The year is 1989. On a hot, humid Sunday morning on the 9th of July, everyone anxiously tunes in to Doordarshan. A new tele-series has begun a couple of months back and swept the whole nation with its popularity. Right from naughty toddlers to their withering grandmothers, all watch in rapt attention as the beautiful title track of B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata sung by Mahendra Kapoor begins to play.
The 44th episode of the blockbuster serial begins with the Rajasuya Yajna of the Pandavas. Puneet Issar’s Duryodhan is having a hard time digesting the prosperity of his cousins who have founded their new Empire with its capital at Indraprastha. He wanders around the magical castle they have built, staring in awe as well as frustration at the magnificence and grandeur. Strange palace, he muses. Floors look like pools. Pools look like walls. Suddenly then, a maid crossing his path warns him – “Prince, please be careful, there is a water-body ahead.”
He dismisses her haughtily. “Huh! water? Where? Now a maid will teach me how to walk!” But alas, the poor little maid is right after all. The path on which he treads next betrays him, and he lands into a pool of water. Shocked and angered, he struggles, cursing in his head. What happens next, will go down in history as one of the biggest artistic distortions of the greatest epic of the world.
From a balcony above, Roopa Ganguly’s Draupadi laughs out loud at the plight of her brother-in-law. Andha Ka Putra Andha, (“blind man’s son is also blind.”) she utters jokingly, referring to his blind father Dhritarasthra. When did she arrive there? Was it a deliberate taunt? Or an impulsive laughter of an innocent, but callous Queen? The makers don’t tell us that. Nonetheless, seething in anger, Duryodhan leaves for his own kingdom at Hastinapur.
Back at home, the hot-headed prince finds no peace. His friend Karna senses his anguish and nudges him with questions. At last Duryodhan confides to him: “The laughter and callous words of Draupadi! They are plaguing me like a nightmare!”
This infuriates Karna. “This arrogant woman needs to be punished for her crime!” Right then, Gufi Paintal’s vicious Shakuni and Duryodhan’s maternal uncle drops in. “My dear child…,” he begins in his quintessential “let’s conspire” mode and hatches a diabolical plan. As the naïve viewers watch in rapt attention, perhaps a part of them agrees with Duryodhan. Indeed, Draupadi deserves punishment for her crass comment. How can a Queen be so arrogant and insensitive! This incident eventually leads to the notorious dice game, and then the great Kurukshetra War in the BRC world. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, this is a very well-known story. Why then am I iterating this in a blog post?
This is because, in the canonical text of Classical Mahabharata, this crude statement, unbecoming of a royal Empress does not exist anywhere. In fact, there is absolutely no mention of any such Andha Ka Beta Andha uttered by any character. Here is the scene from the Critical Edition of Mahabharata (Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute), Sabha Parva, Section 27, Chapter 268, English translation by Bibek Debroy, Vol 2, Penguin Books:
“Duryodhana, bull among the Bharata lineage, lived in that sabha andwith Shakuni, he slowly inspected that entire sabha. There, the descendant of the Kuru lineage saw many divine designs that he had never seen before in the city of Nagasahrya. One day, Dhritarashtra’s son, the lord of the earth, arrived at a place in the middle of the sabha that was paved with crystal. The king thought it to be water and, in alarm, raised up his clothes. His mind deluded, he wandered around the sabha, shame-faced and miserable.
After some time, he mistook a lake with crystal water, adorned with crystal lotuses, for land and fell into the water with his clothes on. On seeing him fall into the water, the servants laughed out in delight and on the instructions of the king, gave him fresh clothes. On seeing him in that fashion, the immensely strong Bhimasena, and Arjuna and the twins, all burst out in laughter. Since he was incapable of bearing insults, he could not tolerate this.
To save his face, he did not even look at them. He again drew up his clothes to ascend firm land and all the people again laughed out aloud. He mistook a closed door to be open and hurt his forehead against it. On another occasion, taking an open one to be closed, he stepped away from the doorway. O lord of the earth! He thus committed various errors there. Having taken Pandavya’s leave, King Duryodhana set out for Gajasahrya. On having witnessed the extraordinary opulence at the great rajasuya sacrifice, his mind was unhappy. As he travelled, he was inflamed at the prosperity of the Pandavas and evil thoughts were seeded in King Duryodhana’s mind.“ ( To read the same incident from a non-Critical version of the Epic, see Sabha Parva, Section 46, K.M. Ganguly’s translation of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa’s Mahabharat, Vol I-XII)
As the image above depicts, Draupadi herself is not present anywhere, let alone her “Andhe Ka Putra Andha” statement. But wait, there’s a second narration of this incident later through the words of Duryodhan to his father, Dhristarashtra. Sabha Parva, Section 27, Chapter 271:
“Having brought gems from Bindusarovar, Maya constructed a platform ofcrystal. O descendant of the Bharata lineage! On seeing the place full of lotuses, I took it to bewater. On seeing me draw up my clothes, Vrikodara laughed at me. He thought me to bedevoid of riches and deluded by the superior wealth of the enemy. O descendant of theBharata lineage! Had I possessed the ability, I would have killed Vrikodara there. Thederision of a rival burns me. O lord of men! I again saw a similar pond full of lotuses.Thinking it to be made out of crystal, I fell into the water. At this, Krishna and Partha laughed out loudly at me, and so did Droupadi and the other women. This pained my heart.
