Draupadi – College Essay
2/28/2012 IMAGINING INDIA DRAUPADI: AN INDIAN WOMAN OF 25TH CENTURY IMAGINING INDIA | Dewina Dhruve ‚I asked for one, you gave me five and yet none. A wife wants a husband and a mother a son, You gave me five for both and yet none. I changed not once, but five times for my love, They budged not once; shamed five times was their love. I gave not once, five forever times for my love, They gave not once, many times to their other love, And in the end when we run for the heaven, You make me die, while those five survive.
When I ask why, you blame me of my untrue love, But I smile at you, happy to be freed of those five shackles.? I was probably five years old when I first heard of Mahabharata. My grandfather had made me sit in his lap and then told me the episode of the legendary bridegroom-choice ceremony ‘Swayamvara’ of Princess Draupadi. As per his version, Draupadi, a woman beautiful and witty beyond description, was desired by not just the mortal kings but also the immortal Gods of Heaven. King Draupad, Draupadi’s father had laid down an almost impossible task in front of these kings and Gods, in order to win Draupadi.
The task involved picking up a mystic bow from the ground and hitting the eye of a revolving fish with an arrow, only by looking at its reflection in the water. One after the other, each king tried his luck but only in vain. Forget the hitting, not one could pick the bow from the ground. There was some supernatural force from within that kept pulling the bow towards the ground. Looking at all this, Draupadi got a bit tensed. What if there was no one who would be able to complete the task? Will she remain unmarried all her life?
While I was listening to his tale, in my mind, I knew that there had to be a hero. It was always like that. There is a heroine who is always in trouble and then out of nowhere, a young and handsome hero comes and saves her life. And then they get married and live happily ever after. After listening to a series of Indian mythological stories – Nala and Damyanti, Seeta and Rama, Rukumani and Krishna, Dusyanta and Shankuntala etc. my mind had been programmed to think in this particular fashion. However, to my disappointment this story did not end in a similar way.
The entry of the mighty hero Arjuna, his accomplishing the almost impossible task and finally winning Draupadi’s heart and hand both went well with my above logic. But the latter part of the episode did not. Instead of getting married only to Arjuna, Draupadi married his four brothers as well. I had to ask my grandfather what made her do so? A fast recap of my own family weddings and the ones shown in the movies made me realize that no one had ever done something like that. To that my grandfather explained, ‚Draupadi had prayed for a perfect husband with five distinctive qualities.
However, God could not find one such man on earth. So, instead he asked her to marry five different men, each having one of the five qualities.? Now let me tell you this is just one of the versions that my grandfather mentioned. There are several other versions which have varied explanations for Draupadi’s act of polyandry. Getting back to the incident, an innocent little face of mine looked up into his eyes and asked, ‚Wow! Is it like I wanted just one chocolate and got five instead?? Grandfather shook his hand and asked me a question, ‚Who according to you is the perfect heroine in Bollywood?
Also, what five qualities of her make her the perfect one?? To that I jumped out of his lap and started singing ‚Mera piya ghar aaya ho raam ji…? Definitely, Madhuri Dixit was the perfect one. She had a beautiful smile, lovely curls, a nice and slender body, versatility and she was the best dancer in Bollywood. Though at that point of time, I was too young to point out all five. My grandfather helped me out with few of those points. He then explained, ‚Now consider five different women; one has her smile but not the rest. One has her slender body but not the rest.
One has her versatility but not the rest. One has her curls but not the rest. And one has her dancing skills but not the rest. Can these five females together replace Madhuri Dixit as the perfect actress in Bollywood?? I immediately shook my head and said, ‚God cheated on Draupadi, Grandpa! It’s like he gave her five chocolates instead of one, but none tasted great.? And that was one interpretation of this affair. With time, I believe my own interpretations about this episode have changed. Today, as many other young Indian women, I am also harassed by my parents for getting married.
Once while I was getting dressed up for just another ‚girl – seeing? ceremony, I thought of Draupadi. Had it been my ‘Swayamvara’, what would have been my thought process? I, Draupadi, see myself in the mirror. I see a flawless dark beauty, clad with silk and gold, shining in the reflection of moonlight, with sparkling eyes having thousands of questions about my own future. I see in myself a young sensual woman who can no longer suppress her libido. I also see in those eyes an intellect of an order that matches only Lord Krishna, the man who gave this world the theory of Karma.
And finally I see in those blue lotus-shaped eyes, love. I ask my friend Krishna, ‚Do you think that there exists a man in this world who can satiate all five desires of a woman viz. physical, emotional, material, intellectual and spiritual?? To that Krishna laughs and simply says, ‚No man on this earth can ever accomplish that task my dear.? I further question him, ‚So, if there are different people who can satisfy my five different needs, I don’t think there is anything wrong in marrying all five of them.? Krishna replies to that, ‚Definitely not, my dear.
