Category Archives: Major Characters of the Mahabharata

Yudhisthira

Yushithira is the eldest of the five Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is the most voluminous epic poem in the world (see Sarma 88), being composed of 100,000 verses. It is said to have been composed between 400 B.C.E and 400 C.E. by a sage named Vyasa (see Olson 224-225). The story is about the Pandava brothers (Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva), who lose their kingdom and fight their cousins, the Kauravas, to gain it back. Yudhisthira stands for duty and righteousness. He is also known as Dharmaraja, and he is the son of the god Dharma.

“The Mahabharata is Yudhisthira’s education” (see Hiltebeitel 4), and “can be seen as a treatise on Dharma or religion” (see Bae 139).  The main story starts with the two brothers Dhrtarastra (who is blind) and Pandu (who is pale). Dhrtarastra and his wife Gandhari give birth to a hundred sons, the Kauravas. Pandu, because of a curse, could not engage in sexual relationships. Thus, he asked his wife, Kunti, to use a mantra in order to invoke a god and conceive a child. Kunti invokes Dharma, Vayu and Indra, and manages to conceive three sons through them: Yudhisthira, Bhima, and Arjuna. Madri, Pandu’s second wife, also uses the mantra and gives birth to twin brothers: Nakula and Sahadeva. After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti becomes responsible for the raising the kids. Because of Pandu’s death, Hastinapura was in need of a new king, and Dhrtarastra takes the throne until Yudhisthira is eligible.

The Kaurava brothers become tempted to kill the Pandavas due to their jealousy of the Pandava brothers’ successs. The Kauravas’ attempt of murdering the Pandavas was unsuccessful. As the story unfolds, Arjuna wins the hand of a princess named Draupadi, who then becomes the wife to all the five Pandavas. The Pandava brothers get half the kingdom, which Yudhisthira expands by defeating the surrounding regions. Yudhisthira performs the Rajasuya sacrifice, which makes the Kauravas extremely jealous who then challenge the Pandavas to a game of dice. This is where Yudhisthira’s weakness comes in. Yudhisthira ends up losing his kingdom, his brothers, his wife, and himself as well. Wagering Draupadi to the Kauravas poses a huge threat to Yudhisthira’s dharmic responsibility (see Hiltebeitel 219-220); Draupadi’s humiliation emphasizes this aspect of the story. Despite being given back what he lost, Yudhisthira loses his kingdom once again. Not only does Yudhisthira lose the kingdom, all the Pandava brothers and Draupadi are forced into exile for thirteen years.  There is an event during the exile where the Pandavas encounter a yaksa (spirit), which is the god Dharma in disguise. Four of the Pandavas are poisoned by the spirit, because unlike Yudhisthira, they do not answer the spirit’s riddles. Once Yudhithira successfully solves all the riddles, the yaksa grants him a wish with which he can bring one brother back to life. Yudhisthira chooses Nakula so that each mother would have at least one son alive (see Sarma 89; see Hiltebeitel 209). The years go by, and during the thirteenth year, the Pandavas disguise themselves to prevent people from recognizing them (see Bae 145). Yudhisthira, for example, “poses as a master of dicing” (see Olson 228), which is contrary to Yudhisthira in the beginning of the story. During the twelfth year of the exile, Yudhisthira has a conversation with a sage named Brhadasva about misery. The sage tells him a story about and gives him “the heart of the dice” which gives him the talent of dicing, hence his disguise.  (see Hiltebeitel 216). Once the thirteenth year is over, Duryodhana (one of the Kaurava brothers), refuses to return the Pandavas’ share of kingdom to them, he would not even give them five villages where they could reside (see Bae 145). Yudhisthira tries to negotiate but the Kauravas refused, and this escalated into war.

The Pandavas and the Kauravas ask Krsna for assistance. Krsna gives them a choice; the Pandavas end up chosing Krsna himself, while the Kauravas get Krsna’s army. Right before the war, Arjuna felt torn and did not want to fight his relatives, friends, and teachers (see Bae, 148). Krsna advices and successfully convinces Arjuna to fight; this conversation between Arjuna and Krsna is known as the Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavad-gita is the most influential passage of the Mahabharata (see Bae 147). Right before the Bhagavad-gita, however, Yudhisthira has doubts himself. Yudhisthira questions Arjuna about “how so few can conquer so many” (see Hiltebeitel 209). During the war, many die, including Karna, the secret son of Kunti and Surya (the sun-god), who is slain by Arjuna. Near the end of the battle only four of the Kauravas remained. Yudhisthira ended up finding Duryodhana’s hiding spot, and Duryodhana agreed to fight with each of the Pandavas one by one. Bhima ended up hitting Duryodhana below the belt which threatened Yudhisthira’s righteousness. Yudhisthira offered to slay Bhima as a punishment for going against the rules of chivalry. This caused an argument between the advisors of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Duryodhana was keen on taking revenge and killing the Pandavas, but his plan failed because his men killed the wrong people, not the Pandavas (see Ions 126). The Pandavas, after defeating the Kauravas, returned to Hastinapura.

