Mahabharata heroes and their wife
The Mahabharata is a highly significant and poetic Indian epic reputedly written by sage Vyasa (Narsimhan xix). It is the tale of five princely brothers, the Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi. The Pandavas were born as sons to king Pandu and his two wives Kunti and Madri (Narsimhan xx). The epic depicts a family feud amongst the Pandavas and their cousins, the Kauravas, and the struggle of the Pandavas for their right to rule, which culminates in the great battle of Kuruksetra (Narsimhan xix). One of the reasons that led to the battle of Kuruksetra was the public humiliation of Draupadi by the Kauravas and the revenge exacted by the Pandavas for the same. Draupadi is a central character in the story and her relationship with her husbands is also essential to the epic battle (Narsimhan xxvi). This article focuses on the relationship between the three elder Pandavas; namely, Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna and their beloved wife, Draupadi.
Draupadi was a part incarnation of Sri and was born as a daughter to Drupada, the king of Panchala (Bhawalkar 2). She had expert knowledge of political science and was known as Pandita (the great learned one) (Bhawalkar 3-4). Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, in his jealousy tried killing the Pandavas and their mother Kunti, who escaped from the fire and went into exile (Narsimhan xxi). It was during this exile, that Drupada arranged Draupadi’s Svayamvara (self choice). Arjuna, who went to the Svayamvara disguised as a Brahmin, won her hand. Arjuna being a great archer was able to pierce the target through a revolving wheel and thus won the hand of Draupadi (Bhawalkar 6-7). On the way back from the court, Bhima and Arjuna decided to play a prank on their mother, Kunti, and introduced Draupadi as alms. Kunti made the mistake of asking them to share the alms with their brothers. Thus, as respect for their mother, Draupadi was taken as wife by all the five Pandavas: Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva (Bhawalkar 6-7).
Draupadi had special relationship with her husbands. Besides being a wife, Draupadi had a cordial friendship with Yudhisthira and they counseled each other frequently. Yudhisthira listened to her council in areas of politics and running of his kingdom. He had lengthy conversations with Draupadi about Dharma where they did not see eye to eye (Bhawalkar 44-47). Yudhisthira staked Draupadi on a game of dice with Kauravas, which he lost. It was at this time he describes her beauty, which shows how much he adored her.
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 kindness; 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. (Bhawalkar 22, Sutherland 65, Hiltebeitel 2001:260)
After the Pandavas were exiled from Hastinapur, because of the fateful game of dice, where Yudhisthira staked Draupadi and lost, she questioned Yudhisthira’s manliness and dharma for staking her (Bhawalkar 23-27, 46-49). She constantly complained to Yudhisthira for the treatment she had received at the hands of the Kauravas (Sutherland 67). Yudhisthira explained to her that since anger is a root of total ruin and the destroyer of men, it would be unbecoming of him (Bhawalkar 47). During their exile Yudhisthira used to help Draupadi in the kitchen to cook food for the Brahmins, thus spending time with her and helping her (Bhawalkar 40). Yudhisthira was always the counselor and not the protector for Draupadi (Bhawalkar 94). He never protected her because he always followed the path of righteousness and did not believe in revenge (Bhawalkar 50). Even during their last year of exile, when Draupadi was dragged and hit in king Virata’s court by Kicaka, Yudhisthira controlled his anger and asked Draupadi to go to her chambers (Bhawalkar 94). Even though he was strong he always felt incapable of keeping Draupadi safe from danger (Bhawalkar 84). Draupadi’s aggressive behavior was mainly directed towards Yudhisthira because he was the eldest, a figure of authority. As well, he was the one always following the course of dharma, which prevented Bhima and Arjuna to exact immediate revenge for Draupadi (Sutherland 69, 71-72).
