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Legions of Slave Women in the Mahabharata

Awakening to the Bhagavad Gita (series) - 1

For, taking refuge in Me, they also, who, O Arjuna, may be of sinful birth—
women, Vaisyas as well as Sudras—attain the Supreme Goal!

How much more easily then the holy Brahmins and devoted royal saints (attain the goal);
having obtained this impermanent and unhappy world, do thou worship Me.
The Bhagavad Gita, Chap 9, Ver 32, 33

So women are of sinful birth! As well as all kinds of workers, business men, entrepreneurs, most of the general population. The only people of virtuous births are priests — Brahmins — and royal saints, meaning saintly royals, meaning noble Kshatriyas.

No wonder then that Yudhishthira — to reinstate whom this whole Mahabharata war has been fought — maintained hundreds of thousands of slave women! Take that number again: hundreds of thousands! He had so much gold, he could afford to. He had so much virtue, but he wanted more! Let's find the facts and figures from Draupadi's own words. Here Draupadi is recollecting the past glories of Yudhishthira before their exile:
Alas, that Yudhishthira, who was daily waited upon by a thousand sages of ascetic merit, versed in the Vedas and having every desire gratified, as his courtiers, —that Yudhishthira who maintained eighty-eight thousands of domestic Snatakas with thirty maid-servants assigned unto each, as also ten thousand yatis not accepting anything in gift and with vital seed drawn up, —alas, even that mighty king now liveth in such guise.
Okay, normally the characters of the Mahabharata exaggerate figures heavily, impelled as they are by Veda Vyasa's delirious imagination. For instance they would say, 'hundreds of thousands' for 'hundreds'. But here Draupadi is giving precise numbers, so there is a greater likelihood of them to being true. Yudhishthira and his brothers plundered the wealth of the country in blitzkrieg looting and pillaging campaigns, and what they were doing with all that wealth is this. Earning virtue by feeding everyday nearly a hundred thousand Brahmins, gratifying their every desire, and allotting thirty maid servants to a majority of them! This is a huge number of enslaved women! Women, after all, are of sinful birth, the only occupation they seem to fit is that of servant maid or bonded labor!

Elsewhere in the epic, Draupadi corroborates the numbers. Notice that there is little deviation.
Formerly, eight thousand Brahmanas were daily fed in the palace of Yudhishthira from off plates of gold. And eighty thousand Brahmanas also of the Snataka sect leading domestic lives were entertained by Yudhishthira with thirty serving-maids assigned to each. Besides these, ten thousand yatis with the vital seed drawn up, had their pure food carried unto them in plates of gold. All these Brahamanas that were the utterers of the Veda, I used to worship duly with food, drink, and raiment taken from stores only after a portion thereof had been dedicated to the Viswadeva.
Continuing her description, Draupadi comes to the female slaves personally attending on Yudhishthira. The number of them is not ten, not twenty nor thirty, not hundred, not two hundred, not a thousand, not two thousand, not ten thousand, not twenty thousand, but a hundred thousand, or more likely two hundred thousand!
The illustrious son of Kunti had a hundred thousand well-dressed serving-maids with bracelets on arms and golden ornaments on necks, and decked with costly garlands and wreaths and gold in profusion, and sprinkled with sandal paste. And adorned with jewels and gold they were all skilled in singing and dancing. ...I knew the names and features of all those girls, as also what they are and what they were, and what they did not. Kunti's son of great intelligence had also a hundred thousand maid-servants who daily used to feed guests, with plates of gold in their hands.
A hundred thousand for singing and dancing, and a hundred thousand more for serving the guests!

