Keechaka spent the whole day in anticipation of his meeting with Sairendhri and it felt like a month as he waited for the night to fall. He never imagined that she would be the cause of his death as he got ready to meet her. He was dressed for the occasion, his body covered with sandal paste and decked with garlands.
Impatient, Keechaka enters the dancing hall as soon as it is dark. Sees a fully covered figure on the cot and as he touches the reclining person, he whispers happily, 'Today, you will experience a beautiful man. Women who have come to me have said there is none better than me.'
Bheema who was lying in wait, laughs and jumps on Keechaka and after a brief and intense fight, kills him and pounds him into a pulp in sheer anger. He then calls out to Draupadi 'Come and see the condition of this lecher!', calms down and gets back in to the kitchen.
Draupadi immediately shouts for help as she announces 'Ayyo! The lustful Keechaka has been killed by my Gandharava husbands!' The watchmen and then his family gather around the pounded and bloodied body of Keechaka. They conclude it is indeed the handiwork of the gandharvas and after a bout of wailing and crying get ready to cremate the body.
Seeing Draupadi, supporting herself against a pillar, their anguish turns into anger. 'It is because of her Keechaka was killed. Let us kill her'. Then one of them suggests 'Let us burn her along with Keechaka. I am sure he will like that better.' The relatives hold her captive and seek permission from king Virata to burn her. The king, aware of their strength agrees.
Draupadi is again in great danger. As she is carried away, she shouts for help calling out the code names of the pandavas. Bheema hears her and shouts back, 'I heard you Sairendhri. Don't be scared! I am coming.'
Bheema follows them in disguise and on the way uproots a tree and chases after them. One look at him, the very scared Keehaka's men, thinking he is a gandharva, release Draupadi and run back towards the town. Bheema relentless, follows them, kills altogether a hundred and five of them and tells Draupadi 'There is no fear now. You can go back.' and returns to the kitchen from a different route.
The citizens are now very worried for their safety and approach the king and inform him about the hundred men killed by the gandharvas and of Draupadi being freed. They speak of their fear of the gandhravas and want the king to do something about it. The king does not want to take a risk of offending the gandharavas by talking to Draupadi directly, asks the queen to tell her to leave town.
As a very nervous Draupadi walks back, the women and men run away from her as she nears them.
Draupadi meets the queen and she is told about the worries of the king and his desire that she leave town. Draupadi pleads with the queen to allow her to stay for another thirteen days, when her husbands will be free to meet her and promises that her husbands will be very grateful and will thank them properly for their kindness. The queen agrees!
As I blog about Mahabharata my questions about the shocking behaviours of most kings were explained by a friend as normal, 'During Vyasa's times, molestation of women and rape( + kidnapping) was common. The powerful did this as a routine. The immorality of high society was accepted by the helpless.'
And another friend spoke of an incident in recent history, wherein parents whisked away a pretty teenager from the precincts of a palace. She had strayed by mistake into the inner rooms of the palace and they did not want to risk her being seen by the powerful men in the palace. Obviously people in power have a different set of rules.
The story of Draupadi does intrigue me. It seems she is the only queen singled out for all the indignities perpetrated against women. So what is it about Draupadi? She is different, she is dark skinned, she emerged a full grown woman from a sacrificial fire. She is married to five men. She is a strong personality and is unafraid to ask questions! In short a challenge to all the males and to the alpha males in particular!
It is said she is the most written about woman of our epics. There are many versions. There is even a version by the Bheel tribals. Interpretations by the pious, the feminists, the psychologists, the liberated, the prurient and the list is endless! When I first read about the pandavas being asked by their mother to share what they had brought, none of these were really issues for me!
Being part of a very middle class society, where most women, stay home mothers, waited for their husbands to come home after work, the scene was very different. The women would wait at the gate, having a chat with the other waiting women. The moment the man of the house, appeared, either walking or an a bicycle, the woman would rush back home, conversations dropped at whatever point. We kids avoided fathers as a rule, some fathers were pretty obnoxious and their sons would stop playing and slink home. I do not think we even thought about it, but if we did, it would be: 'Why would any sensible woman choose to deal with five such obnoxious characters!'