The Forgotten Queen

Disclaimer - This is a purely a work of fiction based on relevant facts. I have read and reread the Mahabharat and other texts ancillary to this epic many times. One thing that always amazes me is that so little is written about the private lives of the Kauravas. We know their personalities as sons, brothers, cousins, friends, students and warriors but not as husbands and fathers. Who were they married to? How was their relationship with their wives? Did they have children? What kind of fathers were they?

Karna has always been a very intriguing character of Mahabharata. Personally, he is my favourite. Though he is loved by most and loathed by some, one common emotion everyone feels for him is pity or sympathy for his misfortunes. He is one character in Mahabharat who seems to have had a raw deal in every aspect of his life. Despite his star qualities, he was a prisoner of destiny. This star-crossed character suffered at the hands of fate right from the time of his birth to his un-warrior-like death. Providence always played foul with him but he was gallant enough to accept it, hold his head high and keep his integrity intact. Yes, he made mistakes, but his valour and nobility of character far outweigh his blunders, which if analyzed rationally, stemmed from the constant insults and humiliation he had to face for no fault of his.

We all know him as an extremely loyal friend, a generous and benevolent Kshatriya (warrior) and a loving son to his foster parents.  But what about his domestic life? It is mentioned in Maharabharat that he was married and had sons. But who was he married to? How was she? Was he a good husband and father?

 It is interesting to note that there is very little information about Karna’s wife in the Mahabharat or in any other related books for that matter. Makes one wonder why that is so. Perhaps she was not as exalted or distinguished or beautiful as Draupadi, but she was the wife of one of the most prominent characters of Mahabharat. That fact alone merits that this forgotten queen of Angadesh should have been duly acknowledged.

This story is a humble attempt on my part to glance into the imaginary world of the forgotten queen of the venerable warrior, Angaraj Karna.  

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The Sun God did not rise today. How could he? How could he bear to see his dear child being consigned to the flames? The smell of rotting flesh and burning wood pervades every corner of Hastinapur. There are thousands of burning pyres and their cackling flames pierce the dark gloominess that hangs over this ill-fated city.

The maid has neatly laid my red wedding attire on my bed. She is waiting for me to rise so that I can once again be dressed up as a bride. My sairandhri (a specialized maid) is waiting to do up my hair. She is preparing garlands of jasmine, my favourite flowers, to adorn my long black tresses. My hands and feet will be painted with alta, a red dye used by women as a symbol of their married status. I shall dress up once again as I did decades ago to accompany my husband. The first time I followed him to Angadesh. This time I will be following him to eternity.   

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There is a festive commotion in my father’s home today. Our modest home is being decorated with flowers and rangoli. My parents are very excited and happy.

My friends are helping me get dressed in a lovely red wedding dress. My feet are being painted with alta and garlands of jasmine are being woven into my hair which has been perfumed with sandalwood.

Last evening my mother gave me a milk bath. She said that milk will make my skin smooth and shiny. Since the past one month, she has been scrubbing my body with a paste of milk cream, turmeric and sandalwood.  She says that this will make my husband happy. The scrubbing really bothers me. I hate waking up early in the morning and going through this ritual which seems to last forever. I rather sleep in, snug in my cozy bed. I don’t know if doing all this will make my husband happy or not. It certainly is not making me happy!

This morning our family priest also came to bless me, accompanied by my father. He placed his hand on my head and said,

“Sada sukhi bhavantu (May you always be happy). May God grant you the strength to face every challenge in life.”

I was surprised. Normally a typical blessing to a newly wed would be, ‘ashta-putra saubhagyawati bhava’, or ‘akhanda saubhagyawati bhava’ – May you be blessed with eight sons or May you always remain married. When I looked at him inquisitively, he just smiled and said, “Remember that up and downs are a part of life. If God gives you hardships, he will also give you the strength to face them. So stay strong, you will need it.”

I was too caught up in the excitement of my impending wedding to pay any heed to the priest’s words. At that moment, the only thing playing on my mind was the anticipation and nervousness of spending the coming night with my husband in our marital home.

My friends are all teasing me. They say I am lucky to be married to such a handsome man. They say he looks and behaves like a true Kshatriya (warrior), though he is not. The stories of his valor, generosity and good looks have been trickling down to me since the day our families decided on our match. 

