Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: How did Krishna help Draupadi?
Krishna helps Draupadi several times: (1) He soothes the tempers of her rejected suitors at the swayamvara, (2) He magically restores her clothing during the disrobing incident, (3) He raises the Upapandavas in Dwaraka during the Pandavas’ exile, and (4) He helps the Pandavas win the war and thus avenge Draupadi’s humiliations.
Read on to discover more about how Krishna helped Draupadi.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Draupadi as Dharma
One of the abiding metaphors of the Mahabharata is to project Draupadi as the symbol of Dharma. The final war, the ‘Dharma Yuddha’, is often cited as being fought to avenge the desecration of Dharma – which is represented by the humiliations heaped on Draupadi.
Krishna, on the other hand, describes himself as the incarnation of Brahman and the preserver of Dharma. ‘In every epoch,’ he tells Arjuna, ‘whenever the cause of Dharma is being lost, I will take birth to protect it.’
Given these two premises, it is not surprising that Krishna repeatedly comes to Draupadi’s aid during the story. Not only does he offer her emotional and moral support in her times of distress, he also gives her practical help on a number of occasions.
The sequence of Krishna helping Draupadi’s cause begins right at their first meeting – at her swayamvara.
Soothing Rejected Suitors
At Draupadi’s swayamvara, Arjuna succeeds in shooting the target set by Drupada, and wins Draupadi’s hand. He then defeats Karna in a duel to establish his superiority over the rest of the suitors.
Meanwhile, Bhima wards off a mace challenge from Shalya – another great mace fighter – and leaves no doubt as to who the most powerful heroes are among the assembled.
But the Pandavas at this point are disguised as Brahmins. The Kshatriyas who have come to vie for Draupadi’s hand rise up in revolt and say, ‘Drupada cannot give his daughter to mere Brahmins! He needs to pick the most suited bridegroom for Draupadi from among the Kshatriyas present here.’
At this point, Krishna – who is making his first appearance in the story – steps up and speaks to the rejected kings.
He acknowledges their shame at being bested by a couple of Brahmins, but points out that the rules of the event have been followed to the tee. He assures them that it is proper to allow Draupadi to marry the man who has won her – regardless of his caste.
Such is the tact that Krishna deploys here that the kings cool down, and in the resulting calm, Arjuna and Bhima leave with their bride.
(Suggested: What happens during Draupadi’s Swayamvara?)
During the Disrobing
Though Krishna is not physically present at the dice game and the following disrobing incident, he uses his magical powers to protect Draupadi’s honour.
Yudhishthir has already lost everything he has. The last piece of ‘wealth’ he stakes and loses is Draupadi. Duryodhana commands Duhsasana to bring her into the hall, and Karna passes the order that she should be disrobed in public.
Duhsasana proceeds to implement these words, advancing on Draupadi to unclothe her. Despite having five husbands, Draupadi finds herself in the unenviable position of having no support whatsoever.
In desperation, she prays to Krishna.
At this precise moment in time, Krishna is occupied in fighting a battle against a king named Suvala. But he hears Draupadi’s prayer, and magically causes layer upon layer of clothing to cover Draupadi’s body even as Duhsasana continues to peel them off.
This continues for so long that Duhsasana eventually gives up in exhaustion.
Raising the Upapandavas
At the time of the Pandavas’ departure on exile, the Upapandavas are still young boys. Prativindhya, the oldest of them, is around twelve, and Shrutakarma, the youngest, is no older than three.
Subhadra and Abhimanyu (who is a boy of three or thereabouts himself) leave for Dwaraka after the Pandavas vacate Indraprastha. At the same time, Krishna takes the responsibility of raising the Upapandavas too.
At the end of the thirteen years, he reveals to Yudhishthir that the sons of Draupadi are faring well in Dwaraka, and that Pradyumna (Krishna’s son with Rukmini) has been training them in the art of war.
Krishna does not have to do this; indeed, it would have been the responsibility of Drupada to take care of the Upapandavas. But he performs the favour regardless because of his friendship with Arjuna and Draupadi.
(Suggested: 12 Mahabharata Stories From the Udyoga Parva.)
A Grain of Rice
During the Pandavas’ exile, Sage Durvasa once visits them after the day’s last meal has been eaten and Draupadi has washed and set aside the cooking utensils.
Moreover, Durvasa does not come alone. He brings with him several of his disciples. He tells Draupadi that they’re all hungry, and that they will return after a short bath at the neighbouring lake.
(Incidentally, it is Duryodhana who sends Durvasa on this ‘mission’.)
As Draupadi is desperately wondering what to do, Krishna appears, asks her to bring out the washed utensils, finds a stray grain of rice sticking to one of them, picks it up, and eats it.
This act of Krishna eating the last grain of rice in the Pandavas’ home magically fills the stomachs of all the sages at the lake. Durvasa and his men do not even bother to come back to visit Draupadi.
Most important of all, Krishna takes up Draupadi’s cause in earnest by exerting the full extent of his strategic powers to help the Pandavas win the war.
By doing this, he avenges all of Draupadi’s humiliations – just as he has promised her thirteen years ago that he would.
He is not able to (or he chooses not to) save the Upapandavas from dying at the hands of Ashwatthama, but he also eagerly avenges their death by cursing Ashwatthama with eternal suffering.
Whenever the Pandavas find their morale flagging, or their desire for war waning, Draupadi flares up and reminds them of all of the Kauravas’ misdeeds. And Krishna is always around to support her.
(Suggested: 12 Mahabharata Stories from the Sauptika Parva.)
Having said all of the above, we must also note the limits of Krishna’s love for Draupadi. While he considers her his sister and seeks to protect her at every turn, he also does not hesitate to use her as a pawn in political negotiations when he thinks she could serve that purpose.
For instance, before the war begins, as soon as he learns that Karna is the son of Kunti, Krishna seeks an audience with the king of Anga and promises him the throne of Yudhishthir – and crucially, Draupadi herself as wife – if he betrays Duryodhana.
‘Draupadi will become your queen, Vasusena,’ he says. ‘And in due course she will bear your sons!’
Krishna makes this promise without ever consulting Draupadi. The possibility that she may reject this proposal does not even enter his mind.
This is not to be thought of as Krishna’s cruelty. He is merely acting in accordance with the norms of those times. Earlier in the story, he uses Subhadra as a source of leverage to build an alliance with Arjuna.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story