Draupadi – The first feminist of Indian Hindu Mythology

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Draupadi – The first feminist of Indian Hindu Mythology

In Hindu mythology, few women stand out as much as the character of Draupadi. Draupadi is the wife of the five Pandava princes in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata; she is a heroine who is unpredictable, unwavering and who could also possess the austerity of a traditional Hindu wife. Many see Draupadi as an early feminist because of her fearlessness in admonishing those who harmed her or her family. Draupadi existed in a time when a woman’s role was to serve her husband. As Dr. Vanamala Bhawalkar states, “in Draupadi’s Era, there was no question of women’s equality with men. The wife was the counterpart of her husband and both together became a complete person. As Milton had said “He for God and she for the God in him” was true in those days.” The unique relationship between Draupadi and her husbands is what makes her story so exceptional. Draupadi, the wife of the mighty Pandava brothers was anything but a conventional wife; she was smart, bold and would often lead her husbands into action.

THE COMPLETE MAHABHARATA: 9 Volumes

There are few women that compete with the beauty of Draupadi; all those that met her adored her. Her beauty was so great that she delighted all of the human senses. Alf Hiltbeitel states this of her beauty: “The very sight of her was magnetic due to her irresistible beauty and fragrance”. Draupadi’s beauty would gain her much attention, but it is her ability to balance her beauty with the desirable traits of a wife that gain her such devotion. However, as Bhawalkar notes, it was not only her beauty that won her praise: “Yudhisthira said that she was such that any man would desire and that she never committed any sin. Bhima equaled her to the ancient famous wives. Her mother-in-law Kunti praised her for the virtues and her laudable behavior with all her husbands”. Draupadi was as skilled in the arts of being a woman, and everything that was associated with womanhood, as she was gifted in beauty. Her opinions were well respected and supported by her family due to her vast knowledge of many subjects. Unlike many women in her era, Draupadi’s father, Drupada, allowed Draupadi to be educated. Bhawalkar comments on Draupadi’s education: “Drupada had engaged learned Brahmanas for the education of his sons. Draupadi also joined them and became an expert in Political Science”. It is possible that the unique qualities that Draupadi possessed, such as strength and audacity, are a result of being educated. Having such a complete education would have given Draupadi a sense of confidence unfamiliar to most women. Also, Draupadi was quick to learn and thirsted for knowledge; she had a keen memory and had a vast knowledge on many subjects. Bhawalkar comments on the success of Draupadi as a student: “She became known as Pandita (learned and wise) and grew up a charming maiden admired by all”. Bhawalkar affirms that these attributes are a part of why Draupadi was so well liked and respected. Her intellect and knowledge did not however hinder her ability to be a dutiful wife. “Draupadi was a devoted wife, chaste, religious minded and adhering to duty. Her integrity and fidelity were admirable. She was always careful to please her husbands, served not only them but even their wives”. Draupadi was concerned with the common good of all her family and believed that a family functioned best as a whole unit. Draupadi was so devoted to her husbands that she followed them into exile and a life without lavishes. Sandy Sutherland notes that in exile she is depicted as: “having suffered great insult, but faithfully following her husbands into exile and enduring the hardships of the forest. It is from these scenes, and not from her life in the palace, that we learn of the real character of Draupadi”. She was quick to see the benefit of her polygamous lifestyle and was able to take all obstacles in stride. Draupadi possessed the desirable traits of many women, and was able to use these traits to influence and control. Draupadi had a great understanding of the balance between being bold and forthright, and being submissive and dutiful.

Draupadi Chir Haran - A Poignant Episode from the Mahabharata (DVD)

