Draupadi is the most prominent female character in the Mahabharata. Her given name at birth is Krishnaa, but since she is the daughter of Drupada she is called Draupadi. She is also known as Panchali – or the ‘daughter of Panchala’.
Draupadi is often considered the primary reason for the destruction of the Kuru dynasty. She takes birth as a grown young woman in a sacrifice performed by Drupada, in which the king asks for a ‘weapon’ with which the Kurus can be defeated.
In this post, we will answer the question: Did Draupadi insult Duryodhana?
There is no evidence that Draupadi insults Duryodhana when he falls into the pool at Yudhishthir’s palace. She does arrive laughing among her companions just as Duryodhana emerges from the water. But later, as Duryodhana complains to Dhritarashtra about the incident, he lies that Draupadi laughed at him with intent to ridicule.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Draupadi insulted Duryodhana.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
At the Rajasuya
The incident in question happens during Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya sacrifice at Indraprastha, to which Duryodhana is invited.
Over there, the Kaurava prince takes a tour of the new hall constructed for Yudhishthir by Maya the asura. The hall is full of optical illusions. Duryodhana mistakes a pool of water for solid ground and steps into it.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 15: The Rajasuya.)
Bhimasena laughs uproariously at this (no surprises here) but Arjuna and the twins – after a brief moment of mirth – send for servants to bring for Duryodhana a fresh set of clothes to wear.
It is important to remember that Duryodhana’s mind is already clouded by jealousy for his cousins when this happens. Indeed the meaning of the word ‘Rajasuya’ means ‘the envy of kings’.
Does Draupadi laugh?
In the actual description of the scene, Draupadi is not present in the moment that Duryodhana falls over. But as he emerges from the water, she passes by in the company of her companions, laughing. We are not told explicitly whether she is laughing pointedly at Duryodhana or at something one of her friends has said.
However, in Duryodhana’s present state of mind, he assumes that Draupadi has laughed in response to his situation.
Why, then, is it accepted as fact that Draupadi did laugh at Duryodhana? Because on his return to Hastinapur, Duryodhana admits to Shakuni his feelings of envy, and the prince of Gandhara encourages Duryodhana to take Dhritarashtra’s help in bringing the Pandavas to their ruin.
Shakuni Consoles Duryodhana
‘Day by day, it seems,’ says Duryodhana to Shakuni, ‘the sons of Dhritarashtra are decaying like a corpse while the sons of Pandu and Kunti are growing like trees. Will you please tell my father of my condition and exhort him to do something about it?’
Shakuni then consoles his nephew, telling him that he had no reason to be envious. ‘You have all the great warriors of the Kuru race on your side, O Prince,’ he says. ‘Drona, Kripacharya and Bhishma still fight under the banner of Hastinapur, not that of Indraprastha.
‘The kingdom of Suvala is yours any time you wish it so, and Anga, ruled by Karna, will forever be your ally. So it is not true that you are powerless, though it might seem that way now in the shadow of the great Rajasuya.’
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 17: The Game of Dice.)
‘Then do you think I should fight them?’ asks Duryodhana. ‘Perhaps that will settle once and for all who is superior to whom.’
Shakuni shakes his head. ‘The Pandavas, the Yadavas and the Panchalas make for very strong enemies, Duryodhana. But I happen to know that Yudhishthir is much fond of the game of dice, even though he knows not how to play it. Let us invite him over to Hastinapur to gamble with us, and I promise that I shall bring all of their wealth to you.’
Duryodhana and Shakuni then go to Dhritarashtra to convince the old king to invite the Pandavas.
In his complaint to Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana tries to create a picture that paints the Pandavas as vainglorious. He says, ‘The Pandavas are drunk with pride, Father. When I fell into the pool at Yudhishthir’s hall, they all laughed at me. Including Draupadi!’
He, of course, does not mention that only Bhima laughed at him with the intention to ridicule. Arjuna and the twins may have laughed reflexively, but they were also quick to arrange for Duryodhana to be helped out immediately.