Actually it was Prince Duryodhan, my brother Satyasen’s master, who proposed the match. My brother is Prince Duryodhan charioteer. The events that ultimately led to our betrothal are truly very unusual for our time.

I had actually seen my future husband some two years back on the banks of river Ganga. He was riding with his brother Shona when my friends and I almost collided with them. We were carrying pots of water. So startled was I that the pot of water fell from my head and water splashed all over my future husband. His upper garment was completely wet. I was so mortified that I could not look up to him even to apologize. I was also scared of being reprimanded by him because his bearing and clothing indicated that he was from the royal household. My friend apologized to him on my behalf. When she addressed him as Prince, My Lord told her that he was no Prince but a Suta-putra. At this my friend happily informed him that I too was a Suta-kanya, the sister of Satyasen, the best charioteer in the whole of Bharatvarsha. My Lord knew my brother well and had met him often in Hastinapur. He glanced at me for just a second and my friend says she saw in his eyes admiration, and perhaps love. As we hurried away, I saw My Lord pick up a piece of my broken pot. He then rode away without glancing back.

The second time I saw him was once again on the banks of Ganga. I had come there one early morning for my morning ablutions. As I was taking a dip in the river, a strong current pulled me inside and I found myself drowning. I started screaming for help as the waters pulled me deeper into their depths. Suddenly I felt a strong arm circling my waist and pulling me out of the water. By this time I had swallowed a lot of water and was in a semi-conscious state. I could not discern who my savior was but knew that I would be eternally grateful to him for saving my life. He pulled me to the shore and waited until I regained consciousness. When I saw that he was the same Prince I had encountered some two years ago, my head bowed down in shame. I noticed that my shoulder cloth had been swept away in the water. When I looked down, I saw his shoulder cloth lying on the sandy shore. I immediately picked it up and covered myself. A shy smile crossed My Lord’s lips and he turned away from me to spare me further embarrassment. I quickly made my retreat, too shy and red-faced to even thank him.

I hear that after that day, My Lord frequented that particular spot of our meeting regularly in hopes of catching a glimpse of me. The news of this unusual encounter somehow reached Prince Duryodhan. When he learnt of his friend’s predicament, he approached my brother Satyasen with a marriage proposal for his best friend. My brother had had the opportunity of meeting My Lord many times in Hastinapur. So impressed was he by My Lord that he was absolutely convinced that I would be a perfect match for Adhirath baba and Radha maa’s son.

My brother excitedly informed my parents regarding this marriage proposal. They were thrilled with this exceptional development. Since we both, My Lord and I, belonged to the same Suta caste, there would also be no opposition from the Panch of caste elders.  Prince Duryodhan then approached Adhirath baba and told him about his choice of bride for his best friend, Karna. Adhirath baba was more than happy to oblige because he had been pestering his eldest son to get married for some time now. The fact that his future daughter-in-law was not only a Suta-kanya but also a beautiful, virtuous and mild-mannered girl with an impeccable reputation, was truly a matter of pride for him.

When Prince Duryodhan asked his best friend if this marriage proposal was acceptable to him, he simply blushed and replied coyly that if his parents approved of me, he had no objection.

Accordingly, my future in-laws came to our ancestral home to fix our marriage. My parents received them with due honour. When I was called, I had a thousand butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Oh! How nervous I was! But when I sat next to Radha Maa, she fondly placed her hand on my head and lifted my chin. She exclaimed that I was the most beautiful girl she had ever seen and that I would be perfect for her virtuous son. Then she placed a coconut in my hand and told my mother that from that moment on, I was no longer my parent’s daughter but the betrothed of their beloved son, Vasusena. 

I am told that my future husband was adopted by his parents. The childless couple, Adhiratha and Radha, had found an enchanting baby in a box filled with gold-jewels, drifting on the waves of the Ganga while offering their morning ablutions to the Sun-God. They were overwhelmed with joy and adopted the new found baby as their son. They had longed for a child since many years and finally the Gods had decided to reward them with this extraordinary gift. They named him Vasusena, the boy with the golden ornaments, and bought him up most lovingly.

