For Draupadi, that was a terrible, terrible day. She was dragged to the Kaurava court by her Kaurava brother-in-law, Dussasana, and Duryodhana asked him to disrobe her in front of all present. What needs to be noted is that neither Duryodhana nor Dussasana nor Sakuni or for that matter, anyone in the Kaurava family, had any complaint against her and was waiting for an opportunity to take revenge. Had Yudhisthira listened to the venerable Bhishma and stopped playing the game, Draupadi would have been safe at home; loss would have been only to the Mahabharata narrative.
Till she was reduced to the status of Duryodhana’s slave, she wasn’t in anyone’s mind. After losing himself and his brothers, in a moment of sick frenzy, the hurt loser, who was unable to cope with defeat, ignored his grandfather’s words and pawned wife Draupadi in the game of dice and lost her. Instigated by Sakuni, Duryodhana wanted her to be brought to the court. There was nothing wrong in it, he was assured, because a slave had no right to privacy. Sakuni’s secret agenda was to push the Pandavas and the Kauravas to the battlefield. His father’s words came to his mind and he realized that his time had come (for details, see “The Revenge of the Dead: The Story of the Special Dice of Sakuni”, in this blog, posted on May 21, 2017). Humiliation of Draupadi would be the humiliation of the Pandavas – many-fold! – and once she was disrobed in public, that would have meant that for the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the point of no return had been reached.
Duryodhana surely didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of Draupadi being his slave. Would a king ask his brother to go and bring a slave to his presence? What prevented him to send a few soldiers, if he thought that one might not be enough? Dussasana had dragged her from the palace but not into the court yet. When he told his brother that Draupdi was in her periods, Duryodhana said that he wouldn’t want her in the court because seeing a woman in her periods brought only misfortune.
Sakuni must have sensed that his plan was going to go awry; so he readily thought of a different way to persuade Duryodhana. His fear was unjustified, he told Duryodhana; misfortune would come if the woman in periods was virtuous and since Draupadi, with five husbands, was not, no harm would come to anyone who would see her. Further details are unnecessary here. (Essentials of the disrobing episode are given in the piece entitled “The Disrobing of Draupadi and the Sun god”, which was posted in this blog on April 4, 2008.)
We may note that she was a pawn in the hands of Yudhisthira and a means in the hands of Sakuni. She wasn’t the cause of her suffering; she had done no wrong. Thus, she didn’t have the comfort of coming to terms with her suffering through acceptance, which comes to the conscientious sufferer when he realizes that the suffering was morally deserved – a just punishment for the wrong he had done earlier. And not just Draupadi, we may also note that once Yudhisthira lost her in the game of dice, Duryodhana also became an instrument, a means, for Sakuni. And again, not just him, but all those, who, one way or the other, became part of that chain, Dussasana and Bhima, among others, unknowingly became his instruments. No one, except, of course, the One who knew everything and perhaps Sahadeva, who had the knowledge of the past and the future, knew that Sakuni was the agent, but neither would tell. Neither Bhima nor Draupadi ever bayed for Sakuni’s blood.
Returning to Draupadi’s humiliation, if it did not move Yudhisthira, in the sense that he did not want revenge, it did another of her husbands, Bhima, who thundered revenge – he would tear apart Dussasana’s body and break Duryodhana’s thigh. But that would happen in future; on that day, none of her five husbands came forward to protect her from Dussasana. To what extent Draupadi felt reassured that her torturers would perish one day, we do not know. We only guess that in the Kaurava court Bhima’s thunder meant almost nothing to her. Five affectionate and caring husbands; yet, when she was face-to-face with the gravest crisis of her life, instead of the help she needed, all she got was the assurance of revenge. For the first time in her life, she realized her vulnerability and the powerlessness of her husbands to respond adequately in her moment of crisis.
But come to think of it, that day was not really her torturers’ day. It had turned out to be her day instead. She could not be disrobed and in the court, she was hailed as a virtuous woman. Her angry look directed at Duryodhana’s palace, burnt the women’s quarters and the royal inmates rushed out and were exposed to the public gaze. What Duryodhana wanted to do to Draupadi, in a way recoiled on his very own. Another angry look, this time at Dussasana, still at pulling her clothes and he collapsed on the floor. Dritarashtra and Gandhari came to the court and prayed to Draupadi to pacify her. Dhritarashtra, the head of the Kaurava family, gave Draupadi what she asked for – her husbands’ freedom and the wealth they had lost.
By the way, it was also Sakuni’s day. He had attained his objective for that day; he must have believed that war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas would certainly take place someday. How else would Bhima redeem his vows? As for Draupadi’s disrobing, he had absolutely no interest in it. And he knew that that was not going to happen. In Sarala Mahabharata, didn’t he tell this to Krishna, after the fire in the lac palace: “Since you are protecting them, what harm can the imbecile and worthless Kauravas cause them?”
That day, the Pandavas left Hastinapura in a pleasant atmosphere. There was bonhomie among the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Says Sarala, “aneka priti badhila sate uttare panchubrate (there was a lot of affection among the hundred and five brothers)”. Draupadi’s untied hair and Bhima’s suppressed anger could not spoil the geniality of the mood. And that surely wouldn’t have made her feel good, one would think.
