DEPICTION: She is also called Krishnaa because she was copper skinned, fiery eyed and had long, black hair. Draupadi was extremely beautiful, intelligent and virtuous woman, with her body smelling like a fresh bloom lotus. She is said to be lotus eyed and slender waisted. She had a perfectly faultless body which emanated natural fragrance. Draupadi was endued with youth and intelligence. There are reasons to believe that she could have had dark skin as the another name, Krysna Draupadi suggests, krsyna meaning black.
DRUPAD’S TAPAS: King Drupad’s queen could not give him children. Therefore Drupad performed tapas to be blessed with children. He performed the yajna praying for a son to fulfill his determination of vengeance against Dronacharya, his enemy. The Drona enmity has a story. King Prushta sents his sons Drupad to the hermitage of sage Agnivesh’s hermitage. There he is acquainted Drona, the son of sage Bharadwaj. In moments of friendship Drupad swore that they would equally share life’s blessings. Drupad goes on to become the King of Panchal while Drona is steeped in poverty. He approached Drupad for his share as promised. Now, Drupad puts his foot down to say that it would be a deal only among equals, so Drona would have to beg for alms. Having thus insulted, Drona awaits vengeance.
The wheel of dharma turns and in time, Drona becomes the warfare instructor to the royal princes of Hastinapur, the sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra. As ‘gurudakshina’ he asks the princes to rope in Drupad in as a prisoner. Drupad was brought bound in chains. Now, taking his turn Drona rebukes Drupad that the whole kingdom was his but being a man that kept promises, he would return half of Drupad’s kingdom.
Reduced to this state, none of Drupad’s three sons, Shikhandi, Satyajit and Vikra, were skilled enough to defeat Drona. He requests the sage Yaja and his brother to conduct a yajna. From his first offering to the sacrificial fire a full-grown son emerged, armed with a sword and a bow. He was Drishtadyumna, destined to slay Drona. From the second offering, a full-grown daughter,whose dazzle blinded the eye, emerged. She was Draupadi. When Draupadi emerged from the fire a was a celestial voice had proclaimed: "This unparalleled beauty has taken birth to uproot the Kauravas and establish the rule of religion". Thus Draupadi springs, not from a human womb but from the fire full grown, in the bloom of her youth, from the holy pyre, yajna vedi.
CURSE and KANYA: Hindu mythology holds Draupadi as a Kanya. In her former birth she is Nalayani or Indrasena, a woman with high sexual appetite. Due to her karmas, she was married to the non-performing sage Maudgalya. The sage is not only quick tempered but suffers from leprosy. So it was rocky in the home front but she was a devoted wife. One day the abusive husband’s finger drops into her meal but without revulsion she removed and carried on eating. This pleased Maudgalya and he offered a boon. ‘Make love to me in five lovely forms’ she asked. To cut short the erotic annotations, she was simply insatiable and drove Maudgalya nuts in bed! He got fed, left the home, probably ran away from his lustful wife to became an ascetic. One cannot blame the poor fellow anyway.
That was not the end as Nalayani pursued the husband and remonstrated that he complete the five forms of love-making, if not more. An helpless Maudgalya cursed her to be reborn and have five husbands to satisfy her lust. After the curse, she practiced severe penance and pleased Lord Shiva with her prayers. He granted a boon to her. Nalayani said that she wanted a husband and to ensure that her request was heard, she repeated it five times in all. Shiva then said that in her next life she would have five husbands. The boon came with a package that Draupadi regains her virginity after having sex with any of the five husbands. Thus, by asserting her womanhood and refusing to accept a life of blind subservience to her husband, Nalayani, the sati, was transformed into Yajnaseni, the Kanya, with refreshing virginity after each time she is deflowered! Nalayani takes her next birth as Draupadi.
BRAHMAVAIVARTA PURANA: There are slightly different versions. One says that she repeated her boon five times in anticipation of her sexual pleasures being satiated and also other qualities in a husband. The Brahmavaivarta Purana states that she is the reincarnation of the shadow of Sita, Maya Sita who in turn is born as Vedavati who was molested by Ravana. Thus is also the Lakshmi of Lord Vishnu. It would be recalled that Tulsidas paints the same picture of Maya-Sita in the Ramayana. It did not happen; it was illusion.
LORD KRISHNA: Mythology is replete with the special relationship between Krishna and Draupadi. According to the Mahabharata, Draupadi always considered Lord Krishna as her Sakha or beloved friend and Krishna addressed her as Sakhi. This is symbolic platonic love existing between the fiery Draupadi and Sri Krishna. But it will be seen that Draupadi is the instrument of Lord Krishna in His master-minded plans of annihilating the evil Kauravas. There are two ways of assessing any given situation. In the Draupadi-Krishna episodes, one often finds Drupadi to be the key figure in Krishna’s scheme of things. She appears to be used. Krishna as Lord constantly puts her in dire circumstances and then as sakha-sakhi validates her persona and rescues her.
