But the society in which Mohammed was born was very different from ours and its circumstances were such that polygamy became both necessary and moral. They were warring tribes who constantly fought among themselves. Consequently they were always short of male members – many of whom were killed in fighting – while the number of their women went on growing. Out of four persons, three were women. So Mohammed ordained that each man should have four wives. If it was not done, then three out of four women would have been forced to live a loveless life or take to prostitution. That would have been really immoral.
So polygamy became a necessity and it had a moral aura about it. And to set a bold example, Mohammed himself took nine women as his wives, and permitted each of his male followers to have four. No one in Arabia objected to it; there was nothing immoral about it.
The society in which the Mahabharata happened was in the last stages of matriarchy, and therefore polyandry was accepted. But that society is long dead and with it polygamy and polyandry are now things of the past. They have no relevance in a society where the numbers of men and women are in equal proportion. When this balance is disturbed for some reason, customs like polygamy and polyandry appear on the scene. So there was nothing immoral about Draupadi.
Even today I say that Draupadi was not an ordinary woman; she was unique and rare. The woman who loved five men together and loved them equally and who lived on their love could not be an ordinary woman. She was tremendously loving and it was indeed a great thing. We fail to understand her because of our narrow idea of love.
Questioner: You say that persons like Krishna don’t make friends nor do they make foes. Then how is it that he as a king comes running down to the gate of his palace to receive Sudama, his poor old friend of childhood days and gives him all the wealth of the world in return for a handful of rice that his poor friend has brought as his present to him? Please shed some light on this special friendship between Krishna and Sudama.
It is not a special kind of friendship, it is just a friendship. Here too, our ideas come in the way of our understanding. It seems to us that giving away all the wealth of the world in return for a handful of rice is too much. We fail to see that it is more difficult for poor Sudama to bring a handful of rice as a present for his friend, than it is for Krishna to give all the wealth of the world to Sudama. Sudama is so utterly poor, a beggar, that even a handful of rice is too much. Therefore his gift is more important than Krishna’s; he is the real giver, not Krishna.
But we see it differently, we look at the quantity and not the quality of the gift. We are not aware how difficult it was for a beggar like Sudama to collect a handful of rice; it is not that difficult for Krishna to give away lots of wealth, he is a king. He does not do a special favor to Sudama, he only responds to his friend’s gift; and I think Krishna is not satisfied with his own gift to Sudama. Sudama’s gift is rare; he is destitute. In my eyes Sudama shines as a greater friend than Krishna.