Draupadi, on the other hand, was not even present on the scene.
But embellishing his narrative in this way convinces Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas ought to be defeated by hook or by crook. Otherwise, Duryodhana warns him, the Pandavas will not think twice about invading Hastinapur and occupying it.
Did Duryodhana believe this?
It is difficult to say for certain whether Duryodhana lied about this deliberately or if he believed truly in his heart that Draupadi did laugh at him.
On the one hand, Duryodhana’s character is such that he would lie to Dhritarashtra in this manner to serve his own purposes. But then, his mind is also so clouded by base emotions that he may have misconstrued Draupadi’s laughter as being directed at his plight.
In either case, he makes sure that everyone in the rest of the world knows about this: that Draupadi vainly laughed at the Kuru prince – who was her guest! – when he fell into a pool of water.
The Pandavas, for their part, never revisit this scene, so it is Duryodhana’s version that finally prevails.
This is why Duryodhana, Shakuni, Karna and Duhsasana target Draupadi in particular during the dice game. While the ostensible stakes during play are Yudhishthir’s wealth and possessions, the four of them ensure that Draupadi enters the fray.
Revenge upon Draupadi
The dice begins innocuously enough, with Yudhishthir staking and losing possessions such as diadems and jewels. But as the stakes begin to mount, the implication is that Duryodhana and Shakuni want Yudhishthir’s kingdom for themselves.
True to that form, Yudhishthir stakes and loses his four brothers and himself. At the end he says, ‘I have nothing more to stake. I have lost everything.’
But Shakuni reminds him: ‘You still have Draupadi.’
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 18: Yudhishthir Loses Everything.)
This suggestion is met with scorn in the assembly, which gives us readers the impression that in dice games of this sort, it is not proper to ask a player to pledge his wife. Though she is technically one of a man’s possessions, she is also human with freedoms and rights of her own.
(In the story of Nala and Damayanti, Nala loses his kingdom and wealth to his younger brother, but in that case, neither does Nala pledge Damayanti nor does Nala’s brother ask him to do so.)
In this case, Shakuni’s urging of Yudhishthir is just a means by which Duryodhana can avenge Draupadi’s slight.
Each of the four wicked men – Duryodhana, Karna, Duhsasana and Shakuni – does his part in the humiliation of Draupadi. Namely:
- After Yudhishthir admits defeat and declares that he has nothing more to pledge, Shakuni demands that the game is not complete until Yudhishthir pledges Draupadi.
- After Draupadi asks whether Yudhishthir was within his rights to pledge her, Karna argues against Vikarna and establishes that Draupadi is now Duryodhana’s slave. He also calls her a prostitute.
(Suggested: Why does Karna abuse Draupadi?)
- Karna suggests that Draupadi should forsake the Pandavas and marry Duryodhana instead. In response to this, Duryodhana beckons to Draupadi and meaningfully pats his thigh, as if inviting her to sit on it.
- Duhsasana, in response to Karna’s command, undertakes the task of disrobing Draupadi in the middle of the assembly – because that is how a ‘prostitute ought to be treated’.
All four of these men earn the personal wrath of the Pandavas. Arjuna vows to kill Karna. Bhima vows to break Duryodhana’s thigh and to drink Duhsasana’s blood. Sahadeva promises to kill Shakuni.
The incident of Draupadi laughing at Duryodhana is often cited as the main reason for her disrobing and for the breakdown in Kaurava-Pandava relations. It has sometimes been suggested that if Draupadi had not laughed, perhaps Duryodhana would not have felt the need to humiliate her in this manner.
But this is nonsense. Duryodhana’s feeling of embitterment came from his own envy. If not this incident, he would have found another to publicly cite as reasons for his behaviour.
What brought on the dice game and the events following it is the unprecedented nature of Yudhishthir’s success. Draupadi has nothing to do with it – though she is conveniently blamed often for the quarrels of men.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story
- 300+ Mahabharata Stories to Thrill, Delight and Enchant You