My garments having become wet, the servants gave me others on the king’s orders and thistoo made me more miserable. O lord of men! Listen when I tell you about another trick. Intrying to go out through what looked like a door, but wasn’t a door, I hit my head against acrystal slab and got hurt. Then, on seeing this from a distance, the twins were amused. In great sorrow, they held me in their arms. Sahadeva then repeatedly told me, as if amazed, ‘O king! This is the door. Pass this way.’ I saw jewels there, whose names I had not even heard of earlier. That is the reason why my heart is burning.“ (To read the translation of non-Critical version of Mahabharat, please see Sabha Parva, Section 49, K.M. Ganguly’s translation)
That was, to be precise, Vyasa’s Draupadi’s supposed “life-altering” role in that infamous incident. Her fault? As per Duryodhan’s version of the story, she was one among the huge entourage that was laughing at him, namely Bhima, Arjun, Nakul, Sahadeva, other women (possibly, co-wives) and servants. Even God Incarnate Krishna had joined in! There is no mention of “Andha Ka Putra Andha”. This non-existence of the remark can be consistently seen in all primary, unabridged regional translations/adaptations of the epic in Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Oriya, etc.
How then did Draupadi come to be blamed alone for the laughter?
Indologist Alf Hiltebietel in his acclaimed work, Cult of Draupadi, Vol I asserts that it was Villiputtur Alwar in 14th Century, who had introduced the concept of repeatedly singling out Draupadi in the laughter in his Tamil adaptation of the epic Villi Bharatham (2.2.13, 215), depicting her as laughing and clapping (kaikotti panchali kantu nakaitt itavam, IY 64). Thus gradually began the tradition of portraying Draupadi laughing alone for centuries. That said, even in Villi’s retelling, there is no “Andha Ka Putra Andha”!
It is important to note that Vyasa’s Sanskrit canon does not clearly hint at this laughter as the primary cause of the dice-game, though it does arguably add salt to Duryodhan’s injury.
Now, the question remains, what was the actual reason behind the infamous Dyut that changed the course of the story?
“On seeing the happiness of the Parthas, the submission of the kings, the love the worlds had for them, from children onwards, and the supreme splendour of the great-souled Pandavas, Dhritarashtra’s son Duryodhana turned pale. As he travelled, he thought intently about the sabha and the unrivalled prosperity of the intelligent Dharmaraja.” (Sabha Parva, Section 27, Chapter 268)
Duryodhan goes on to describe in details his deep anguish at the prosperity of the Pandavas. Furthermore, he asserts to his uncle –
“O king! If you permit, I will defeat them with you and the other
maharathas. When I have conquered them, the entire earth will be mine, and all the lords ofthe earth and the sabha with its great riches.” (Sabha Parva, Section 27, Chapter 268)
Initially Shakuni discourages Duryodhan, but owing to the latter’s jealousy, he gives in:
“Shakuni said, “With the use of force, the masses of gods cannot defeat in battle Dhananjaya, Vasudeva, Bhimasena, Yudhishthira, Nakula, Sahadeva and Drupada and his son. They are maharathas, great archers, skilled in use of weapons and invincible in battle. O king! But I know the means through which Yudhishthira himself can be conquered. Listen and act accordingly.” (Sabha Parva, Section 27, Chapter 268)
Duryodhan’s asks for an easier route to defeat his cousins with minimum damage —
“Duryodhana replied, “O maternal uncle! If there is a way to defeat them without any danger to our well-wishers and other great-souled ones, please tell me.”
“Shakuni said, “Kunti’s son loves to gamble with dice, but does not know how to play. If challenged to play, that Indra among kings will not be able to refuse. I am skilled in gambling with dice, there is no one on earth, or in the three worlds, who is my equal. Challenge Kunti’s son to a game of dice. O king! O bull among men! With my skill in dice, there is no doubt that I will win for you the kingdom and the blazing prosperity.” (Sabha Parva, Section 27, Chapter 268)
It is interesting to note how – for the sake of dramatic effect – popular renditions of Mahabharata have now relegated to background the real reasons for the dice-game: a.) Duryodhan’s jealousy and b.) the political benefit of choosing a dice-game as a tool over a bloody open war; and instead highlighted a petty laughter of a woman seasoned with some fictional insults as the sole and mammoth cause of such a wide-scale War. This paradigm shift has in turn, given rise to the idea that a woman herself is responsible for her molestation!
Surprisingly, B.R. Chopra’s serial wasn’t the first to depict this indecorous “Andhe Ka Beta Andha”, though it was certainly the one to permanently etch it in public memory. Shivaji Sawant in his 1967 fictional Marathi novel, Mrityunjaya had done the same. In recent times, if you pick up any fictionalized retelling on Mahabharata – Chitra Banerjee’s iconic Palace of Illusions or Anand Neelakantan’s bestselling Ajaya series, Ashwin Sanghi’s Krishna Key, Kavita Kane’s Karna’s Wife or even, Dr. Devdutta Pattanaik’s Jaya – you are most likely to come across this melodramatic episode that has won its way to people’s hearts.
The subsequent TV versions of the epic tread the same path, be it Sanjay Khan’s Mahabharata or the more recent Sony’s Suryaputra Karna and EPIC channel’s Dharmakshetra. Even the iconic Telugu movie Soora Veera Karna starring superstar NTR depicts Draupadi’s hearty laughter in isolation, though the unceremonious statement is avoided. It would not be surprising if the upcoming movies on Mahabharata continue to follow this tradition.
For long, many bards and playwrights have taken refuge in “Andha Ka Putra Andha” to vindicate Duryodhan and Co. at the dice-game. If they were made to admit that Vyasa’s heroine was never as undignified as popularly perceived, it remains to be seen what explanation they would provide to defend Duryodhan’s stand in that case!
If you liked this article, please visit my other posts on the epic as well: My Articles on Mahabharata