They believed that he was a celestial child because he was born with a golden kavach (golden armour) and golden kundals (earrings) and his angelic face shone with a divine light. He was also called Karna because of the golden earrings in his ears. After Vasusena’s adoption, Adhiratha and Radha were blessed with other sons of their own. But to this day my future husband remains their favourite.

As per tradition, I am not allowed to see my beloved until after we are married. But I have to admit that I have had just a tiny glimpse of him last week. My younger sister had informed me of his arrival at our home. Out of curiosity, I hid behind the door and glanced outside into the open courtyard. I fleetingly saw him as he was leaving our house. He was dressed like a King. Of course, he is the King of Angadesh, but he was not born to be king or even a prince for that matter. The crown and kingdom had been bestowed upon him by Prince Duryodhan. So technically, by virtue of birth, he was still a Suta, not a Kshatriya.

He had come to meet Father, alone and unannounced. My father was flustered. It’s not often that a groom visits his future in-laws for a casual visit. My father left no stone unturned to welcome his future son-in-law.

After the visit, Father called me. He told me that my future husband had told him that he will not accept anything from my father as a wedding gift. He had enough to provide for me for the rest of my life. Strange, I thought. Why would he deny accepting something that he was rightfully entitled to? But in my heart, I was immensely proud to be married to such a man. 

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Now all these memories seem so distant. Our wedding, our life in Angadesh and then in Hastinapur, the birth of our nine sons, the hostility in the palace between the Pandavas and Kauravas and finally the dreaded war.

Kurukshetra!! The dreadful war that took away everything that was dear to me – my sons, my nephews and finally my dear husband.  

Now he lies, covered in a white blood-stained shroud. His mother Kunti, the one who bought him into this world, is weeping inconsolably for her son with his head on her lap – a son who she was too afraid to claim as her own when he was alive. If only she had the courage to reveal the truth before the beast of war devoured thousands of innocent lives, leaving behind wailing orphans and widows.     

Just a few days ago, on the eve of the Great War, My Lord had come to my chamber looking most distraught. When I prodded him to tell me what was bothering him, he revealed something that made the ground shift under my feet.

A noble lady (perhaps someone from the royal household of Hastinapur, thought my husband), had visited him incognito on the banks of river Jahnavi while he was offering his evening prayers. My Lord could not recognize her but her demeanor was stately and her voice measured and soft.  Her grace and poise gave away her royal lineage.

“Who are you Mother? And what can I do for you” asked My Lord.

“Wait until the Sun dips beyond the horizon and the world is engulfed in darkness. I shall then reveal myself and the purpose of my visit,” replied the lady.

“Your presence so close to me awakens a deep emotion within me. I do not understand what it is but I feel an enigmatic bond between us.”

“Child, I am the one who introduced you to the world. Today I have abandoned all shame to give you my identity,” murmured the lady, her voice breaking into a sob.

“Your words awaken an exquisite agony in me. Pray tell me how my birth is tied to you?” pleaded My Lord.

The mysterious lady lifted her veil. My Lord was startled to find the great Queen Kunti, the Mother of the mighty Pandavas, standing before him. She then revealed to him that he was her first-born child.

The earth shook under My Lord’s feet. He was stunned and overwhelmed by this revelation. Queen Kunti was his birth mother!!

“You are not the son of a charioteer. You are a Queen’s offspring. You are of royal blood my child. Forget all the insults and banish all the animosity toward your brothers. Come back and take your rightful place as the eldest of the Pandavas,” said the former Queen of Hastinapur, tears staining her ethereal face. 

“Why, why after all these years, O Queen do you want to claim me as your son? Why now, when my days could be numbered and I may not survive this war?”

“Please don’t say such ominous things. If you join your brothers, there will be no war. You can talk to Duryodhan and stop this war between brothers. Yudhisthir will happily give you the crown of Indraprastha and your brothers will gladly serve you for the rest of their lives. Come and claim your rightful place in the Kuru clan,” the widowed Queen Mother pleaded.