Despite being victorious, Yudhisthira grieves and tells Gandhari that he is the one responsible for her sons’ deaths (see Hiltebeitel 210). Yudhisthira begins his journey as a ruler who performs an Asvamedha (horse-sacrifice), and protects the widows of the men who died during the battle (see Hiltebeitel 210). Yudhisthira also seeks Bhisma’s advice about king’s obligations and responsibilities. In the course of time, Dhrtarastra and his Gandhari die, which causes the Pandavas and Draupadi to leave Hastinapura and go on a pilgrimage. They were also accompanied by a dog in their pilgrimage.

During the journey, all the Pandavas, except Yudhisthira, die one by one. Yudhisthira considers each death as a form of punishment for each of the Pandava’s weaknesses. Yudhisthira finally ends up at the gates of Indra’s heaven, as he’s welcomed by Indra, Yudhisthira refuses to go in unless he’s assured that his brothers and wife were in there. He also requests that his dog be allowed into heaven because he did not want to abandon the dog. The dog turns out to be the god Dharma, his father. Once past the gates of heaven, Yudhisthira is horrified at the site of all the Kauravas being in heaven while his brothers and wife were in hell. Yudhisthira refused to stay in Indra’s swarga (heaven) and demanded to go to hell where his brothers and Draupadi reside. After witnessing the many horrors of hell, Yudhisthira finds out that “the whole scene was revealed to be the product of maya, or illusion” (see Ions 127). Yudhisthira leaves his physical body behind and, in the end, Yudhisthira, his brothers, Krsna, and Draupadi were all welcomed into heaven.

Yudhisthira’s main role in this epic is to display dharma, the importance of duty and righteousness. Yudhisthira’s righteousness has been tested twice in the Mahabharata (see Adarkar 120). His first test is the one where he would not abandon his dog; the other is when he is made to believe that his brothers and wife are in hell. Yudhisthira passes both these tests because he sticks to his dharmic behavior and makes the right choices. Yudhisthira is very important in the Mahabharata because, through him, others can learn about Dharma and what it means to be righteous. Yudhisthira is not a very popular as a deity, but he does have a temple dedicated to him known as the Dharmaraja Ratha, which is situated at Mahabalipuram in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (see Lippe 328).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader. New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press.

Bae, James H. (2003) In a World of Gods and Goddesses: The Mystic Art of Indra Sharma. Novato, CA, USA: Mandala Publishing.

Bhattacharji, Sukumari (1978) The Indian Theogony. Calcutta: Firma KLM Private LTD.

Sarma, Deepak (2008) Hinduism: A Reader. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing.

Smith, John D. (2009) The Mahabharata. London, New York, and Toronto: Penguin Group.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharat : A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ions, Veronica (1983) Literary of the World’s Myths and Legends: Indian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.

Fitzgerald, James L. (2003) Review: The Many Voices of the Mahabharata. Tennessee : American Oriental Society.

Pathak, Shubha (2006) Why Do Displaced Kings Become Poets in the Sanskrit Epics? Modeling Dharma in the Affirmative “Rāmāyaṇa” and the Interrogative “Mahābhārata”. Springer.

Adarkar, Aditya (2005) The Untested Dharma Is Not Worth Living. Springer.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Mahabharata

The Pandava Brothers

Arjuna

Bhima

Nakula

Sahadeva

Karna

The Kauravas

Duryodhana

Dhrtarastra

Pandu

Kunti

Madri

Gandhari

Draupadi

Krsna

The Bhagavad-gita

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.mahabharataonline.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yudhisthira

http://ultrabrown.com/posts/bhima%E2%80%99s-story-thoughts-on-yudhisthira-and-the-fluidity-of-myths

http://www.indianetzone.com/3/yudhisthir.htm

http://www.indiaoz.com.au/hinduism/Mahabharata/mahabharata.shtml

http://www.urday.in/jaydrath.htm

http://www.hindunet.org/hindu_history/ancient/mahabharat/mahab_patnaik.html

http://hinduism.iskcon.com/tradition/1108.htm

http://easterlybeauty.com/en/characters/mahabharata/56-yudhisthira.html

Article written by: Rutika Gandhi (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Draupadi

One of the most prominent female characters within the Hindu religion is that of Draupadi. She originates in Hindu mythology within one of the great epics, the Mahabharata. Throughout this epic the true character of Draupadi emanates, displaying her individuality, strength, and unyielding determination for both justice and vengeance. Through these characteristics the figure of Draupadi has come to be a symbol of empowerment for women and has gained the worship of many followers. Not only is Draupadi an empowering character, but she “was a devoted wife, chaste, religious minded and adhering to duty” ( Bhawalkar 142) and thus a remarkable role model for Hindu women.

