Draupadi — A Tragedy
All stories have a central character who may not be the leading character but precipitates the main conflict in the narrative. More often than not it is a woman. More so if it is mythology or folklore.
Mahabharta is one of the two most popular mythological folklore in the Indian subcontinent, revered by many as factual.
The entire premise of Mahabharta is the struggle for the kingdom between two sets of cousins. Nothing new so far. More stories and folklore have been conceived around the power struggle between siblings and families than the stars in the sky, but Mahabharta stands out due to two characters — Krishna and Draupadi.
The character of Draupadi is the most underrated, least delved into, and hardly discussed.
Polygyny is common in mythology and folklore of India. A king like God or a god like King having several wives is never frowned upon. However, polyandry was for the first time portrayed in Mahabharta. Draupadi was married to several men at the same time, five to be precise.
The emotional conflict of being married to five men at the same time, the five men being brothers, in times of cliche “one man woman” and ultra Victorian morality era must have been tormenting for her.
Imagine being told by Kunti that she would be shared among the brothers like a commodity.
To this day, the word “Draupadi” is a slur in Hindi heartland, denoting a woman of many men and sometimes a code word for gangrape. The name is so abhorrent to this day that it is almost impossible to come across girls named Draupadi. However, Sita is in there in almost every other household.
Interesting contrast in the legacy of the main female protagonists of the two major epics ever written - Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The Indian subcontinent practices one of the worst kinds of patriarchy in the world, cutting across religious lines. But to see the Pandav’s stake Draupadi in a game of Chausar (game of dice) in that era is revealing about the history of patriarchy in the region.
Draupadi, not only had to undergo the indignity of being wagered in the game by her husbands but also the ultimate humiliation of being disrobed in the court with every whos who of the era in attendance.
In the school, one question in the syllabus is asked year after year “Why was the battle of Kurukshetra, in Mahabharta, fought?” and almost everyone had been writing the same answer year after year — “for the kingdom of Hastinapur”.
No one ever thought for a minute, why not for the honour of Draupadi. Wasn’t her honour greater than the kingdom?
A princess made to be shared among five brothers as a wife, assaulted and humiliated, disrobed in the court in front of the nobility and commoners while her five husbands watched.
A mother (Draupadi) losing all her five sons in a war being fought for a kingdom, rather than her honour. Or was it being actually fought for the egos of the main male protagonists?
There is hardly any other female character more tragic than Draupadi, purely on the basis of the loss, torment, indignation suffered by her with grace, elegance, and silence without any hope of redemption.
Like all epics, Mahabharta also has a stellar cast of characters. The main characters that our imagination throws up at the mention of Mahabharta are Krishna, Yudhistra, Duryodhana, Arjuna and Karna. The lesser ones like Shakuni and Eklavya also pop up but never Draupadi.
Wouldnt it be interesting to see Mahabharta from Draupadi’s perspective.
Do leave a comment if you would like to revisit the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective.