[INDOLOGY] Draupadii and polyandry

Simon Brodbeck BrodbeckSP at cardiff.ac.uk
Thu Oct 25 11:51:15 UTC 2018

Dear Professor Houben,

In this connection there is a book by Sarva Daman Singh entitled Polyandry in Ancient India (Motilal Banarsidass, 1978). There are also some enthological comments on the last few pages of A. N. Jani’s paper (“Socio-Moral Implications of Draupadi’s Marriage to Five Husbands”) in Bimal Krishna Matilal, ed., Moral Dilemmas in the Mahabharata (Indian Institute of Advanced Study / Motilal Banarsidass, 1989).

After the Pandavas have already decided they will all marry Draupadi, the link from this particular polyandric marriage to other such marriages is apparently made by Yudhishthira, in amongst a battery of other explanations for it, when he addresses Drupada at Mbh 1.187.28cd: pUrveSAm AnupUrvyeNa yAtaM vartmAnuyAmahe (“We follow one after the other the path that was travelled by the Ancient”, trans. van Buitenen). In context this is a general comment on what one can do given the subtlety of dharma: the previous line reads sUkSmo dharmo mahArAja nAsya vidmo vayaM gatim (“The law is subtle, great king, and we do not know its course”). But the comment can be taken to imply polyandric precedents. Drupada seems to deny that there are precedents (or at least respectable ones) when he says to Vyasa: na cApy AcaritaH pUrvair ayaM dharmo mahAtmabhiH (“Nor has this Law been practiced by the Ancient of great spirits”, Mbh 1.188.8ab). But Yudhishthira then gives the example (zrUyate hi purANe 'pi) of Jatila Gautami who “lay with the Seven Seers” (Mbh 1.188.14). Jatila as Draupadi’s precursor in this regard is mentioned also by the women of Hastinapura at Mbh 12.39.5. But this precursor is evidently in the realm of distant mythology, not the realm of contemporaneous practice.

Simon Brodbeck
Cardiff University

From: INDOLOGY [mailto:indology-bounces at list.indology.info] On Behalf Of Jan E.M. Houben via INDOLOGY
Sent: 24 October 2018 21:59
To: Indology <indology at list.indology.info>
Subject: [INDOLOGY] Draupadii and polyandry

Dear All,
According to the Vedic Index of A.A. Macdonell and A.B. Keith, vol. I p. 479, "polyandry is not Vedic" (with obligatory references to extremely sporadic exceptions such as in the RV "wedding hymn"). Then in the Mahabharata there is suddenly the major character of Draupadii/Krsnaa marrying all five Pandava brothers. I am aware of the two volumes of Alf Hiltebeitel which are an excellent ethnographic study of the Draupadii cult in South India. However, what are currently the most important philological studies of the background of this character and of polyandry itself in late Vedic, post Vedic and epic/Puranic texts? Apart from purely/mainly structuralist approaches (Biardeau), I would be interested in explorations of whether the problematic presence of polyandry in the Mahabharata and elsewhere may imply a reference to contemporaneous (Mahabharata time) practices (just as the reference to Nagas burnt in the Khandava forest was taken as more than just an element needed in the narrative: it would also have been a reference to forest tribes and conflicting modes of resource use acc. to Irawati Karve and to Gadgil & Guha).
With best regards,
Jan Houben

Jan E.M. Houben

Directeur d'Études, Professor of South Asian History and Philology

Sources et histoire de la tradition sanskrite

École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE, PSL - Université Paris)

Sciences historiques et philologiques

54, rue Saint-Jacques, CS 20525 – 75005 Paris

johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr<mailto:johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr>

johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu<mailto:johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu>


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