Of all the parts in the Mahabharata that include Draupadi, the story of Draupadi’s Cheer-Haran remains the most vivid. This is an important event because it is one of the main reasons for the Mahabharata war, and it is also a breaking point for Draupadi. The climax of this event is when Draupadi is dragged into court after Yudhisthira had lost her in a bet to the Kauravas, along with all of his wealth and kingdom. The character Dushsasana, one of the Kaurava brothers, attempts to strip off Draupadi’s sari. However, Draupadi prays to Krsna and he works a miracle to prevent her sari from running out of layers. Draupadi is humiliated by this and is angered by the Pandavas inability or reluctance to help her. It is her reaction to this abhorrence that we see Draupadi’s bravery, as she reprimands those around her in the court. Bimal Krishna Matilal comments on her courage: “Draupadi had presence of mind and fearlessness even during calamities. She could rebuke and threaten the Kauravas, Jayadratha and Kicaka for molesting her and was bold enough to argue with the members of the assemblies of the Kuras and also Virata”. It is Draupadi’s reaction to situations like these that set her apart from her husbands; she is often the first to react to any injustices and is a visibly powerful figure often controlling the Pandavas. Sutherland comments on the power that Draupadi possesses in this incident: “The episode is ironic, though. During the scene we are made aware that the beautiful Draupadi is possessed also of quick wit and a clever tongue. Her ability at debate is soon demonstrated, and at the conclusion of the episode, we realize that her wit has saved her husbands from impending slavery”. The Pandavas recognize what Draupadi is capable of and listen to her. Because she possesses such vast knowledge on politics, the Pandavas are inclined to listen to her and frequently rely upon her for decision-making. This is not to say that Draupadi was invincible, she was greatly affected by conflict and would become emotional. Bhawalkar comments the on emotional side of Draupadi: “Draupadi, unlike the mythological goddess or the ideal heroines of our ancient literature, was quite human with human emotions and feelings like anger, love, hate, happiness and grief. Her life was full of ups and downs and she maintained her dignity in both the situations”. It is Draupadi’s ability to overcome adversity in a venerable manner that sets her apart from other women. In the Mahabharata she proves that no situation is insurmountable, and she never abandons her husbands, regardless of the positions they lead her into.

आस्थावती द्रोपदी - Asthawati Draupadi

After the incident at the court of the Kurus, Draupadi emerges as a much more powerful character and this is seen in the interactions with her husbands. Bhawalkar remarks on Draupadi’s relationship with her husbands: “Draupadi was not a dumb follower of her husbands. She had her own individuality. Though soft speaking she used harsh words to her husbands and others when necessary”. This boldness is what sets her apart from other women in the epics. The Pandavas are accepting of this treatment possibly because they feel guilt for their abandonment of Draupadi at the court, or possibly because they truly trust in her decisions. The Pandavas often looked to Draupadi for guidance and approval. Draupadi was in many ways equal to her husbands and they desired her respect. Despite the fact that Draupadi eventually forgives her husbands, she is left with a desire for vengeance, and is quick to seek revenge on those who offend her or her family. Draupadi begins to be recognized for this aggressive attitude and her enemies are wary of her power. Enemies knew that Draupadi had a great influence on the Pandavas and she was feared because of her vast knowledge on all things moral. “She could argue forcibly to win her point with apt quotations and illustrations from her fund of knowledge on various subjects like righteousness, duties and codes of conduct for the four Varnas (castes), moral, legal and ethical codes and was called Dharmajna, Dharmadarsini”. Although Draupadi was desperate for revenge on those who harmed her, her distinction between right and wrong was rarely clouded and she was often in pursuit of justice.

द्रोपदी की आत्मकथा: Autobiography of Draupadi (Novel)

Draupadi’s distinction among other women from the epics is paramount and well deserved; she was far ahead of her time, often found commanding her husbands to do her bidding. It is her ability to use her position with responsibility and insight that show her true power as a woman. Dr. Bhawalkar summarizes Draupadi’s unique qualities:

Yet the superb qualities of Draupadi like steadfast devotion to duty, spirit of self-sacrifice, fortitude; courage, capacity for hard work, presence of mind, perseverance, endurance, thirst for knowledge, wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong and strength to fight against injustice, truth, modesty, forgiveness, softness and harshness as the occasion demanded – these and such other qualities seen in Draupadi’s life are universal and beyond the limit of time and space. Draupadi’s fearlessness and uncompromising nature makes her of great importance in the history of mythological women and of women today.

The Story of Draupadi’s Vow – A Definitive moment in Mahabharata

Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, on the advice of his uncle Shakuni hatched a number of schemes and plots against the Pandavas. He could never come to terms with the fact that the throne of his father will go to Yudhishtira the eldest of the Pandavas. His hatred, fear and insecurity grew with him. His evil acts had the silent approval of his father. Pandavas who created a separate kingdom, Indraprastha, was invited to Hastinapur to play a gambling match. Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas, was addicted to gambling. Shakuni, uncle of Duryodhana, took advantage of this weakness in the Pandava camp.