We get further corroboration of Draupadi's figures from a speech of Duryodhana addressed to his father after he had witnessed Yudhishthira's new-found wealth for himself.
And amongst men of all orders I beheld not a single one in the mansion of Yudhishthira that had not food and drink and ornaments. And eighty-eight thousands of Snataka Brahmanas leading domestic lives, all supported by Yudhishthira, with thirty serving-girls given unto each, gratified by the king, always pray with complacent hearts for the destruction of his foes. And ten thousands of other ascetics with vital seed drawn up, daily eat of golden plates in Yudhishthira's palace. And, O king, Yajnaseni (Draupadi), without having eaten herself, daily seeth whether everybody, including even the deformed and the dwarfs, hath eaten or not. And, O Bharata, only two do not pay tribute unto the son of Kunti, viz., the Panchalas in consequence of their relationship by marriage, and the Andhakas and Vrishnis in consequence of their friendship.
88,000 X 30 is by the way over 26 lakhs or 2.6 millions — of slave women, of sinful birth, all at one place. And all in the service of utterly useless holy Brahmins, who knew nothing but eating and enjoying the services of their slave women besides the usual chanting of gibberish mantras, people who didn't generate one ounce of wealth. These are the people, Krishna says, would attain to Him most easily! I think they have already attained Him, the Supreme Goal!
All these holy Brahmins were being looked after by the plundered gold and regular tributes collected from all over the country. Ah those golden times, but thank God they didn’t last for ever! This unhappy and impermanent world, deplores Krishna. If it were up to Krishna I think he would have allotted hundred slave women to each Brahmin, lakhs of them, and made the girls serve the holy men for all eternity.


bookrazy said…
I'm really confused. There's a servant maid who works at home. Am I now accused of owning a slave?

I may be completely wrong, but in these passages that you quoted, at least, nothing indicates that these millions of women were slaves. What's to stop them from being paid servants?
Si_Lee said…
Firstly i doubt those figures because i dnt think earth was that densely populated by human beings thn ..

That aside .. your interpretation and understanding of the epic is cursory and that my friend is demonstrated by the piece published here ..

caste system in India as described in these books is not a gibberish .. we may take the liberty of sayin so because we also take the liberty of commenting despite being ignorant or having half knowledge . no offence meant anywhere ...

can a manager at a construction firm do a masons job perfectly well and viceversa .. No.. that is why even in the modern world and a corporate you have designations .. a hiearchy ..
how different please explain to me are the two .. the caste system and the so called hierarchy in our offices .. ? we dont seem to have a problem with the latter while abuse the former .. why ? because we have already abused, distorted and caused the degeneration of the original caste system which created designations in a society .. designations based on their work which is perfect .. there were no privileges but it is a concept of duty .. its not a concept of the higher or the lower being but the work which should not lead us to discriminate .. but being the egoistic #$%^& that we all are we get in that discrimination.

lastly dont interpret an epic at a microscopic level .. you will always almost misinterpret it .. that unfortunately is what leads to degeneration of any religion or society.
Phalachandra said…
Mr. Rajasekhar Iyer, You are really confused and it shows! First of all that whole class of sudras was a slave race. If you want a paid servant, you will appoint one or two or three servant maids to look after your needs, right? You don't appoint one or two or three thousand or lakhs, right? That you would do only if they are extremely cheaply available, which makes them slaves anyway whether they are servant maids or slaves. For example if you paying only 100 rs to your servant for doing the whole household work, she would be a slave. But if you treating even your slave well, she could be considered a servant maid. So start thinking a little! It is not a question of slaves or servant maids, it is the question of numbers and to what purpose they are used. One brahmin, thirty servants? You are getting any ideas?
Phalachandra said…
Sir Towards Reclamation, numbers I agree, the earth was not as densely populated then, but then they are the original figures. As for your interpretation of caste system, I would say it is totally stupid to compare it with office hierarchy, just absolutely stupid. Because for one thing there is vertical movement in caste system, whereas office hierarchy is based on vertical movement. I am surprised that narrow-mindedness can make people blind to such obvious facts! Caste system has not been abused as you would like to fancy, it was that way to begin with, the whole thing is outright based on higher and lower. You read a little of the Bhagavad Gita for yourself, you would know. Or just read my quote at the beginnning of the essay.
Si_Lee said…
there is no vertical movement in our caste system ??? as in as described in the VEDAS .. ?? I rest my case here ..

as for narrow mindedness goes .. well just because i believe in something does not mean i discriminate .. a manager is a manager .. a peon a peon .. in office the peon cannot be an insubordinate .. outside office he is an equal .. he has his will .. sir i can easily draw analogy between the two .. duty and equality are two different things .. the problem is people mix the two ..

wrt. your rebutt to iyers comment .. please go read your manuscripts .. shudras doea not equal slaves ..
it does not. period.
what if i am bill gates have 100 servants and pay each a 1000 bucks .. and i have a role for each servant .. u know what i don want a single one to take all the work strain i will split it amongst 30 ppl .. I CAN AFFORD IT! and i am being KIND .. an employer of choice .. so there is another interpretation of 30 servants .. the point is you are bringing up something that is 5000 years old .. i dunno why and i don even think it has any bearing on todays society for man, be they hindus muslims christian, aryans romans greek, have all conveniently modified their culture traditions religion based on their desires ...
so i am missing the basic point here ..
Si_Lee said…
and i do read full posts .. not their abstracts sir ..
bookrazy said…
Hmmm... First, a request. Since we're discussing 5000 year old legends, do understand that interpretations will differ. If I state a different opinion, please don't take it as a personal attack on you, and reply as such.

