari stop near them. They too, look out over the battlefield, their backs to the audience. There is a moment's silence.)
SATYAVATI: As I was saying, because my two sons died untimely, and the fact that my husband, King Shantanu, was cursed to not have any children, I called upon my son again, Vyasadeva. He was kind enough to conceive two sons from the womb of Ambika and Ambalika.
GANDHARI: Yes, your two daughters-in-law.
SATAYAVATI: One of the sons was your blind husband, King Dhrtarashtra.
DRAPAUDI: (Overhearing them) Must you mention his name?
SATYAVATI: (Looks over at her) I beg your pardon. Who are you?
DRAUPADI: (She takes off her cloth, exposing her face and turns to her) Queen Draupadi. (Pause) My father King Draupada, died on this very battlefield a year ago.
GANDHARI: (Upset) Draupadi?
SATYAVATI: (Moves closer to her) Ah, yes...the wife of the five Pandava brothers. I didn't recognize you.
GANDHARI: You may mourn the death of your father Draupadi, but I lost 100 sons and many grandchildren in this war. I am still mourning their deaths.
DRAUPADI: (With slight contempt) And whose fault was that?
GANDHARI: (Coldly) Certainly not I.
SATYAVATI: (Somewhat nervous sensing their enmity) Now where was I? Oh, yes. My other stepdaughter gave birth to a very pale looking child.
QUEEN KUNTI: That would be my husband, King Pandu. I became the mother of the Pandavas, after his second wife Madri, entered the funeral pyre upon his death.
SATYAVATI: Indeed. He died of tuberculosis. Nakula and Sahadeva became your stepsons. You must be Queen Kunti then, Krishna's aunt.
QUEEN KUNTI: That is correct. I was then blessed to conceive Arjuna, Yudhisthira and Bhisma.
(Satyavati leaves Gandhari's side and walks closer to Queen Kunti)
SATYAVATI: Ah, the demigods were most kind to you. Well, it seems that fate has brought us all together today.
GANDHARI: At least Draupadi's husbands lived. They spared no mercy in slaughtering all my sons.
DRAUPADI: (Sarcastically) As they should have.
SATYAVATI: (Trying to break the tension between them) Now, now please. We have not come to argue. We have come to honor the dead. (Looks at Gandhari, trying to change subject) My son spoke of this war many years before. In trance, he could hear the wailing of many widows.
DRAUPADI: (Looks out over the field) Sometimes war is necessary to uproot the evil elements in society. (At Gandhari) As I recall, Gandhari, Lord Krishna tried to reason with your son to prevent this war. But he refused. He was greedy for power at any cost.
GANDHARI: (Moves a bit closer to Draupadi, confronting her) Why must you be so bitter, Draupadi? You of all women should know about loss. When you speak of "evil elements" I fear you are referring to my sons who were forced to act due to circumstances beyond their control.
DRAUPADI: You must think me naive. You know as well as I do that your first born, Duryodhana, was ambitious and cruel. He controlled the Kuru dynasty with an iron fist. It was he who brought about this war, yet you regarded him as your favorite son!
GANDHARI: (Looks over at Draupadi) I knew Duryodhana was an atrocious ruler. One night I saw him nervously pacing back and forth in his chamber room. He was in anxiety thinking about ways in which to defeat the Pandavas. I told him, "O son, where dharma, right conduct exists, victory also exists. If you like to win, follow the path of dharma." (Sadly) But he could not.
QUEEN KUNTI: I heard when he was born, he cried like a jackal and there were ill omens. In fact, the great saint Vidura, your husband's brother, urged you to abandon the child or he would be the cause of destruction for the Kuru dynasty.
GANDHARI: Vidura was the son of a maidservant and thus, my husband never heeded his warnings. He counseled my husband but he could never ascend the throne being born from a maidservant.
DRAUPADI: Better if you had abandoned Duryodhana. Perhaps this war could have been averted and we would not be standing here today lamenting the deaths of so many.
GANDHARI: I could not abandon him due to a mother's love and attachment for her child. (Looks toward Draupadi) Would you have abandoned your sons, Draupadi, or you, Queen Kunti? I think not. How quick we are to judge others. (Pause) If you must know, I was never in favor of my sons' victory over the Pandavas nor did I approve of this war. But when I heard about the death of my 100 sons I was in such anguish that naturally, I poured down curses on the Pandavas and especially your husbands like torrents of rain. Who could blame a mother for that?
QUEEN KUNTI: Your son wanted world domination. He inflicted many sufferings upon us. Once he said he would not give my sons their share of the empire or enough land "as could fit on the head of a pin."
DRAUPADI: (Moves to Gandhari) Do you recall how we were all exiled to a forest for thirteen long years? (Angrily) Thirteen years! As if our exile wasn't good enough for your son, he once hired a man to burn down our house with lac along with their mother here.
QUEEN KUNTI: As well as a poison cake. We were even attacked by cannibals! These were some of the many sins perpetrated by Duryodhana that led to the Battle of Kuruksetra.
