The Tragic Trio: Madri
by Prof. Debalina Roychowdhury
After discussing Amba as one of the Tragic Trio, I intended to take up Gandhari as the second one. But I apologies to fail because another character attracted me toward her and that is Madri. She, like a bright shooting star shined and extinguished at a very young age.
Madri was the sister of Saalvaraaj and the princess of Madra. She was popular for her ecstatic beauty and virtues. Bhishma went to her brother Saalva with the proposal for Paandu and Madri’s marriage. For this Bhishma gave the latter lots of gold, elephants, horses and other precious gifts according to their family custom. Ultimately Saalva let her go with the great Gangaputra for her marriage. Madri was the second wife of Paandu. The king was first married to Kunti who had a superior personality than her. The impetus, the brightness, the prowess of Kunti surmised that of Madri. She surely felt inferior which she confessed later. The only feature that is highlighted in her is her beauty. Probably this poignantly and tragically brings forth the massive difference.
After the marriage Paandu went out for invasion. At his successful return he decided to go to the Tapovan of Himavat. We know that, Paandu killed a large deer while it was copulating. The large male deer was struck by the five arrows. It fell down and wept bitterly like that of a man. The legend says that it was not a deer at all , it was Rishi Kindam with a great ascetic merit. The deer cursed Paandu that he will immediately meet his end when he will get united with his wife. If we really go deep into the story, does it satisfy our belief? I have found Mahabharata to be the most scientific and logical epic; besides wherever something is hidden or that which is not described vividly for any reason (social or political) is presented under a garb of an exaggerated story. The story heightens symbolically but apparently it conceals the real facts. The dying deer’s curse again puts forth our doubt to the same point. The doubt strikes at the particular point and that is the in the marital relationship of the great king Paandu.
I felt that the sudden ‘Tapovan trip’ of Paandu and his two wives is really striking. Leaving the two wives, just a month after his second marriage Paandu decided to go for the conquest. And just after returning he started for Tapovan. Naturally the question arises why? Was it only for the sake of acquiring ‘Punya’? The connecter seems weak. This can be supported by Kunti’s statement which I would discuss later.
Anyway, after being cursed, Paandu made a journey to reach paradise during he practiced celibacy and was hindered by the Rishis and Sidhdhas as he was without an heir. Thus he had to return unfulfilled. The king then discussed with Kunti and requested her to ‘raise offspring at a time of distress.’ He mentioned total six kinds of sons that were told by the religious institutes and six other kinds in addendum. The conversation between them were in private where Madri was not present. The absence of Madri in this crucial discussion leads to a question that where does she stand? She was a mere beautiful and appealing wife than a one whom he could depend upon. But Kunti plays a vital role of a guardian or guide.
Kunti then summoned the three potent Gods and received three powerful sons after getting spiritually united with them. The first son Yudhistira was born before Gandhari gave birth to her first son. The three sons were born due to the repeated requested of Paandu. Madri privately approached Paandu and stated about her misery. If we follow her speech, some striking points come forth. Madri felt the fact that she was overshadowed by Kunti and Paandu was prejudiced to her. If this be right then Kunti’s speech later when Paandu dies focuses that Madri was lucky that Paandu shared the loved moments with her. If we consider both the view then what kind of importance did Madri receive? Or even similar question stands for Kunti. Again, Madri also points out that she was superior to Kunti by birth. The pain and inferiority plays a mild symphony through this character. She then urges Paandu to request Kunti to help her in becoming mother. Even she addresses her to be her ‘rival’ and thus feeling shy to approach her directly. This type of comment or mentality did not flicker in Kunti as far as the great epic is concerned. It seemed to me that the king became greedy for more descendants and pressurized Kunti for the expansion of his race, to which Kunti denied telling him that a fourth attempt would make her “Swairini” (heanton ) Paandu then said to her,
“Therefore, O blameless one, rescue this Madri as by a raft (by granting her the means of obtaining offspring), and achieve thou imperishable fame by making her a mother of children.”
Probably Kunti was tired of the process and readily yielded.
Why did Madri call the Ashwins and not any other potential Gods? Two possible reasons are there according to my view.
First, as she knew that she can use the means once only, she thought to have twin babies. This sharply points at her inferiority complex that played deep in her mind. She did not want to stay too much inferior to Kunti. So she called the Ashwins to get two children. Secondly, Ved Vyas wanted to maintain the discrimination between the two wives of Paandu, in terms of greatness. Thus, Surya, Dharma, Pavan, Indra and then Ashwins are bit mismatch.
Being second wife does not always mean soothing life. Madri though higher in status could never reach the height of Kunti, who was more like a ‘Godmother’ to the family. She remained more like an object of desire than anything else. This is strongly specified at the death of Paandu. He and his two wives stayed in the midst of the forest with their five handsome sons. It happened thus on a day of spring, when the nature was in her peak of beauty Paandu felt his desire blowing mildly. He saw Madri in her translucent attire which ignited and overpowered him at the moment. He seized Madri against her will and embraced her. The hapless wife tried to resist the king and failed. If we analyse the woman’s condition we can feel her misery prominently. She, despite loving Paandu and devoid of conjugal pleasure helplessly hinders her loved one who forcefully begets her. Well aware of the consequence, the woman becomes a mere puppet in the hands of desire and blame. She does not allure Paandu but becomes the pathetic reason for his death. Kunti reaches the place hearing her cries and blames her with sobs. We get a picture of Kunti there as a woman who nearly mothered her husband and cared him. She also says:
“Dhanyatvam asi Bahleeki matto bhagyatara tatha
Drsavatyasi yadvaktram prahrshtasya mahipateh” (Adi 124,21)
‘O princess of Valhika, more fortunate than myself, thou art really to be envied, for thou hast seen the face of our lord suffused with gladness and joy.’
Kunti here, was referring to the ecstasy of sexual climax that lingered in the dead face. If we delve the depths of the speech, Paandu again can be proved as a man either impotent or having some disorder cause it has left his first wife bereaved of the pleasure though she accompanied her even before the curse fell.
Listening to the wish of Kunti of following Paandu, Madri desisted her with reverence and sought her permission to go with the King. She admits that she even would not be able to perform the role of a true mother as Kunti will be. Leaving the two babies in Kunti’s (her rival’s) refuge she becomes a Sati.
This honesty of confessing in Madri is highly worth praise who had the guts to express Kunti as her rival and admit her as a superior at the same time. Madri thus remain as a tragic melody in the pages of Mahabharata.
9-Mar-2013 – See more at: http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=14116#sthash.PU2YpOKo.dpuf