Yudhishtira lost his entire kingdom, his brothers and their wife Draupadi. Duryodhana, who was drunk in triumph over his archrivals, sent for Draupadi to act as his servant. When she refused stating that, she cannot be pawned by a husband who had already become a slave. Duryodhana then asked Dushasana, his brother to forcibly bring her to the Hastinapura court. Dushasana dragged Draupadi by the hair. Duryodhana insulted her by inviting her to sit upon his lap. Bhishma Pitamaha, Dronacharya, Vidura, Kripa, and numerous other scholars and warriors did not raise their voice against this Adharma. Karna then announced that even the clothes of Pandavas and Draupadi were now not their own and should be removed.

Draupadi (Comic Book)

Hearing this, Dushasana forcibly seized the robe of Draupadi and began to drag it off her person. To the eternal shame of the Kurus, none in the assembly dared to prevent this ignoble act, this humiliation of the daughter-in-law of the Bharata race. As her robe was being peeled off her body, Draupadi thought off Hari (Krishna), and cried aloud saying, "O Govinda, O thou who dwells in Dwaraka, O Krishna, are you not seeing that the Kauravas are humiliating me. O Lord, the husband of Laxmi, O grinder of foes, rescue me! Save my honor! I have five husbands rivalling the prowess of the celestials, but they are powerless to prevent my humiliation. This assembly is filled with men of great fame, invincible warriors and Brahmanas learned in the scriptures, but none has shown the power to prevent this injustice. I am the most unfortunate of women, for I am being insulted in a public court, by those who ought to be the defenders of my honor. I am the daughter-in-law of the Kurus, and they, for reasons best known to them, have chosen to insult me in this reprehensible manner! O Naryana! you are my sole refuge. You are the only one who can save my honor!"

By his divine insight, Krishna heard the prayer of the Panchala princess, and was deeply moved. By his grace, a miracle took place. As Dushasana pulled off the sole garment of Draupadi, another appeared in place, covering her body from prying eyes! Stunned, but determined, Dushasana pulled the new garment off, and another appeared in its place! In this manner, many hundred times did the wicked Kaurava attempt to disrobe her, only to have a new cloth in a different, brilliant color cover the beautiful form of Yajnaseni! The assembly roared their approval of this miracle, that had saved the Kurus' honor, and applauded the resplendent Draupadi. At last, exhausted and defeated, Dushasana fell down in a swoon to the ground.

Bhima: The Man in The Shadows

Bheema could contain himself no longer. With lips quivering in rage, he strode to the center of the assembly and in a loud voice, swore a terrible oath: "Hear these words of mine, O Kshatriyas of the world. Words such as these have never before been uttered, nor shall ever be uttered in the future. Lords of the earth, having spoken these words, if I do not match them with deeds, let me not attain the blessed regions of my deceased ancestors. Tearing open in battle by sheer force, the breast of this wretch, this wicked minded scoundrel Dushasana, I shall drink his life-blood. If I fail in my quest, let the regions of the blessed dead be ever barred to me!" Everyone in the assembly was stunned. The body hair of everyone hearing this terrible vow stood on end. A roar from the crowd signified their appreciation of the second Pandava's vow and their censure of the wicked Dushasana.

Once again, Vidura got up and said, "All of you here! Draupadi is weeping helplessly, having posed a question to this assembly. No one save Vikarna has answered her question, and he regards her as a free woman, not the slave of the Kauravas. He has spoken his mind. It is now your turn. One, who despite knowing the rules of morality, does not answer a query put forth, incurs at least half the sin that would have accrued on having spoken a lie. If, despite knowing the truth, he answers falsely, he would incur the sin of a lie. It is time you all spoke up!" Despite Vidura's pleas, none of the Kings in the assembly dared to answer Draupadi's question. Fear of Duryodhana held them silent. Smiling triumphantly, Karna said to Dushasana, "Take away this serving-woman Draupadi to the abode of your slaves!"

