By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda
asat-sabhāyāh: “The assembly of crooked persons.” Draupadī was lost in bet, betting. So Karna, he had some attraction for Draupadī from the beginning. When there was svayamvara, Karna also went to contest, and he had very much attraction for Draupadī. But Draupadī wanted to get Arjuna as her husband. So she pointed out… Draupadi knew that “If Karna takes the contest, he will be victorious. Karna is more expert than Arjuna”; therefore she played a trick that “This svayamvara ceremony is meant for the ksatriyas, not for others. I cannot accept as my husband, anyone else except the ksatriya. So Karna is not a ksatriya.”
Karna’s history is that Karna is the pre-marriage son of Kuntī. Before her being married, he was born of Kuntī from the ear. Therefore his name is Karna. But still, out of social fear, Kuntī did not kill the child. Nowadays they kill. Instead, she floated the child on a boat, and the boat was let loose, (let to) go anywhere. One carpenter collected Karna and raised him. But Karna was ksatriya – he was Kuntī’s son, born by sun-god, Sūrya. So Kuntī had the power of calling. She got the benediction from Durvāsā.
Durvāsā gave her the benediction that “You can call any demigod, and at once he will come by this mantra.” When Kuntī was young, not married, Durvāsā became the guest of her father, and she served Durvāsā Muni very nicely, attending as a maidservant. Although she was king’s daughter, but because Durvāsā was guest, he was taken care of very nicely. So Durvāsā became very pleased and gave her this blessing that “You can call any demigod, as you like.” So out of curiosity she chanted the mantra and called the sun-god, Vivasvān. So he came and wanted to give her a child, benediction. She said that “I am unmarried. I cannot have child.” “No, this child will be born from your ear.” Aksata-yoni.
Aksata-yoni means a girl who has no union with any other man. That is called aksata-yoni. So in this way Karna was born, but he was raised by a carpenter. Therefore he was not considered to be a ksatriya. So Draupadī knew that Karna, if he contests, then he will be victorious, so she played a trick that “I cannot allow anyone else except the ksatriyas to contest in this svayamvara.”
So Karna had attraction for Draupadī, and he remembered the insult also, that “Draupadī had insulted me, not allowed me to take part in the contest.” Now that old grudge, he wanted to fulfil. When Draupadī was lost in the gambling, so this Duryodhana and others, they were very friendly to Karna. So he advised, “Now this woman is lost. We can use her as we like.” So they decided, “Yes, why not? So make her naked in this assembly.” So it was decided that they would see this woman naked, naked beauty. Therefore, asat-sabhāyāh.
This assembly was not of gentlemen. Asat – this word is used. Sat and asat. Sat means gentle, and asat means uncivilized. So they were so much uncivilized that they wanted, “Never mind.” That woman was lost – it was a betting. Her husbands were quite competent, but because they thought that “We are lost,” they did not take any part. “You can use her as you like.” But that was not the duty of gentlemen, a ksatriya. Therefore it is mentioned as asat-sabhāyāh. A woman is asked to be naked in the assembly—that assembly is not gentlemen’s assembly. That is meant for the uncivilized, crude. The woman is respected everywhere.
So in India, especially, women are still respected. Therefore Cānakya Pandita says, mātrivat para-dāresu: “Any woman who is not your wife, she should be treated as your mother.” This is moral instruction. Mātrivat. At the present moment, they have invented the word bahinjī, “sister.” No. In the Vedic culture, there is no such thing as “sister.” “Mother” – that is Vedic culture. Because mother is always respected, so any woman, if she is called “Mother…” The brahmacārī would go to the householder’s house and address the ladies, “Mother, Mother, give us some alms.” So from the childhood, a brahmacārī is trained to address all women as mother. Therefore, when they are young, they cannot see women in any other way. This is Vedic culture. So therefore it is said, asat.
The woman is respected as mother, but in this assembly, Draupadī was to be naked by the order of Karna. It is uncivilized, unlawful. So Krishna remembered this. When Karna was killed, it was not… He was not killed lawfully because he fell down from his chariot, and he was trying to repair the chariot, and Krishna advised Arjuna, “This is the opportunity to kill him. Otherwise you cannot kill him. Kill him immediately.” So when Karna protested, “Arjuna, what you are doing? I am not fighting. I am repairing my chariot and you…” So Krishna said, “Yes, you did unlawful action by making Draupadī naked. So you should be unlawfully killed. This is justice. This is justice to you.” So everything has got so much history in the episode of Mahābhārata. Therefore it is called Mahābhārata, “Greater India.”
[An excerpt from a lecture on the Srimad Bhagavatam 1.8.24 delivered in Mayapur on Oct 24, 1974]