Why Do We Hesitate To Name Our Daughters Draupadi?

I, too, wanted to name my daughter Yagyasaini after Draupadi but the opposition I faced was too strong, and I had to settle down for a name meaning Agni which, however, was met with equally strong opposition by my MIL.

The epic tales from India have been largely interpreted as male narratives, and have been translated by men. The stories were further circulated in a twisted way through myths and folklores to cater to the needs of the patriarchal setup worldwide.

However, a parallel feminist narrative, continuously is on the raise — the woman question. The woman question runs through both the Ramayana and the Mahabharat.

Two of the ancient epics known to the world are inspired by the tales of two Queens — Sita and Draupadi. They both had extraordinary lives of hardship with unparalleled woes.

Two queens united in hardship

They both underwent multiple exiles for the cause of their respective husband(s); both of them had to face the scrutiny of society that questioned their character.

Despite the similar line of thought highlighting their tragedies, the reception of their individual stories delineates different highlights.

Sita is the brand ambassador of the virtues of monogamy, while the Draupadi is notorious for polyandry. One is considered to be the apostle of marital bliss without being happy in her marriage, while the other is remarkable for maintaining the marital bliss in the life of all her husbands!

Likewise, one was considered compromised even though she didn’t compromise when faced with the evil, while the other made peace with compromising for the sake of her betrothed’s brothers and mother and created a state of bliss.

Sita and Draupadi were two sides of the same coin — nature

They both were the daughters of two extreme traits of Nature — one of earth and one of fire; one fertile enough to sustain life and the other destructive enough to end it.

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However, they both shared their birth in fire and demise on earth.  They both were born from fire — Sita was reborn through fire after surviving the funeral pyre set to ablaze her; Draupadi was born directly into youth from the sacrificial fire of yagya.

Both were considered apostles of beauty with their dark bronzed complexion. For these two princesses, the greatest Swayamvar feats were organized to select a groom worthy enough for them, instead of being betrothed to the first man in sight to dispel away a burden.

Their skin colour never undermined their worth

They were the ones who defied the present standard of obsessing over the superiority of fair skin, eons ago. They both were the girl-born who carried their family name forward and immortalized it unlike the other members of their family — Sita as Janki and Maithili, and Krishna as Draupadi and Panchali.

Furthermore, they both were patriarchy’s victim alike — one suffered for crossing the line, while the other suffered for remaining within it. Draupadi could have escaped to her father’s kingdom. But she didn’t.

Sita didn’t have the need to cross the Laxman Rekha. But she did. Sita maintained the decorum of her in-law’s house even at the cost of her abduction, while Draupadi refused to desert her debt-ridden husbands, who pawned her out of their hollow pride.

They gave their husband(s) a chance to rescue them and redeem their respective glory without suffering from the pangs of patriarchal society, but their husband(s) didn’t return the favour.

Bearers of betrayals

A pregnant Sita was again forced into exile by Lord Ram, while Yudhistir justified Draupadi’s fall on the way to heaven, accusing her of being partial in extending her love and devotion to all her husband(s) equally and favouring Arjun more.

Sita, despite being proven a sati, a pure and virtuous woman, was ostracized from the Sanskrit hymn that sings of five eternal virgins — Ahilya, DraupadiKunti, Tara and Mandodari — as the dispeller of all sins just by the recital of their names.

All of these Panchkanyas shared a similar line of societal judgement as far as their character was concerned and Sita, who is worshipped as the goddess consort of Lord Ram, is banished from this hymn too.

Why don’t we name our daughters Draupadi?

What’s there in name! They ask. If nothing, then what’s wrong with naming our daughters Draupadi?

The presentation of women in these epics seems to be straight out of a Victorian nightmare of remaining in the shadows of the towering male figures. However, the alternate interpretations have a lot to offer to the question of the need for feminism in our country.

As an educator and Female Rights Activist, I had organized two workshops in the recent past (before the pandemic) with two completely different yet highly educated set of populace (names omitted deliberately) on the topic of the meaning of their names and the naming of their daughters.

A pattern inadvertently emerged in both the workshops, which opposed the practice of giving the daughters names that had meanings and connotations of powerful and dominant traits.

Draupadi and Nirbhaya faced opposition

However, two names, which received strong and staunch opposition, were Draupadi and Nirbhaya, particularly because of the tales of atrocities associated with these names.

I, too, wanted to name my daughter Yagyasaini after Draupadi but the opposition I faced was too strong, and I had to settle down for a name meaning Agni which, however, was met with equally strong opposition by my MIL.

She believed a girl should not be named after the greatest discovery ever made by the human race! A girl should not be named after the genesis of all life: fire. A girl should not be named after such a powerful force of nature because all men will dare not mess with the unbridled force of Agni or fire.

Names of girl-child is often based on our biases

She started gaslighting the name based on Agni stating that it would influence her character and life. She, however, didn’t have a problem with various versions of the name Sita whose life was forced into pyre and exile.

Because according to MIL a girl’s life and character should not imbibe the ferocity of fire, but it should rather go through it.

Now, while the opposition against the name Nirbhaya still stands strong in all the workshops I organize. With the election of Honourable (Smt.) Droupadi Murmu as the President of India and the Supreme Commander of Indian Armed Forces, the debate on bringing back this powerful name into mainstream has gained momentum.

Draupadi is a very popular name in many communities, and she is worshipped as a goddess by certain communities in the Southern India too.

However, North Indians have shown a strict reluctance in naming their daughters Draupadi or Panchali. Krishna, on the other hand, is a popular name for women. But most people do not know or rather acknowledge that it was the true name of Draupadi owing to her dark complexion.

The pandemic has connected billions of Indians to their mythological roots. But mostly, old perspectives were justified and reclaimed with the telecast of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Re-telecast of Ramayana and Mahabharat was a missed opportunity

Most of these perspectives are androcentric. These re-telecasts were a wasted opportunity to reconsider these epics in the light of novel perspectives.

To reconsider from alternate storylines as well, from a female viewpoint because the names from these epics are standing symbols of the patriarchal intention and have been popularized, thus.

Hope prevails with President Droupadi Murmu

Once again the highest seat of the democracy of India is being graced by a Draupadi and I hope just as Draupadi was the queen who established the reign of righteousness and Dharma over Aryavarta.

The tenure of President Droupadi Murmu will be a driving force towards an era of establishment of righteousness and the rights of women, starting from the revolution of reclaiming the lost popularity of the name: Draupadi.

Image Source: Still from Daughters of Destiny Docuseries on Netflix, via Canva Pro. 

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About the Author

Dr Nishtha Mishra

I am an internationally published author of the book entitled "The Feminist Shaw" which has been published by Routledge, UK, and the USA. I was born to Professor mother and Doctor father. I am a read more...

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