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Draupathi, The Least Celebrated Feminist From Indian History

Posted: August 10, 2020

In a patriarchal world, Draupathi stood her ground whenever she felt wronged, and her resilience helped her cope with the abuse she faced. 

Vasudeva Krishna was at king Drupada’s palace when the swayamvar took place. The palace was filled with handsome princes and kings from across kingdoms; however Draupathi’s eyes were in search of Prince Arjuna.

Shri Krishna was known as one who follows dharma, physically strong, an extremely skilled warrior, a charming personality and the epitome of wit and wisdom; the exact characteristics which Draupathi expected in her husband to be. Thus, if Krishna had participated in the swayamvar, he would definitely have won Draupathi.

Besides Rukmini and Sathyabama, Draupathi would also have been Shri Krishna’s wife and undoubtedly, she would have been honoured and worshipped for the same. Yet, in due course, her extraordinary birth (yagnaseni – born out of fire) would have become insignificant.

What if Shri Krishna had married Draupathi?

In that case, Ma Kunti would not have realized the purpose of all her sons’ valour, righteousness, knowledge and authority. In that event, the Pandavas would have continued to stay in hiding as they abided by their mother’s words and the unruly Kauravas would have established adharma throughout Hastinapur. Bheeshma would have lived for another indefinite period trying to protect Hastinapur and its throne from adharma.

Indraprastha would not have existed, and Yudhishtir, the eldest of the Pandavas would not been crowned ‘Chakravarthi’. The dice game would not have been played and most importantly, Draupathi would not have been disrobed and humiliated in public. The bloody Kurukshetra war would never been fought.

Everybody including the gods and the goddesses would have lost faith in dharma and we would have been quenching our spiritual thirst with the Ramayana alone. The indomitable spirit and courage of draupathi would not have become known to anybody, including her.

A rare Sakhi-Sakha bond

The Mahabharata is placed in an era where a woman was either a blood relative or a wife to a man, but not a friend. Friendship between a boy and a girl was considered meaningless. Krishna beautified such a relationship by calling Draupathi ‘Sakhi’ while she reciprocated by calling him ‘Sakha’.

He made her understand the importance of her birth, the principles of dharma, and Draupathi surrendered to him completely. He was her only sunshine when her days were covered with darkness. Their friendship was selfless and pure. Krishna and Draupathi symbolised the spirit of unconditional male-female friendship. It was only with Draupathi’s efforts and sacrifices that Krishna was able to establish a dharma rajya. Or else Krishna’s avatar as a human would have been counterproductive.

By being her friend and saviour Krishna conveyed to the entire world that protecting a woman is considered to be the most important dharma (right duty) above all.

Panchali – a woman with a mind of her own

Draupathi didn’t have a childhood as she came out of the fire as a grown woman. She didn’t know that she had stepped into an androcentric society and started questioning her father about it. In a patriarchic society where almost everyone practiced polygamy, she was a woman who had to adapt to a controversial and much debated life of polyandry, which is not an easy decision for any woman to make even today.

Draupathi laid down a rule of her own for her husbands that they should not bring their other wives to the palace; yet she accepted Subathra as her co-wife and did not object her presence. Many people think she was wholly responsible for the war but that is not true. She advised her husbands on the right course of action when they were completely baffled and insisted to Yudhishtir and Arjuna that they do what was right.

At the court of Hastinapur, after the game of dice, she courageously questioned Yudhishtir as to how he could put her at stake when he had already lost himself. She defended herself, and with her innermost strength and firmness of mind, vowed that she would not tie her hair again until she had decorated it with the blood of Dusshasana. She is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Kali, and accordingly she proved her shakthi. Draupathi followed her own vision of truth, justice, independence and was talented, brave, and open minded, qualities mandatory for every woman. She was a revolutionary in every possible way.

Though she is worshipped as goddess across parts of South India and Sri Lanka, unlike goddess Sita or Savithri of the Savithri-Satyavan legend, we don’t find Draupathi in our pooja rooms nor are we taught to be like her. Sita is considered to be the epitome of an ideal woman. However, Draupathi’s makes us confront the notion of women as the weaker sex because her vows show the hidden and latent potential of creation and destruction possessed by a woman.

There are only a few women in Hindu mythology who were aggressive and who spoke their mind in the world of men. Draupathi was one of them. Draupathi stood her ground and voiced her disgruntlement whenever she felt wronged. That was very brave and impressive of her, considering the time, place and the community she lived in. In the midst of the humiliation, torture, suffering and abuse she faced, draupathi found strength in herself to fight the injustices meted out to her by the cruel males of her society.

It is  that resilience and valour displayed by Draupathi, that transforms her into a paragon of resistance for her gender.

Top image is a scene from the Mahabharata TV series of the 1980s

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