Having said that...
I'll first address the vertical movement issue. The vedas clearly state that caste is not a matter of birth, but of profession. While the term "varna" means colour, it also means "to enclose", and as such has no connotation of rigidity or inheritance.
According to the most ancient scriptures, a person's varna was decided after a set period of study.
As proof I can cite multiple examples from the same Mahabharatha that you use as an example:
First off, Vashitha, the greatest and most powerful of the Brahman's known in ancient India was the son of Shudras. He is considered a Brahmarishi, whom even the Gods revere.
Valmiki was a common thief, Ratnakara by name, who has surely attained a place of great esteem in Indian mythology and world literature.
Vishwamitra's story is perhaps, the best example that proves that it is action, and not birth which decrees your status in the varna system. The author of the Gayathri Mantra, surely considered one of the greatest achievements of men by Brahmins, was a mere king who foolishly sought to test the might and power of Brahmarishi Vasishta. Fuelled by revenge, and also fortitude and intelligence, this mortal king ascended through the ranks of rishis and became a Brahmarishi, one with the power to create a new universe with a new Indra just so a friend could ascend to the heavens! Surely, this tale, if nothing else, rubbishes any claim that the Vedas and Puranas espouse a rigid caste system with no vertical movement? If the sky is the limit, Vashita and Vishwamitra reached it, and neither was born a Brahmin!
Veda Vyasa, the bastard child of a fisher-woman, needs no introduction. He too reached the highest echelons of Brahmanism. through effort not birth.
The stories of these four men are repeated with awe in all the Puranas. If the lesson of the Puranas is indeed that "the one born to a Brahmin is always greatest", then they do a really poor job of it!
The Shabari incident in the Ramayana, as well as the story in the Mahabhratha where Krishna sends water to his Brahmin friend by an untouchable, and many others beside show the disdain with which these stories as well as the Avatars of Vishnu viewed caste based discrimination.

Now, as to your point about these numbers being iron clad, the same Mahabharatha tells us multiple times that Sagara, an ancestor of the Pandavas, had 60,001 sons, 60,000 of whom were born from the same woman at the same time! He also lived for 60,000 years, apparently! This fact is stated repeatedly. If numbers in the Mahabharatha are indisputable, then perhaps this explains why Yudhishtra is asked to think of himself as so vastly superior to other human beings. His ancestor, after all, lived longer than recorded history and gave birth (with his even more super-human wife) to a number equaling a significant proportion of the population of ancient Rome. Maybe modern human values just shouldn't be applied to these supermen?
Phalachandra said…
Sagara's story of 60000 sons comes in Puranas, I don't think it comes anywhere in the Mahabharata. Nonetheless, the numbers in the Mahabharata are often very exaggerated, as in the case of soldiers participating in the final war and so on. I myself specifically mentioned this in my blog post as a caveat and caution. But there is an important point to note here. In the epic, there are two intertwined strands, the mythological and the historical. For example, when it says Arjuna single-handedly fought and killed 30,000 million ferocious danavas after his return from Indra's paradise, we can attribute that to mythology, just as in the case of your Sagara. But when the epic mentions that Bhima single-handedly killed 105 relatives of Keechaka, this episode belongs to the realm of the historical, by Mahabharata standards, and we have to take it on its face value. It could be just 20-25 people exaggerated to 100, but even then it is a big number for one man to take on. Similarly Yudhisthira's rajasooya yagna belongs to the realm of history - unlike the Khandava dahana episode that precedes it; so we are compelled to grant some likelihood to the figures mentioned. Even if we discount them for the exaggeration factor, we are still dealing with some huge numbers here. And even if the entire episode is imaginary, what matters is the morals of these people that proudly describe such stories and the morals of an entire culture of people that gladly accepted it all.

