The death of Draupadi is one of the most important episodes of the Mahabharata. It occurs thirty six years after the Pandavas win the war of Kurukshetra, during the Mahaprasthanika Parva.
In this post, we will answer the question: How did Draupadi die?
Draupadi falls to her death soon after she and the Pandavas begin scaling Mount Meru in the hope of entering heaven while staying in their mortal bodies. When Bhima asks Yudhishthir why Draupadi had fallen, Yudhishthir replies: ‘Because despite being wedded to all five of us, she was most in love with Arjuna.’
Keep reading for more information on how Draupadi died in the Mahabharata.
(For a comprehensive resource on Draupadi, see Draupadi: 50+ Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Why is Draupadi the first to die?
The Pandavas and Draupadi are quite advanced in age when they set out on their final journey. Assuming that Yudhishthir is in his late forties during the Kurukshetra war, by the time of the attempt to scale Meru, he must be in his eighties.
The image we must hold in our heads, therefore, is that of five frail old men hobbling up the mountain in the company of their equally weak wife.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Draupadi would be the first to give in to exhaustion simply because she is the only woman in the group. Her physical strength cannot match that of the Pandavas.
Not only is she the only woman, but we must remember that the Pandavas have lived a life of warriors, and are more likely to have stronger physical conditioning than Draupadi, who might have lived a life of relative comfort and luxury.
However, the ‘official’ explanation from Yudhishthir is that Draupadi is punished for having loved Arjuna the most among the five brothers. With these words, Yudhishthir implies that Draupadi had not quite lived up to the standards required of her.
It is actually instructive that the Pandavas have waged wars, killed people, and performed numerous acts of violence. Despite that, it is Draupadi who is the bigger sinner just because she did not love her husbands equally.
For more thoughts on this, see: Why did Draupadi die first?
Did Draupadi love Arjuna the most?
It is Yudhishthir’s opinion – one he voices at the very end, when Draupadi falls to her death at the base of Mount Sumeru – that Draupadi has always loved Arjuna more than any other man.
The text delivers this judgement in a declarative tone, as if believing Yudhishthir is the speaker of truth. Neither Bhima nor any of the other Pandavas think it right to question him.
But of course, a reader might ask: How does Yudhishthir know about Draupadi’s love? And how does Yudhishthir – or anyone – measure a woman’s love for one man relative to her love for other men?
Unless Draupadi has confided in Yudhishthir about her secret – that yes, she indeed did love Arjuna the most – there is no way Yudhishthir can know for certain. At best, he is only guessing.
However, it is also not unreasonable to assume that Draupadi would have a special place in her heart for Arjuna. Here are a few reasons:
- Arjuna is an attractive man. He is a gifted archer; he is well-versed not only in the science of arms but also in the arts. He is charming and handsome. We know – from the way in which he is approached by Ulupi and Urvasi – that women like him.
- While Draupadi is wedded to all five Pandavas for exigent reasons, it is Arjuna who shot the arrow that pierced the fish’s eye at the swayamvara. Draupadi therefore thinks of him as the hero who won her.
- Due to circumstances after their wedding, Draupadi and Arjuna are kept away from one another on two occasions: first for twelve years during Arjuna’s exile, and then for five further years during the Pandavas’ exile.
- Even if we assume that Draupadi isn’t consciously partial to Arjuna, all the forced distance between them would have made her heart naturally fonder for him over the others.
For more thoughts on this, see: Did Draupadi love Arjuna the most?
Did Draupadi go to heaven?
There are two ways in which a person is said to be able to ‘reach heaven’.
The first, more common method is that after dying, one is taken to hell to serve out a short period of punishment for one’s sins, after which one is brought to heaven to reside permanently.
(If your sins far outweigh your virtues, you make the reverse journey: you go to heaven for a short period as reward for your few good deeds, and then you’re taken permanently to hell.)
The second – more exalted – method is that if you’ve lived a sufficiently virtuous life, you will be granted access to heaven in your mortal body, without having to first experience the suffering of death.
This second method is what the Pandavas and Draupadi seek for themselves. But only Yudhishthir succeeds in achieving it. The rest of them – Draupadi included – have to first experience death, after which they’re taken where they deserve to be.
Draupadi’s big sin is that she was not able to love all of her five husbands equally. For this, she is the first among the six to die. After her death, she is taken to hell for a short period to atone for her sin.
By the time Yudhishthir enters heaven, she has already taken her place in Indra’s hall.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi go to heaven?)
Why did Draupadi go to hell?
Draupadi’s biggest sin, Yudhishthir tells Bhima, is that she loved Arjuna more than she loved the rest of them. It is debatable whether this is punishable by a stint in hell.
After all, all the Pandavas are married to multiple women besides Draupadi. Are they held to a similar standard with respect to love?