The Mahabharata is where Draupadi’s history begins. As the most prominent female character and heroine of the epic, Draupadi is presented as the wife of the five Pandavas. She and her five husbands, Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, are wed after Arjuna impressively wins Draupadi’s svayamvara. Thus, the daughter of King Drupada begins her life with the Panadavas, a life that is to be full of both epic success and devastating disasters. Throughout this time we see the constant struggle between the Pandavas and their family the Kauravas. The climax of Draupadi’s story is “when the eldest Kaurava brother. Duryodhana, had her dragged by her long hair into the men’s court and tried to strip off her sari” (Diesel 9). Fortunately, through her prayer to Krsna, a miracle occurs and she becomes the “visible recipient of divine grace in the form of endlessly descending sarees” (Hiltebeitel 280). This event is followed by Draupadi’s vow for vengeance and the beginning of an insatiable desire for justice that is only quenched upon her enemy’s blood running through her hair.

The innate qualities with which Draupadi’s character is imbued are truly the basis on which her significance within the Mahabharata is centred. Her physical portrayal is that “the very sight of her, was magnetic due to her irresistible beauty and fragrance” (Bhawalkar 141). But it is not just her appearance which makes Draupadi stand out, but her positive qualities as a woman and wife to the Pandavas. Through her actions as wife Draupadi “had become the life breath of her husbands, dearer to them than their life” (Bhawalkar 142) and as such, following her great embarrassment at the hands of the Kauravas, she becomes a pivotal reason for the Pandavas to seek vengeance on the Kauravas for their adharmic behaviour.

Though the legend of Draupadi begins within the Hindu epic, her influence extends far beyond the words of her story. Although within the Mahabharata Draupadi “was quite human with human emotions and feelings like anger, love, hate, happiness, and grief” (Bhawalkar 141) this is not the only portrayal of her character. “[A] Tamil version of the epic, dating to c.1400 CE, includes additions which relate her apotheosis to the powerful Mother Goddess of Fire” (Diesel 9), which in turn has caused fire walking festivals to be held with Draupadi as their patron. According to this version of the epic, after Draupadi has been avenged, she walks through fire which “confirms and seals her divine nature, transforming her into a Goddess worthy of the worship of her devotees, who must imitate her faithfulness and virtue” (Diesel 10). These festivals are an important part of the religious beliefs for the followers of Draupadi the goddess. Fire walking festivals are especially important for the women who share these beliefs, as it is an empowering experience. According to Deisel: “By emulating the behaviour of the Goddesses, women are able to act in a way that brings them a sense of independence, confidence, and worth, which challenges patriarchal control and has the potential to bring healing” (Diesel 11). Thus, not only are these festivals important religious rights, but they are tool for women to take some control within their lives and fight the patriarchal oppressions of Indian society.

The worship of Draupadi has become so essential for people within certain areas of India that it has even developed its own cult. This cult is specifically centred in “the Chingleput, and North and South Arcot Districts” (Hiltebeitel 13) of India. Similarly to those who participate in the fire walking festivals, it also focuses on the Tamil version of the Mahabharata in its worship of Draupadi (Hiltebeitel 14). Its festivals and religious life hinges on the heroine of this epic tale, believed by her followers as a goddess. With temples and festivals dedicated to this crucial and enduring character within Hindu mythology, the existence of such a cult for the goddess Draupadi demonstrates how essential her role is not only within the Mahabharata but within Indian society as well.

Bibliography

Bhawalkar, Vanamala (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Pub. House Diesel, Alleyn. (2002) “Tales of Women’s Suffering: Draupadi and other Amman Goddesses as Role Models for Women.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 17 Issue 1 (January): 5-20.


Hiltebeitel, Alf (1988) The Cult of Draupadi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Draupadi: Mother Goddess of Fire
Draupadi in the Mahabharata
The Mahabharata
Women’s Roles in Indian Society
Feminism in India
Kunti
Kali
Krsna
Arjuna
Yudhisthira
Bhima
Nakula
Sahadeva
Pandavas
Kauravas
Duryodhana
Drupada

Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draupadi
http://www.dollsofindia.com/draupadi.htm
http://www.mythfolklore.net/india/encyclopedia/draupadi.htm
http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/mythology/mahabharat/draupadi.htm
http://www.urday.com/draupadi.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata
http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Draupadi/id/465014

Article written by: Lauren Weadick (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Bhima

Bhima’s story originates in the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is a Hindu epic that emphasizes family conflict between great warriors and lessons are embedded throughout the epic. Bhima was the second of the Pandava brothers and as George Mason William states, “Bhima (the terrible) was the product of his mother’s union with Vayu, the wind god. Bhima had a terrible temper but was courageous and a great warrior” (G.M. Williams 84). His appetite was so large that when the Pandavas would have supper he would eat half of the family’s food. He was married to Hidimba and the brother’s joint wife Drapaudi. Of the five Pandava brothers, he had the most strength and greatest appetite.

