Kirtan with a Princess
A Monday Night Celebration at The Om Factory
In an intimate room with calm lighting and warmth emanating from friends, we transported ourselves from 21st century New York to Vedic India circa 3000 BCE. Proposing that we have kirtan with a true princess, we invited her into our midst.
We arrived at the palace of King Drupad in time to see the fruits of his fire sacrifice. The Sacred yajna was fueled by both vengeance and respect. sages sat chanting beautifully lilting sanskrit hymns while the fire in front of them blazed with a life that was all its own, jumping and dancing with each utterance of “Swaha!” King Drupad sat watching the fire with a dark countenance and a stiff back. He was almost motionless set in his determination as he was.
The sages folded their palms as the sacrificial fire began to blaze with an unearthly hue. A figure began to shimmer and appear from within the heart of the fire and before everyone stepped a young man. Tall, strong and broad shouldered. The King’s eyes brightened with intensity as he watched the young man, his son, walk from the sacrificial fire. This was the man that would one day kill the sage Dronacarya and avenge King Drupad’s humiliation at his hands.
Every breath was held as another figure began to appear from the womb of the fire. This time it was a young woman that came. Her complexion was dark and her eyes were beautifully large and piercing. She was adorned with fine jewelry and her long hair was arranged in intricate braids and set with different ornaments. King Drupad gave a small smile as his daughter emerged from the sacrificial fire. The King stood as both children came to stand in front of him with their palms folded in respect.
King Drupad was humiliated by Dronacarya…but he was captured by his student Arjuna. Impressed as he was by the young warrior’s abilities and skill he performed this sacred yajna to receive two children. One who would be the death of the sage, and the other who would be the wife of the warrior.
Her name was Draupadi.
As she was born of the fire her regal personality was equally filled with spark and flame. She was a warrior princess.
As we heard her story, her fire and her inner strength came not from her family, or from her upbringing, but from her friendship and relationship with Sri Krishna, the prince of the Yadu dynasty. He always referred to Draupadi as his sister and it was this relationship that would continue to keep her going through the most dangerous of times.
Draupadi did wind up marrying not only Arjuna, but his four brothers as well and she became the celebrated wife of the famous Pandava brothers. Many trials and tribulations awaited her life but possibly the most famous of them all would be the dice match.
Coerced into a dice match by their cousins her husbands lead by Yudhistir, the eldest, engaged in a gambling match wherein they lost their wealth, their kingdom, their own freedom, and finally Draupadi.
Drunk on power and blinded by corruption their cousins the Kauravas ordered that Draupadi be brought to the assembly hall and, in the midst of all of the Kuru elders and the men present, disrobed. The cancer that was Prince Duryodhan, the eldest of the Kauravas had taken such strong root that he was uncontrollable. Ignoring any good advice or reasonable arguments he called for the princess.
Draupadi was brought to the gaming assembly hall forcibly dragged by her beautiful long hair by the younger brother of Duryodhana. Dushasana finally released her in front of her elders. Her eyes blazed with anger and she trembled with embarrassment at having been brought before the assembly under such abhorrent circumstances. Who could understand her grief?
“Dushasana! This woman is now a maidservant, and should learn to behave ilke one. Disrobe her!” Duryodhana’s voice thundered throughout the hall while the glares from the elders were filled with disgust but he paid them no mind. Draupadi darted from Dushasana’s grasp all the while posing questions to her husbands, to the Kuru elders, to anyone who would listen about how this was possible. How could they watch silently as a princess of the celebrated Kuru dynasty was disrespected in such a horrible manner. How could anyone who claimed to be a warrior sit and watch this injustice and remain among the living?
Receiving no answer she was finally caught by Dushasana who began to pull at the edge of her sari. There were only 6 yards of fabric standing between her and this ultimate shame. With all her might she began to yank the edge of the sari back from him. A tug of war ensued, but she was fighting against a man who spent his everyday honing his body for battle. Finally the sari was wrenched from her hands and he began to pull. Draupadi called to her husbands, her relatives, her protectors but the only answer she received was the echo of her own voice and the laughter of Duryodhana and his cohorts.
Seeing no other solution she thought of her brother, her friend, her confidant Sri Krishna. That mysterious prince who was always there to give her advice. The one who had coached her through all of the important moments of her life. The person whose mere presence was like a soothing balm on her soul. That one person that she could always depend on. He wasn’t present in the assembly but she called out to him anyway. She didn’t have anywhere else to turn. Perhaps he could offer her some comfort if only in her own mind.
“Sri Krishna…you give pleasure to the senses. You have always removed all of my miseries. Oh beautiful Lord among men, please. I have no one. I have nothing. You are my brother, you are my dearest friend. I have always been able to depend on you. This is my greatest moment of need and I have no other shelter. Please help me.” With this prayer on her lips she lifted her arms and gave up the fight. She closed her eyes and thought of her dear most friend. She thought of his beautiful complexion which was dark like hers. She thought of his compassion and his kindness. She thought of the beautiful ways in which he always addressed her.
In some far away place she felt Dushasana pulling her sari from around her and she felt herself turning from the force of it, but she was too absorbed in thoughts of Krishna to care anymore. Thoughts of him were just as soothing as having him near and she could have sworn she felt his calming presence just behind her. She remembered the way he would smile and raise one eyebrow charmingly as he teased her. She thought of the reassuring sound of his deep voice as he explained to her that everything would be alright when she was getting ready to marry the five Pandava brothers. She thought of the days when he would visit her in her father’s palace as they would walk through the gardens and he would try to teach her something about the politics of warriors.
Her heart filled with love for Krishna, she felt herself began to sway before she fell to the floor. Confused and out of breath, Draupadi slowly opened her eyes. The room was silent as death. Draupadi’s heart pounded in her chest but she found herself just as covered as she was when the horrible tussle began. Dushasana sat heaving on the marble floor of the gaming hall, a huge pile of discarded sari was heaped next to him standing as high as he was tall. Composing themselves quickly, the Kaurava princes began to shout all sorts of things, but Draupadi heard none of them. Her dignity saved, she felt her inner fire flaring up within her, reborn like a magnificent phoenix, shaking off the ashes.
This story of Draupadi’s was just one that we visited during our Monday night celebration at the Om Factory. It was a night for reflection and acknowledgement of the power that is always waiting for us within the sacred space of our hearts. Within that temple of our hearts lives our dear most friend. The one who is always with us, who knows us better than we know ourselves and who is always saving us from our afflictions. It was that dear most friend that Draupadi called on in her most critical moment, and it is that wonderful personality who is constantly listening to us. Draupadi’s fire came from the faith that she had in that Supreme Person who was capable of anything. It was that faith and that spark that we attempted to borrow for the evening as we chanted, laughed, told stories and formed a community with a core of kirtan.