महासती द्रौपदी - Mahasati Draupadi

Dushasana began to drag Draupadi out of the assembly, even as she was trembling and crying. She cried, "Wait a little, wretch! I have not saluted the Kuru elders. It is by no fault of mine that I have not paid them their due respects, so busy I have been with saving my honor. Alas! fate is cruel! Only once before, on the occasion of my Swayamvara, I was beheld by the assembled kings in a full court. I, whom even the sun had never before seen in her palace, is today dragged to this assembly and exposed to the gawking crowd. Alas, she, whom her husbands would not suffer to be touched even by the wind, has been dragged to the court by this wretch! How is that the illustrious Kurus have let their daughter-in-law to be insulted thus in a public assembly!"

She continued, "O Kurus, I, the wedded wife of king Yudhishtra the just, ask you one last time! Tell me now if I am a serving-maid or otherwise. I will accept your verdict whatever it be." "I have already said, O blessed one, that the course of morality is subtle.", said Bhishma. "Even the wise ancients could not fathom all its nuances. It is no wonder that in this instance, I am unable to answer your question. One thing is certain however, as the Kurus have become slaves to covetousness and folly, the destruction of this race shall occur at no distant date. It seems to me, that only Yudhishtra the just can answer your question with certitude."

I, Duryodhana (A Novel)

Duryodhana was getting happier by the minute. He smiled at the thought of the fear that was holding the assembly silent. He said, "O Yajnaseni, your question can be answered only by your husbands. Panchali, let them for your sake declare in the midst of these Kings that Yudhishtra is not their lord, and proclaim him a liar. You will then be freed from the condition of slavery. Or, let the illustrious son of Dharma himself declare that he is not your lord, that he had no right to stake you. If he says these words, you will be a free woman."

A murmur went through the assembly. All were curious to hear what the Pandavas would say. At last, Bheema said, "If the high-souled Yudhishtra were not our lord, we would not have kept quiet so long while Draupadi was being insulted. He is our master, and our lives are his. If he regards himself as won, we too have all been won. Behold these mighty, well-formed arms of mine, like maces of iron. Having once come in their grip, not even he of a hundred sacrifices (Indra) can escape. I have been held silent by the promise given by my elder brother. Let him but give the word, I would slay these wretched sons of Dhritharashtra in the manner of a lion slaying small animals in the forest."

राधेयकर्ण- Radhey Karna (Marathi)

Once again, Karna got up and said, "Of all the persons in this assembly, only Bhishma, Vidura and Drona appear to be independent, for they are always censuring their master as wicked, and do not wish for his prosperity. Everyone else is well disposed towards Duryodhana. The slave, the son, and the wife are always dependent. They may not earn wealth for themselves, for whatever they earn belongs to their master. You are the wife of slaves, incapable of possessing anything on their own. Repair to the inner apartments of King Dhritharashtra and serve there. The sons of Pandu are no longer your masters. It is well known that slaves are not censurable if they proceed with freedom in electing husbands. Proceed to select a new husband, and forsake the worthless Pandavas."

Hearing these words, Bheema's wrath was further inflamed. With burning eyes, and a voice choked with anger, he turned towards his elder brother and said, "O King, I cannot blame this son of a Suta (Shudra), for we have truly become slaves. The root cause of this shame is your staking of the Panchala princess at dice. How could you have done such a vile deed?" Meanwhile, Duryodhana, with the intention of encouraging his friend Karna, and of further enraging Bheema, quickly removed the robe that covered his thigh, and showed his thigh as a mark of disrespect to Draupadi. When Bheema saw this, he let out a terrible roar and shouted an oath, "Let me not attain the regions obtained by my blessed ancestors, if I do not break the thigh of this Duryodhana in battle." As he uttered his vow, sparkles of fire began emanating from his pores, and his body shone like a burning tree.

Draupadi (Five Styles of Bansuri Vaadan By Rupak Kulkarni) (Audio CD)

Vidura was alarmed. He said, "O Kurus, behold the great danger that has arisen. Our race is in danger of extermination. The Kauravas have organized this wicked game of dice and, by deceit, have obtained ascendancy over the Pandavas. And here they are, disputing in an open assembly about a lady of the royal household. The prosperity of our kingdom is at an end. O Kauravas, do you not know that if virtue is persecuted, the whole kingdom becomes polluted? It is obvious that Draupadi is not a slave, for Yudhishtra became a slave first himself, and thus lost any right to stake her." Duryodhana repeated his previous words. "As soon as Yudhishtra admits that he had no right over Draupadi, I shall make her a free woman."