“You want to accord me my rightful place in the Kuru clan after all these years that were filled with nothing but angst and ignominy? Where were you when I was humiliated in the arena by your sons, by Kripa and Drona and all the elders of Hastinapur? Where were you when Draupadi reviled me and asked me to leave her swayamvar because I was a charioteer’s son? Where were you O Mother when your son needed your warm lap to cry and console himself?”   

The Mother of Pandavas had no answers.

“O child, you are right to rebuke me. When I decided to forsake you, my heart broke into a thousand fragments. Though later I became the mother of five mighty sons, I could never forget you. My heart always yearned for you. I always looked out for you, wept when you were insulted, grieved when you were hurt and pined for you day and night. I know I have committed a great crime my child. I was young and unmarried. I was scared of what people might think of me. I did not want to bring disrepute to my father. Please forgive your mother.”

“So are you not afraid today to acknowledge me as your son? Are you not worried about your status and reputation in Hastinapur after people come to know about this long buried secret?” My Lord asked with a sneer.  

“I don’t care anymore what people say. You are my son and that is the truth. I am willing to face the ire and admonition of the whole world just to hold you in my arms once again after all these years.”  

“Dear Queen, please do not try to fool me. It is not your motherly love for me that has bought you here today. It is your insecurity and deep love for the five Pandavas that has prompted this visit. Otherwise you would not have chosen this time and place for your visit. You know very well that after my evening prayers, I do not turn away anyone who comes to ask something of me.”    

The Mother of Pandavas tried in vain to convince My Lord of her undying love for him. She pleaded with him to break away from Duryodhan and join the Pandavas as their eldest brother. She promised that all the five Pandavas would gladly submit to his leadership out of love and respect.

My Lord was relieved that his life long quest to find his birth mother had finally ended. But he was very bitter at the same time. After all these agonizing years, his mother had mustered the courage to put her reputation at stake, not because of her love for her first born, but because she wanted to safeguard the lives of his five younger brothers from the wrath of his arrows. He therefore vehemently refused to part company with Prince Duryodhan.

“Dear Queen (for his heart could not yet address her as Mother), the Kuru Prince held my hand and protected my honour when everyone else insulted me, deserted me, including you O Mother of the mighty Pandavas. The time has now come for me to repay his kindness with gratitude and loyalty. Please do not ask me to steer away from this path of righteousness”.

The great Queen was distressed. She knew that both Arjun and Karna, arch rivals and challengers, had vowed to kill the other in the great battle. As a mother, she would be the ultimate loser. 

My Lord saw his mother’s crestfallen face and asked her for two boons – One, not to reveal the truth of his birth to the Pandavas during his lifetime, and two, to keep his head on her lap and cry in acknowledgement of his parentage, if he were to be slain in the battlefield.

In return, he promised Queen Kunti that she was and would always remain the mother of five sons even after the Great War. One of the five would be either him or Arjun.

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They called her Yagnaseni – the woman born of fire. And fire dominated every aspect of her character, from her temper to her tongue. Earlier, I was truly fond of Draupadi. She always carried herself with dignity and grace. But after the unfortunate game of dice, her disposition completely changed. She became haughty and vile. Anger dripped from every pore of her body and her untied hair reminded everyone of her resolve to destroy the Kuru race. She accompanied her husbands to the forest for 13 years only after heaping curses on the Kurus and promising retribution for her humiliation. 

During the ill-fated Game of Dice, after Dharmaraj King Yudhishtir of Indraprastha had lost everything – his kingdom, his riches, his horses, his elephants, his brothers and even himself, Shakuni, the King of Gandhar, cunningly tricked him to bet Draupadi in another round of the game. And shockingly the latter agreed to do the same, though with some reluctance. Such was the lure of the game that Yudhisthir was completely blinded by greed to redeem himself and could not see doom slowly but surely riding towards him.   

Earlier in the day, My Lord had heard the evil Shakuni tell Duryodhan that to subjugate Draupadi, they would have to make Yudhishthir put her on stake. My Lord had vehemently protested against this blasphemy. The sly Mama Shakuni had then reminded my husband of the insults hurled at him by the dark-skinned Panchali at her Swayamvar.

