A Buddhist tale of Draupadi

by Naomi

So, in actual fact Draupadī is not one of the shared characters that features in my research. (More on what is going in my project monograph shortly.) But while looking at some jātaka mentions of Kṛṣṇa, Rāma, et al, I came across the reference to Draupadī (there called Kaṇhā) in the Kuṇāla Jātaka. The verse, which is fairly well known, holds up Draupadī as an example of the wickedness of women, since despite having five husbands (listed with their names familiar from the epic) she still lusted after a sixth, a hunchback dwarf no less. What seems to be less known is that, hidden in the word commentary to the verses, and thus not included in the translation of Cowell et al, is a fuller prose narrative of Draupadī’s misdemeanours. Although not strictly speaking of relevance to my current research, I couldn’t resist bashing out a draft translation of this story, and share it with you here in case it is of interest, or entertainment value!

I translate the version as it appears in the CSCD edition on http://www.tipitaka.org.

Draupadi in the Kunāla Jātaka (536)

“I have seen, friend Puṇṇamukha, Kaṇhā of double-parentage and five husbands, set her mind on a sixth man, one who was barrel-like/headless (kabandha) and crippled.”

And here too there is a further saying:

Kings A(tha)jjuna, Nakula, Bhīmasena, Yudhiṭṭhila and Sahadeva:

These were her five husbands. Yet the wife wished for more and got up to no good with a hunchbacked dwarf.

… [ some intervening verses ] …

[Commentary to the verses:] “I have seen” means: It is said that in the past Brahmadatta the king of Kāsi, with his army, seized the kingdom of Kosala and had the king of Kosala killed. He seized his chief wife, who was pregnant, and went to Vārāṇasī. There he took the chief wife as his own, and in due course she gave birth to a daughter. Now the king had no natural daughter or son, so he was pleased and said, “My dear, take a boon.” She accepted it and set it aside.

Now that princess was given the name “Kaṇhā”, and when she was of age her mother said to her, “My dear, your father gave me a boon, and I took it and set it aside. You should do as you please with it.” She said to her mother, having no shame or remorse for her great lust, “Mama, there is nothing else lacking for me: hold a svayamvara (‘self-choice’) for the purpose of getting me a husband.” She addressed the king. The king, having said, “She should take a husband according to her liking,” had the svayamvara proclaimed. A great many men assembled in the royal courtyard, all adorned with ornaments. Kaṇhā took a basket of flowers and stood at the highest window, looking out, but she did not like anyone.

At that time Ajjuna of the family of King Paṇḍu, and Nakula, Bhīmasena, Yudhiṭḥila and Sahadeva, these five sons of King Paṇḍu, having learnt the crafts in the presence of a world-famous teacher in Takkasilā, were wandering around [thinking] “We will understand the conduct in the country.” They entered Vārāṇasī and heard the hullabaloo inside the city. Enquiring, they found out what was happening. “We too will go there!” Looking like golden statues they went there and stood in a line. Seeing them, Kaṇhā became enamoured with all five of them, and having thrown garlands over all five of their heads she said, “Mama, I desire these five men.” She again went to speak to the king. The king, though he was not pleased, because he had given the boon did not say “I will not have this!” He asked, “Of which family are you the sons?” and learning that they were the sons of King Paṇḍu he paid them honour and gave them their wife.

She, in a seven-storey palace, was filled by the power of lust. And she had one servant who was humpbacked and crippled. Having associated, because of her lust, with the five princes, after they had gone she seized the opportunity and, thoroughly inflamed, she sinned with the hunchback. Speaking with him she said, “There is nobody as dear to me as you. Having had the princes killed, I will have your feet annointed with the blood from their throats!” But to the others, when it was time for intercourse with the older brother she said, “You are dearer to me than these four. I would even abandon my life for you. I will have the kingdom given to you alone after my father’s death.” And when it was time for intercourse with the others it was the same plan. They were very pleased with her: “She is devoted to me, and the rulership is near.”

One day she became ill, and they attended upon her, one sitting stroking her head, the others each taking a hand or foot, and the hunchback sat at her feet. While Prince Ajjuna, the oldest brother, was stroking her head, [in order to say]: “There is nobody dearer to me than you. While I live, I will live for you/as yours. When my father passes away I will have the kingdom given to you!” she favoured him by giving a sign with her head, while to the others she gave a sign with her hands or feet. And to the hunchback she gave a sign with her tongue: “You are so dear to me, I live for you!” And so they all understood the matter from her signs and what she had said to them before. The rest of them each understood only the sign given to himself, but Prince Ajjuna saw the movement in her hands, feet and tongue and thought, “Just as for me, she has given a sign to these others as well, and there is even intimacy between her and the hunchback.” He took his brothers outside and asked, “Did you see the one with five husbands display a movement of the head for me?” “Yes, we saw.” “Do you know the reason for this?” “No, we do not know.” “This here is the reason. But do you understand the reason for the signs she gave to you with her hands and feet?” “Yes, we know that.” “It is the same reason for me too. And do you understand the sign given with a movement of her tongue, to the hunchback?” “No, we do not understand that.” Having explained this to them he said, “She has sinned with him.” And though they did not trust him they summoned the hunchback and questioned him, and he explained the whole matter.

Having heard his words they had no more desire for her: “Oh women are evil and devoid of virtue! Having forsaken men like us, handsome and of good birth, she has done bad deeds with a hunchback of this bodily form and of contemptible family! What wise person would take pleasure in a woman, shameless and evil?” They reproached womenfolk in many ways, then, saying “Enough for us of the household life!” the five men entered the Himalayas, renounced, and set to work on kaṣina [meditations]. When their lives were over they went according to their kamma. And Kuṇāla, king of the birds, was at that time Prince Ajjuna.

2 thoughts on “A Buddhist tale of Draupadi

  1. Upali Sraman

    Very Interesting🙂 I was reading the story of Ghatapandita jataka in Pali and Kanhapetavatthu and I was wondering if it is merely a case of shared narratives with Sanskrit (or Hindu) tradition or
    an showing alternative way of reading/critiquing the narratives from a Buddhist ethical perspective.

    Reply
    1. naomiappleton Post author

      Ah yes, well that is the big question! My view on this at present is that at the time of the jataka verses, the character and his main activities were vaguely known but there was no established rival narrative tradition that needed responding to. Then as the prose was added and expanded later, it suggests either a deliberate attempt at parody and satire, or – more likely in my view – a reasonable ignorance of the better-known Brahmanical narratives. This appears to hold true for all the references to epic characters that I have explored so far, but I wouldn’t rule out a change in my perspective by the time I write up my research! Thanks for your comment. Naomi

      Reply

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