If a man is allowed to practice polygamy, shouldn’t a woman be allowed to practice polyandry? History is a proof that there’s hardly been an Indian woman whose desires have been given importance. Panchali, you set an example that challenges this very chauvinistic nature of the Indian society that has prevailed for centuries.? But was Draupadi truly a free agent to choose as per her will? Mahabharata and its Draupadi have become an integral part of the Indian culture through the oral tradition that has been practiced in India since ages all over.
Each narrator adds his own perception to this tale and passes it on to the next generation. So, was Panchali happy with her five husbands or was she duped by her lord? One can only attempt to answer that. Draupadi has always been an enigma and it is this enigma that makes her all the more intriguing. The Hindu society has defied its own norms by drawing this brilliant character into the Indian culture. As you traverse through the epic of Mahabharata, it seems as though the narrator, taking aid from this awe-inspiring protagonist, has tried to break through all the societal taboos and rigid customs.
Draupadi was definitely modern for her society but she is way too modern for even today’s Indian society. If that would not have been the case, how is that we Indians who name our kids after any random Indian mythological character, have conveniently avoided the character Draupadi for all these many years! Even after 5000 years, we still doubt her morality and look down upon her as a whore. The question is not whether we have understood Draupadi; the question is if it were her choice, whether we have ever appreciated her? To appreciate a character like Draupadi is again a matter of choice.
Somehow, the Indian society has very cunningly chosen Sita as a role model for all the women in the Indian society. And why not? Sita is this beautiful, calm and virtuous woman who would stand by her husband’s side no matter what and not ever raise her voice against the atrocities done unto her. No doubt even Draupadi always stood by her husbands’ side even in days of deep trouble. But unlike Sita, she competed with the men of her family and fought well for her rights. Her very birth was sign of mutiny against the nature’s laws. Jesus did not have a father. Draupadi did not have a mother.
Yajnaseni, as she is rightly called, along with her sibling Dhrstadyumna, was born out a sacrificial fire (yajna) performed by her father in order to take revenge on Drona, Arjuna’s master. Krsna, as she was called for her dark complexioned lotus-like beauty was then renamed to Draupadi ‚the daughter of Drupad?. If I simplify all these metaphorical allusions, Draupadi is described as a fiery woman of strong will power, one who equals man in wit and toughness, one who is fit to rule an empire and one who would demand due respect and glory. Draupadi reminds me of the Coke ad when it had launched a 200 ml bottle worth Rs. and every second the guy would shout ‚Panch?. There is some mystical connection between Draupadi and the number five. Draupadi had five husbands. She even had five sons. She is also one of the five most venerated women of Hindu religion (panchkanya). So, when I had first heard that she was called Panchali, I though it definitely must have something to the word ‚Panch? (five). However, it simply meant she belonged to the kingdom of Panchala. However, her connection with the number five takes me back to the ancient India when there were no rigid societal norms on women.
A woman had full sexual liberty. She could have sex with any man she wanted to. And if a man would refuse to do so, he was deemed a eunuch. Neither had the law of marriage been incorporated in the Indian society, nor had the word whore been addressed to any Indian women. May be this kind of liberty would have raised some serious issues of ownership and responsibility of newly born offsprings and even fidelity. This era was eventually destroyed by one man named Shvetaketu, the father of patriarchy. It was he who introduced the weapon of marriage to chain down a woman and her yearnings.
From infinity (theoretically and not practically) the number came down to a mere four. A woman could go to three other men if her husband could not give her a child. So, including her husband, a woman could sleep with maximum four men in her entire life. Any woman who had more than four men in her life was declared a whore. Now you see where the whole problem lies? It’s with the number five. Obviously under this pretext Draupadi was a whore, right? But then Nakul and Sahdev were identical twins with hardly any difference. So, ideally she was with only four men.
May be now we can avoid calling her one? Well, not really. The Indian society got even stricter thereafter. The law was tweaked slightly in order to tie down a woman to just one man. Out of her four marriages, a woman was first given to the romantic ‚Chandra dev? (moon), then to the highly erotic Gandharva, then to the ‚Agni dev? (fire) who sanctifies all things, and finally to her mortal husband. With Aishwariya Rai getting married to a tree first and then to Abhishek Bachchan, I doubt there have been much changes since then. And as far as Draupadi’s status is considered, well she is still a whore. Pattanaik) The dark complexion of Draupadi symbolizes not just the energy and fury within her but also her dark side. Like every other character in the Mahabharata, she too is a flawed human being. Let me take you back to the episode of ‘Swayamvara’. There was one man present at that time who actually had all the five traits that Draupadi was looking for. He was Karna, the illegitimate son of Kunti. He was easily able to wield and string the bow and would have definitely hit the target had Draupadi not stopped him. She humiliated him in front of the entire crowd by calling him a charioteer’s son (low caste).