After my arrival in Hastinapur as a young bride, I had often heard whisperings about My Lord’s secret love for the Queen of Indraprastha. He was rumoured to be besotted with her beauty and charm. I had heard the old maids gossiping in hushed tones that the feeling had been mutual. Many years ago in the kingdom of Panchal, as her swayamvar was nearing, Panchali had heard of My Lord’s radiant personality through the palace grapevine. His righteousness, valour, generosity, knowledge and noble appearance was legendary. He seemed to possess all the qualities that she was looking for in a husband. She had secretly desired him but her friend, Lord Krishna, had caught wind of her longing. He advised Krishnaa (another name for Draupadi, the dark one), against choosing a charioteer’s son as her spouse and filled her in with the details of his illegitimate birth.    

On the day of her Swayamvar in Kampilya, Draupadi, the fiery one, had insisted that she be declared a ‘Veeryashulka’ - a bride to be won only by the worthiest and the very best. When My Lord had risen to attempt the test that could win him the winsome daughter of King Drupad, the Princess of Panchal, on behest of Lord Krishna, had vehemently protested against the lowborn suta-putra entering the contest to win her hand. She had called him objectionable names and even questioned his parentage (since he was adopted). That pain and humiliation had burned deep into his soul, deeply scarring him for life. It was a wound that had never healed and the sight of Panchali always awakened those sore memories in my husband.

Duryodhan and Shakuni never failed to remind my husband about that unfortunate incident. Just the mention of the Swayamvar was enough to incense my husband. Yes, she had to be punished for her arrogance, he decided. The haughty Queen of Indraprastha had to be shown her rightful place. When My Lord came to my chamber that afternoon, he related all that had transpired at Duryodhan’s palace. I pleaded with him to not indulge in this mindless power game. And insulting a woman to avenge something that had happened years ago? It was such a degrading act, especially for an honourable man like him. I begged, cajoled and cried. He seemed to relent but in my heart I knew that the wicked influence exerted by Duryodhan and Shakuni had invoked the fire of vengeance in my husband’s heart. His bruised ego had taken over his intellect and reason had completely deserted his mind.     

And that’s when I decided to visit Draupadi in her guest aprtments at Hastinapur and beseech her to leave the Kuru King’s palace and go to her father’s palace in Kampilya. On any other day, I could just visit her by asking my attendant to inform her in advance of my impending visit. But today I had to make a special request. It was her three-day resting period and she would not be entertaining visitors or paying visits until the ritualistic bath.

When I entered Draupadi’s chamber, she was resting on her bed, draped in white and gold garments. Her hair was untied and she wore very little jewelry. Yet she looked resplendent and very regal. There was something about her demeanor that was so endearing that any person who came into her proximity would instantly be swept away by her allure and comeliness. No wonder men pined for her, I thought. Even Krishna loved her immensely, albeit as a friend. 

The maid announced my arrival and the Queen of Indraprastha rushed to welcome me warmly at the door.

“Welcome O Queen of Anga. What a pleasure to see you again,” Panchali gushed.

She may have secretly loved my husband before her marriage to the sons of Pandu and then openly hated him because of his association with the Kuru princes, but those conflicting emotions had never trickled down to dampen our relationship in any way.

She made me sit next to her on the soft bed and asked for the reason of my unplanned visit. I then hesitantly told her that I feared for her safety and honour. Shakuni and Duryodhan (I conveniently and deliberately avoided mentioning my husband) were not be trusted, I warned her and that she must leave Hastinapur immediately before any harm befell her.

Draupadi listened patiently and smiled. She held my hand in hers and said,

“Thank you sister for taking the trouble to ensure my safety. I have never trusted that wily Shakuni and haughty Duryodhan, or for that matter, any Kauravas or their friends. But what can they do to me? They cannot possibly drag me out from my chambers, not if I can help it. As Kshatriyas, they are bound by a strict code of conduct. They will never dare to lay a finger on a woman, especially the Queen of Indraprastha and wife of the illustrious Pandavas.”

She said that like a true Kshatriya queen, she preferred to stay back with her husbands in Hastinapur rather than stealthily escape to her maiden home. That would bring shame not only to her five husbands but also her father, the mighty Drupad of Panchal. I left her apartments with a sense of dread.  