In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, challenged Yudishthira to a game of dice. Yudishthira accepted the challenge and during the game he lost all that he possessed: his lands, his kingdom, his brothers, himself, and eventually even Drapaudi who was dragged out by her hair and nearly stripped naked by Duryodhana, before she invoked Krsna who came to her rescue (D. Williams 31). Bhima had vowed to avenge the humiliation of Drapaudi caused by Duryodhana (G.M Williams 84). Yudishthira then agreed to a final game of dice in which he lost. The Pandavas and Drapaudi were condemned to spend twelve years in exile in the forest and a thirteenth year in an unknown place disguised so that they cannot be recognized (D. Williams 31). Bhima was furious towards Yudishthira for gambling away everything he owned.

During the exile, Bhima saved his family from a burning house and subdued demons to stop them from molesting humankind (G.M. Williams 84). One day in the forest Drapaudi found a thousand-petaled golden lotus and asked Bhima to bring her more of these flowers (Lutgendorf 173). Bhima then climbed the Himalayas in search of the flower and encountered a monkey blocking his path. Bhima yelled at the monkey to move but the monkey continued to lay there and suggested that Bhima lift his tail off the path in order to pass. When he tried to heave the tail off of the ground it would not budge and then the monkey revealed himself as Hanuman, the monkey god and Bhima’s half brother. Here Bhima learns a lesson as described by Philip Lutgendorf, “Hanuman warns him against wanton acts of violence, and tells him the secrets of Kubera’s Lake” (Lutgendorf 174). While in exile, Bhima defeated the demon Hidimba and married the demon’s sister Hidimbi as his second wife. He had a honeymoon for a year with Hidimbi by day and every night he would return to be with the Pandava brothers’ joint wife Drapaudi. Then Bhima and Hidimbi had a child, whom they called Ghatotkacha. Ghatotkacha was a giant and he swore to come to the aid of his father whenever necessary (D. Williams 32).

When the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile arrived, they had to disguise themselves and they all found refuge at the court of King Virata. Bhima was known as a great cook and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari comments on Bhima’s disguise and skill at cooking, “Bhima decided to become the king’s cook, and to please him with mouth-watering new dishes, assuming the name of Vallabha” (Rajagopalachari 68). While the Pandavas were in disguise, a general in King Virata’s court became infatuated with Drapaudi and pursued her through great lengths. David Williams describes how Bhima protected Drapaudi after being threatened by the general, “Drapaudi implores the mighty Bhima to help her; so he goes in her stead to a secret rendezvous, and pulverizes the over-amorous general” (D. Williams 33).

After the thirteen year long exile the Pandavas came out of hiding and a great war was fought between the Pandavas and Kauravas. In this war, Bhima played a large role and killed many men. Ghatotkacha, Bhima’s son, fought alongside his troops of Rakshasas and they destroyed the enemy by the thousands. Duryodhana was angered by this and sent his close friend Karna to kill Ghatotkacha. Karna had trouble killing Ghatotkacha until he used the Shakti, a mighty weapon that could only be used once, and it pierced through the chest of Ghatotkacha. Bhima, who had a terrible temper, was infuriated by his son’s death. Only the soothing words of Yudishthira could calm his rage (Rajagopalachari 118). On the battlefield Duryodhana chose Bhima for a duel which Chakravarti Rajagopalachari described, “Duryodhana rushed at Bhima. The deadly maces clashed and sparks shot out. The duel was equally poised. They fought well and long and other outcome remained uncertain. They both were the masters of the art of mace-fighting” (Rajagopalachari 135). During the fight Krsna hinted to Bhima to strike Duryodhana’s thigh. As George Mason Williams reports, “Bhima had to resort to an unfair blow from his war club, which crushed his cousin’s thigh, and then he kicked his despised foe brutally as he lay wounded” (G.M. Williams 84). This fight demonstrated that Bhima was true to his word in seeking revenge for Drapaudi even if it meant fighting dirty. Balarama, who taught Duryodhana to fight with a mace, was furious at the cheap shot dealt by Bhima. In his fury he charged at Bhima ready to strike and avenge the death of Duryodhana. Then Krsna rushed in and defended Bhima and said he had just redeemed his pledge made in the presence of Drapaudi (Rajagopalachari 136).

The Pandavas went on to win the war and ruled the kingdom under Yudishthira. Years later, when most of their relatives were dead, the Pandavas entered a yogic state and set out for the north (O’Flaherty 53). When it was Bhima’s turn to approach the gates of heaven, he fell and asked King Yudishthira why he has fallen. Wendy Doninger O’Flaherty states Yudishthira’s response to Bhima, “You ate too much, and boasted about your vital energy, and despised your enemy. That is why you have fallen to the ground” (O’Flaherty 54).

Bhima was a great warrior; he was loyal to his wives and lived a dharmic life aside from striking Duryodhana below the navel. He did not reach heaven because of his large appetite, his overconfident nature and his hatred towards his enemies. As George Mason Williams states, “Despite one episode that tarnished his record, more than a hundred stories made Bhima an example of raw courage and strength, fighting to follow the way of a righteous warrior” (G.M. Williams 84).

