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7 Lessons Draupadi Teaches Us About Feminist Leadership

Draupadi was not merely an aggrieved woman, but an ambitious leader, a diplomat, a keen politician who understood what motivated her husbands, and she always kept that front and centre so that they would not lose focus.

There is no doubt that the Mahabharata would be a completely different tale without the presence of Draupadi. Her sheer presence in the story; without even considering what she experienced, is a guiding light screaming to explore feminist ideas. When you add her chirharan, along with the repeated assaults on her from men, Draupadi’s voice in the narrative is not just meaningful, but transformative to our understanding of the story.

A strong woman, not afraid to speak her mind, is silenced by repeated sexual assault attempts, and then blamed for being too comfortable with her own sexuality, often called names and berated by men. Sound familiar?

Draupadi’s presence in the story is constant. From the moment she is introduced to the reader at her svayamvara until her death, she is continually guiding and nudging her husbands to see her point of view, and do what is right. She challenges them when they become complacent or want to forgo their rights, reminding them of their duty not just towards themselves but also towards her.

Draupadi is considered responsible for the great war, but…

Many of us may prefer the traditional interpretation of the story – strictly limiting it to what is written. But if life has taught me anything, it is to read between the lines and to always pay heed to perspective.

So, while my views on Draupadi may be challenged, fact of the matter remains that the Mahabharata was written by men and over time edited many times…you guessed it… also mostly by men. As such, I prefer taking every word of praise for Arjuna and every criticism of Draupadi with a pinch of salt.

For me, Draupadi was not merely an aggrieved woman who constantly nagged her husbands for justice because of what happened to her. She was an ambitious leader, a diplomat, a keen politician who understood what motivated her husbands, and she always kept that front and centre so that they would not lose focus. She suffered mightily throughout the Mahabharata, but never lost sight of what was most important to her as well as her community.

Draupadi had a deep, lasting friendship with Krishna. While we recognize Krishna and Arjuna were Nara and Narayan, we do not nearly give as much recognition to the narrative that Krishna considered Draupadi his sister and was extremely attached to her. The two shared not only deep love, but also respected each other’s commitments and their constant travails in life.

The proximity and mutual admiration between Draupadi and Krishna is one of the main reasons I do not believe the queen considered war the only way out to avenge her insults and get back the throne. Krishna opted for the diplomatic route, often saying war was the final option. For someone as close to him as Draupadi was, I believe, she would have agreed and seen the sensibility of what Krishna was proposing. She was a shrewd but empathetic woman who would have found the heinous nature and ruthless killing of war abominable.

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It was really one man’s greed and short ‘sighted’ ness

Yet she is held responsible for the Great War while the irrefutable truth is the war was a result of one man’s greed, ego, and resentment. It was his constant need to victimize himself while blaming the world for everything that went wrong with him. Instead of being an ally and a partner in governing, he chose to usurp the throne for his sons.

The war is on Dhritarashtra, an impotent king who failed to keep his own son in check for flagrantly disrobing a woman in open court. How could the citizens then trust Duryodhana as their king, a reckless man with a volatile temper, who committed such unspeakable acts against his own sister-in-law? And how could the Pandavas govern righteously and claim to protect other women when they could not protect their own wife from such vicious horror?

Despite every wrong that was committed against Draupadi, I do not believe she wanted to set everything on fire. In fact, quite the contrary, and in doing so she emerged as a strategic leader who consistently stood for her beliefs and always fought for her values.

Lessons of feminist leadership to learn from Draupadi

Draupadi’s life is a series of lessons for those fighting for gender equality. So, what does Draupadi teach us about feminist leadership? Here are 7 lessons:

Establish a presence

From the day she was married to her husbands, Draupadi barred them from bringing another wife to the palace. By doing this, she not only established a presence in their lives but also made herself indispensable.

Turn a possible foe into an ally

Despite this, when Arjuna married Subhadra and brought her home, Draupadi showed immense empathy and inclusiveness, turning a possible foe into a friend. The two women developed a lasting friendship because Draupadi took the time to know and understand Subhadra.

Forgiveness is key

Even though Ashwatthama killed her five sons, and she had every right to destroy him, Draupadi chose to forgive his crime and set him free to face his destiny.

Pick the most powerful person (or organization) and establish a lasting alliance with them

Krishna was her dearest and best friend. She became close to him, shared her feelings and her perspectives, which no doubt impacted him and his decision making. It also gave him a perspective on issues he may not necessarily have had.

Be an active part of your team

Draupadi was not required to go into exile. She could have chosen to stay in the palace and live a luxurious life, but she gave up all her comforts and accompanied her husbands into the forest because she knew she was an integral part of the team.

Believe in yourself

Draupadi was a proud confident woman who believed in herself and was never afraid to speak her mind

Compromise but do not be taken for granted

Although Draupadi sacrificed many things, she stood her ground on many issues as well. Keechak was killed by Bhim, even though Yudhishthir forbade any action, on Draupadi’s wishes.

Draupadi was a majestic queen, and if the Mahabharata has taught us anything, it is to be more nuanced and less judgmental about life. We will do ourselves a favour in extending that same courtesy to Draupadi.

Trihayani – the story of Draupadi comes out December 2021. “This book starts after the Great War ends, and Emperor Yudhishthira has been ruling peacefully for thirty-six years. But all is not well for Draupadi who is still craving to be free from the terrible anguish and pain that has been plaguing her for many lifetimes.

Trihayani begins where all the other stories end. It is the story of Draupadi’s search for her truth, the nature of humanity, and the interconnectedness of things. Trihayani is the story of redemption and ultimately the salvation of one of mythology’s greatest characters: Maharani Draupadi.”

I’d like to know what you think.

Image source: YouTube

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