Plenty of poignant moments: The romantic, courageous and aggressive anti-heroes from the Puranas such as Ravana, Duryodhana, Keechaka and Narakasura who represent ‘rajas’ attributes, took centre stage in the intimate space of Rukmini Arangam. (A quote from The Hindu news paper, Sept 29, 2011)
Many of us would know the story of Keechaka. I remember watching plays and movies based on puranas and invariably the so-called anti-heroes were more dramatic and very colourful, while the heroes were often pale. As a kid I would be fascinated by these scary characters. Invariably the best actors would perform these negative roles. They were strong personalities with large eyes and huge moustaches added to it they had a loud stentorian voice and a wicked laughter. Predictably they continue fascinate us!
Pandavas have managed to stay incognito for ten months. It has not been easy for Draupadi to work as the maid of queen Sudheshne . One day while Draupadi is running an errand, the queen's brother Keechaka, the commander of the army, has a glimpse of her and is instantly smitten. He promptly propositions her and being ever complacent about his own attractiveness to women, tries to entice her with sweet words. 'You beautiful woman! Your youth and beauty unused, is a sheer waste. I will give up all my wives for your sake. You can even put them to use as your maids. And even I will be your slave. Just be mine!'
Draupadi will have none of it. Berates him for his insolent proposal and adds 'I belong to a lower caste, just a maid and a wife of another. While I am weak, five gandharvas protect me.' and warns him 'If provoked, they will kill you. Do not risk your life needlessly.'
Unable to bear this rejection, Keechaka goes to his sister and declares his infatuation and pleads with her to help him. 'You must arrange a meeting! If not, I will die!' Seeing his misery and desparation, her heart melts. 'I will send her to you to bring me some wine, try and win over her when she is alone'. She then commands a very reluctant Draupadi to go over to her brother's house on a pretext of bringing a specially prepared drink to quench her thirst.
Draupadi does not want to go. 'Madam I afraid to go. I know that he lusts after me and he is not bashful or one to hesitate. I am sure he will try to violate me and bring me disgrace. Please send someone else!' Sudheshne does not agree, 'Nothing will happen to you as I am sending you! Go!' So Draupadi goes, very afraid, crying and finally resigns herself to the will of god and prays 'I have not known anyone but my husbands, let this truth protect me from being overpowered by him!'
Keechaka is overwhelmed by desire as soon as he sees her at his doorstep and not one to waste time welcomes her with 'Sairendhri! Welcome! Tonight is going to be meaningful! Come and make me happy' Draupadi tells him that she is just there to collect a drink for her queen who is very thirsty. Keechaka tells her not to worry about it as he would send someone else and grabs her hand.
Draupadi reacts fast by jerking her hand free and pushes him down and runs out towards the court of the king. An infuriated Keechaka chases, gets hold of her hair as she keeps running, trips her down with a kick right in front of the king. Yudhisthira and Bheema are at the sabha and Bheema gnashes his teeth in anger and Yudhisthira signals Bheema to remind him of their need to remain incognito and Bheema is constrained to hold his temper.
Draupadi unable to control herself, crying, indirectly addresses her silent husbands, who are constrained by their need to keep their identity a secret. 'This son of a chieftain has kicked a woman of honor. Where are her powerful husbands hiding? How is it they are being cowardly and acting impotent when I am kicked by this wicked man. There is no point in calling him unrighteous, while the so called righteous men are silent and are, in reality, the wicked ones'. She then directly addresses the king and is very critical of him and the people in the assembly for failing to stop Keechaka's indecent behaviour. She urges the king to ask whole court to reflect on this atrocity and come to a conclusion.
But the king Virata, unwilling to confront Keechaka, refuses to get involved, 'Sairendhri your fight did not take place in front of us. So is it right to decide without knowing the true facts?' and becomes silent. The courtiers seem unhappy and are critical of Keechaka. Even Yudhisthira is angry and manages to control himself. He breaks into a sweat with the effort and tells Draupadi, 'Sairendhri, do not stand here. Go and be with Sudheshne. It is the duty of a 'Veerapatnis' to follow their husbands. I believe that your husbands have decided that it is not the time to get upset. So please go! Do not come in the way of the king's game of dice. Gandharvas will take care to placate you at the right time!'
Draupadi totally upset and distraught, eyes red with anger and crying, runs to the queen's chamber. Sudheshne seeing Draupadi asks, 'Why are you crying? Who upset you?' Draupadi replies, 'When I went to collect your drink, your brother Keechaka did something in public what is done in private! He kicked me, right in front of the king in the royal court.' Sudheshne tries to console Draupadi with, 'If you like, I will see that my brother, who got carried away with his passion for you, is punished for ill-treating you.' Draupadi, still seething with anger retorts, 'Let it be! There are others to punish him. He is sure to depart from this world today. I know that for sure!' and walks out.