For instance, Subhadra is often described as Arjuna’s favourite wife. Why is this not a sin on his part?
Regardless, it appears that the gods agree with Yudhishthir. We are not told this explicitly, but we are to assume that after she falls and dies at the foot of the mountain, Draupadi is taken to hell for a short period of time to atone for this crime.
In the same way, the remaining four Pandavas also fall to their deaths and serve punishments in hell. By the time Yudhishthir reaches heaven in his mortal body, all of them are already present in heaven having finished their sentences.
As neutral observers, Draupadi’s public rejection and humiliation of Karna may strike us as more worthy of punishment. But the officially quoted reason for her fall is her love for Arjuna.
(Suggested: Why did Draupadi go to hell?)
At what age did Draupadi die?
The process of estimating the age of different characters at different times in the Mahabharata is fraught with subjective biases.
This is because the ages of characters are seldom mentioned anywhere in the text, so we’re left with the option of making reasonable guesses to begin with and work from there.
For instance, if we are to build a timeline of Draupadi’s life, it might look like this:
- Draupadi is ‘born’ to Drupada at the sacrificial ceremony. Assumption: she is fifteen at this time.
- She gets married to the Pandavas at sixteen.
- Assumption: Arjuna leaves on his twelve-year exile in the first year of Yudhishthir’s reign. By the time he returns, Draupadi is therefore twenty eight years old.
- Assumption: Draupadi gives birth to Shrutakarma the following year, at age twenty nine.
- Assumption: the Pandavas take two years to build Indraprastha and to conquer the world. Draupadi becomes queen of Indraprastha at thirty one.
- Assumption: Draupadi’s disrobing happens the same year. So at the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile, Draupadi is thirty one. (Incidentally, this is already past childbearing age for women of those times.)
- Since the exile is thirteen years long, Draupadi is forty four years old by the time of Abhimanyu’s wedding to Uttara.
- Assumption: the war of Kurukshetra happens the following year, when Draupadi is forty five.
- After the Kurukshetra war ends, Yudhishthir rules for a period of thirty six years before giving up the throne and setting out on a ‘final journey’. Draupadi is therefore eighty one years old at this point.
- Assumption: the Pandavas and Draupadi take a year to circumnavigate the subcontinent. At the time of their arrival at the base of Mount Sumeru, Draupadi is eighty two years old.
As you can see, there are plenty of assumptions built into the above timeline. Another reader may insert different numbers into the equation and come up with slightly altered answers.
(Suggested: At what age did Draupadi die? A Complete Timeline.)
Why is Draupadi called Pativrata?
Despite the judgemental tone of Yudhishthir’s last words, Draupadi is still considered one of the great pati vratas.
However, her reputation at the time of marriage to the Pandavas is that of a ‘loose woman’, because she has consented to marry five men.
Karna’s assertion during the dice game is that Draupadi is no better than a prostitute for the sole reason that she had taken five men as husbands.
No one argues against him here, suggesting that this is a commonly held opinion of her.
Up until that point, it is true that Draupadi has done nothing to earn the title of a pati vrata. Her role in the life of the Pandavas has been decidedly passive. She had been won by Arjuna at her swayamvara.
It was decided for her that she would marry all five brothers. And she became queen to Yudhishthir when the latter became an emperor.
It is entirely possible that around the time the Pandavas arrive in Hastinapur for the dice game, certain large sections of commonfolk who have not seen or known her would have thought of Draupadi as nothing more than a glorified concubine.
But starting from the incident of her disrobing, Draupadi begins to earn her stripes. She rescues the Pandavas from a life of slavery. She accompanies her husbands into exile and takes part in their tribulations.
She is fiercely faithful to them at all times – as we see with Kichaka and Jayadratha.
By the end of the exile period, Draupadi’s reputation is that of a virtuous wife.
(Suggested: Why is Draupadi called Pativrata?)
In this post, we looked at various aspects of the death of Draupadi in the Mahabharata. To recap:
- Draupadi dies when she becomes the first among her and her husbands to collapse soon after they begin scaling the mountain of Meru.
- Yudhishthir tells Bhima that Draupadi has failed at attaining heaven because she loved Arjuna the most, and that it is a sin for a woman with multiple husbands to love any of them more than the others.
- However, we do not know for sure if Draupadi indeed loved Arjuna the most. We also do not know if that is the reason why she falls to her death. All we know is that Yudhishthir thinks of it this way.
- Draupadi is around eighty two years old at the time of her death. The rest of the Pandavas are also in their eighties.
- Despite the judgement passed on her by Yudhishthir, Draupadi is still known as a virtuous wife – a pati vrata.
If you liked this post, you will probably also enjoy: Why did Draupadi marry five Pandavas?