Bibliography

Lutgendorf, Philip. (2007) Hanuman’s Tale. The Messages of a Divine Monkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press US.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. (1990) Textual Sources for the Study of HInduism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rajagopalachari, Chakravarti. (1976) Mahabharata. Delhi: Diamond Pockets Books Ltd.

Williams, David. (1991) Peter Brook and the Mahabharata. London: Taylor & Francis.

Williams, George Mason. (2003) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. Oxford: ABC-CLIO.

Related Topics:

Mahabharata

Pandavas

Kauravas

Arjuna

Yudishthira

Ghatotkacha

Written by Kirk Patterson (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Draupadi in the Mahabharata

Draupadi’s story originates in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is believed to have been composed between 200 BCE and 200 CE, authored by Vyasa and said to be the longest epic in history (Rodrigues 227). Its writing is followed by the Kali Yuga, which was a period of retrogression in which families were waging war. (Rodrigues 227). The epic stories are thus centered on this tension among family members, but also introduce a variety of social issues, including the role and representation of women in Hindu culture. Draupadi is the central female character in the epic and embodies a very dynamic role model for women. Her role symbolizes the concerns for the treatment of women in a society dominated by patriarchal ideals (Sutherland 63). Vyasa is careful however to ensure that this concern is not easily suspected. Her presence in the Mahabharata discloses a criticism of authority (Hiltebeitel 240). Although her behaviour occasionally challenges the traditional view of women, Hindu women may acceptably adhere to Draupadi’s role as a wife and a woman in society.

Draupadi was the daughter of King Drupada and was born through exceptional circumstances. Her and her brother, Dhrstadyumna arose from a sacrificial fire (Hill 249). Her descriptions from the onset of the epic focused on her astonishing physical appearance.

She was beautiful and enchanting; she had a lovely body and a waist the shape of the sacrificial altar. She was dark, had eyes like lotus leaves, and dark, wavy hair. She was a goddess who had taken on a human form. Her scent, like that of a blue lotus, perfumed the air for the distance of a mile. She possessed the most beautiful figure; none was her equal on earth (Sutherland 64).

Women were made to be beautiful and desirable to men and Draupadi was so desirable that she became the wife of five men, the Pandavas brothers, who became her husbands through contest. Yudhisthira was the eldest brother who possessed great dharmic qualities, very honest and just, which continually came into conflict with the protection of Draupadi (Sutherland 64). Bhima and Arjuna were the next two brothers who were both great warriors, fearless and strong with a great love for Draupadi (Sutherland 64). Nakula and Sahadeva were the youngest twin brothers who were born of a different mother (Rodrigues 229). Arjuna the great warrior won Draupadi in an archery contest but the other brothers, so smitten by her beauty, wanted her as well and so Draupadi agreed to marry them all (Rodrigues 230). Draupadi remains a good wife to all her husbands.

She devotedly serves her husbands and their other wives without pride, anger or desire. With affection and self restraint she waits attentively on their wishes without any selfish thoughts. She works hard to manage the home never speaks harshly, never laughs loudly, never causes offence and is never idle. She never cooks food her husbands do not like, and she is dutiful in performing the offerings to the ancestors and in serving guests. Even though they are gentle by nature she treats her husbands as if they were venomous snakes, always prone to anger the eternal dharma for a woman is to serve her husband in this way, for he is her god and she has no object in her life other than his service (Sutton 423).

This passage is Draupadi’s response to Satyabhama’s question in the Mahabharata in regards to Draupadi’s husbands’ submissive but never angry demeanor. It demonstrates the embedded teachings of the epic. A woman should remain devoted and her dharma can be found in her service to her husbands. This passage also reveals the godliness of a woman’s husband. However, while Draupadi may disclose this devotional dialogue there are three main events of the epic which demonstrate her challenges to this devotion.

The Mahabharata accompanied with the Ramayana, the two major epics of the Hindu tradition, focus on principles for life on earth. Draupadi and Sita, the goddess of the Ramayana, serve as role models for women and their functions. Draupadi’s character provides a model of female behaviour that women may safely copy, (Sutton 422) however in some instances her actions are questionable in regards to the traditional patriarchal society from which these women arose. As such, Sita is considered the ideal wife and woman (Sutherland 63). Draupadi is very outspoken in three major events of the Mahabharata in which she questions the godliness of her husbands, specifically Yudhisthira. The first of these events occurs between a meeting of the Pandavas with their rival cousins the Kauravas. Yudhisthira, faithfully following dharmic principles, enters into a game of dice with his cousin Duryodhana (Rodrigues 231). After losing his kingdom and all his possessions he tried to win them back by staking himself and then Draupadi (Rodrigues 231). Yudhisthira elaborately describes his wife as to make her a desirable stake in the game.