DRAUPADI: (Goes to Gandhari) She's right. Duryodhana was the cruelest of your sons. It was he who arranged the crooked gambling match! You do remember that day don't you?
GANDHARI: My husband could not control the behavior of his children. Unfortunately, he became an accomplice to their evil deeds. (Looks toward Draupadi) I was helpless, unable to stop it.
DRAUPADI: Were you truly that helpless?
GANDHARI: You may not believe me. Later, I chastised my son Duryodhana for his rudeness and tried to control him from going astray. (Pitifully) But no one can save a moth attracted to a flame. (Looks at her). I saw these weaknesses in my son even when he was a small child. Duryodhana was always my husband's favorite. He dismissed any advice I had to offer. However, I believe it was you who cursed my son.
DRAUPADI: Yes! And let me tell you why. Long before the gambling match your husband desired me. He was jealous of my husbands and wanted to have me for himself. This added fuel to his fiery temper. He even told me I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
GANDHARI: That is foolishness! Could it be that your royal upbringing and beauty has deluded you? My son had many women. He didn't need you.
DRAUPADI: I laughed at him anyway. (Pause) One day he was put to shame because he mistakenly fell into a pond of water in my husband's palace thinking it was a polished floor of marble. He was drenched! Everyone laughed. But for some reason, Duryodhana's eyes looked at me and grew red like fire! He burned with shame and vowed punishment and stormed out of the great hall.
GANDHARI: My son was humiliated. You mustn't forget, although you may despise him, Duryodhana was a highly respected diplomat and soldier.
DRAUPADI: That may be. But sometime later, Duryodhana sent an invitation to one of my husbands, Yudhisthira. It was an invitation to play dice. He was very fond of gambling. A weakness your son knew about. He also knew my husband was duty-bound to accept an invitation from the royal court. I saw you there at the gambling match that day but you did not come to my aid. You, as a woman should have defended my honor.
GANDHARI: (Flatly) I could not.
DRAUPADI: I don't believe you.
GANDHARI: (Off-handedly) I was against the match from the very beginning.
DRAUPADI: Nevertheless, because Duryodhana was jealous of my husband's magical palace in Indraprastha, he commissioned Maya Dhanava, the great architect of the nether regions to build him a grand new hall to lure Yudhisthira.
GANDHARI: So what? My husband had commissioned many palaces during his reign.
DRAUPADI: It was a plot conceived to strip us of our rightful kingdom. Duryodhana also wanted to show-off his opulence. Do you remember your brother, the hunch-backed Sakuni?
(The sound of the large crowd can be heard on AUDIO.)
GANDHARI: Yes, what of it?
DRAUPADI: He was a cunning old fox wasn't he? (Looks at Gandhari) You knew this! He used the bones of his dead father in the gambling match. He said that they possessed magic powers and obeyed his every command. He was a master at the sport and played for many years. He induced Duryodhana to set up the match so he could play with Yudhisthira knowing full well my husband would lose. Sakuni cheated my husband!
GANDHARI: (As an aside) Purely speculation on your part.
DRAUPADI: I don't think so. When the day finally came, the crowd in the hall was feverish. Every time Sakuni threw the dice and yelled, "Won!" the crowd would roar. Yudhisthira went on losing the match. It seemed to last forever. He offered his chariots, horses and elephants as stakes, and lost all of them! He lost all his royal treasures! He even offered his servants and his whole kingdom! And lost! (Walks very close to Gandhari) My husbands would become the slaves of the Kuru King.
DRAUPADI: (Moves back a bit) Suddenly, your son burst into laughter and shouted, "Draupadi is now my servant! Drag her here!" My husbands were shocked, but helpless. Yudhisthira now regretted his unjust action and bent his head in shame, feeling guilty. I was lost to the Kurus in a game of dice! Of course, Yudhisthira had no right to offer me as a stake. (Looks back at Gandhari) Duryodhana told his messenger that I was a servant woman and that I had a short tongue. He ordered his guards to drag me from my apartment by the hair and into the assembly hall and threw me on the floor! Bhima, my other husband, wanted your son's head right then and there! I held up my hand to stop him. "No!" I shouted. I knew that violence would only beget more violence. I didn't want more enmity between our families.
GANDHARI: (Insincerely) How kind of you.
DRAUPADI: (Walks close to Gandhari looking her straight in her blindfolded eyes) I looked your son in the eye and said, (With vehemence) "Where righteousness and justice do not exist, it ceases to be a court; it is a gang of robbers!" Your son looked at me and laughed cruelly. He then yelled, "A servant need no queenly robes. Snatch her sari!"
GANDHARI: (Covers her ears) Stop! I don't want to hear anymore!
