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: How was Draupadi born?
According to legend, Draupadi takes birth in the sacrificial fire during the yagnya performed by Drupada, King of Panchala. She is a fully formed young woman at birth. As she steps out of the flames, a divine voice proclaims that she will be the prime cause of the destruction of the Kuru race.
Read on to discover how Draupadi was born.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
The event of Draupadi’s birth is set in motion when the Kuru princes – the Pandavas and Kauravas – finish their education under Drona. As his Guru Dakshina (fee), Drona asks his wards to:
- Invade the neighbouring kingdom of Panchala, and to:
- Capture its king Drupada and bring him back as war prisoner to Hastinapur.
Drona has reasons for doing this: it so happens that he and Drupada are old friends, and that Drupada had once snubbed Drona because of the latter’s poverty. Drona now wants to teach Drupada a lesson.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 9: Invasion of Panchala.)
His idea: after the Kuru princes give him the kingdom of Panchala and its king as dakshina, he will then magnanimously give back to Drupada half his kingdom while keeping the other half. This, he hopes, will remind Drupada of his own wrongs.
But the law of unintended consequences kicks in. Drupada is overcome by shame at being treated like this by a mere Brahmin. After he loses North Panchala and goes back to his battered kingdom, he resolves to seek vengeance of his own.
He sets his sight on two targets: (1) Drona, and (2) The Kuru race itself.
Yagnyaseni (or Yajnaseni)
Drupada’s chosen path to revenge is not to amass forces and launch a counter strike. His loss to the Kuru army has severely depleted Panchala’s resources, and Drona has taken half his wealth. He has to therefore use other means to secure his ends.
In consultation with his priests, Drupada performs a sacrifice which he hopes will give him the power to:
- Kill Drona. And to:
- Destroy the Kuru dynasty as the world knows it.
These are complementary desires – because after all, Drona is a chief employee of the Kuru court. But they are sufficiently independent to warrant separate strategies.
In any case, Drupada’s sacrifice (the Sanskrit word for ‘sacrifice’ is ‘yagnya’, sometimes spelled ‘yajna’) is successful. Out of the sacrificial fire spring two young people – one man and one woman.
A divine voice proclaims the young man to be destined to kill Drona. The young woman, the voice declares, is going to cause the destruction of the Kuru race.
The young man is named Dhrishtadyumna, and the young woman gets the name of Krishnaa because of her dark complexion. In time, she comes to be called Draupadi (‘daughter of Drupada’), Panchali (‘daughter of Panchala’) and Yagnyaseni (‘she who is born of a sacrifice’).
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 12: Draupadi Enters.)
Fulfilling their Destinies
In the final analysis, both Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi achieve the goals set at their respective births.
On the fifteenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Dhrishtadyumna becomes the man to behead Drona with his sword – but he does so in a horribly twisted manner, while Drona is sitting in a meditative pose having renounced his weapons.
Draupadi becomes the wife of the Pandavas, and throughout the story becomes the driving force behind the continually escalating tension between her husbands and the Kauravas. The Kurukshetra war happens in no small part because of the humiliation meted out to Draupadi during the dice game.
It must be said that at the time of their births, Drupada would not have foreseen the tortuous manner in which his children will fulfil their destinies.
Like all wish-makers, he is powerless in controlling the path that fate takes to arrive at the foregone destination.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 50: Drona Dies.)
An Alternative Theory
If we seek a more realistic explanation for the birth of Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna, we may speculate that Drupada adopts two children from his kingdom and anoints them ritualistically – through a sacrifice – to bear the burden of his desires.
If we accept this premise, the circumstances surrounding the sacrifice become less mythical. The young man and woman are ‘born’ in the sense that they forego their previous identities and are now required to take up new names.
What they are called before the sacrifice, we do not know. Who their birth parents were, whether or not they are actually brother and sister – these details are all lost to the mist of time.
All we know is that at the sacrifice, they take birth as Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi respectively.
The ‘divine voice’ that proclaims their future success – in this scenario – belongs to the chief priest performing the ritual. He blesses the two chosen ones and says the words that have later come to be ascribed to an invisible force.
(Incidentally, we can ‘naturalise’ the divine voices that appear at the Pandavas’ birth in exactly the same way – as blessings given to the newborn infants by surrounding human Brahmins and priests.)
The Twists of Fate
Staying with the natural theory for a moment longer, Drupada now assumes a more active role in shaping the future – especially with respect to Draupadi.
At the core of his strategy is to woo the Pandavas – because they are quarrelling against the Kuru establishment – and to form an alliance of marriage with them. He uses Draupadi as a pawn to secure Panchala as the Pandavas’ strongest ally.
His bet pays off very well for almost twelve years, because not only does Yudhishthir succeed in getting half of Hastinapur as inheritance from Bhiahma, he also then goes on to become the emperor of the world.
(Suggested: Why does Karna abuse Draupadi?)
Draupadi, in turn, becomes an empress. Panchala, by association, becomes the second-strongest kingdom in all of Aryavarta.
This happy state of affairs persist for a long time, and though we are not told explicitly how Panchala fares during this period, we can surmise that plenty of material rewards flow to Drupada and his kingdom.
The dice game is the one snag in Drupada’s plan, but evidently the period of prosperity has strengthened Panchala enough to put together an army for the eventual destruction of the Kuru race.
If you favour the version of the story as it appears in the Mahabharata, Draupadi is literally born of the fire lit at Drupada’s sacrifice intended to avenge his humiliation against Drona.
She steps out fully formed and beautiful. At her birth, a divine voice prophesies: ‘This girl will cause the destruction of the Kuru race.’
On the other hand, if you favour a more naturalistic version of events, Draupadi and Dhrishtadyumna are two young people adopted by Drupada and ritualistically given their respective assignments – of destroying the Kuru dynasty and of killing Drona.
In both cases, Draupadi is considered to be ‘born of the sacrifice’, and gets the name ‘Yajnaseni’. Details of her life before this ‘birth’ – biological parents, childhood and so on – are completely unknown.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
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- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
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