As to vertical mobility, you can't cite one or two exceptions, and claim the whole caste system is vertically mobile! If it was vertically mobile what was the point in having a caste system?!! We have a great hierarchy in our modern society too, but we don't call it caste system! It was Buddha who said a Brahmin doesn't become a brahmin by birth. Please give me some references for your claims of a person's caste being decided after a set period of study. Even so, suppose I flunked in my 10 th standard and they made me a carpenter, so should I forever be "enclosed" in that occupation? What if 10 years later I read the Bhagavad Gita, though Sudras are not permitted to listen to scriptures according to the MB, and my intelligence dramatically improved? Can't I become a brahmin now? Even accepting all your baseless claims to be valid, the caste system remains a most nonsensical, brutal, oppressive and inhuman social structure.
Phalachandra said…
Now let me come to your examples. I don't know from where you got that Vasishta born to sudras story! Sage Vasashista was born to Urvasi and Varuna/Mitra, as was his brother Agastya, and that too they are 'mind children'. Valmiki, yes. But that proves my point, a robber can easily be made a brahmarshi than a carpenter, since there is no fear that he would set a precedent! So your Valmiki example proves nothing. VedaVyasa is born to Sage Parashara, he is born a brahmin, caste is decided by father, not by mother! So Vishwamitra is the only valid exception, but he was a Kshatriya to begin with! What's the big deal? Brahmins and Kshatriyas are both upper classes. So Vishwamitra story doesn't rubbish the fact of mortal, morbid rigidity of the caste system, as you vainly wish it to do. In all the history of a nation you can't cite one or two exceptional cases, which are moreover very weak examples, and try to disprove some monumental facts of its social edifice. Let me cite you some examples which are more valid. Karna was a king by all standards, but everyone including and especially Bhishma, used to constantly disparage him by calling him Sootaputra! And remember how Ekalavya is denied the tutorship of Drona simply because he was from lower castes?

Your examples exhausted with Vishwamitra, but I can give you as many examples as you want! But that is the not the point, show me verses from Vedas and puranas which grant flexibility in the caste system, leave alone vertical mobility. On the other hand, I have already given one quote from the Gita which refers to 'sinful births' of women, shudras, and vaishyas, and I can give you many more if you like. Because this is the whole argument of the Gita: O Arjuna you are born a Kshatriya, now fulfill your duty! Now, I can imagine, you'd immediately jump in here and say to be warrior is Arjuna's 'nature' not just his birth-dharma. This is an utterly ridiculous notion, that people have rigid predetermined natures and capacities. I don't want to discuss on such a simple point, assuming that you would understand it by yourself. But if you don't, tell me, I can elaborate upon it.
Phalachandra said…
"there is no vertical movement in our caste system ??? as in as described in the VEDAS .. ?? I rest my case here .."

You are supposed to rest the case after the argument, not before it! Your argument is like, so Jesus is not the only-begotten son of God? I rest my case here!

"as for narrow mindedness goes .. well just because i believe in something does not mean i discriminate .. a manager is a manager .. a peon a peon .. in office the peon cannot be an insubordinate .. outside office he is an equal .. he has his will .. sir i can easily draw analogy between the two .. duty and equality are two different things .. the problem is people mix the two .."

I perfectly agree with your argument, but it is not relevant here. We are not talking about occupational differences.

"wrt. your rebutt to iyers comment .. please go read your manuscripts .. shudras doea not equal slaves ..
it does not. period."

Again, period! Argue something and say period. If you were born to a carpenter and are forced to become a carpenter, and have to force your child to become a carpenter, and all the time you have to work under seriously undersized wages, because more than half it perhaps is going to king as a tribute, then wouldn't you consider yourself a slave? Think! You are a free man right? So give your mind some freedom too, sometimes. Don't enslave it to stupid meaningless beliefs!
Phalachandra said…
"what if i am bill gates have 100 servants and pay each a 1000 bucks .. and i have a role for each servant .. u know what i don want a single one to take all the work strain i will split it amongst 30 ppl .. I CAN AFFORD IT! and i am being KIND .. an employer of choice .. so there is another interpretation of 30 servants .. the point is you are bringing up something that is 5000 years old .. i dunno why and i don even think it has any bearing on todays society for man, be they hindus muslims christian, aryans romans greek, have all conveniently modified their culture traditions religion based on their desires ...
so i am missing the basic point here .."