Unable to cope with defeat in the game of dice, her husband Yudhisthira went to Hastinapura desperately wanting a win. So the game was played again. This time, her youngest husband, not Sakuni, rolled the dice (for details, see “The Second Game of Dice” in this blog, posted on May 7, 2010). And Yudhisthira lost.
Draupadi found again how vulnerable she was during the twelve-year long exile and a year’s incognito living. She realized, for the first time, that she couldn’t protect her husbands when they faced what threatened to be a calamity for them. Sage Durvasa, who would not forgive anyone for failing to satisfy his wants, arrived with his disciples and demanded food from Yudhisthira and went for ablutions. Now, Draupadi was the family’s food giver and she had nothing to give the guests. It is another matter that things so happened that day that the awe-inspiring sage did not return.
She found herself vulnerable again, when one day, her brother-in-law, Jayadratha, Duryodhana’s sister’s husband, took advantage of her being alone in their hut and tried to molest her. She would have wanted him dead, but her eldest husband would allow Bhima to only humiliate him. Kin could just not be punished with death. During their incognito living, the mighty Kichaka lusted for her. This time Yudhisthira did not constrain Bhima and he crushed Kichaka to a ball of meat. That immensely pleased Draupadi.
Only once after that she was in that state. That was when Bhima poured the blood from the mangled Dussasana’s body on her hair. As the blood trickled down, her tongue touched it. For two aeons she had been waiting for this (see “The Killing of Dussasana” in this blog, posted on April 3, 2008). After thirteen long years of waiting, she tied her hair. She invited Bhima to spend that night with her.
She must have come to know that her five children had been killed before Duryodhana died. He had humiliated her and with his death, her revenge was complete. But that was not in her mind then. The loss of her children had devastated her. She told Krishna that she would kill herself. Then she told him, “mora putra bairi maribu ehiksani (Right now kill the enemy of my sons)”. Not to her husbands, but to Krishna she had turned this time. Maybe she knew that Yudhisthira would not allow his guru’s son to be killed – hadn’t he disallowed Jayadratha’s killing? The guru’s son had a much higher status than kin.
Now, all Krishna did was dispossess Ashwasthama of his weapons. And that too, through cheating, which means he didn’t harm him physically. He showed the weapons to the weeping Draupadi and told her that he had stolen them. She was “pleased”, says the poet: “draupadi chhamure dileka debahari / dekhi sananda hoile je dropada kumari ((He) gave (the stolen weapons) to Draupadi / Seeing that, the daughter of Drupada was pleased)”.
Was she really pleased? A reader of Sarala Mahabharata would ask, in disbelief – she isn’t someone who would be content with so little. She would ask for a sound justification, at the very least. She did nothing of that sort. So, did she only pretend to be pleased, realizing that there was no point in pursuing the matter since beyond Krishna there was just nothing? And there was no point asking Krishna. In Sarala Mahabharata, his answers and explanations were like his doings. Lila (cosmic play) does not explain itself. Trying to understand it, the mortals and the immortals construct their own explanations. And no one’s is privileged.
The war over and won, the Pandava family were talking animatedly about on whose account the victory was achieved. Draupadi claimed that it was her. But so did everyone else: the five brothers, Kunti and Subhadra. She didn’t argue. Her ahamkara (arrogance) was gone, with the death of all her sons, her brother and her father. She became the queen but the episode of Yudhisthira’s rajyabhisheka (enthronement) hardly makes a mention of her. One would wonder what happiness the grieving mother would have felt, sitting with her husband on the throne during the ceremony of inauguration.
She faded into the background in the narrative. It had lost interest in her. She had emerged from the sacred fire to kill. Her children’s death had doused the fire within. In her private moments in the royal palace of Hastinapura, she must have shed copious tears for her beloved little ones. All alone. As did Kunti. She spent sleepless nights grieving over the death of Karna, Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu and she condemned Arjuna for killing her son. As for Gandhari, what can one say? She had a hundred sons and she had lost them all. She wept alone, like did Kunti, like did Draupadi, although the poet Sarala ignores her in the last parvas (cantos) of his retelling. We do not know from Sarala Mahabharata how she felt when Krishna passed away.
After they left Hastinapura on their vanaprastha, Draupadi figured in the narrative meaningfully only once. In the Himalayas, feeling extremely cold, tired and unwell, she pleaded with Yudhisthira to be allowed to rest for a while. Yudhisthira said, no. They had come to give up their bodies in the sacred mountains, so why indulge it, he told her. “A world without Krishna is unfit for living”, he said. She said nothing. Was she convinced by Yudhithira’s words? We do not know.
Soon after, she had fallen to her death, before she had accepted death.
Let us end with this: if my understanding of Draupadi in Sarala Mahabharata is correct, with Krishna, and Krishna alone, deep down, Draupadi felt “at ease” even when she gave vent to her anxiety, frustration or anger in front of him and sometimes even targeting him. But his presence calmed her, deep down. The feeling of ease that we are talking about cannot be called “happiness”, because happiness is an experience of the ego. She connected with Krishna with an attitude of surrender, where ego dissolves. And no wonder, since theirs was a relationship, aeons old. It was just that her birth in the mortal world had wiped out that memory.