The sari is duly designed to have, besides an elegantly designed field, an artistically rendered pictorial border and pallu illustrating the episodes from the epic Mahabharata. Bound in floral courses on both sides of the length the border represents the final stage of Draupadi’s swayambara – the bride and her groom garlanding each other. Himself a great archer king Drupada had pre-determined that his daughter would wed only him who pierced with his arrow the eye of the fish (in some versions, that of a bird) hung on a high post by seeing only the reflection of the fish in the oil contained in a tray just below the pole. Many archers tried but it was only Arjuna, one of the great Pandavas of the Mahabharata and the unparalleled archer of his time, who fulfilled the condition and married Draupadi.
This event of the Mahabharata had far greater significance. Duryodhana, the eldest son of the Kaurava king Dhratarashtra and the heir apparent of Hastinapur, was also one of the suitors at Draupadi’s swayambara. When Duryodhana failed to shoot at the eye of the fish, Draupadi uttered sarcastically, ‘A blind man’s son can not be expected to have eyes’. This deeply hurt Duryodhana and he took a vow to avenge this insult. Hence, when Pandavas lost Draupadi at the stake in the game of ‘chaupara’, Draupadi was insulted at the hands of Duryodhana worse than a woman ever in the history of mankind. This led to a series of inhuman acts including one in which Draupadi anointed her loose hair with Dushasana’s blood after Bhima killed him and tore his breast for it. While selecting this event for illustrating it on his textile the Murshidabad’s weaver seems to be aware of its rare significance in the Great War.
The ‘swayambara’ legend begins with the pallu which has five plus one horizontal strips, the third – the central one, being double in breadth. The first, one on the extreme end, and the fifth, towards the field, portray Raja Drupada, Draupadi’s father, seated on a chair in the centre of the two figures, a male and a female. The gesture of his hand indicates that he is asking the male, obviously Arjuna, to shoot the eye of the fish only thereafter his daughter Draupadi standing behind him would marry him. The second, and the fourth, illustrate Arjuna drawing the bow-string while Draupadi, attired and bejeweled like a bride, sands before him. Arjuna is looking downwards and above him is hung a fish. The next stage of the legend : Draupadi and Arjuna garlanding ach other has been represented on the border.
The third and the central strip, with the space doubled, except the flanking end-parts, each of which has been divided into two cubes and woven with the same motifs as comprise the second and the fourth strips, that is, Arjuna drawing the bow-string, portrays five Pandavas along with their consort Parvati in the forest. All are bare-footed and except Draupadi attired like ascetics. They are moving towards a beautifully thatched cottage suggesting their exile. On the bottom of the panel there are flowering plants while the branch of a tree extending towards the cottage, and a number of birds flying in between the cottage and the tree, define the sky-line. Befitting to an Indian mind that holds a woman in high esteem, the craftsman has draped Draupadi not only in suitable ensemble but has portrayed also with a crest. Above these five strips defining the pallu there is an extra band comprising a series of a lone figure of garland-carrying Draupadi, each contained within a paisley-frame.
The entire field has been adorned with two motifs – an icon of a lady with a vina in her right hand, and a set of wooden cymbals, in the left, and a Vishnu-pada like motif, strewn all over. The female figure is in a posture of wandering. Besides that a Baluchar sari with its focus on themes depicting legends, folks or customs, would not portray an irrelevant isolated figure without a folk or mythical background behind, the musical instrument vina and cymbals and the wandering mode essentially reveal her identity as Mirabai, the fifteenth century legendary Krishna-devotee and the princess of Mewar in Rajasthan who after abandoning her royal household traveled untiring to various Krishna-shrines. Maybe, in context to the Great War – Mahabharata, the artisan manufacturing this sari had in mind Krishna, the architect of Pandavas’ victory and the ultimate champion of the Great War. However in consideration of his divine status he evaded drawing his icons on a wear, but sought to mark his presence by representing Mira, one of his devotees, and his feet-symbol.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.
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