Anjali Alimchandani
Post-Colonial Women Writers
3-26-00

 

 

Draupadi

 

 

Draupadi is one of the leading characters of the Mahabharata, a renowned Indian Hindu epic. She was known for her great beauty and determined will, and as a result has often been appropriated as a symbol of women's strength. Here is a summarized version of her story….

When she reached a marriageable age, her father, King Draupada arranged a Swayamvara, or a ceremony through which the princess can choose her husband based on a particular set of criteria. In order to find out who was the most strong and heroic of all the numerous princes and other suitors present, King Draupada organized a contest in which the potential suitor had to lift a huge and heavy bow, tie the bowstring, and using only a water reflection, shoot down a revolving object in the shape of a fish.

Arjuna, one of the five Pandava brothers, part of the royal line, passed the test to win Draupadi's hand in marriage. The royal line consisted of the sons of two brothers, Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Pandu's sons, Yudhishthira, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, were the Pandavas, and the one hundred sons of Dhritarashtra were known as the Kauravas. After the death of King Pandu, the Kauravas wanted to kill the Pandavas in order to retain control over the entire kingdom.

When Arjuna and his brothers returned home from the Swayamvara to tell their mother, Kunthi, about the beautiful "prize" Arjuna had won, Kunthi who was distracted and inside the house, called out, "Divide it equally among you." Since all the brothers were honorable and obedient, Draupadi became the wife of all five brothers.

Conflict continued to escalate between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, and eventually, the Kauravas sent a gambling invitation to Yudhishthira, knowing full well, his weakness with gambling. Yudhishthira slowly gambled everything away, including himself, and eventually, Draupadi. He lost and therefore, Draupadi was dragged to the gambling hall. She protested, claiming that Yudhishthira had no right to gamble her way if he had sold himself first, but her protest, though bold, was ignored. The Kauravas attempted to shame her by demanding that her sari be unwrapped. She screamed for help from her five husbands, but since Yudhishthira, the eldest brother, remained silent out of honor and shame, no other brother said a word. Thus, Draupadi prayed to Lord Krishna, and after hearing her prayer, he protected her and made her sari an endless piece of fabric. Thus, her honor was saved. She placed a heavy curse upon the Kauravas, and out of fear, King Dhritarashtra granted the Pandavas their half of the kingdom back.

The Kauravas then offered Yudhishthira another gambling offer, in which the defeated party had to give up the kingdom, remain in the forest for twelve years, followed by another year in which they lived completely incognito. Yudhishthira lost again, and therefore the Pandavas gave up all royalty and began a life in the forest. The Kauravas continued to try and create problems for the Pandavas, but Draupadi's faith and worship in Lord Krishna helped them time and time again.

After the twelve years of exile, the Pandavas had to disappear and become incognito, and so they disguised themselves as various workers and servants and entered the palace of Virata, the King of the Mathsya country. Draupadi became the servant of Queen Sudeshna. The queen's bother, Keechaka became enamoured with Draupadi and begged her to marry him. She refused, and in anger, Keechaka pushed her in front of the royal court. Enraged by everyone's inaction, including her husbands, Draupadi screamed her anger and demanded that her honor be protected. In a huge fight, Bheema eventually killed Keechaka, the year came to an end, and the Pandavas returned home. The Kauravas refused to return half of the kingdom and there were arguments concerning the best method of resolving the conflict. Draupadi insisted upon war and punishment against the Kauravas, and Lord Krishna agreed. Thus, war began and many were killed, but the Pandavas won the war. However, in the process, Draupadi's five sons were killed as well. Yudhishthira, so disgusted by the violence of the war, refused the kingdom, but Draupadi convinced him of his duty to the people, and therefore, he agreed and accepted the throne, and the Pandavas regained rule.

Draupadi is often considered a symbol of the Indian woman's strength, virtue, honor, and self-sacrifice; she is often represented as the "ideal" Indian woman. However, in recent years, many feminists have reappropriated and reinterpreted her story to comment upon and reflect the changing ideas of womanhood.