Translated by Usha Rajagopalan. Translator’s Note:
Panchali Sabadham is based on the pivotal Game of Dice incident in the Indian epic Mahabharata. If the Mahabharata celebrates the victory of good over evil, Panchali Sabadham is an affirmation of the supreme power of the Mother Goddess who alone can tame the beast in man.
It has the epic features of invocation, larger than life heroes and anti-heroes, evocative language and timeless theme of confrontation between good and evil. The five Pandavas are married to Draupadi, daughter of King Panchala and so also called Panchali. They are noble and brave unlike their cousins, the Kauravas, sons of the blind king Dhritarashtra. Duryodhana, eldest of the 100 Kauravas, envies the love people shower on the Pandavas and wants to dethrone them. Once at the palace of the Pandavas, he mistakes a decorated indoor pond for a floral carpet and steps on it. Draupadi sees him fall into the water and bursts into laughter. Duryodhana is insulted and decides to teach her a lesson.
Panchali Sabadham takes up the narrative from this point. Guided by his evil uncle, Duryodhana invites the Pandavas for a game of dice. In a series of games manipulated by the villainous duo, Yudhisthira, eldest of the Pandavas, stakes and loses his wealth, kingdom, brothers, himself and finally Draupadi to the exultant Kauravas. Duryodhana summons Draupadi but she refuses to come to the Royal Hall before the King and the courtiers. Enraged at this, his brother Dushasana storms into her chamber, drags Draupadi by her long hair to the assembly and begins to disrobe her. She prays to Sri Krishna for help and He makes her sari of such infinite length that the cloth piles on the ground but Draupadi’s modesty is intact. Dushasana is exhausted and gives up the struggle but Draupadi cannot withhold her fury any longer. She denounces Duryodhana for his barbarity, censures Yudhisthira for pawning her away, his brothers for passively watching the atrocity committed on her and pledges not to tie her hair till she has smeared it with blood from Dushasana’s breast. She proves indeed that Hell has no fury like a woman scorned. Dhritarashtra fears for his sons’ lives and tries to appease Draupadi by granting her a wish. She asks for the Pandavas to be freed from bondage and leaves the palace with them. Mahabharata continues with the Pandavas’ hardships till with Sri Krishna’s help, they defeat the Kauravas and establish the supremacy of good over evil.
In the excerpt, Dhritarashtra has failed in his attempt to make Duryodhana see reason and not provoke the brave Pandavas. Duryodhana accuses his father of favouring his cousins and threatens to kill himself if the king does not invite the Pandavas to the palace.
Part 1, Canto 1
He, Dhritarashtra, of mature knowledge,
Holding the spear of victory in his hand,
Endowed with clear vision within himself.
He, Dhritarashtra, for whom Vidura’s great
Sagacity is yet another pair of eyes indeed,
Tried to make the fool of his son see reason.
Tried to persuade and appeal to him, to wean
Him from the spell of his uncle’s evil words.
Like the patient who thwarts the physician
Declining the treatment which will cure
A deadly disease releasing along great heat;
And the learned medic is helpless, defeated,
So too this son refused to listen to his father,
Remained hell bent on destroying himself.
The counsel that would have melted a stone
Only served to fan the flames of his son’s ire.
He who sports a serpent on his hoisted flag
Reared up and hissed like that very snake.
“Can there be a father anywhere in the world
Who would want to sin against his own son?
To him, my parent, I am as bitter as the neem
But they, the Pandavas, are sweeter than sugar.
He praises them even when they transgress
And censures me for seeking to prosper.
“The law pertaining to a king is one.
That for his subjects is yet another,”
Had said Brihaspati no less and yet
This man here deems Him to be a fool.
He prattles nonsense of this and that,
Tells mere tales about clan and friendship.
He takes me for a worthless bit of straw
And thinks I cannot break them ever.
Enjoy pleasures fit for the celestials, he says,
Gastronomic delights, fleshly rapture, he says,
Rule over the land with seasoned ministers
And find happiness in life, he says.
Coveting others’ wealth and sinking into despair
is foolish, childishly naïve, he says.
Of all the kings well versed in monarchy,
there’s not one to match our father’s skills.
Venereal pleasures are mine he says
Sovereignty over the world is theirs.
Good rice and fragrant ghee are for me
Acclaimed glory belongs to them he says.
Is there any father like him anywhere
Who shows such affection on his son?
With Pandavas for brothers dear as life
And you as father, what more do I want?
I know not the subtleties of speech
Nor aim to win a verbal battle with you.
Can one peel a fibre from granite stone?
Is it possible to make you see reason?
Kill me, do whatever is your wish
I will not give up what my heart desires.
I’d rather die than watch the rise of those
menial Pandavas and sing in their praise.
I am not going to argue with you
But listen to just one word of mine –
There’s still a way to succeed
With no danger falling on us.
We’ll invite them to a game of dice
And make them lose all they have.
Raising no objections to this plan
Adopt my thought as yours indeed.
Translated By Usha Rajagopalan.