Epic Character

Draupadi is the female protagonist of the great Indian epic, Mahabharata. Her character personifies great fortitude and she makes it to the ranking of ‘Panch Kanyas’, the ‘The Five Virgins’ to be remembered in the wee hours of the morning, as per the Hindu tradition.

Draupadi is the ‘emerged’ daughter of Panchala’s King Drupada and above all she is well-known as the wife of all five Pandavas in the Mahabharata. As mentioned in the epic, she reinstates her position as the queen of Indraprastha after the Pandavas gain victory over Hastinapura.

Many Names of Draupadi

Draupadi is referred to by various names because of her matchless qualities and multifaceted character she portrays in the Mahabharata. She is variously known as –

  • Kṛṣṇā or Krishnaa, the one with darker complexion;
  • Panchali, the one who belongs to Panchala kingdom;
  • Yajnaseni, the one born from Yajna or fire-sacrifice;
  • Mahabhaartii, the great wife of Bharata’s five descendents;
  • Sairandhri – It literally means an expert maid. Draupadi assumed this name to camouflage her identity while in exile. She worked as a hairstylist of Sudeshna, the queen of Virat kingdom.

Draupadi bore one son from each Pandava, thus in total she became the mother of five children namely,

  • Prativindhya,
  • Sutasoma,
  • Srutakirti,
  • Satanika, and
  • Srutakarma

Emergence from the Sacrificial Fire

When Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, defeated King Drupada of Panchala on behalf of Drona, Drupada lost half of his kingdom. The humiliated king performed a fire-sacrifice (yajna) to gain victory over Drona. From the fire emerged a dark-skinned beauty (Draupadi) along with her sibling Dhrishtadyumna. Initially, she was named Kṛṣṇā, though later she became known as Draupadi.

Though dark complexioned, she was a matchless beauty, undefeated by any of her contemporaries. Along with beauty, she was also blessed with flawless features and extreme intelligence.

Marriage to the Pandavas

Drupada always wanted her daughter to get married to Arjuna. However, upon hearing the news of the supposed death of Pandavas at Varanavata, he arranged his daughter’s swayamvara. Shooting five times at a revolving target by seeing its reflection was a tough task which only Arujuna could have achieved. Ultimately the Pandavas, disguised as Brahmins, arrived at the swayamvara, and Arjuna accomplished the target.

When the five brothers reached home, the eldest brother, Yudhishthira, requested his mother to see what they had brought home. Unmindful of her son’s words, Kunti asked all the brothers to share equally amongst themselves whatever they have got. Thus, abiding by their mother’s words, the five Pandavas accepted Draupadi as their wife.

Later in the epic, Lord Krishna elucidates Draupadi about her unique position as the wife of five Pandavas. Krishna says that during her last birth, Draupadi was born as Nalayani, the daughter of Nala and Damayanti. In that lifetime, she had extensively prayed to Lord Shiva to grant her a husband with five desired virtues. Pleased with her prayers, Lord Shiva had granted her a boon confirming that in her next birth she would be born as the wife of Pandavas, the five brothers who would reflect the five virtues as desired by her. Simultaneously, Shiva also pacified her saying that despite getting five husbands she would live as a virtuous woman and regain her virginity every morning after taking a ritual bath.

Hence, she gets wedded to five Pandavas where each Pandava symbolizes a given quality as follows –

Pandava Virtue/Quality
Yudhishthira Wisdom of Dharma
Bhima Strength exceeding a thousand elephants combined
Arjuna Audacity and Battle Tactics
Nakula and Sahadeva Good looks and Presentability

Why did Draupadi reject Karna as her husband?

During the swayamvara of Draupadi, Karna was present as her suitor. Though Karna was easily able to string the bow, he was unfortunately not allowed to participate in the competition as Draupadi had declined to be the wife of a suta-putra (charioteer’s son). Karna took this remark as a gross insult and later this episode became one of reasons which disgraced Draupadi during the course of ‘dice game’.

How did Draupadi Insult Duryodhana?

The tale of Duryodhana’s insult at Indraprastha palace is quite an important part of the Mahabharata. Indraprastha was built amidst the Khandava forest. There were a number of extraordinarily beautiful buildings at the palace and one of those was the ‘Palace of Illusions’. Once Duryodhana and his entourage was invited to this palace following which an interesting event took place.

Upon entering the ‘Palace of Illusion’, Duryodhana encountered mysterious events one after the other. He and his entourage were welcomed by a retinue of maid servants who appeared to them from the wall. Then a bilaterally-symmetrical courtyard appeared to them which had ripple-like flooring on one side and solid granite flooring on the other. When consciously Duryodhana placed his feet on the latter side, he found himself deluged and drenched! Draupadi and her maids watched the full episode from the balcony and burst out laughing. Draupadi then uttered a provocative statement –

‘andhey ka putra andha

Meaning – ‘blind man’s son is blind’ (she was here referring to Dhritrashtra)

This was the last straw after which Duryodhana swore revenge on Draupadi. If not the prime one, this definitive moment served as one of the driving reasons which led to the war of Mahabharata.

Draupadi saved by Shri Krishna at the game hall

The five Pandavas were at the helm of Indraprastha by virtue of Hastinapura’s King Dhritrashtra. However, being jealous of the Pandavas’ stature, Duryodhana came up with a plan to snatch away the entire wealth and goodwill of the Pandavas. Duryodhana, his brothers, his mama (maternal uncle) Shakuni and Kunti’s illegitimate son Karna conspired against the Pandavas for winning their kingdom through gambling. Duryodhana’s mama Shakuni was extremely skilled at winning gambling by unfair means. Thus, the Kauravas planned to take away from the Pandavas what was unattainable at the battlefield.