SWAYAMVARA: This is a ritual in which the bridegroom is chosen. A string of potential princes gather to grasp Draupadi. Now, King Drupad arranged a contest in which one is to shoot the eye of a mechanically revolving fish by looking at the reflection of water. To compound this, a heavy bow is to be lifted and bowstring tied. Many fellows ran away and those participating simply failed.
Now, the competitors are short listed to Karna from the Kauravas and Arjuna from the Pandavas. Sri Krishna and Draupadi enter the scene in the sabha to intervene. Despite his strength and reputation as a donor-king, she refuses Karna as suitor. He was a match to Arjuna and other contenders but Draupadi drags in Karna's birth origins, all loud and clear to the swayamvara sabha. He is said to be the son of a charioteer, suta-puta. This alters the entire complexion of that assembly. Indeed the course of the Mahabaratha story is also altered by this event. This assault was to have its repercussions in the dice game later. Arjuna won Draupadi by piercing the revolving fish’s eye. Certainly this angers the Kauravas and their allies. Krishna, the sakha, steps in to end this skirmish. He had masterminded the whole episode anyway! This did not at all means Draupadi was going to be happy hereafter.
WIFE TO FIVE HUSBANDS: Arjuna takes his bride home walking through the midday sun and sweltering heat. He announces to queen Kunthi of his skillfully won wife. A little flashback here is necessary to put the events in perspective. Queen Kunthi had tutored her sons that they were to share whatever they acquired. Her daily greeting was ‘Divide by five.’
Now, this is one for the feminists for that matter thinking beings. It is true that Arjuna skilfully shot down the revolving fish to win Draupadi. Now Kunthi wants the 'possession' shared equally by all the five. While it is conceded that Arjuna won the contest, it is equally true that Draupadi chose the husband in a swayamvara. While Arjuna proved himself worthy, the ultimate decision was made by Draupadi herself. For all we know she could have chosen Karna by allowing him to participate. Thus one sees that Arjuna first degraded Draupadi by claiming her as a prize, second having her ‘divided’ and thirdly convincing his brothers, especially Yudhishtira, to execute the Queen Kunthi's division philosophy. It would have been a different ball game if this condition subsequent was intimated in the swayamvara hall, wouldn’t it? We should also not add salt to injury by going into men-women statistics at that time to ponder if there was indeed a shortage of women. We will just stick to the Puranic story line. What are the other justifications in the Mahabartaha?
Well, the five Pandavas were regarded as handsome and gallant and they definitely would not have had a problem wedding women of high birth and beauty such as Draupadi. In her victimised state, she wonders how the 5 in 1 package is going to work. She was expected to love all her husbands equally. That was going to be tricky, if not impossible. And, what about the sexual commitment? These are shades of her previous life as Nalayani.
Who else butSri Krishna, her sakha, enters the scene. She pours her heart in a less explicit manner before Krishna. "O Krishna, how am I to divide myself physically and emotionally between five husbands?" Lord Krishna advises Draupadi to spend a year with each husband to the exclusion of sexual contact with others. Her private chambers thus becomes an exclusion zone, you know, the modern parlance of pre-emptory injunctive relief from sexual abuse! So the other fellows are forbidden to enter when one of them, for a full year is spending intimate moments. The breach of this injunction would be exile for twelve years. So Krishna seems to know the frailties of the brothers and preemts that also! Anyway Krishna's plan works and Draupadi became the common consort of the five Pandavas. She refreshes her virginity which each exit.
Draupadi lives a strictly regimented conjugal life requiring tremendous self-control. She juggles with sentiments and emotions. The circumstances needed sensitive variations and terrible adjustments. Changing lifestyle became a burden with husbands, each with individual characteristics and stormy lives. However, Druapadi earned her respect and reputation by accepting the challenge. The virginity boon by Lord Siva had added much tranquility. In its natural course, Draupadi had five sons, one from each of her husbands. Prativindhya was the son of Yudhishtir, Srutasoma of Bhima, Srutakirti of Arjun, Satanika of Nakul, and Srutakarma of Sahadev.
POLYANDRY – POLYGAMY: This is another sad part adding to her wedding quandary. Draupadi was not just living in a polyandrous relationship. The Pandavas were also polygamous – each had other wives. Bhima was married to the demoness Hidimba. As a token of friendship, after the deaths of Shishupala and Jarasandha, Nakul and Sahadev married their daughters. After Draupadi, Arjuna married several princesses. This included Lord Krishna's sister Subhadra. Now, the other princesses stayed in their fathers' kingdoms but Subhadra comes over to Indraprastha to live with Arjuna. Poor Draupadi had to manage this delicate relationship harmoniously. She marks time while keeping in mind the divine reasons for her birth. It would be well worth recollecting that while Draupadi spends revolving years with each of her husbands, she is denied the fullness of married life. She loved Arjuna most but it was he who had been instrumental of her ill-treatments. She is born out of the sacrificial fire and called Yajnaseni and true to this appellation she burns with men's ill-treatment.
