This is the second in a series of character origin stories from the Mahabharat.
They never gave her a name.
She was her kingdom’s princess. She was her father’s daughter. She was the colour of dusk.
Panchali. Draupadi. Krishna.
She was born out of a sacrificial fire. So was her brother. He knew his purpose. He was driven by it. In time he achieved it and died because of it. What was her purpose? Did she represent the fire out of which she was born? The glorious fire – burning everything in its path – planting the seeds of rebirth. Or was she the sacrifice.
His armour glowed. He walked in and the assembly fell silent. He strung the bow with ease, nocked an arrow, looked down into the pool at the reflection of the fish and then he looked at me. The arrow pierced the fish through its eye. The assembly erupted. He was not a kshatriya they said. Suta-putra. He just shrugged and walked back to his friend, the prince of Hastinapur. I kept looking at him trying to catch his eye. Karna did not look back up.
Everyone else failed. Except for a young warrior dressed in the garb of a brahmin.
That evening I married the five Pandav princes.
I was the sacrifice.
He had pulled me by my hair.
As the chariot slowly led us out of Hastinapur, the events of the day ran through my head.
My husband had gambled me away. I had been humiliated in front of the entire court. They had tried to strip me.
I looked at my hair, falling down to my waist. I had forgotten to tie it back up. I let it stay that way.
I will be the fire that demands sacrifice.
I named myself Sairandhri – a maid.
As I combed the queen’s hair, she remarked at my long open tresses. I smiled and continued combing. The news came in – the queen’s brother had been slain by a monster they said. She ran out of her chambers.
I was the fire.
My sons were dead. My brothers were dead. Killed in the dark of the night while they were sleeping.
My hair was tied up. I had washed it with his blood a few nights back. The one who had dared pull me by my hair – Sushasana.
I looked down at the faces of my dead sons.
I was the sacrifice again.