DRAUPADI: ((She goes over and pulls her hands away from her ears.) I will not stop! You of all people should hear my anguish! Your son tried to strip me naked in the great hall! (Looks away) Dushasana, my own brother-in-law, should have respected me but instead hurled insults at me and began to pull at my sari. I tried to pull away! I begged all the elders to protect me! I could not hold back my tears, being humiliated in front of hundreds of people. I shouted at them all, (Shouts) "To be dishonored is to die! Please save me!" (Normal tone) I turned to my five husbands. I looked at Arjuna and said, "My father had faith in the strength of your arms and gave me to you. In an open assembly I am being dishonored, but you sit with folded arms. Are you not ashamed? Will no one protect me?" I looked up, sobbing, and pleaded, "O Lord Krishna! You are always kind to your worshipers. Please do not forsake me! O protector of the helpless. You are my one hope! O Krishna, Krishna! Please help me!" I closed my eyes and fixed my mind on Lord Krishna. Dushasana kept pulling at my sari but then...
(She turns round and round and round and round.)
As the sari started unraveling, Lord Krsna who was unseen, gave me more and more and more and more and more cloth.
QUEEN KUNTI: It was a miracle!
DRUPADI: The sari rose in a huge heap on the floor. Duryodhana and those gathered were shocked. (Looks at Gandhari) But your son's pride would not come down. He said, "So the sari has become endless." He patted his thigh. (She pats her thigh) "You are still a servant in my palace." I felt revenge in my heart and cursed him.
"You will die with a broken thigh! Only after you are punished for this sin, will I tie up my hair. Not till then!" (Pause. Calmly.) They said the assembly hall trembled. The earth shook and comets filled the sky. There were ill omens on all sides. (Looks at Gandhari) This is how I came to curse your son. (Pause) When we were all exiled into a forest for thirteen years I had to give up my palace and walk on thorns and stones. I wore the barks of trees, stripped of my title. I was nameless and faceless...a queen in name only.
GANDHARI: (Casually) We must all atone for our sins, Draupadi.
DRAUPADI: I think it will take a million births before you can be forgiven for your sins. As for me, what sins have I committed?
GANDHARI: If you must know, some have said that the war was actually fought because of you.
DRAUPADI: If that were so, it would be a burden much greater than I could bear. Whoever said that is terribly misinformed.
QUEEN KUNTI: The Pandavas were victorious because they were pious and righteous from birth. God was on their side.
GANDHARI: That's absurd! God would not be so vindictive.
SATYAVATI: (Comes forward) I don't know. My son once told me that Krishna was God almighty Himself in human form. (Stating a fact) He did side with the Pandavas while still remaining neutral.
DRAUPADI: It was a well-known fact that Krishna thought of Arjuna as a devotee and a very dear friend. They were more like brothers than cousins. Later, after the war, Arjuna told me something confidential. He said that Krishna revealed to him a fantastic form while he was seated on his chariot. At first he was frightened but after beholding it, Arjuna said, "O Krishna, You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the primal God, transcendental and original."
GANDHARI: Are you saying that Krishna arranged the war?
DRAUPADI: I only know what I hear. I'll let others decide for themselves.
GANDHARI: There were many events that led to the war. Even if what you say is true, Krishna was very close to many members of the royal household. He treated everyone as equals.
DRAUPADI: It doesn't matter. The war is over. My husbands won and Yudhisthira is king. That should speak for itself.
GANDHARI: (Pause. Contemplates this a moment) Perhaps my son was born unlucky then, a victim of... karmic destiny. (Pause) Every day during the great battle Duryodhana would say, "O mother, I am going to the battlefield, kindly bless me to win." (Pause) But he did not win. Nor did my other sons whom I loved just as dearly. (Looks toward Draupadi) You talk of shame and humiliation, Draupadi. But I too have sacrificed much. My father Subala was the king of Gandhara. He was also a strict disciplinarian. I therefore grew up with a strong sense of duty and never broke a vow. I always felt that a Queen should teach her subjects by example. I also learned something that can't always be taught...tolerance and forgiveness. (Pause) Have you, Draupadi?
DRAUPADI: (Looks up at her) Have I what?
GANDHARI: Learned to forgive?
DRAUPADI: (Thinking a moment) I don't know. I often pray to God that I may find it within my heart to forgive. I don't know if I can forgive the Kurus for what they did.
GANDHARI: (Walks a bit, then looks out over the battlefield) After Lord Siva granted me a boon to become the mother of 100 sons, I did not realize then, they would all be killed on this battlefield. It was like some...some trick that my happiness would turn to grief.
SATYAVATI: (Easing her hurt) My son, Vyasadeva knew this. He led you and Dhrtarashtra, to the sacred Ganges River one evening to appease you and summon the names of your dead sons, as well as the others who had been slain in the war. We were all there.
GANDHARI: Yes, I remember. How could I ever forget their names? They were on my lips daily. (Calling out some names) "Drona!" "Kripa!" "Karna!" "Duryodhana." (Curiously) They all appeared, one after the other. I wanted them to stay and never leave me. I wanted to hold them as I did when they were children, nursing them from my bosom. But with the morning, those who came from other worlds, disappeared! Of course, I never saw them with my own eyes although I could have removed my cloth. When I heard that I was to marry my blind husband, I took a vow to blindfold my eyes for the remainder of my life. My logic was, "If my husband cannot have the pleasure of seeing, then why should I?"