DURYODHANA’ INSULT: Queen Kunti and Draupadi returned to their kingdom, now ruled by Dhritarashtra. It was split into two, Indrapastha and Hastinapur, to avoid conflicts between the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Pandavas made the city of Indraprastha their capital. The heavenly palace, the Palace of Illusions, was replete with all kinds of wonderful illusory architecture. Once, a grand Rajsuya yagna was conducted. Lord Krishna personally supervised the performance of the Rajsuya Sacrifice.
The Kauravas attend this function to see the splendor. Here Duryodhana earns his own insult. He mistook the calm waters of a pond for polished floor and fell in it. He had to quickly lift his clothing, thus exposing himself. Now, Draupadi heartily laughed at Duryodhana, as if saying that the son of a blind would be blind himself! This insulting moment pierced Duryodhana's heart and the grudge was to be kept deep within. But he played a cool game by being humble during the yagna rituals and thereafter proposed a game of dice.
JURISPRUDENCE AND GAME OF DICE: The Kauravas call for a game of dice. Shakuni, maternal uncle of Kauravas, was a very experienced gambler. Yudhishthira was no expert despite being fond of gambling so he went on losing one property after another. The chariots, horses and elephants as stakes got lost, eventually Indraprastha, as well. Finally the Pandava brothers became the slaves of the Kaurava king. There was one ‘possession’ left – Draupadi and she is also lost in the dice game.
Having won, Duryodhana ordered that Draupadi be dragged into the court. In Subramanya Bharathiar’s ‘Panjali Sabatham’ it goes like this in Tamil:’ Selvaai, nee sinthithu iruppathen, munne Panchalar aavi maghal, inne naam soothil edutha vilai maghal paal’ meaning ‘Go (fetch her), why the hesitation, previously the Pandavas’ athma, now a prostitute won in gambling!’ Yudhishthira regret was of no use now and the Pandavas bent their heads in shame.
Draupadi was in daze hearing all this. But she did not meekly obey. She sent back a query which none in the sabha could answer. Yudhisthira was questioned if she was pledged before or after he had lost himself in the gamble. She argued that if he had pledged himself first, he had no right over her as he was already a slave. In modern law this would be the ‘passing of good title’ if a wife was indeed a property. Then she went on with the doctrine of equality of bargaining power on the basis that Duryodhana had not placed his wife as a matching stake.
Her arguments were neither listened to nor heeded. She was dragged by her hair into the hall and disrobed completely. Karna said her nudity would not matter as she is now a prostitute. Dhritarashtra, Bheeshma, Drona, Kripa and Vidura were all silent despite Draupati’s shouting eyes. All sat with heads bowed. Dushasana was ordered to disrobe. Seeing that her husbands are dumb founded, Draupadi prays to Sri Krishna. Krishna appears as Lord Dharma to justify morality. Draupadi loosens her coifed hair and vows that she will not knot it again until she has washed it in Duryodhana's blood. As she is disrobed, the more her sari is pulled away the longer it becomes. It is this event which turns Draupadi from a contented, but strong willed wife into a vengeful Goddess Draupadi. Dushasana gives up and there is ruckus in the royal court.
CONDEMNED TO REPEAT: The blind Dhritarashtra heard the disrobing event through his wife, Gandhari. In great regret, he allows Draupadi three boons. She wanted her husbands freed from bondage and properties restored. The third was a curious request that only brahmanas be fit to receive the boons. Dhritarashtra then invited Pandavas to a new game of dice at Shakuni and Duryodhana’s instance. The rules are modified that the loser would be exiled for 12 years and a marginal anonymity year. The Pandavas, forgetting the erstwhile dramatic event, accept the challenge and lost the game of dice again. Thus they were packed off for 13 years in exile.
In all, Draupadi’s story is a reflection of the concept of wives being a property to be possessed in the olden days. Her life is to be seen at a meta-physical level and not on human terms or sexual pervesity. She is a classic Puranic example of feminine abuse and humiliation. Despite having to satisfy 5 husbands there is not one verse to suggest lust on Draupadi's part. The lustful Nalayani's story is brought in to explain how and why Draupadi landed with five husbands in her rebirth. But this will have no moral bearing on Goddess Draupadi.
The obscene and terrible event is one of many perpetrated by Duryodhana which culminate and erupt in the battle at Kurukshetra. Many questions of morality are raised by Draupadi’s humiliation, for example why did Bhishma sit by and do nothing? Did Drona owe any duty at all? Why did Karna, the son of Surya, the Sun God, lose his intellect? However Draupadi’s humiliation does offer one very legitimate reason why Arjuna must fight: If the warrior cast, the Kshatriyas, do not fight to protect dharma and their women and fight for their safety, then who will? Dharma must prevail over adharma. Draupadi was the forerunner to have raised feminine rights. And she was vocal too.This has been an ongoing fate of women throughout the Kali Yuga. The situation has not seen must of a drastic change. Feminine rights and discrimination of women in many parts of the world now are more on paper and not in practice.
Yogi Ananda Saraswati