Yajnaseni, by Pratibha Ray, is the story of Draupadi and therefore the story of the Mahabharata, told from the perspective of one of the most important but overlooked characters – Draupadi herself. If it were not for her, the story of the Kuru dynasty would have taken quite a different turn.

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Oriya novel by Pratibha Ray, translation by Pratip Bhattacharya.

Pratibha Ray’s novel won the Orissa Sahitya Akademi Award.

Draupadi, born of the sacrificial fire, in which her father invokes a son to help him defeat his archenemy Drona, she is named Krishnaa, or the “dark-skinned one”. Her story is familiar to anyone who has read the great epic. What is not familiar is how she felt about the various choices that were made for her by her father, her brother, her mother-in-law, her husband, even by Lord Krishna, who she was devoted to.

In a sense, her very birth is tragic. She is born unasked for from the sacrificial fire. After Arjuna wins the contest for her hand, she is forced into a polyandrous marriage by her mother-in-law, (perhaps because Kunti wanted to protect herself from accusations from her new daughter-in-law). In spite of having five husbands, she finds herself bereft of all support in the assembly hall at Hastinapura. As she vows retaliation, she seems to be aware of being instrumental in bringing about the end of an epoch and the birth of a new age.

Here is a chance to see Draupadi as she portrays herself. Narrated in first person, we are witness to her devotion bordering on love for Lord Krishna, her shock at being made the wife of all five Pandavas, her grief, her rage and her anguish. Amidst the scene of her greatest humiliation, she finds the strength to question the Kuru elders, about the very concept of their dharma, while her husbands sit mute. She is the strength behind the Pandavas and their weakness; her impotent rage at the insults she suffers sets their feet onto the inexorable path of a great war and the destruction of a dynasty.

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