As fate would have it, Yudhishthir lost everything to Duryodhan – his kingdom, his wealth, his horses and elephants, his brothers, himself and lastly even his wife. Riding high on his ill-gotten success, Duryodhan ordered his younger brother Dushasan to bring Panchali before him in the main hall. She was now their slave and would have to do their bidding.

Upon hearing his orders, there had been a clatter in the women’s quarters. Never before had a woman been summoned in open court. We women knew that emotions had been running high during the game of dice and insults and barbs were being traded quite openly between the Kauravas and Pandavas. But ordering a Queen and daughter-in-law of the Kuru household in open court was sacrilegious.

What followed was shameful not only for the Kuru dynasty but also the entire human race. A woman was dragged by her hair to the main hall and stripped of her modesty before her husbands, in-laws and family elders. A woman who was born a princess and who was now a Queen was called a whore because she was married to five men. She was reviled and jeered at. She had begged Dushasan to stop, implored the Kuru elders to intervene and invoked the holy men to protect her but no one stood up for her nor asked the perpetrators to end the tyranny.

I must also admit to my husband’s shameful participation in the outrage mounted on her modesty. I must admit that his actions have played a significant part in sowing the seeds of destruction of the Kaurava clan. Up until this horrible incident, I had always loved and respected my husband singularly. But his role in maligning a woman’s character and outraging her modesty has created an unseen barrier for my love – an emotion that once flowed in abundance, freely and uninterrupted, and which now ebbs and recedes during our moments together. My Lord is aware of this change in our relationship but he is too proud to ask and I am too timid to confront him. I am aware that this change in my behavior has prompted him to visit his other wives more often than before.

But Draupadi is ‘ayonija’, not born of a womb. They say such individuals have divine powers. That and her ardent devotion to Lord Krishna saved her from complete humiliation on that blighted day. But she was born out of fire to seek revenge and bring about destruction. Her raging spirit cursed the Kuru clan of complete ruination and no amount of pacifying could make her take back her words. The intense desire for vengeance against those who had wronged her made take an oath of leaving her hair untied until Dushasan had been killed and her hair washed with his tainted blood.          

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Like a hungry lion, the Great War devoured all of my sons except Vrishaketu. Their father had insisted that they all take part in the Mahabharta war. I had protested – why should they fight in a family war? What had we to gain by fighting on the side of the Kauravas whose reputation was smudged with injustice, deception and impiety? But my dear husband had pledged his unfailing loyalty to the Kuru prince, Duryodhan. As his sons, my children were bound to his pledge and it became their sacred duty to aid their father in fulfilling his promise.

The Kauravas are all dead. Gone with them is their naked ambition and treachery. I would  have mourned for them, but they took along my brave husband and my dear sons. For that I despise them. King Dhrithrashtra’s natural blindness and Queen Gandhari’s forced blindness had obscured their inner vision to the foolhardiness and ambition of their sons and the machinations of Uncle Shakuni resulting in the annihilation of their entire clan.  

My new found family – my mother-in-law Kunti and younger brothers-in-law, is also distraught. They try to console me and assure me that I shall never be alone as long as they are alive. But when I look at my mother-in-law, my heart swells with anger. If only she had the courage to claim her parentage to my husband, he would perhaps be alive today. Now she tries to tell me how much she loved my husband and how he would always have a special place in her heart as her first-born child. But I am not swayed by her proclamations. To me, she is an epitome of selfishness, a morally weak woman who is more concerned about her status and reputation than the feelings of her loved ones. There were many times and circumstances where she could have stepped up and claimed my husband as her legitimate son. But every single time, her position and stature overrode her love for her own flesh and blood. I now find her lamentations completely insincere.

But I cannot say the same for my brothers-in-law, Yudhishthir, Bheem, Arjun, Nakul and Sahadev. Their grief over the loss of their eldest brother is genuine. I am sure that if they had known of my husband’s real identity before the war, they would have never raised even their voice against him, forget raising any weapon. Out of the five brothers, Arjun is most inconsolable. He is incessantly cursing himself for the death of his eldest brother, a sin most unpardonable according to the scriptures. He cannot forgive himself for this misdeed.  I think that now, deep down in their hearts, the Pandavas foster a silent hostility towards their mother Kunti. They feel she is somehow responsible for this great abomination.    