At this moment, a jackal started braying loudly in the sacrificial chamber of the Kurus. The asses in the city started braying in response to that jackal. Birds of ill omen started answering these noises with their cries. All those in the assembly, especially Vidura and Shakuni, who were skilled in the art of interpretting such signs, understood the meaning of these terrible omens. Dhritharashtra was frightened. He had been in two minds since the gambling began, and these ill omens decided the issue. It was not his sense of justice, but his instinct for self-preservation that made him intervene at this point. He said to his son, "O wicked minded Duryodhana, you wretch, you will be the ruin of our race. How could you insult the wife of the great Pandavas?"

Draupadi: The Fire Born Princess (Comic)

He then tried to console the bitterly weeping Draupadi. "Dear daughter, do not grieve. Try to forgive and forget all that has happened here. Ask of me any boon, O princess of Panchala. Chaste and devoted to the path of virtue, you are the first among my daughters-in-law. Ask, and it shall be yours." Draupadi said, "O King, I ask that the handsome Yudhishtra, the glorious son of Dharma, be freed from slavery. I ask this, so that my son Prativindhya be not called the son of a slave." Dhritharashtra said, "So be it. The eldest Pandava is now a free man. Ask another boon of me, I am wishful of doing you good." Draupadi said, "I ask, O King, that Bheema, Arjuna and the twins, with their weapons, be free of bondage." The king said, "Dear daughter, it shall be as you desire. Ask a third boon, for you are deserving of the greatest honor. Two boons are not enough to honor your virtue."

Draupadi replied, "Father, I do not deserve a third boon. Covetousness always brings loss of virtue. It has been said in the scriptures that a Vaishya lady may ask one boon, a Kshatriya woman, two, a Kshatriya male, three, and a Brahmana, one hundred. O King, with my husbands free from the wretched state of bondage, we will be able to achieve prosperity by their own efforts." Vexed by the turn of events, Karna said in an aside, "I have never before heard of such a thing. The Pandavas have been saved by their wife! When they would have had to spend an eternity in bondage, Draupadi has secured their freedom by begging Dhritharashtra! How can they ever erase this shame?"

द्रोपदी: Draupadi (Novel)

Although the words were spoken a low voice, Bheema heard them, and was sorely afflicted. He turned to Arjuna and said, "O Dhananjaya, it has been said that three lights reside in every person, namely, offspring, virtuous acts and knowledge. When life becomes extinct and the body becomes impure and is cast of by relatives, these three are the means of salvation for every person. How, O Arjuna, can a son born from this insulted wife of ours be our salvation?" Arjuna replied, "A person becomes impure, loses respect, by the bad deeds committed, not by insults heaped by others. Draupadi is as virtuous as ever, as none of what happened here was her fault. Do not grieve, do not be angry. Ignore the words of Karna, for they have been spoken out of chagrin, and have no basis in truth." Bheema was still not satisfied. He said to his elder brother, "Shall I, O King, slay without loss of time all these foes here? Or shall I take them outside and kill without mercy? Give but the word, and it shall be done."

Gita Upadesha

Yudhishtra, however, signalled his brother to remain calm. With folded hands, he approached Dhritharashtra and said, "Dear uncle, you are our master. Command us as to what we should do. O King, we will always be obedient to you." Dhritharashtra replied, "O best of men, go in peace and safety. Go back to your kingdom and rule with justice. You are aware of the subtle path of morality. Not only are you possessed of great wisdom, you are also humble, and respectful unto your elders. The truly wise practice forbearance. Follow the counsels of peace. Forgive and forget the injustice done to you by my sons. Control your anger and that of your brothers, by recollecting the love shown to you by myself and your aunt Gandhari. Let there be peace between your brothers and my sons."

Yudhishtra saluted his uncle and the other elders of the court and took his leave. Soon, the Pandavas, accompanied by Draupadi, mounted their chariots and left for Indraprastha, not wanting to stay in Hastinapura, with which many painful memories were now associated.

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