She is not too short, nor is she too large; nor is she too dark nor is her complexion red. She has eyes reddened from passion. I will stake her – whose eyes and fragrance are like autumnal lotuses. Attached to modesty, she is, in beauty equal to Sri, the goddess of beauty. Were a man to desire a woman, she would be like this one, on account of her beautiful figure; she would be like this one on account of her perfect character. She is the last to sleep and first to awaken. She knows everything, down to the jobs both completed and not yet done by the cowherds and shepherds. Like the jasmine flower, the mallika, is she; with her perspiring face she appears similar to a lotus. She has red eyes, long hair, a waist as slender as the sacrificial altar, and a body with no excessive hair (Sutherland 65).

Draupadi is described as the perfect wife and woman and then becomes the object not only of desire but also of sexual abuse in the present disregard of her husbands. Being won by the Kauravas, Duhsasana orders her to be stripped naked and begins to peel off her clothing. However, Draupadi, humiliated by such a notion, prayed to Krsna for help who came to her rescue in the absence of any assistance from her husbands (Rodrigues 231-232). Outraged that her husbands did not come to her aid her anger became observable to the entire assembly and she embodies an aggressive attitude in response to her husbands’ passive manner. The situation justifies Draupadi’s response to defend herself. Only divine intervention kept her from being completely degraded in the presence of her husbands and the entire assembly, thus her anger is justified (Sutherland 66). While women, during this time period, were considered the lesser sex in a relationship women themselves were not completely disregarded.

The epic includes two more events in which Draupadi is sexually assaulted in the absence of her husbands, both physically and behaviorally. The first involves the love-sick king Jayadratha who abducts Draupadi when she refuses his advance (Sutherland 68). Her husbands are away from the palace at the time of the abduction and she must defend herself. The second event happens in the last year of the exile, the Pandavas and Draupadi disguised themselves in the court of Virata to remain hidden from the Kauravas (Sutherland 69). Draupadi disguises herself as a servant to Queen Sudesna whose brother, Kicaka, propositions her (Sutherland 69). In this last event Draupadi is again let down by her husbands, most specifically Yudhisthira.

Kicaka, even more infatuated by the luckless princess, enlists the queen’s aid to help him win her. Sudesna, despite the protestations of Draupadi, sends her to Kicaka’s chamber with some liquor. Draupadi, upset at being sent into what she correctly perceives is a compromising situation, prays to Surya, the sun god: As I have never claimed another man but the Pandavas, by this truth, let me not fall under Kicaka’s power when I arrive there. Answering her prayer, Surya sends an invisible raksasa to protect her. Kicaka attempts to seduce her, but she runs for protection to where Yudhisthira is. Kicaka grabs her by the hair and while Yudhisthira looks on, throws her to the ground and kicks her. The raksasa sent by Surya pushes Kicaka senseless to the floor (Sutherland 69-70).

In every situation, Draupadi is left to protect herself, usually calling on a god to help her. However, it is through these situations that her behaviour is justified. When the husband will not provide protection a woman must take matters in to her own hands. However, the message is still embedded in the literature that a woman should remain faithful to her husband(s).

It is important to consider the epic from the perspective of the time in which it was created. However, this does not mean that its teaching’s have not permeated modern Hindu culture. Modern Hindu thought still attests to patriarchal virtues in which women are considered inferior and subject to their passionate nature (Sharma 41). This indicates that the dynamics between men and women are still evolving in a male dominated system. Nevertheless, Draupadi’s behaviour identifies with a woman who is articulate and forceful and certainly has an influence with men (Sutherland 67). This suggests that women were not completely submissive servants but also had a right to their protection and dignity.

The gods are always pleased with those who treat women well and curse those houses where they are mistreated. Manu has instructed that women should be cared for by men for they are mostly weak, easily seduced, soft-hearted and lovers of honesty. Some women are harsh, stupid, and malevolent, but still men should honour them for when the women are satisfied society is peaceful (Sutton 428).

Thus, while patriarchy may still dominate, reverence to the gods suggests a respect and consideration for women. Their inferiority is nevertheless suggested and as such Draupadi, and her bold behaviour, are a significant role model. Throughout the epic, Draupadi’s statements about her duty as a wife are an indication that women should still follow tradition. Draupadi imparts not only an example but offers advice that women can safely duplicate and utilize in society.

References

Hill, Peter (2001) Fate, Predestination and Human Action in the Mahabharata: A Study

in the History of Ideas. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (2002) Rethinking the Mahabharata. New Delhi: Oxford University

Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The EBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Ltd.

Sharma, Arvind (2002) Modern Hindu Thought – The Essential Texts. New Delhi:

Oxford University Press.

Sutherland, Sally J (1989) “Sita and Darupadi: Aggressive Behaviour and Female Role-

Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 109(1), 63-79.

Sutton, Nicholas (2000) Religious Doctrines in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Motilal

Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Related Readings

Bhawalkar, V. (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi:Sharada Pub. House.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (ed.) (2002) Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian

Religion. New Delhi: Shakti Books.

