There was a time when humans followed strictly the code of ethics called ‘Dharma’. Every person observed it and stuck to it, save of course those who would blatantly flout it and eventually meet their doom. Observance of this code benefited people at first, until it became misused by those with ego issues. The era of the Mahabharata was such a time when those who strictly followed Dharma even to its extremes clashed with those who questioned the very code but would use whatever loopholes within it, often misconstruing its meaning to punish the former. The Pandavas clashed with the Kauravas, who felt envious of the sons of Pandu and blamed them for usurping the throne that was meant for the Kauravas, even though Yudhisthira had proved time and again that he was a better ruler according to Dharma.
The Pandavas had returned to Hastinapura after Draupadi’s swayamvar, having been presumed dead after the deadly Varanavata fire. As expected, they had been doled out a bleak landscape to develop, called Khandavprastha. They worked hard under the guidance of Lord Krishna and his elder brother, Balarama, and Khandavprastha soon became Indraprastha, which soon earned the envy of the Kauravas.
One day, a Brahmin came to Indraprastha late at night, seeking protection from the Pandavas from a demon who had stolen his cows and would harm him. Arjuna, the archer-Prince, heard him, and roused, as was his wont, rushed into Draupadi’s chambers, where his celestial bow Gandiva was kept, unmindful of the promise he had given his wife that he would not enter her chambers until he was called for or it was his turn (Draupadi was married to the five Pandavas and demanded that she spend a year each with one of them before going on to the next. At the end of each year, her virginity would regenerate, thanks to Lord Shiva’s boon.)
Arjuna fulfilled his Kshatriya-Dharma and protected the Brahmin by killing the demon and returned the next morning with the stolen cows. As he dismounted his horse, he knew that he had to fulfil his promise to Draupadi and depart from Indraprastha to lead an ascetic life in the forests for a span of twelve years. And so Arjuna did, being a man true to his word.
At the end of the exile, Arjuna, in the guise of a Brahmin, came to Somnath, a place near Dwarka. There he beheld the Yadava Princess, Subhadra, who was Krishna’s half-sister. She fell in love with him and would occasionally flirt with him, even though she did not know who he was.
One day, Krishna saw what was happening and asked his servants to bring the Brahmin home. He asked her to feed the Brahmin and ask him for a boon later. Subhadra, being an obedient sister, did as she was told and when the time came for the boon, she asked for his hand in marriage. The Brahmin, shocked, stood up and told her that her marriage to Duryodhana was already fixed by Balarama. Subhadra told him that she knew that he was Arjuna and now that a princess had asked him to elope, Arjuna had to fulfil his Dharma. Arjuna told her that he couldn’t abduct her, as he would have to fight the Yadavas then. Krishna then entered and suggested that Subhadra could kidnap him instead, at which Arjuna baulked.
He asked how a warrior could be abducted and whether it wouldn’t be the talk of Aryavarta. Krishna told him that love is the supreme emotion and vanity shouldn’t take precedence over it.
Arjuna reluctantly agreed and let Subhadra elope with him the next morning.
Today, the rules aren’t so strict, yet vanity still holds power over us. Even now, when society is considered to be progressive, why is a girl proposing to a boy mocked? Why is the boy always supposed to propose or ask for the girl’s hand in marriage?
Does chivalry matter so much? The urban areas might be progressing, but the same does not apply to rural and backward areas, where a boy proposing to a girl is considered a norm and vice versa is considered anathema.
Love conquers all, strength and vanity can only conquer so much.