Where Yudhisthira acted as Draupadi’s counselor, Bhima, the second of the Pandavas, appropriated the role of her protector. Draupadi had a very special relationship with Bhima. She looked up to him as her defender because of his strength (Sutherland 71-72). During the game of Dyuta, when Draupadi was dragged in to the court during her menses and clad only in a piece of cloth, it was Bhima who swore vengeance (Bhawalkar 22-27, 32). During their exile, when Draupadi was kidnapped by the demon Jatasur, it was Bhima again who saved her and killed the demon (Bhawalkar 60). Draupadi also went to Bhima for protection when Kichika assaulted her, in their 13th year of exile (Bhawalkar 92-95). It was during this time that she went to Bhima and cried in her misery lamenting about her state, due to Yudhisthira’s gambling addiction. She said to Bhima, “I am suffering this unending misery due to the deed of your eldest brother, the worst gambler” (Bhawalkar 97-100). Bhima, the strongest of the Pandavas, had a very soft spot for Draupadi. He killed Jayadratha, Kichika, Duhsasana and Duryodhana in order to protect her and exact revenge for the insult suffered by Draupadi (Bhawalkar 84, 104,121). Bhima also supported Draupadi in her anger against Yudhisthira (Bhawalkar 50, Hiltebeitel 2001:249). He wanted to wage war against the Kauravas for treating Draupadi like a slave and insulting her in the court. However, Yudhisthira wanted to forgive his cousins (Bhawalkar 50). This led to disagreement between the two brothers. Bhima always wanted to fulfill Draupadi’s smallest request because he did not want to hurt her more after the torment she went through at Hastinapur, at the hands of Duryodhana. At one time during their exile, she wanted Saugandhika flowers for Yudhisthira and she asked Bhima to get them for her. Bhima crossed mountains and forests to fulfill her wish (Bhawalkar 59-60).
While Yudhisthira and Bhima’s relationship with Draupadi might be characterized more easily (e.g., counselor and protector), her relationship with Arjuna was more complex. Arjuna, the third of the Pandavas, won the hand of Draupadi during the Svayamvara. According to Hiltebeitel, Arjuna was Draupadi’s favorite husband (1980:153). Arjuna held her in greatest respect. He, along with Yudhisthira, also took into account Draupadi’s council and advice when it came to strategy and planning (Bhawalkar 69-70). When Arjuna married Subhadra, he took her to Draupadi who was very angry with him for the betrayal. He begged her for forgiveness for his decision to marry Subhadra (Bhawalkar 18-19). It was after Draupadi’s acceptance of Subhadra that Arjuna was able to find peace in married life with his second wife. After Draupadi’s insult at the hands of Karna, Duryodhana, Sakuni and Duhsasana, Arjuna vowed to kill Karna and his followers in battle (Bhawalkar 36). When Jayadratha kidnapped Draupadi, Arjuna and Bhima went after them to rescue her (Bhawalkar 82-83).
Draupadi was a strong woman. She was revered and loved by all her husbands (Bhawalkar 68-69). She underwent many torments at the hands of Kauravas; however, she never gave up on her vengeance. She swore to keep her hair untied, and only to tie it back after she had soaked it in Duhsasana’s blood for dragging her in the court after the game of Dyuta (Bhawalkar 38). She always kept reminding her husbands of her insult, such that they never forgot her torment (Bhawalkar 44-47, 95-97). Draupadi always put her husbands’ happiness before hers. She always made sure they were fed before she ate, bathed before she took a bath, kept the house clean, helped them in their meditation, she even kept a note of all their expenditure and household running’s (Bhawalkar 68-70). She faithfully followed her husbands into the forest enduring intensive hardships (Sutherland 68).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Bhawalkar, Vanamala (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House.
Hiltebeitel, Alf (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Hiltebeitel, Alf (1980) Śiva, the Goddess, and the Disguises of the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadi. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Narsimhan, Chakravarthi (1998) The Mahabharata: An English Version Based on Selected Verses. New York: Columbia University 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 for Further Investigation
Article written by: Abhishek Malwankar (April 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.