Diesel, Alleyn (2002) “Tales of Women’s Suffering: Draupadi and Other Amman

Goddesses as Role Models for Women.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 17(1), 5-20.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1980) “Siva, The Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pandavas and

Draupadi.” History of Religions, 20 (1-2), 147-174.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1991) The Cult of Draupadi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pintchman, Tracy (1994) The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition. Albany, N.Y.:

State University of New York Press.

Related Research Topics

Sita

The Ramayana

The Mahabharata

The Pandavas

The Kauravas

dharma

Kunti

Krsna

Surya

Goddess Worship (Fire Walking – specifically tied to Draupadi)

Related Websites

http://www.dollsofindia.com/draupadi.htm

http://mythfolklore.net/india/encyclopedia/draupadi.htm

http://moralstories.wordpress.com/2006/05/15/draupadi-an-ikon-of-a-true-indian-woman/

http://www.hinduwomen.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=hncontent&pa=showpage&pid=52

http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/xeno/mahabsynop.htm

Written by Shannon Pollock (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Draupadi

In Hindu mythology, few women stand out as much as the character of Draupadi. Draupadi is the wife of the five Pandava princes in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata; she is a heroine who is unpredictable, unwavering and who could also possess the austerity of a traditional Hindu wife. Many see Draupadi as an early feminist because of her fearlessness in admonishing those who harmed her or her family. Draupadi existed in a time when a woman’s role was to serve her husband. As Dr. Vanamala Bhawalkar states “[in] Draupadi’s Era, there was no question of women’s equality with men. The wife was the counterpart of her husband and both together became a complete person. As Milton had said “He for God and she for the God in him” was true in those days.”(150) The unique relationship between Draupadi and her husbands is what makes her story so exceptional. Draupadi, the wife of the mighty Pandava brothers was anything but a conventional wife; she was smart, bold and would often lead her husbands into action.

There are few women that compete with the beauty of Draupadi; all those that met her adored her. Her beauty was so great that she delighted all of the human senses. Alf Hiltbeitel states this of her beauty: “[T]he very sight of her was magnetic due to her irresistible beauty and fragrance”(Hiltebeitel 267). Draupadi’s beauty would gain her much attention, but it is her ability to balance her beauty with the desirable traits of a wife that gain her such devotion. However, as Bhawalkar notes, it was not only her beauty that won her praise: “Yudhisthira said that she was such that any man would desire and that she never committed any sin. Bhima equaled her to the ancient famous wives. Her mother-in-law Kunti praised her for the virtues and her laudable behavior with all her husbands”(Bhawalkar 141). Draupadi was as skilled in the arts of being a woman, and everything that was associated with womanhood, as she was gifted in beauty. Her opinions were well respected and supported by her family due to her vast knowledge of many subjects. Unlike many women in her era, Draupadi’s father, Drupada, allowed Draupadi to be educated. Bhawalkar comments on Draupadi’s education: “Drupada had engaged learned Brahmanas for the education of his sons. Draupadi also joined them and became an expert in Political Science”(Bhawalkar 3). It is possible that the unique qualities that Draupadi possessed, such as strength and audacity, are a result of being educated. Having such a complete education would have given Draupadi a sense of confidence unfamiliar to most women. Also Draupadi was quick to learn and thirsted for knowledge; she had a keen memory and had a vast knowledge on many subjects. Bhawalkar comments on the success of Draupadi as a student: “She became known as Pandita (learned and wise) and grew up a charming maiden admired by all”(Bhawalkar 4). Bhawalkar affirms that these attributes are a part of why Draupadi was so well liked and respected. Her intellect and knowledge did not however hinder her ability to be a dutiful wife. “Draupadi was a devoted wife, chaste, religious minded and adhering to duty. Her integrity and fidelity were admirable. She was always careful to please her husbands, served not only them but even their wives”(Bhawalkar 142). Draupadi was concerned with the common good of all her family and believed that a family functioned best as a whole unit. Draupadi was so devoted to her husbands that she followed them into exile and a life without lavishes. Sandy Sutherland notes that in exile she is depicted as: “having suffered great insult, but faithfully following her husbands into exile and enduring the hardships of the forest. It is from these scenes, and not from her life in the palace, that we learn of the real character of Draupadi”(Sutherland 68). She was quick to see the benefit of her polygamous lifestyle and was able to take all obstacles in stride. Draupadi possessed the desirable traits of many women, and was able to use these traits to influence and control. Draupadi had a great understanding of the balance between being bold and forthright, and being submissive and dutiful.

