Draupadi has been one of my favorite heroines from the Indian mythology. I have always related to her fiery and passionate nature. A lot has been written about her over the centuries and yet she remains somewhat of a mystery, a woman who can not be completely understood.
Draupadi was a woman whose life remained full of grand events which were not always in her favor. But she remained a woman of strength even in the face adversities. She was a wise woman who had a clear idea of her contemporary times. She interpreted right and wrong with reference to her times and stuck to them. She never tried to bend the definition of Dharma to suit her own ends.
The story behind Draupadi’s birth is interesting. Draupadi’s father Drupad was insulted by the Pandava princes on the behest of their teacher Dronacharya. Dronacharaya was an old friend of Drupad who had promised him that once he became a king he would share his kingdom with Drona. But when the time came Drupad went back on his promise and insulted him. Drona then became teacher to the Princes of Hastinapur and as his fee he asked the princes to imprison Drupad. After being defeated and stripped off half of his kingdom Drupad was left fuming with vengeance.
Drupad decided to perform a yajna to obtain a son who would be able to defeat Drona and avenge his insult. But as always there was a twist in the tale. After the son, a daughter too came out of the Yajna fire.Her beauty was unmatchable. She was called by various name like Draupadi after her father’s name, Yajnaseni because she was born of the yajna fire, Krishna because she was dusky in complexion and Panchali because she was the princess of Panchal.
Draupadi’s life remained eventful. She was married to not one but five men – the five Pandavas, because of a silly order uttered by the Pandava’s mother Kunti. Being the common wife she was duty-bound to love all her husbands equally and not favor any one of them. The assumption that Draupadi was partial towards Arjuna is scattered through out literature. it is also a widely debated story that deep down Draupadi loved Karna and through her whole life regretted the decision to reject him during her swayamvara.
Draupadi was a woman who was caught up in a feud she had no clue about. She became part of a war that had been shimmering through years and came out in open once she became a part of the Hastinapur family. Despite being born ages after the seeds of the feud between Pandavas and Kauravas were sown, Draupadi was blamed for the war between the two factions of the same clan.
Draupadi was married in a family which had seen some strong women throughout its generations. First there was Ganga, Shantanu’s wife who married him on her own conditions and when Shantanu broke his promise she didn’t hesitate to leave him. Then came Satyavati who became the matriarch of the family after her husband Shantanu’s death and made some course altering decisions for her family and kingdom. Kunti and Gandhari influenced the politics of their times with great capacity. In a family which had seen such strong and driven women, it was only natural for Draupadi to feel a sense of belonging. But for her entire life Draupadi remained an outsider to the family.
Immediately after her marriage she was ordered to depart to the abandoned city of Khandavprastha and begin her new life there. Khandavprastha was a forest inhabited by Nagas and the Pandavas had to begin the process of city making by killing thousands of the Naga people. One could say it was a fitting start to a life which was going to be filled with blood and deaths.
Soon after she settled in her new palace and presided over as the queen she was invited to the palace of hastinapur alongwith her husbands where she had to face the greatest tragedy of her life. Draupadi was gambled away by her husband and disrobed in front of a full courtroom.
Here begins her outrage at the society which sits mute and watches a woman being humiliated. Draupadi was way too modern for her times. Nor did she accept five husbands and devoted herself equally to all of them, she was also a woman who knew to speak her mind and didn’t mince her words to suit the listener. She wasn’t one to conceal her personality, her nature in order to please anyone.
Draupadi was born of a fire lit by vengeance and it is only apt that she herself burned in the same fire. The story of Mahabharata is not unknown to anyone and so is Draupadi’s ordeal. Except her five husbands she lost everyone in the war of Kurukshetra. Her beloved sons and step-children, her father and brother and revered elders were all killed in the war.
Draupadi remains a widely talked about character from the Indian mythology. In his book Argumentative Indian , Amartya Sen cites her example to say that Indians have always been people who loved to argument. There have been many parallel narratives about Draupadi which explore the story of Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view for example The Palace of Illusion by Chitra Divakaruni.
In modern day India, Draupadi is worshipped as a village goddess, Draupadi amman, in certain parts of South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In these parts a three week long festival is also celebrated in her honor. In popular culture, Draupadi has usually been portrayed as a strong willed and fierce woman.
In oral epic, Bhili Bharat, which is the Mahabharata of the Bhil people. In this version Draupadi is known as Dropha who is later revealed to be an incarnation of goddess who is worshiped each night by the eldest brother among the Pandavas. Some regional mythologies also depict Draupadi as mother of two daughters apart from her five sons. These two daughters are Pragiti, daughter with Arjuna and Suthanu, daughter with Yudhishthira.
There are different facets to Draupadi’s personality but it can not be denied that she is one woman who remains captivating even after centuries of being written.