Then those servants are called employees, not servants! If I can give rs.1000 to my servant maid instead of rs.1000, then she would be my employee. But that is not obviously the case here. A brahmana who himself lives on the charity of others is 'given' 30- women? Gosh, they are his harem, it is such a pity that you people can't see such obvious things. Moreover, yudhisthira was not Bill Gates, a Bill Gates could happen only in the modern society, in preindustrial society if a person was rich, he definitely looted his wealth it from other people, which was most obviously the case with the Pandavas! Got it, Mr. Reclamation? Reclaim your mind before it goes to dogs! Besides, if Bill Gates paid 1000 dollars to each servant and had 30,000 lakhs women in his house to maintain it, we would consider him pathologically depraved. And that is the basic point here, the Bhagavad Gita is still worshipped as a the central scripture of Hindus, and the MB is considered a spiritual epic. But these are nothing but depraved and evil texts. We have not at all modified our culture, as you wishfully think. Even your total inability to see basic points is a legacy of thousands of years of this stupid culture which suppressed all thinking!
Phalachandra said…
One more point, one of you raised the point of micro analysis versus macro analysis. For ample macro analysis I invite you to visit my blog
Si_Lee said…
firstly .. dont get personal .. A heated discussion is welcome .. but don get personal ..

secondly .. nobody is saying tht our culture is great .. if u hv read my earlier posts u would know what i think about culture and religion ...

thirdly .. I asked you .. what is the point in discussing something that is 5000 years old ...? I am not an ardent fan of casteism .. i did not say it should be there .. all i told you was your interpretation is based on how it was distorted by the society .. and not what it is meant to be .. u often quote MB while caste system does not get its defn. from there ..
fourthly ..period denoted sarcasm there .. so the argument was rhetorical ..

Lastly ... when u talk about mind being lost to dogs .. it already is if emotions take over arguments .. refrain from such phrases .. this comes as a request ..

When it comes to problems in the world it is because people are downright selfish and that does not exclude me .. i dunno what u feel about urself .. and the next thing is that people keep brooding over the past .. U feel anger hatred over what ??? Have u forgotten that there is something called as evolution .. of the body mind and soul .. ? If you are questioning the oppression carried out on the pretext of caste etc.. i am with you and i myself have bashed the culture in that regards earlier ..

discrimination and oppression are a signature of everytime .. Bill gates for example was not a clean chit success story .. it has it's own dark secrets but we frame that as business acumen .. anyway thats another thing ..

One more thing no matter how omniscient one gets do not forget that you still do not know everything .. you have spoken so much based on what ? a book u read about things written milleniums ago .. can you gaurantee that none of the facts are distorted .. ? arent there N number of versions of the mahabharata ??? which very differently describe certain events and characters .. can you establish it's veracity ??

thats why i said i am missing the point .. why raise smthing that is 5000 years old and try to relate it to todays world .. ? you might say because u still find it deep rooted in the society .. then go question the rationale of the society today ... ring in a change in it today ..
criticising books people entrust faith in will only lead to bickering and more often fights .. and that is exactly what happened .. the right way to argue is not always talking brash ... it is about citing logic and reason .. which is unfortunately not the path u hv chosen in this post ..

as far as the link goes i am not interested in myths .. or history .. I believe in individuality and in equality of individual .. social and political... I believe in my views being right .. and i believe in understanding that the same is true for others .. they are as imp. to them as mine are to me .. don go around insulting them .. for who are you ???? God ?? I doubt that ..

so again refrain from phrases like mind goin to dogs .. u never know ur life might just end up there ..

lets end it here .. u can hv the last word if you want to .. but let that be the last word then ..

peace . Period.
Anonymous said…
uddi baba.. So much discussion. What point you all are trying to put.

and what is the post trying to convey..
BS Murthy said…
No faulting the proposition by the author based on the linkage of the quotes from the Bhagvad-Gita and Mahabharatha.
However, if one agrees that the quoted Gita verse 32 of Chapter 9 is a a mischievous interpolation as argued in my article in this site 'Mundane distortions in the Divine discourse' and granting that the Mahabharatha figures are poetic exaggerations as conceded by the initiator of the discussion, then the misinformation can be seen in the proper light to make light of it.

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