She restrained him from participating in the ‘Swayamvara’ saying she being the daughter of a ‘Kshatriya’ (high caste) could never imagine marrying a low caste. It also shows the extent to which the evil of caste-system has been ingrained in the Indian society. Even a woman as modern and intelligent as her was not spared. If prejudice was one of her weaknesses, pride was another. There was a time when Hastinapura was awarded to Duryodhana and Indraprasth to Yudisthira. Draupadi was then the queen of that kingdom. The Pandavas with the help of Lord Krishna made their kingdom heaven-like.
When Duryodhana and his entourage came to visit Indraprastha, Draupadi took him to the Palace of Illusions. The courtyard of the palace was divided in two parts – half land and half water. The surface that appeared solid as granite flooring was apparently water and the solid surface appeared to have ripple like appearance of a lake. Thinking of water as land, Duryodhana stepped onto granite-like surface and in a splash, he found himself waist deep in water, drenched from head to foot. Draupadi, blinded by vanity, did not think twice and immediately passed an insulting remark, ‚blind man’s (reference to Dhritrashtra) son is also blind? hich futher enraged him. Draupadi and her maids had a good laugh. This incident marked the beginning of the end. If Draupadi could be a caustic queen, she could also be an epitome of compassion. She endured every hardship that her husbands had to go through and stayed by their side all the time. Not one existed in this world that could change her love and loyalty for them. Her portrayal of Pandavas to Jayadratha who abducts her talks of them being no lesser than God. The narrator has also shown her to be a forgiver. She eventually forgives Arjuna for bringing home another wife Subhadra and treats Subhadra like her younger sister.
Post war, she even looks after Gandhari with respect and affection, even though Gandhari’s sons had ill-treated her in every possible way. Owing to her virtuous nature, Draupadi is considered the last of the five ‘panchkanya’, a group of five most venerated women in Hindu tradition. She is still an inspiration for the women of today. (Pancha Kanya Stuti) Next we move to one of the most referred incident that is often considered to have marked a conclusive moment in the story of Mahabharata. During the Social Science classes in our institute, Prof.
Matthew had once quoted, ‚In India it is very tough for a person to live (not to be confused with survival) if a. the person is a woman b. the person is a whore“ ? Draupadi was a woman beyond doubt but her character was always questioned. Well, she belonged to both the categories, she had to be humiliated and ill-treated. It was written in her fate. During the game of dice that was conspired by Sakuni, Duryodhana’s maternal uncle, an inexperienced Yudisthira loses all his wealth to Duryodhana. In his foolery, he not only loses his wealth, but also his brothers and his wife as if he had the right to wager them.
This very move of Yudisthira questions his status of ‘Dharma-Raj’ (the righteous one). Duryodhana, in order to seek revenge from Draupadi orders his servants to drag her out to the courtroom. Once again the ever quick witted Draupadi asks the wretched servant to go back and ask Yudhisthira, “Who had he lost first, himself or her? ” It is this paradoxical question that the ‘Dharma-Raj’ was never able to answer. If Yudhisthira would have lost his wife before himself, then he would immediately lose his title ‘the righteous-one’ as he did not carry out the duty of protecting his wife.
On the other hand, if he had already lost himself, what right did he have over Draupadi? In either case, Yudhisthira had no right to bet on Draupadi. This incident also shows how despite not being a truly righteous person, Yudhisthira is honoured with the title of ‘Dharma-Raj’. It marked the hegemony of the noble blood males over the rest prevalent in the society at that time. We can also draw an analogy between the hapless Draupadi and the poor common man. Corruption is the new Dushashana and the Indian society is the muted council sitting in the courtroom of the blind King Dhidhrashtra.
The common man is raped by this corruption, day in and day out and not one raises his voice against this injustice. Like Vidur and Vikarna, probably there are few good men who speak up but are never heard. And only God knows if he would come and rescue this common man also just like he rescued Draupadi in the Mahabharata. (Mohan) Finally, I have reached the end and so has Draupadi. So, is heaven bestowed upon her? In one of the many versions of Mahabharata, post war, Draupadi and her five husbands retire from this materialistic world and start their journey towards heaven.
If someone were to ask me, Yudhisthira or Arjuna should have been the first ones to have fallen down during the journey and not make it to the heaven. But definitely in a chauvinistic world full of chauvinistic Gods, Draupadi had to be the first one to fall. When Bhima asked Yudhisthira, he explained, ‚The princess did not commit any sin. And even though she loved us equally, she was slightly partial towards Arjuna.? (Mohan) To me a justification like that simply echoes one thing, the never failing partially of the Indian society towards men. Alas, this sort of partiality still exists.
The shameful sex ratio of India (917/1000 as of 2011) which has been dropping year on year supports this very statement. If this continues, I believe a time will come and Draupadi will get back all her due respect. With a highly skewed sex ratio, each woman will have to marry not one but may be five men, just like Draupadi – a 25th century Indian woman! Bibliography 1. 2. 3. Mohan, K. (n. d. ). The Mahabharata in Sanskrit. Retrieved from www. sacred-texts. com. Pancha Kanya Stuti. (n. d. ). Pattanaik, D. (n. d. ). Jaya – An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata.