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One of the most prominent and remarkably interesting female characters within the Hindu religion is Draupadi who originates within one of the greatest opuses of all time, the Mahabharata. Draupadi is presented as a heroic princess of the epic poem; one who is firm and one with an unbending will. Throughout history, she has remained a woman of importance for Hindu culture and is constantly seen as braver and prouder when compared to women such as Sita and Kunti. With her multiple fearless acts, Draupadi highlights the theme of dharma that is weaved throughout the epic poem.

To begin with, Draupadi’s birth was a unique one. Draupadi arose from Drona’s revenge by King Drupada. More specifically, King Drupada had obtained both a son and daughter from yagna, a sacrificial fire. “The son is a fine young man, and Draupadi is the most beautiful woman in the world (Satyamurti: 109).” Draupadi emerged in all the beauteous glory of full-grown youth from the fire-alter. Vyasa states that the creator had rendered her with beauty that surpassed that of all other women and won the hearts of all men around her. Draupadi, also called Panchali, had a dark complexion, which also gave her the name Krishnaa. Indeed, she resembled the authentic daughter of a celestial born among men.

All the men in Draupadi’s vicinity were so overwhelmed by desire for her that they became enemies of one another. This is very well testified in Draupadi’s swayamvara, where multiple kings and princes competed for Draupadi’s hand in marriage. In Indian culture, the woman who is having a swayamvara is usually very timid and naïve. However, Draupadi demonstrated extreme female strength and did not hold back any of her thoughts. When Karna stepped up to hit the target, Draupadi exclaimed, “I will not choose a suta for my husband (Satyamurti: 115)!” Even though everyone surrounding Draupadi knew the strength that Karna possessed would make him very successful in the task at hand, Draupadi refused to allow a charioteer’s son to compete amongst the many Kshatriyas present. This female power that Draupadi demonstrated was unseen by many up to this point in the history of Hindu culture, and even Indian tradition. Men were usually in charge of many, and almost all, decisions; a patriarchal society characterized all of India. But, with the publication of the Mahabharata, a matriarchal society became more common.

By the end of Draupadi’s swayamvara, Arjuna, son of Pandu, was the only competitor able to complete the challenge. Arjuna won Draupadi’s hand, but when Draupadi arrived with the Pandavas to meet Kunti, Kunti asked them to share whatever Arjuna had brought among the five brothers. Kunti had greeted her sons this way often to ensure they remained united. So, keeping their mother’s word, the Pandavas divided Draupadi amongst themselves as if she were an object. Unfortunately, in certain ways, Arjuna degraded Draupadi by claiming her as a prize and his elder brother, Yudhishthira, further insulted her by carrying out their mother’s wish by treating her as if she were an object won in a contest. Draupadi went from having all the power in her swayamvara to having to share her affection amongst five dynamic brothers. Nonetheless, they feared a falling out by sharing Draupadi, so her equal possession by all the Pandavas was agreed upon. Unfortunately, Draupadi did not enter into a polyandrous contract from her own accord. She had, rather, given her heart to the noble Arjuna at her swayamvara. Her future was simply determined by fate. In fact, she experienced life-long misery as she not only lost her first love, Arjuna, to Subhadra, but her husbands too had to be content with only one-fifth of her love. What adds more pathos is that all her life Draupadi had to quietly endure the ignominy of many fleeting references to her multiple husbands, at times bordering on the disgrace of being termed a prostitute. Despite all these awful struggles, the respect that Draupadi commanded can never be mitigated. She is a heroine who is steadily determined. Arjuna at one point feared Draupadi and spoke to Subhadra, “Go to Draupadi alone, dressed simply, not like a queen. Just be yourself and I’m sure her heart will warm to you (Satyamutri: 142).” Indeed, Draupadi was softened by Subhadra’s sincerity and embraced her, exemplifying the amiable personality than many admired about Draupadi.

An important aspect to highlight is that until Draupadi comes into the forefront with Arjuna winning her hand in marriage, Kunti had dominated the female role of the Mahabharata by being a strong matriarchical figure. With the death of Madri and King Pandu, Kunti assumed responsibility of the Pandavas. While Kunti had accepted her dharma to take care of her sons, she passed on the role of responsibility to Draupadi with no hesitation. In turn, Draupadi accepted her dharma as a wife of the Pandavas. On the other hand, Draupadi is often compared to the famous role model Sita, the loyal wife of Rama. Every father wants to see Sita in his daughter and every husband want to see Sita in his wife. Sita sits in the garden of Ravana and waits for Rama to come, and she does not declare war. She utters no threat to Ravana, and when asked to sit in a fire by Rama, she obeys. But, Draupadi does not have that obedient quality that most Indians feel comfortable with. She takes a stand when she is threatened by Karna and declares a one-sided war. She follows dharma when she believes it is reasonable, but she mostly follows her own judgement (Bhatta).

Despite the birth and swayamvara of Draupadi, the dice game is when readers see the true capabilities of Draupadi. When she was born, an incorporeal voice said, “This dark-complexioned girl with be the first of all women, and she will be the cause of the destruction of many Kshatriyas. This slender-waisted one will, in time, accomplish the purpose of the gods, and along with her many a danger will overtake the Kauravas (Ganguli: 169).” This message heavily references the dice game between Yudhishthira and Shakuni. After losing almost everything that Yudhishthira had to offer, he realized he still had Draupadi with him. Inebriated by the game, Yudhishthira, to the horror of everybody present, puts Draupadi up as a bet for the next round. Unfortunately, Shakuni won and Draupadi was horrified after hearing that she was now a slave for Duryodhana. The question whether Draupadi has been legitimately won was debated by the kings, but Karna, strongly insistent that she has been, ordered Duhshasana to strip her garment from her body. Outraged, Draupadi cried, “Stop!… Since my swayamvara, I have never been paraded in this way for me to scrutinize. Lords of the earth, where is honor in this hall? Where is dharma (Satyamurti; 199)?” This episode highlights that Draupadi is quick-witted with a gift of persuasion that saves her husbands from impending slavery. Even though her prized husband offered her up through gambling, Draupadi was willing to use her resources to save not only herself, but also her husbands. She later says, “As I am stained with blood, so thirteen years from now, Kaurava women will be smeared with the blood of their slaughtered sons and offer up oblation for their dead (Satyamurti: 207)” As a pioneer of feminism, she fought for her rights. With dignity and self-respect, she also refused the third boon offered to her by Dhritarashtra as a peace offering. Not only did she not want to seem desperate, but also her only desire now rested in the revenge of the Kauravas.

In conclusion, as seen act after act, Draupadi is not a conventional Indian woman. She is someone most women strive to be, but also someone who can be very risky to follow. It is admirable that Draupadi was amongst hundreds of noble men and still had the courage to say what she truly deserved. By carrying the humiliation of being married to five husbands who were not even loyal and by being forcefully stripped of her clothing, Draupadi demonstrated a strong will and a whole heart. She carried out her dharma and proved what the true dharma of the Kshatriya clan should be. Draupadi is a pioneer of feminism and will always be role model for many Indian women.