When I look back at my dead husband’s life, I am faced with a horrible truth – that he never experienced any real happiness. Throughout his time on earth, he was rejected, reviled and humiliated for no fault of his. He was denied respect and dignity right from his birth until his death. His life was bereft of love and acceptance. 

Despite his stellar qualities as a human being and warrior, he never ever bestowed the recognition and honour that was due to him. My Lord was a true Maha-rathi but his unfortunate association with the Kauravas, most often than not, earned him inferior treatment. Even Bhishma Pitamah, the Kuru patriarch, who never had a bad word to say about anyone, spurned my husband as an Ardha-rathi, half of a capable warrior. My husband was so incensed by this insult that he refused to fight in the Great War until after the great Bhishma fell.

Shalya, the king of Madra and the maternal uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, never missed a chance to insult my husband during the war. He was to be My Lord’s charioteer, as decreed by Duryodhan. But Shalya never forgot the humiliation of being a charioteer to a suta-putra and hurled disparaging words and insults at my husband to break his spirit and weaken his resolve. 

The burden of living under a cloud of insults, treachery and collusion ultimately ripped apart my husband’s tender heart. After the war began, he told me many times that he was alive just to fulfill his obligation to Duryodhan. His life held no meaning anymore because now though he knew his real identity, he had to turn his back on dharma (righteousness) and fight on the side of adharma (non-righteousness). His words had pierced my heart like a dagger and I could feel his intense agony. Fate had indeed dealt him a very cruel blow. He had been robbed of his royal lineage and rightful place as the eldest of Pandavas all these years. If he had known the truth of his birth, he would have been a legitimate king. I am sure that he would have made a better king than Yudhisthir because he possessed all qualities that each of the Pandava brothers possessed individually.       

I see Draupadi coming towards me. Now the sight of her makes my blood boil. She was responsible for my husband’s death and the death of thousand others, including her own sons. The Great War would have never taken place, if it were not for her thirst for retribution. She is dressed completely in white and her eyes are swollen with constant crying. She hugs me tight and tells me,

“I wish I had forgiven him before he died. Yes, I secretly admired him before my marriage.  If I had married him, perhaps I would not have been gambled away, publicly humiliated and called a whore. For he was a man who would have done anything to protect my honour.”

“But I was born out of vengeance, to seek vengeance and hence I had to fulfill my destiny by marrying the five Pandavas. I was invoked from the fire to be the spark that would light the fire of this Great War. I had to seek revenge for the insults borne by my father, my brother Shikhandi and my husbands. This great, roaring fire of revenge has burnt to ashes so many near and dear ones that now all this seems completely worthless and futile.”

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I wipe my tears and stand up as my husband’s brothers lift his lifeless body onto the sandalwood funeral pyre. I know that my end is near and that I shall be forever lost in the annals of history. What could antiquity offer an obscure wife of an unfortunate and misguided braveheart whose lapse of judgment in siding with evil and injustice would forever eclipse his goodness and integrity? Would posterity be more kind to him than his contemporaries? If fate could stain his illustriousness with its conspiracies, did I stand a chance of even an acknowledgement?

I look intently at the Kuru elders - mother Kunti, King Dhrithrashtra, Queen Gandhari, and Uncle Vidur and offer my final salutations. They gesture their blessings with tears on their eyes. I feel a strong pang of pity for them. How were they going to live out the rest of their lives after seeing so much death and destruction?

And then my eyes meet those of the Pandavas. They stand with their heads bowed and hands folded. I beseech Yudhisthir to take care of Vrishketu, my only surviving son. The King of Hastinapur places his hand on my son’s head indicating that now my son is under his care and protection. My son is weeping and pleads with me to step down from the pyre. He says that he still needs me. But I must follow tradition. He will survive without me but I will not be able to live without My Lord.  

I can see the intense anguish on the Pandavas’ faces. Draupadi and Mother Kunti seem most affected. That makes me feel strangely serene and calm. I know that very soon the flames will rid my soul of grief and heartache. But my husband’s family, who shunned him during his lifetime, will burn in an inferno of remorse, guilt and loss for the rest of their lives.  

I take my husband’s crownless head on my lap and smile to myself. Justice has finally been served.