Of all the parts in the Mahabharata that include Draupadi, the story of Draupadi’s Cheer-Haran remains the most vivid. This is an important event because it is one of the main reasons for the Mahabharata war, and it is also a breaking point for Draupadi. The climax of this event is when Draupadi is dragged into court after Yudhisthira had lost her in a bet to the Kauravas, along with all of his wealth and kingdom. The character Dushsasana, one of the Kaurava brothers, attempts to strip off Draupadi’s sari. However, Draupadi prays to Krsna and he works a miracle to prevent her sari from running out of layers. Draupadi is humiliated by this and is angered by the Pandavas inability or reluctance to help her. It is her reaction to this abhorrence that we see Draupadi’s bravery, as she reprimands those around her in the court. Bimal Krishna Matilal comments on her courage: “Draupadi had presence of mind and fearlessness even during calamities. She could rebuke and threaten the Kauravas, Jayadratha and Kicaka for molesting her and was bold enough to argue with the members of the assemblies of the Kuras and also Virata”(Matilal 143). It is Draupadi’s reaction to situations like these that set her apart from her husbands; she is often the first to react to any injustices and is a visibly powerful figure often controlling the Pandavas. Sutherland comments on the power that Draupadi possesses in this incident: “The episode is ironic, though. During the scene we are made aware that the beautiful Draupadi is possessed also of quick wit and a clever tongue. Her ability at debate is soon demonstrated, and at the conclusion of the episode, we realize that her wit has saved her husbands from impending slavery”(Sutherland 67). The Pandavas recognize what Draupadi is capable of and listen to her. Because she possesses such vast knowledge on politics, the Pandavas are inclined to listen to her and frequently rely upon her for decision-making. This is not to say that Draupadi was invincible, she was greatly affected by conflict and would become emotional. Bhawalkar comments the on emotional side of Draupadi: “Draupadi, unlike the mythological goddess or the ideal heroines of our ancient literature, was quite human with human emotions and feelings like anger, love, hate, happiness and grief. Her life was full of ups and downs and she maintained her dignity in both the situations”(Bhawalkar 141). It is Draupadi’s ability to overcome adversity in a venerable manner that sets her apart from other women. In the Mahabharata she proves that no situation is insurmountable, and she never abandons her husbands, regardless of the positions they lead her into.

After the incident at the court of the Kurus, Draupadi emerges as a much more powerful character and this is seen in the interactions with her husbands. Bhawalkar remarks on Draupadi’s relationship with her husbands: “Draupadi was not a dumb follower of her husbands. She had her own individuality. Though soft speaking she used harsh words to her husbands and others when necessary”(Bhawalkar 143). This boldness is what sets her apart from other women in the epics. The Pandavas are accepting of this treatment possibly because they feel guilt for their abandonment of Draupadi at the court, or possibly because they truly trust in her decisions. The Pandavas often looked to Draupadi for guidance and approval. Draupadi was in many ways equal to her husbands and they desired her respect. Despite the fact that Draupadi eventually forgives her husbands, she is left with a desire for vengeance, and is quick to seek revenge on those who offend her or her family. Draupadi begins to be recognized for this aggressive attitude and her enemies are wary of her power. Enemies knew that Draupadi had a great influence on the Pandavas and she was feared because of her vast knowledge on all things moral. “She could argue forcibly to win her point with apt quotations and illustrations from her fund of knowledge on various subjects like righteousness, duties and codes of conduct for the four Varnas (castes), moral, legal and ethical codes and was called Dharmajna, Dharmadarsini”(Bhawalkar 141). Although Draupadi was desperate for revenge on those who harmed her, her distinction between right and wrong was rarely clouded and she was often in pursuit of justice.

Draupadi’s distinction among other women from the epics is paramount and well deserved; she was far ahead of her time, often found commanding her husbands to do her bidding. It is her ability to use her position with responsibility and insight that show her true power as a woman. Dr. Bhawalkar summarizes Draupadi’s unique qualities:

Yet the superb qualities of Draupadi like steadfast devotion to duty, spirit of self sacrifice, fortitude; courage, capacity for hard work, presence of mind, perseverance, endurance, thirst for knowledge, wisdom to discriminate between right and wrong and strength to fight against injustice, truth, modesty, forgiveness, softness and harshness as the occasion demanded – these and such other qualities seen in Draupadi’s life are universal and beyond the limit of time and space. (Bhawalkar 151)

Draupadi’s fearlessness and uncompromising nature makes her of great importance in the history of mythological women and of women today.

Bibliography

Bhawalkar, V. (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Publishing

House.

Hiltebeitel, Alf. (1988) The Cult of Draupadi Volume 1. Chicago: University of Chicago

Press.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna. (1989) Moral Dilemmas In The Mahabharata. India: Shri

Jainendra Press.

Sutherland, Sally J (1989) “Sita and Draupadi: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-

Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109,

no. 1 (Jan. – Mar.): 63-79.

Related Topics

Mahabharata

Pandavas

Epics

Krishna

Bhakti

Karna

Arjuna

Bhima

Yudisthira

Nakula

Sahadeva

Kunti

Kauravas

Indian Feminism

Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draupadi

http://www.dollsofindia.com/draupadi.htm

http://moralstories.wordpress.com/2006/05/15/draupadi-an-ikon-of-a-true-indian-woman/

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm

http://www.mahabharataonline.com/

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm

http://moralstories.wordpress.com/2006/05/15/draupadi-an-ikon-of-a-true-indian-woman/

Written by Chloe Grant (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.