The Pandavas accepted the proposal of their cousins unknowingly and as the game started off the former started losing their wealth and riches one after another. After losing everything, Shakuni instigated the five brothers to put their wife at stake as by this means they could get back their lost kingdom. Despite severe objections from Drona and Bhishma, Draupadi was kept at stake by the brothers as they were mesmerized by the word of Shakuni.

In the following scene, Duryodhana commanded his brother Dushasana to drag Draupadi down to the game hall. Meanwhile, he asked the Pandavas to strip down their upper garments in the manner of dasa. When Draupadi was dragged to the game hall, to the astonishment of all, Duryodhana ordered Dushasana to undrape Draupadi’s sari. After seeing her husbands’ inability to help her, Draupadi started praying to Lord Krishna. Here, a great miracle took place and it is attributed to Lord Krishna. As Dushasana kept on pulling off her sari, it was getting extended until it formed a huge layer on the floor and Dushasana fainted on the floor without being able to strip Draupadi.

After this horrific episode, Draupadi took the vow that thenceforth she would not tie her hair until she applied the blood of Dushasana to it. Later, she also succeeded in accomplishing this vow.

Finally, when Dhritrashtra granted her three boons, the self-sacrificing woman asked her husband’s wealth and freedom in the boons. However, in the second game of dice which followed, the Pandavas lost to the Kauravas and were banished for 12 years in exile and a year of staying incognito. Draupadi accompanied her husbands in this rigorous mission.

The tale of her abduction by Jayadratha

An interesting incident related to the abduction of Draupadi took place when she was in exile along with her five husbands. Once, the Pandavas left for hunting in the dense Kamyaka forest leaving Draupadi in the care of their priest, Dhaumya. Around this time, Jayadratha, the son of Vriddhakshatra, the husband of Duryodhana’s sister Dussala, was passing by the forest. Jayadratha was on his way to Salwa Desa, but upon seeing Draupadi from a distance he went on to appease her that she should leave her husbands who have fallen on hard times and come along with him instead. However, Draupadi’s devotion towards her husbands was absolute and, in return, she warned Jayadratha to leave her place before the Pandavas would arrive and cause threat to his own life.

In a string of events, Jayadratha, who had arrived there with several other kings, abducted Draupadi. However, Draupadi was sure about her safety and that she would be soon followed by both Sri Krishna and Arjun. In a little while, the Pandavas got premonitions about an untoward incident occurring to their wife and they proceeded towards their hermitage. While on their way, they saw Jayadratha’s chariot with Draupadi fighting to come out from it.

When the Pandavas saw their wife in trouble, their fury knew no bounds and they rushed towards Jayadratha’s chariot with full force. The Pandavas routed the armies of all the other kings who were accompanying Jayadratha including the Sivis, Saindhavas, Sauviras, and Ikshwakus. Both Bhima and Arjuna proceeded to slay Jayadratha while on this crucial moment Draupadi reminded them both that Jayadratha should be saved for the sake of Dussala and Gandhari.

How Shri Krishna became her brother?

There are a couple of interesting episodes which reflect upon Draupadi’s selfless devotion for Lord Krishna.

o   Such was the excellence of Draupadi’s virtues that Shri Krishna had personally considered her as his sakhi (friend) and sister. Once when Krishna’s finger got cut, Draupadi immediately tore off a piece of her sari and affectionately bandaged her brother’s cut. Krishna had said at that moment that he would remain indebted to this sweet gesture of hers and would repay each thread of the piece when the time is right. Later, during the dice game when Dushasana was disrobing her sari, Krishna provided her unlimited material from that small piece of cloth. This event is marked as Raksha Bandhan, the prime occasion of the Hindus which strengthens the brother-sister relationship.

o   Once, while the Pandavas were in exile, Durvasa Muni along with his thousand disciples made an abrupt visit at Pandavas’ hermitage.  Draupadi was aware of Durvasa Muni’s anger but was perplexed what to offer them to eat as her unlimited food vessel called Akshaya Patra could provide food only once a day; at that time, the five Pandavas and Draupadi had just finished off with their meal. Draupadi, at this crucial juncture, then prayed to Shri Krishna for help. When Krishna arrived, he had only one morsel of grain that was stuck to the vessel and left. When Durvasa Muni along with his disciples arrived after taking a bath in the nearby river their stomachs were so full and contended that they no longer wanted to eat or drink anything, and thus left peacefully.

Draupadi as Goddess Lakshmi

When Draupadi, along with her five husbands, was making her way towards the heaven, she was the first to fall in the Himalayas. When Bhima asked his elder brother Yudhishthira, why had Draupadi fallen back on earth in spite of never committing any sinful act? Yudhishthira had then replied to his brother that though she was equally devoted to all of them, she had a special corner for Arjuna and hence she bore the fruit of this partiality.

However, when Yudhishthira alone reached the heaven, leaving all his brothers on earth, he surprisingly met Draupadi there. Indra then explained to Yudhishthira that his wife was none other than Shree (goddess Lakshmi) herself. She had emerged from the sacrificial fire only to support her five husbands in their battle against evil.

Thus, owing to her good karmas Draupadi acquired a place amongst the Panch-Kanya (The Five Virgins) of Ancient Hindu epic along with her mother-in-law, Kunti.