Dharma and Women in the Mahabharata

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When Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas, is brought before the court of elders and humiliated by the Kauravas, a violation of dharma occurs that is ultimately remediated with the killings of Duryodhana and Duhsasana by Bhīma. In the Mahabharata- a Hindu epic-the preservation of a woman’s sanctity is non-negotiable, and any violators of that principle are bound to face dire consequences. Although whether or not the legitimacy of Duryodhana winning Draupadi (and consequentially his ownership of her) is supported by dharma is unclear, it’s irrelevant: his befouling of her feminine purity blatantly goes against dharma, thereby sealing his fate. Dharma, having no exact translation in English, can sometimes be difficult to define. It is a divinely prescribed path of action for any given living being, with each being’s dharma differing from others and many parts of dharma being determined by social class (xviii). For example, despite the many atrocities that Duryodhana commits on the battlefield and elsewhere, he is still granted entrance into heaven “by following the Ksatriya dharma, a king who was never afraid even when the danger was great” (p. 780). However, this does not mean that individual dharmas are exclusive to one another. There are a few actions that are universally adharmic such as brahmanicide and, most relevantly, the desecration of a woman’s sanctity. The former is evidenced by Indra’s killing of the Brahman demon Vritra in the tenth

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